A young death rattles a country town

Police activity at the scene of a Scarsdale overnight homicide.
Police activity at the scene of a Scarsdale overnight homicide.

THE 14-year-old boy had gone with his stepfather to  reassure two girls that they were safe in their house in Scarsdale, a small town – barely a town – outside  Ballarat in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Within half an hour he was lying on the floor of the Carlyle Street house dying, surrounded by police and ambulance officers.

Police said a fight had broken out at the house and the boy had received a blow to the head from a blunt instrument in an attack that also left his stepfather with facial injuries.

Details are sketchy about the circumstances, but police say two girls, aged 17 and 19, and another boy aged 16, were at the house when one of the girls received a threatening, whispering phone call and the two girls went to raise the boy and the man at their nearby house.

The 45-year-old man and his stepson  went  with the  girls to the house, where, at 4.30 on Saturday morning they were confronted by two men, at least one was armed, and a woman, believed to be from Ballarat.

The boy and his stepfather were then assaulted with what police say was a blunt, heavy instrument.

After one of the girls ran from the house and called police from an adjoining paddock police and ambulance officers arrived by about 5am.

The men and the woman had already left the house, but by early Saturday afternoon they had been apprehended by police and were being held in custody at the Ballarat police complex.

Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Sol Solomon says it was a traumatic ordeal for those who survived the attack.
‘‘The witnesses that were here were young people in their teens,’’ he said.

‘‘They're very traumatised and it’s a very slow and delicate procedure to get the facts from them.

‘‘It looks that the girls were afraid and they went to the deceased and his step-father's home to get some help.’’

It is believed the 19-year-old girl had only moved into the Carlyle Street house a couple of weeks ago. She had been spotted in town with a boy, and had begun to meet the locals.

The two would buy takeaway alcohol from the Scarsdale Hotel and essentials from the general store, two of the few businesses left in town.

Before big-city crime intruded on the town many people moved to for a tranquil life, Scarsdale already wasn’t what it used to be.

During the gold rush, the town claimed to have 17 pubs, now it has one. Up until the 1970s it had its own train station and was once bigger than neighbouring Smythesdale. Now it has a general store, a bric-a-brac store and photography business. It is struggling to maintain its town status.

Scarsdale General Store sole trader Belinda Lee, who also runs the post office, says she knows the town has 700 to 800 residents because she delivers their mail, but they are far flung and that could be the town’s undoing.

She did not name the girl who leased the Carlyle Street house but said she had only lived about a fortnight in Scarsdale. She came to the store to pick up essentials and her post. Locals described her as skinny and young.

Carlyle Street, on a hill, has just three houses and abuts a paddock and children’s playground complete with a disused barbecue. It feels like the edge of town but the local school campus, Woady Yaloak Primary School, is just down the road.

Scarsdale celebrated its 150 anniversary in 2012. Before now it was famous for the gold rush and the stage coach found at Sovereign Hill. The Linton fires, which destroyed a fire truck and killed fire fighters, also burned at Scarsdale.

Ms Lee moved back to Scarsdale from Altona for a peaceful life having spent part if her childhood in the town.
 ‘‘This has really shaken everyone up,’’ Ms Lee said.

‘‘It is peaceful, well it was until this morning. I have heard some of the things people have been saying and it hardly seems possible,’’ she said.

Scarsdale Hotel owners Barry and Gail Dawson moved to Scarsdale two years ago for a more peaceful life, away from the rat race of Geelong.

‘‘We are pretty shocked, it is a pretty, peaceful community,’’ Mr Dawson said.


This story A young death rattles a country town first appeared on The Age.