Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

A parent’s worst nightmare

When Aidan and Catherine Greene’s son David was murdered in Melbourne in 2012, the support of the Irish community in Australia was invaluable

Aidan Greene with a picture of his son David. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 00:00


Ciara Kenny

When their child is in trouble, a parent’s first instinct is to run to their aid. But when Aidan and Catherine Greene discovered their son David had been viciously attacked in Melbourne in 2012, 17,000km stretched out between them and him.

The 30-year-old bricklayer had been living in Australia for almost two years when he and his childhood friend, David Byas, were attacked at a boarding house in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda by another resident. Both men were in comas with traumatic brain injuries when their parents were summoned.

In their sitting room in Cabinteely, Co Dublin, Aidan glances above the mantelpiece at a photograph of his son David as he recalls the piecemeal way the news reached them. A relative saw something on Facebook suggesting David was in trouble. Another cousin phoned from Melbourne, after David hadn’t shown up to meet him as planned. By the time gardaí called, Aidan had already booked flights.

“We were in shock. All we could do was try to get through each stage of the day until we got over there, trying not to get carried away thinking about what might happen,” he remembers.

Just before the couple left for the airport, Marion O’Hagan called from the Australian Irish Welfare Bureau in Melbourne, a voluntary organisation that assists members of the Irish community in times of crisis.

“She asked if we knew where we were going when we landed,” Aidan says. “We hadn’t a clue. She said she’d be at the airport with a small Irish flag, and when we got off the flight, there she was.”

Fairy godmother

Over the following four weeks, O’Hagan “was like a fairy godmother”. When they needed to contact someone, she’d make the call. When they needed to go somewhere, she’d point them in the right direction. A couple with Irish heritage offered them a place to stay, while other members of the Irish community rallied around to offer support in whatever way they could.

“The hospital porter used to come and say ‘There’s someone here to see you’, and there’d be another total stranger there, from Ireland, wanting to help out . . . One fellow from Finglas offered us the use of his car. Others would offer prayers,” Aidan recalls.

“It meant so much when we were so far away from our own friends and family. We saw the goodness that is in people, as we were experiencing the most horrible side.”

Within four days, David Byas had emerged from his coma, but two weeks after the attack, David Greene died. At his deathbed with Aidan and Catherine were his two brothers and two oldest childhood friends, one of whom had moved to Australia only that week.

It was two weeks before the autopsy was complete and his body could be flown home for burial. The welfare bureau organised a church service in Melbourne, “a lovely way for his friends there to say their goodbyes”. It was an agonising time for the family. Media interest in the story, both in Australia and Ireland, didn’t help.

“We had to use the back way through Dublin Airport to avoid the photographers,” Aidan recalls. “Some of the stuff the papers were printing was horrible. Someone came up with a story about a hammer, and they kept reprinting it.

“I had to go to the press ombudsman to put a stop to it, because my mother at home was reading these stories in the papers. It was making the whole situation worse.”

The real story emerged during the trial last year of Luke Wentholt, the 31-year-old convicted of the attack, which started over a comment about his girlfriend, Shayla Pullen. Wentholt repeatedly attacked the heads of David Byas and David Greene after they had lost consciousness, before attacking four others.

Last September, just after the first anniversary of David Greene’s death, Aidan and Catherine watched by video link in the Four Courts in Dublin as Wentholt was sentenced to 18 ½ years in prison for murdering their son, and recklessly causing injury to David Byas.

The middle son of three, David Greene worked with his father as an apprentice after he left school. He lived in the family home and father and son were very close. But when work dried up in the downturn, David decided to leave for Australia.

“I thought a lot about what could have been done differently, but I had to stop. I lent him the money to go, and encouraged him to do it. I could spend my lifetime asking myself why, what if? But it’s not going to change anything.

“I don’t think it is right for young fellows like him not to be working. Not only for the money side of it, but for their mental health too. He was very happy in Australia.”

Catherine has struggled with anxiety since David’s death. Aidan has tried to stay strong for them both. Since September, he has attended regular meetings with Advic, a support group for people affected by homicide, which has been a “huge comfort”.

“Everyone who goes there knows what it is like to have someone close to you murdered. They are able to relate to the feelings I have,” he says. “I’ve been trying very hard to keep control of my emotions, not to let the anger take over, and stay positive.”

In an effort to give something back to the welfare bureau for all the support they gave his family, Aidan has set up a Facebook page to help spread the word about the support they give young emigrants, and has been distributing business cards with details of similar voluntary organisations that work with Irish communities around Australia.

“You never know, it might just help someone out,” he says. “I often think about what I would have done without them. I would have been completely lost. Your mind isn’t working right when you’re in a situation like that, you need someone to guide you through. They do absolutely amazing work, and no one seems to know about them.”

Because David had no travel insurance, the financial cost of his repatriation, as well as the family’s flights and other expenses, was substantial. During the trial, around 200 members of the Irish community, including the police officer assigned to them, turned out for a dinner dance fundraiser in an effort to contribute. “We couldn’t believe it was all for us. It was so uplifting to us to see all these strangers come together to help, just because we were from Ireland too.”

Aidan and Catherine are still in contact with the two couples who took them in, and with O’Hagan, who came to stay with them for a week in Dublin this January. “I call her a few times a week for a chat and a laugh. She’s just brilliant. It was the most traumatic time of our lives and we shared it with these people. There’s a bond there,” Aidan says.

“It became a story of big interest here because everybody in Ireland has someone abroad, and this was everyone’s worst nightmare. As a parent, it is always at the back of your mind. What if that happened, what would I do? But you never think it will happen to you.

“You take so much for granted, thinking they are going off to Australia and will be grand. It’s a pity you learn only when it’s too late.”

Irish Australian Welfare Bureau Melbourne
Irish Australian Welfare Bureau Sydney
Claddagh Association Perth
Irish Australian Support Association Queensland (Brisbane)