A true story set in 1920s Australia that is so shocking, it sounds like a scene from your favourite crime movie. But it’s not. Upon the publication of her remarkable book, The Suitcase Baby, sociologist Tanya Bretherton talks to Better Reading about 1920s Australian society and some of the astonishing true crime stories that she has uncovered from that era.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, 17 November 1923, a suitcase was found washed up on the shore of a small beach in the Sydney harbourside suburb of Mosman. What it contained, and why, would prove to be explosive.
The murdered baby in the suitcase was one of many dead infants who were turning up in the harbour, on trains, and elsewhere. These innocent victims were a devastating symptom of the clash between public morality, private passion, and unrelenting poverty in a fast-growing metropolis.
Police tracked down Sarah Boyd, the mother of the suitcase baby, and the complex story and subsequent murder trial of Sarah and her friend Jean Olliver became a media sensation. In this podcast, Tany tells the moving story of the crime that put Sarah and her baby at the centre of a social tragedy that still resonates through the decades.
Tanya Bretherton has a Ph D in sociology with special interests in narrative life history and social history. She has published in the academic and public sphere for twenty years, and worked as a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sydney for fifteen years.
Dr Bretherton’s specialty is converting detailed research into thought-provoking works which are accessible to a general readership. Her book Safety in Numbers, on nursing in modern hospitals, was published by Cornell University Press. The book was well received by the general public and the research community and became a non-fiction best seller on Amazon.
She has also worked as a columnist, and had an ongoing partnership with national workplace magazine The Intelligence Report for over a decade. Currently she works as a freelance researcher and writer. Throughout 2016 she conducted a series of qualitative studies with families to compile a compendium of stories about life below the poverty line in Australia. Her clients include Mission Australia, The Smith Family and Adopt Change. Her publication ‘Journeys to Permanency’ has just been launched by the NSW government and tells real stories of foster children and adoption in modern Australia.