Opinion Madonna King: Hannah Clarke was murdered one year ago. Her smile still haunts me

Madonna King: Hannah Clarke was murdered one year ago. Her smile still haunts me

Hannah Clarke in life, right, with her three children. And left, her funeral.
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Hannah Clarke’s smile still haunts me.

She wore it always, so no-one really knew the heartache behind it.

So her three children Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey didn’t know what an evil and dangerous man masqueraded as their father.

So her parents didn’t go mad with worry that their only daughter was being abused by the man who had promised, in front of them, to love her always.

So her friends and colleagues, at the gym and at work and in the pick-up zone after school, didn’t notice the pain and fear in the wariness that enveloped her life.

When Rowan Baxter, Hannah’s ex-husband, ambushed her, a knife at the ready, and set her on fire, her thoughts were for her children.

She died, thank God, not knowing that Baxter had used a match to kill them, too.

But still, with burns from head to toe, and only hours short of death, she attempted to be light-hearted, perhaps easing the load of those who attempted to save her; front-line workers and neighbours and passers-by who still struggle with the memories they hold of February 19, 2020.

Lloyd and Suzanne Clarke, parents to Hannah Clarke, at the vigil in Brisbane.

In her hospital bed, as her family and friends said a final goodbye, it was her perfect teeth that remained untouched. Not even a murderous and gutless ex-husband was able to change that.

In the days and weeks that followed, Hannah Clarke and her children became household names.

Calls for coercive control to be made illegal became louder. So did the push to better support those who were victims of domestic violence.

A new focus on perpetrators meant we looked overseas for different ideas to stem a brand of violence, where a small proportion of men – mainly – are responsible for repeated offences.

Politicians lined up to have their say, and make weighty promises. Hannah’s smile dominated television and online reports, as her parents’ views were sought on new ways of dealing with domestic violence to ensure a suburban street never, ever hosted such brutality again.

The public outcry was deafening. Hannah could have been our best friend. Our daughter. Our mother. Our aunt. Our sister.

Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey could have been at our nieces and nephews, at our children’s school, or in their playgroup.

Hannah Clarke and her three children.

This columnist knows of several cases where men put up their hand, and asked for help. And at least five cases where women, reading about Hannah, saw themselves in a mirror and sought refuge.

Hannah’s legacy promised to be an overhaul of an old-fashioned, piece-meal, police-led system that did nothing but created a revolving door of perpetrators and victims.

And then COVID struck. The media had another issue. The politicians looked elsewhere. Hannah’s smile slipped from view.

Behind the scenes, those who have devoted their lives to ridding the community of domestic violence continued to work diligently and steadily. Committees. Letters. Delegations. Papers. Programs. Research. Rallies.

Much of that has passed under the radar, and the work towards coercive control laws is progressing in several jurisdictions. But so much more needs to be done.

Every two minutes police attend a domestic violence incident somewhere in Australia, and police believe figures have jumped by more than 10 per cent during lockdown.

Hannah Clarke’s was one of 107,000 domestic and family violence cases investigated in the state were she lived – Queensland – last year.

But few knew, because she wore no visible bruises. And that bloody smile hid everything.

Next Friday, for Hannah and her kids, let’s look beyond the smile of someone we know, and ask – gently – whether they are OK.

baxter family
Hannah Clarke died from her injuries just hours after her estranged husband burned his family alive.

Let’s push harder for those domestic violence reforms so desperately needed, and the reform so publicly promised.

None of it will bring Hannah and Aaliyah and Laianah and Trey back. The hole in hearts of her parents Lloyd and Sue will not grow any smaller.

But it would be a fitting tribute to a young mother who always looked out for someone else, while wearing the smile of a Cheshire cat.

  • If you or someone you know needs help, reach out to 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or online here.
  • Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491, or online here.