Book Title: All Things Bright and Beautiful
Author: Susan Mitchell
When one is writing about something as horrific as the Snowtown murders in Adelaide, there would appear to be a number of approaches one could take to illuminate the background and incidents, relevant to one of the most vicious series of serial killings in Australia’s history.
Susan Mitchell describes each of the murders which John Bunting and his lackey, Robert Wagner committed. She uses a dispassionate style which allows the reader to shrink at the scale of agonizing pain which they put their victims through before terminating their lives.
Against this background she attempts to describe the environment which produced each of the murderers and contrasts this with a totally different Adelaide which she gains access to by interviewing South Australian premier, Mike Rann; the South Australian Minister of Tourism, Education and Youth Employment, Jane Lomax-Smith; Adelaide Lord Mayor, Michael Harbison; her friend and author, Peter Goldsworthy and one of the sons of the Old Adelaide Families, Kim Bonython among others.
Two distinctly separate Adelaides emerge from this exercise. One is an Adelaide of the All Things Bright & Beautiful of the book’s title. The other is of a much darker Adelaide, the Adelaide which incubated the murders “in the city of light” (from the book’s subtitle).
What doesn’t emerge though from Susan Mitchell’s book is answers. The book exists as a pastiche of interviews, excerpts from the Bunting-Wagner trial, and personal reflections by the author, herself. Unlike Capote’s classic, “In Cold Blood”, which also had two murders at its locus, one never gets the feeling that one has really entered into the worlds of Bunting or Wagner. The book left me unsatisfied – as if there were something almost indefinable, that was missing. In attempting to avoid passionate condemnation or an admission of lack of understanding or even advancing a coherent theory of how such horror existed in the “city of light”, Mitchell appears to have done herself a disservice.
Mitchell never did get to meet or interview Bunting and Wagner. Perhaps if this book is revised or updated in the future, that situation may be addressed and redressed.
This book review is dedicated with respect to Bunting and Wagner’s victims.
All Things Bright and Beautiful by Susan Mitchell is published in Australia by Pan Macmillan Australia.