Julie Ramage was killed by an enraged husband who didn’t want to let her go. The jury found him guilty of manslaughter, not murder. Does the law still treat women as the chattels of men? Karen Kissane investigates.
THERE was no sound but for the hiss of the videotape.
Those in the courtroom were still as the police footage took us along the route James Ramage had driven with his dead wife in the boot of his Jaguar.
The day of her killing, the heavens had opened, lashing Melbourne with wind and rain.
But this day, the morning after, sunshine dappled the unmade road The road wound on, and on, a reminder of how focused he must have been on his task: so many twists and turns, so much time to think better of it. Finally, the camera turned off the road and onto a remote bush property. The lens panned police, trees, the pile of bracken in a particular spot. Then the spot again with the bracken removed.
And then the spot with its shallow coverlet of earth removed.
There lay Julie Ramage, on her left side, her legs bent up and her hair flung back as if she were asleep. She still wore her trousers, but her blue roll-neck jumper was tangled around one arm, so her pale, slender body was topless but for her blue bra. Her face was not visible in this video footage, which had been heavily edited for the jury’s consumption. This was partly a concession to privacy in what had become a very public death, and partly judicial care that undue gruesomeness not be permitted to prejudice the jury against the accused.
But Julie’s image was available, for those who wished to study it.
Her identical twin sister, Jane Ashton, sat grimly in court. Her reddened eyes were turned away from the film and away from the man in the dock, her brother-inlaw, her sister’s killer.
James Stuart Ramage, 45, was last week found not guilty of the murder of his estranged wife, whom he admitted having punched to the ground and strangled in the newly renovated family room of the matrimonial home on July 21 last year.
The jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. His lawyer had argued that he had not intended to kill his 42-yearold wife, and that she had provoked him to lose control.
The killing shocked the comfortable inhabitants of Melbourne’s leafy suburbs. Since then, it has has blown up into an even darker storm over the way Julie Ramage’s voice seemed to be strangled out of her a second time, in court. For her family and many independent observers, the case highlights the way that ideas of “good” and “bad” women are still enshrined in the legal system and how the notion of “crimes of passion” favours the passions of men. In particular, it raises the question of whether the legal defence of provocation should finally be abolished.
From the outside, the Balwynbased Ramages seemed to have it all. There was a son at Scotch and a daughter at Lauriston. James was director of a company that reporcelained baths and Julie was a financial controller for a fashion house. Their dinner-party companions included lawyers and CEOs.
The family friend James Ramage confessed to in a hotel on the night of the killing was criminal barrister Dyson Hore-Lacy, SC, best known as chairman of the Fitzroy football club. A shocked Hore-Lacy called in another lawyer to advise Ramage.
Dr Rob Moodie, the head of the Victorian health promotion foundation Vic- Health, is another friend of Ramage’s. They used to play touch rugby together on Sunday mornings.
He is still shaken that he saw the man the day before the killing and did not realise how close to the edge he was. “I did not suspect,” he says. “You feel guilt for, `Why didn’t I see this coming?’” Some of Julie Ramage’s friends knew there had been a history of violence in their relationship. For others, it was a shock to have to face up close the two misconceptions about domestic violence: “It doesn’t happen to people like us” and “All she has to do is leave.” In fact, separation is a time when women are more likely to be killed.
The jury was told that James Ramage was controlling but heard little detail about what form this took. Jurors did not hear how he had head-butted Julie early in their marriage, breaking her nose and blackening her eyes.
Or of the many times she told people she feared he would kill her. Or about her claims to friends that he routinely demanded sex from her, insisting even when she was reluctant.”
To lead evidence of the sexual contact – that he treated her like a piece of meat when they were intimate – is not relevant to anything, in my submission,” Ramage’s lawyer told the judge.
These claims were aired in court in an earlier legal process called the voir dire, where lawyers argued about what evidence should be put to the jury. Justice Robert Osborn ruled they were inadmissable at the trial, pointing to earlier rulings that such evidence could not be used if it was hearsay, happened too long ago or was unduly prejudicial to the accused.
There are good reasons for the ban on hearsay. It prevents unsubstantiated tittle-tattle from becoming part of the case. But it can also skew the picture.
Evidence of two extra-marital affairs Julie Ramage had – and the way she lied to hide them – was trawled through again and again at the trial. The judge allowed this evidence because “the reasonable possibility of the deceased saying (in that final encounter) that sex with the accused repulsed her could be viewed by a jury as gaining some support from evidence that she had had affairs with other men”.
James Ramage’s fidelity or otherwise was never raised.
Julie Ramage’s relationship with her most recent lover, Laurence Webb, whom she had met a few weeks after she separated from her husband, was used as part of the argument that her behaviour had provoked Ramage to kill her.
The defence painted Julie Ramage as a duplicitous, pleasureseeking, hormone-driven flibbertigibbet. Said defence barrister Philip Dunn, QC: “The Crown says she was frightened her husband might have found out about her having affairs. Well, perhaps she shouldn’t have had affairs in the first place.”
He made much of the fact that she went out to a “lovely dinner” with friends the night she separated and was enjoying her new freedom: “She doesn’t have to answer to her husband or have a meal on the table or look after her son doing year 12.” He boomed with outrage over the way she had fallen quickly for Webb: “She said to her sister she was IN LOVE – IN LOVE! – with Mr Webb … nine days after she’s first gone out with him.
She’s in love with him!” He made sharp asides about the fact that the estranged couple’s daughter knew her mother’s new man – “presumably she’s met him with the sleepovers” – and about the way Julie had hidden her earlier affairs from Ramage: “No doubt you might think (she) was used to lying to her husband.”
Her very femaleness was used to suggest that she was likely to have lost her temper and verbally provoked her husband: “She was in love, and her hormones were such – you will find tampons in her handbag, and Dr Lynch (who performed the autopsy) will say that at the time she was menstruating ¿ Men tend to think women get a bit scratchy around that time.”
In cases where a man claims provocation as a defence for killing his partner, it is common for the dead woman’s sexuality and character to be spotlighted. “Dead women tell no tales; they have tales told about them,” says Professor Jenny Morgan, deputy dean of the law school at Melbourne University. “I speculate that if the defence lawyers don’t sexualise her behaviour, if they don’t emphasise the sex bit, the judge is less likely to leave (the question of) provocation to the jury.”
There is another picture of Julie Ramage, a photograph that police took at her grave site. At least from a distance, glimpsed by accident from across the courtroom, it is unexpectedly lovely.
Her features are visible but the soil has not yet been brushed away from them, and the greyness looks like stone, as if this is the carved face of a goddess being unearthed from some ancient site, an archetypal image of a woman.
Julie Ramage was human, with no claim to perfection. But her friends and family say she did not deserve what was done to her in the Supreme Court of Victoria, and she did deserve that her killer should face the maximum penalty.”
I’m just devastated,” her sister Jane said after the verdict. “Females can have their characters blackened and their struggles as victims trivialised, whereas the abuser’s testimony as to how he was provoked and his emotional state before that is sanctioned by law. The burden shouldn’t be placed on the (dead) woman to vindicate herself and her conduct.”
Does the defence of provocation allow women to be dragged through the dirt so that men can get away with murder?
Troubled marriage THE prosecutor in the Ramage case, Julian Leckie, SC, is a quiet man with a lean intensity. He rarely raises his voice, but his sense of outrage at perceived unfairness can rocket him to his feet in an instant to object.
Leckie painted James Ramage as an aggressive, self-absorbed man. “Was it really (about) getting back a woman he loved, or did he want back the control in the situation?” Ramage might even have strangled his wife with a rope, Leckie argued, and an attempted sexual assault could have been part of the scenario on the fatal day.
Leckie said Julie would never have provoked James. She had been tip-toeing around his anger.”
There is no suggestion in this case of this woman being spiteful or vindictive or nasty … She didn’t have that sort of nature. She had good reasons to fear, and did fear, this man.”
James Ramage’s QC, Philip Dunn, is a Rumpolian character.
Portly, florid and genial, he is a lover of fine wine and wicked anecdotes. He is also a bit of a card; he strode into court some mornings singing “Oh, Dunnie boy …” and nicked sweets from the tipstaff’s lolly jar in the breaks.
He was kindly and amusing when addressing the jury and friendly witnesses but thundered at those who might challenge his case.
As an advocate, his job is to present the best possible case for his client available under the law.
If, as some might think, the law currently advantages men in Ramage’s situation, it is the defence barrister’s duty to make the most of this for his client.
Dunn argued two defences to the charge of murder. The first was that Ramage lacked “intent” – he hadn’t meant to kill or really seriously injure his wife; he just “lost it”. The second was that Ramage had the excuse of provocation; Julie’s behaviour had triggered his loss of control. She went around to the family home to hit him with the truth because she wanted her relationship with her new lover to be out in the open.
It is possible that the jury dismissed the murder count on the issue of intent. If a person kills, but at the time of the killing did not intend to kill or seriously injure the victim, the crime is not murder but manslaughter.
Dunn argued that Ramage might have lost his temper and attacked his wife without intending to kill her. He pointed to the fact that the assault was not premeditated, that it happened quickly, and that there were no injuries that indicated that anything more than a moderate degree of force had been used.
But it is also possible that the jury relied upon the provocation argument, which Dunn pursued more vigorously. The defence does not have to prove provocation; the prosecution has to disprove it, as the burden of proof always rests with the Crown.
This is an important part of the presumption of innocence.
If they relied upon provocation, the jurors would have accepted that its three elements applied in this case. These are: that it was possible Julie Ramage had really said and done the things in their last encounter – more on that later – that her husband claimed she did; that what she had said and done might have been enough to cause him, as an individual with his particular characteristics, to lose control; and that an ordinary person in the same circumstances might have then done what he did – in this case, punch and strangle an estranged partner.
Phil Cleary, whose sister Vicki was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1987, believes the defence of provocation is a great slur on “the normal man”: “We are belittled by it. It stands for a form of maleness that I don’t want to be party to.”
The Ramage marriage, like most others, had begun with starry- eyed affection. The couple had been teenage sweethearts. Julie Garrett was 17 and James Ramage 18 when they met in England in 1978. She had had a happy childhood, going with her sister to pony club and Guides and sailing.
James Ramage had been going out with one of her friends but decided he fancied her more. Julie was studying for her A-levels but her father took her out of school when he discovered she was having a physical relationship with Ramage. If she was old enough to have sex, she was old enough to work, her father told her.
They came to Australia separately in 1978 and returned briefly to England to marry the following year. During the separation, Julie told a marriage counsellor that she had fallen in love with James because, “He was charming and good looking, I was a bit oppressed at home ¿ We both liked sport, going out and dancing, and we were both Virgos.”
The marriage was troubled from early on. They separated for six months in 1984 and both had relationships with others. After they reunited, Julie fell pregnant with a son, now 19, followed by a daughter, now 17.
Later came the head-butt and the broken nose, and Julie began complaining to others that James was too controlling: he chose her clothes and nail polish and hairstyle, he made the money decisions, he wanted to be with her all the time and resented her passion for horse riding – and he broke glasses when he was angry and was potentially violent. She told them she stayed in the marriage for the sake of her children.
Her family and some women friends knew of her troubles but to many in their circle, their lives looked fine. The only hint her husband’s business partner had, for example, was a comment from Julie one day that, “You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.”
Friend Rob Moodie told The Age, “I was surprised when they broke up. They seemed to be getting on. And we’d had them to our place and not noticed anything.”
He had never seen any harshness from Ramage towards Julie.”
To me, he was likeable. Very ambitious; work-wise, society-wise, he wanted to create a space for himself. I think in a sense he was out to prove himself, that he could make it. He’d come from the UK at an early age, didn’t have any major formal qualifications, and sort of worked his way up the ladder.”
Julie’s sister Jane Ashton says Ramage wanted a Home Beautiful wife. Marriage counsellor Thomas Patterson, whom the couple saw for one session after the separation, told the court: “Julie felt she had to be a super housewife and mother, but also work hard to earn money and also be an attractive hostess and wife. Recently, she had just said `Whatever’ to him instead of fighting him, and this had just built up the hatred inside her.”
Her best friend, Gilda Pekin, says Julie saw that her marriage was different to those around her.”
For the better part of 20 years, I’ve observed Jamie Ramage preoccupied with his personal balance sheet of money, possessions and useful connections. She wanted friends regardless of their value in terms of his personal balance sheet.”
He had one set of standards for men and another for women.
He made it difficult for Julie to study, often not turning up to mind the children and complaining about the cost. He belittled her efforts in becoming employable and building a career.”
She looked at other women and knew that her life should be different. She told me this many times.”
By 1997, Julie had begun the first of two affairs with married men. In 2002, she left James overnight after an argument in which he pushed her out of bed.
Her sister says she actually tried to leave several other times over the years, but Ramage would find her packing her bags and talk her out of it or woo her back with flowers and promises to change.
Last year, five weeks before her death, Julie left when James was overseas on a business trip.
She took their daughter, arranged a $125,000 overdraft on a joint account (they were worth $2.6 million) and moved into a unit in Toorak. Their son stayed with his father.
Her departure brought Ramage undone. He tried desperately to regain control of the situation.
He rang friends incessantly and asked them for advice and to intercede with Julie. He spent night after night going through lists of self-improvements he should make to win her back.
He gave up sleeping to wander around the house or weep in his room. He saw four counsellors.
He phoned Julie, ate with her every week and sent her flowers with love poems, including one that began, “Sail away with me, my honey …”
The defence said it was during this time of separation that Julie Ramage’s provocation of her husband began.
Her daughter told the court that Julie was frightened that “he would do something to try to hurt her, like kill the horses or … control the money, maybe be violent towards myself or her”. She said her mother didn’t want to kick her father while he was down. So Julie decided to “let him down gently” – give him time to adjust to the separation before she told him it was final.
Philip Dunn argued that this was duping the man and giving him false hope, particularly as she went to several marriage counselling sessions with him and had promised to attend more. So when she allegedly finally gave him the truth in that last encounter, the strung-out Ramage lost his temper and killed her.”
Do you find it hard to believe that he `lost it’?” Dunn asked the jury. “Of course it’s not, given what you know about his mental ability to stand these sorts of shocks.
That’s like the fly that lands on the bonnet of the car that’s teetering on the edge of the cliff.”
So, first Julie Ramage had provoked her husband by lying to let him down gently, and then she had provoked him by telling him the truth bluntly before he was ready to hear it. The implications of this argument for any woman trying to leave a violent man seem grim.
Even the fact that James Ramage was a domineering man who needed to control every aspect of his life – and that he was a businessman accustomed to ordering people around, a habit he acknowledged he had wrongly brought into his home – was used in his defence: it is this that allegedly reduced his “mental ability to stand these sorts of shocks”, Dunn argued. “He was in a worse position than somebody who might be easygoing.”
The only other witness to the Ramages’ final meeting, Julie herself, was dead. So, as in many homicides where provocation is claimed, the only evidence about what happened in the lead-up to the killing came from the killer.
Critics of provocation argue that in such cases it is particularly vulnerable to fabrication.
In the Ramage case, the only evidence about the lead-up comes from what James told police when he turned himself in – late on the night of July 21, after killing his wife at lunchtime, and after a three-hour legal consultation in the evening.
A videotape of his police interview was played to the court.
Ramage, wearing a dark jumper and jeans, is composed and sits at a small table opposite a policeman.
In a flat, gravelly voice, he paints himself as a distraught husband and father trying desperately to mend his family.
He does not mention anger but repeatedly talks about his “hurt” and the “hurtful” things Julie had allegedly said to him, as if what he had done was in emotional self-defence. “That’s why all this, us splitting up, has been so hard, because the family’s so important to me.”
With his swollen right hand kept out of view for all but a moment, Ramage says his wife had sneered at the renovations he had asked her over to admire: “She ¿ made that ¿ wank, wank sort of gesture.” He says Julie told him that his daughter did not want to stay with him as much, “and the daughter’s really important to me”. And that Julie said she should have left him 10 years ago, and that she was sleeping with her new love, who was much nicer than him: “She was just – just being really very hurtful.”
It was after she said “the sex with me – `It repulses me’ … and screwed up her face” that he knocked her to the ground and knelt down to strangle her. “She couldn’t speak or anything `cos I was holding her neck”. He holds his arms out in front of him and curves his hands to show how they had encircled her throat.
Was she fighting? “She did for a bit, but not for long.” As for the way he spent hours cleaning up after the killing and driving his wife to the bush for burial – it was just “really stupid”.
Philip Dunn portrayed Ramage, who did not testify, as lovelorn. A family friend, Catherine Clark, whom Ramage phoned many times in the weeks following the separation, had a more chilling view.
She told the court Ramage would ask “whether I could perhaps suggest some ways of getting her to come back, to see the mistake she was making. He kind of required her to be back, he didn’t express missing her ¿ She had to return, it was necessary, it was like a building block in a house, something important that was required to be returned to its position.”
She advised him: “You have got to back off, stop applying all this pressure to her, stop doing what it is that she’s trying to get away from ¿ You have got to stop suffocating her because this is why she’s gone.”
Crime of passion
IN THE end, he literally suffocated her. It was in many ways a classic crime of passion. The legal term used to describe such loss of self-control is “the blood boils”.
The law has long allowed for what it calls such “human frailty”; provocation is there to distinguish between a killing that is committed spontaneously in a red haze of rage, and one that is planned and executed in cold blood. The former is seen as less culpable.
But why should sexual jealousy or rage over separation be emotions that the law privileges with such understanding? Should provocation extend to this kind of situation? Ramage’s friend Rob Moodie, who has faithfully visited him in Port Phillip Prison, nevertheless pointed out to him after the killing that, “This was not a crime of passion. It was a crime of possession.”
Provocation developed in the days when murder attracted a death penalty. Historically, it covered the way men sometimes reacted with instant rage in drunken brawls or when there were challenges to their honour.
It has long been criticised as difficult for women to use because it favours the spontaneous impulse (abused women, for example, usually kill a partner in “cold blood” when he is drunk or asleep because they fear him. Provocation is harder to argue in such cases).
Melbourne University’s Professor Jenny Morgan believes the defence of provocation “is so imbued with misogyny that I think it is unsalvageable. The traditional provocation case is like the Ramage case, a sexual jealousy case.
Women hardly ever kill in those circumstances.”
Women who kill their partners generally do so in response to violence.
Men kill their partners because they’ve left them, they taunt them, they’re doin’ it with somebody else, they might be doing it with somebody else … And that has long been accepted. It’s not a concession to human frailty. It’s a concession to male frailty.”
But Melbourne criminal barrister Peter Morrissey disagrees. “I think the defence itself is very important.
It really recognises the reduced culpability of a person when they are in an extreme state, whatever the reason for that may be … It’s got to function, because it does allow some level of mercy and humanity in a verdict which otherwise could be quite harsh.”
Does it favour men over women? “That argument is a crock. The defence is available to women; it’s capable of being used by women quite logically ¿” But some research suggests that women have much less success with it, and the statistics show that Morgan, who wrote an occasional paper for the Victorian Law Reform Commission on Who Kills Whom and Why, is right: women rarely kill a partner in a jealous rage or separation assault.
In Australia, one in five killings is between intimate partners (an average of 77 a year). In about three-quarters of those cases, men have killed women, and 70 per cent of those men killed for reasons of jealousy and control. But in husband killings, the motive was very different: 70 per cent of the women had suffered violence at the hands of the man they killed.
A previous report by the commission concluded that the defence of provocation was not gender-biased because men were more likely to raise the defence when they killed a man than when they killed a woman, and it was more likely to be rejected where a man killed a woman (36 per cent) than where a man killed a man (12 per cent).
The report found that when women raised provocation, they were more likely than men to be successful (in this study, all eight women who raised provocation in a domestic context succeeded).
But even this report found that there were still at least three cases where men were successful in arguing provocation on the grounds merely that a woman was leaving or threatening to leave.
And more recent research by the commission found the defence was of little use to women.
Last year’s Defences to Homicide discussion paper by the commission reported that between 1997 and 2001, 24 men raised provocation at trial. Eight of them (33 per cent) received a manslaughter finding. None of the three women (out of 16) who raised provocation in same period succeeded. All were convicted of murder.
The verdict has a big effect on punishment. Manslaughter attracts a maximum sentence of 20 years (median six years) compared with a possible life sentence for murder (median 17 years).
The commission’s discussion paper pointed out that many commentators found it offensive that it can be murder for a battered woman driven by desperation to kill her partner, but only manslaughter for a man to do the same after discovering his partner committing adultery. “It is seen to send a message to women that their lives are worthless.”
The commission’s final recommendations on the issue of defences to homicide will be tabled in State Parliament later this month.
Morgan says her favoured option is to abolish the defence of provocation entirely, but to strengthen the law of self-defence to make it easier for people – men and women – who snap and kill their tormenters.”
To abolish provocation and not address self-defence would be a major problem.”
In some ways, the current provocation defence says, “She had it coming.” But the law is less likely to point out that he might have had it coming. Technically, under Victorian law, if people put themselves in a situation where they are likely to be provoked – “self-induced provocation” – they cannot rely on provocation as a defence. But the commission says this is applied inconsistently.
James Ramage had been insisting for some time that his wife come to see the renovations at the family home. She had been reluctant, friends said, and her mother later said that she would never have gone if she had known she would be alone with him; she thought the builder would be there, but Ramage had paid the builder to take the afternoon off.
It is not clear which of them raised the topic of the end of the marriage, but Ramage should have known what to expect, having heard most of these things from Julie before. However, the question of self-induced provocation was never raised.
No wonder: the commission’s paper cites a case in 1989 (R v Gardner) in which a man broke into a house with a knife to confront his ex-partner, whom he had several times threatened to kill. He claimed that she taunted him about having had sex with a friend, who was sleeping in a separate room. Even in this extreme case – he broke in, he arrived with a knife – an appeal decided that the killer should have been allowed provocation.
Criminal barrister Peter Morrissey says, “I think the opposition to provocation is largely because there’s a sense of outrage against the very argument that’s being put. Sometimes it’s a shockingly nasty bloke who’s killed his victim, who then can’t argue back, and then he says she was provocative.”
(The lack of witnesses) is not limited to the provocation defence; that’s the case with all homicides, unless they are done in public. Rather like sex crimes, homicides are done in private.”
But, as in sex crimes, the provocation defence lends itself to the argument that she led him on. She made him lose his self-control.
Like Eve with the apple, woman is still responsible for the fall of man.
Morrissey says it is important to leave it to the public, in the form of juries, to decide the questions.”
The opponents of provocation have got a deep distrust of the jury system. They think it will be filled with those who are unenlightened and have not been to gender-awareness classes and are not aware of how nasty men can be … But the defence doesn’t know the characteristics of jurors.
You can’t select a sexist jury. If the defence argument is a crock, the jury will find them guilty.”
Another criminal barrister who has often used the provocation defence, Terry Forrest QC, disagrees. He thinks provocation should have been abolished when the law abandoned the death penalty for murder. Judges should be able to take provocation into account when sentencing, he says, but its continued existence as a verdict is obsolete and distressing to the families of victims.”
The relatives of the deceased find it very hard to come to terms with the fact that verdict has been diminished from murder to manslaughter.”
The aftermath JULIE Ramage has lost her life and James Ramage’s has changed forever. He will be sentenced on a date to be fixed. He sat frozen, his face blank and his eyes down, for most of the trial. “He’s down at Port Phillip and he’s doing the garden,” says Rob Moodie. “He’s very much aware of how completely he’s screwed everything up. His life. He’s actually killed someone he loved, although one might question what form that took.”
For someone who lives life through his kids, he’s done the worst possible thing. He’s absolutely shattered it – let alone his own family, and her family, and his friends ¿ He has certainly expressed remorse.”
Moodie oversaw a statewide project on domestic violence as the Ramage tragedy unfolded. “The personal and the professional collided,” he says. He brings to our interview his Vichealth report, which shows that domestic violence is the most important preventable risk factor for illness and injury in women aged from 15 to 44.
What does he think went wrong for James Ramage? “I think his issue is, if you build an image – and he’s not the only one who’s done that – of what your family is, and invest in the material things around, and have your kids at the right schools, and your partner, and that all fits into a preformed notion of what an ideal family is, and Julie walks away from all that – then it all comes crashing down. I think he drew a lot of how he saw himself from how other people would see him.”
And again, he’s not the only one doing it. It’s coming back to the fundamental problem of the poor mental health of men, in the sense of not being comfortable in your identity.”
Asked why he has kept up the friendship – he and his wife were also friends of Julie’s – Moodie says, “You mean, why don’t I hate him? Because I have a fundamental belief in everybody’s capacity to reform themselves; that everybody has the possibility of salvation, if you like.”
If suffering leads to salvation, Julie’s family are well on the way.
Her mother, Patricia Garrett, has at times found the grief overwhelming, which has led to a stay in the Melbourne Clinic. Her father, Raymond Garrett, was taken to hospital with stomach problems after testifying at the committal.
Friends of Julie have developed depression or changed jobs due to the stress of the death and the court case.
Her sister, Jane Ashton, was already a member of Amnesty International, already outraged over problems such as bride burnings in India, but now is fast becoming an activist against what she calls Australia’s honour killings.
Phil Cleary says, “It is an honour killing. James Ramage has killed Julie Ramage to avenge his male pride, to reassert his status in the world. He saw himself as the patriarch of the family and refused to accept her right to leave.”
Ashton says the defence of provocation fails to protect women who want to leave their partners.
And that the rules of evidence do not allow for the fact that “violence and abuse against women is silent, that it happens behind closed doors, and that women only tell a handful of very close friends, often in private. They’re not going to tell a room full of people, particularly if it’s sexual.”
Ashton says Julie’s friends were deeply distressed at the way their evidence had to be led in court: “None of Julie’s story was coming through.”
She was frightened. You only need to see photos of her; she is always perched on the end of her chair. She used to break out in cold sores, and at times she would lose lots of weight … He would convince her that her family was wrong, her friends were wrong, and he knew best. And that she was naughty and ungrateful.”
But my sister was a very happy person, she was very positive. No one else could have kept their spirits up in the way she did. She always tried to look on the bright side, she made the best of it for her children, she tried to make the best of it for Jamie. They had so much potential.”
Julie’s funeral was at St John’s in Toorak on July 31 last year, 10 days after she was killed. The woman described there bore almost no resemblance to the woman now immortalised in Supreme Court transcripts.
Her friend Gilda Pekin, who had known Julie since their children were babies together, told the congregation of 1,200 people, “She was always there. Julie was there when I needed help nursing my Dad. She took all four children to the park regularly so I could rest. Call it Julie’s caring recipe.”
Remember fruit duty, the Easter Bonnet parades? Julie was always there with style and a smile. Remember the Deepdene Primary fete? … Jules was there, capable and a team player. Remember VicKick and the basketball at Kew High School? Julie was there with the same style and smile, proud of her kids. Julie was inclusive and generous.”
Julie came for dinner Thursday a week or so ago. Gorgeous, black high-heel boots, that black ruffled skirt and the black and silver jumper. Greetings. I looked at her boots. She looked at our new timber floor and began to take the boots off saying, “Oh oh, the glam’s gone now.” And the thick woolly black socks were revealed, complete with holes. No one cared …”
Our beautiful friend, Julie, just happened to be beautiful on the outside as well.”
Julie Ramage was beautiful, and witty and kind. And, like all of us, complicated and human and flawed. In the Supreme Court, she became a shadow of herself.
First published in The Age.