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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

Killer: AKA Sal

It took me a long time to work out why the life of the party Sal was known as Killer! As a crime writer I thought I had a story straight from the horse’s mouth. But it turns out the gorgeous and lively lass was not a miscreant criminal…just a human whose maiden name started with the fateful three letters KIL. But I wasn’t disappointed, possibly relieved in some ways. My first meetings with Sal were at a couple of parties. One where she was dressed as a rampaging teenager from the 60s which lead to her mistaking a pot plant for a chair! Hilarious, a little outrageous and extraordinarily unperturbed!

As I’ve come to know Killer a little better and been able to delve into her back story the irony of my initial assumptions of a life of lawlessness became clear. Her father was a lawyer and barrister who became a magistrate in criminal law.

Sal was born in Sydney on the northern beaches and possibly destined to a life of adventure with her lawyer father and glamorous flight attendant mother. The adventure began when her parents and four children (Killer is the 2nd eldest of the four) set of to Papua New Guinea to further her father’s legal career. A stint in Darwin saw the family luckily leave the Northern Territory one month before Cyclone Tracy levelled the place, including the house they lived in. And a move to Canberra when Attorney General, Lionel Murphy, offered Mr. K a magistrate’s position. The young family settled into the growing national capital and started to make a life. I wondered if the moving worried Sal but for her it was part of the adventure. ‘New friends, new boys.’ She laughed.

So what of her parents’ pasts? Charles was an orphan. He was in care for much of his life until he was 18 and able to live independently. He educated himself and attained his law degree but was a rather emotionally locked down person. Clever, intense and never pre-judged even under the direst circumstances. Never spoke of his childhood until his father made contact when Sal was in her teens. The reunion such as it was, made little progress in a relationship between the two men. A relationship that had no past seem to have little future. At the grandfather's death it was discovered that he had a bag of newspaper clippings about Charles’s career. Perhaps the ties that bind can’t be fully broken.

Mary, Mrs. K, was a different personality all together, her past a complete contrast to her husband’s. Mary was one of triplets (2 girls and a boy) in a big family. Her life defined, in some ways, by noise and liveliness. She worked as a flight attendant, or in those days an air hostess, for TAA on DC9s. One of her identical sisters often worked the same flights which they used to amuse themselves to the confusion of the passengers. And finally married Charles after a less than romantic proposal. He asked her ‘what she thought about the matter’! Mary was a socialite who loved the parties and the social elite, Charles was a workaholic who was just as likely to go to bed halfway through a shindig.

But it wasn’t all parties and joy for Sal and her family. Charles buried himself in work and became somewhat tired of the endless social functions which inevitably meant too much drinking. It was a protracted end to the marriage which ultimately simply became a cessation of the relationship when they were in their fifties and the children had got on with their own lives. Somewhat out of necessity Charles and Mary reunited and lived together many years after the first split but it became fairly acrimonious. Charles, deeply academically inclined and a reformed drinker found Mary’s continued imbibing intolerable and thus the tension rose. Sal was called in to establish the rules of engagement which included the couple not speaking to each other after five o’clock.

Sal not only set the rules but also had to be the main decision maker as things became difficult for her ageing parents. Charles developed dementia and was angry with the failure of his mind but maintained some legal acumen when he insisted on making additions to the care home’s Workplace Health and Safety booklet. He continued to dress the part until a broken hip and internal bleeding left him unable to recover. Mary developed breast cancer in her sixties and a series of small strokes lead to her eventual loss of vision and short-term memory. Sal found the loss bittersweet. Like all bad ends it is a relief to have the suffering ended, but the losses hurt. Your parents after all, even with their failings and weaknesses are the ones who love us the most.

But before this sadness Sal had her own life. Travel and job opportunities with accommodation chains, managing the openings of new hotels in Queensland and an engagement added to the adventure. All was going wonderfully well until one morning when Sal awoke with a headache. Not your run of the mill, take two Panadol and get a night’s sleep headache but one that just could not be suppressed. Brain scans and a lumber puncture lead to two and a half months in hospital on pethidine lying flat on her back. Not allowed to eat, move or sit up finally allowed a doctor to diagnose intercranial hypertension. A condition that stems from vascular interruption of the flow of spinal fluid. A possible side effect of oral contraception. A shunt was inserted into Sal’s back to rectify the issue.

A casualty of the long recovery was her relationship. With the wedding cancelled Sal moved to Perth to continue her career. As luck or life would have it a new relationship blossomed and a life of adventure began. The new husband was a cricket player and the opportunity to travel with the Australian Test team to England was at the least a lot of fun. Living in Sydney between the travelling saw the family grow to include two wonderful children, a boy and girl.

Smooth sailing, however, is not necessarily easy to sustain when the party went on for the sportsman, and life got a bit lonely for Sal. After some years Sal made the decision to move back to Canberra with her two little people. Her father stepping in as legal counsel as well as protective dad to work out the logistics of moving the kids out of Sydney. An amicable arrangement of custody meant travelling to halfway points between the two cities so both parents could support the children as they grew.

Sal went back to work and until recently she worked for CIT as both a teacher and manager, particularly through the COVID years. She loved the classroom finding that her skills in human resource management and hotel administration gave her a great basis on which to deliver not only the theory of the courses but real world experience. She balanced the roles of mother, teacher and the wrangling of her warring parents for years.

And one might assume that the challenges were behind her but life always has other ideas. On the death of her father another surprise arrived in the form of a half-sister that no-one knew existed. At some point in the past Charles had fathered the fifth child with a partner unknown to anyone in the family. Sal’s response…a sense of disbelief. It was one of those wake-up calls that makes you see your parents as individuals who had real lives and imperfections. For a while Sal regretted the eulogy she gave for her father where she spoke of him as noble, full of integrity and decent. Now some years later she has reconciled the father she knew and the other life he lived. If nothing else, Sal is a forgiver and a realist. She also had to face the loss of a good friend to an unlawful killing. I think that’s the legal term she used courtesy of her family connections but the reality is that any death that involves violence, suddenness and cruelty is a pretty bitter pill. But this too she has been able to accept.

Now living on the south coast of NSW she has returned to her roots as a beach babe. She loves the sound of the sea and the quiet of the small-town existence. But she knows how to party when called upon to do so. No doubt there will be the occasional nights of mistaking pot plants for chairs, the odd opportunity to dance like its 1980 and enjoy a glass of champagne should it be required. Sal is her own person. Unique, vibrant, deeply caring, unafraid of the world, strong, kind and terribly funny.

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