Wild Man is the story behind the 2012 police shooting of a man on a remote New South Wales campsite called ‘The School of Happiness’. The victim, who was high on various drugs and suffered from mental illness, threatened attendees of a hippie festival with a crossbow and hunting knife. When the police arrived, they tried to subdue him with a Taser, but he was later killed by gunshot.
In the Sydney Morning Herald account of the shooting, police were reported to have said, “At some point in time our officers were forced to discharge their firearms… At least one of the officers was armed with a Taser… It appears at the moment that the Taser deployment had little or no effect at all.”
In Wild Man journalist and first-time author Alecia Simmonds follows the coronial inquest into the police killing. She reveals what happened on that night and confronts many of the issues raised by this tragic case: the cultural clash between hippies and hunters; drug use, violence, masculinity and psychosis. She asks how family members, as well as police, came to work on the frontline of mental health.
It’s a compelling, fascinating and carefully investigated account into a story that represents many of the problems faced in Australia today. Writing in Bookseller and Publisher, Cosima McGrath of Collins Booksellers has this to say about Wild Man:
“She [Simmonds] examines the complex issues surrounding our underfunded mental health system, the effect of deinstitutionalisation on communities and the power wielded by police.”
“Simmonds is interested in the interplay between truth and narrative, the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of traumatic situations. This book excels when it moves beyond legal jargon and police procedure to question Ryan’s case within the framework of storytelling – the mythical figure of the ‘wild man’, the horror inspired by untamed bushland and the larrikin as a model of Australian masculinity.”
Alecia Simmonds is a regular writer for Fairfax Media’s Daily Life and a postdoctoral fellow in law at the University of Technology, Sydney. Her columns have been published in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Arena, Womankind and The Guardian. Wild Man is her first book.
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