Oct 11, 2022
5 mins read
For reasons both personal and professional, I was delighted to see the publication of Russell Manser’s biography, The Voice of a Survivor, by author John Killick. For those that don’t know, Russ and John are both reformed bank robbers, once two of Australia’s most notorious outlaws, who have had the chance, and made the choice, to do something better with their lives.
Russ’s company, from where the book takes its name, work to find recognition, apology and reparation for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse. On and off I’ve worked for ‘the Voice’ since 2019, with a job that began immediately after I left rehab, where I went to treat my alcoholism, both of which experiences really do have the words, ‘life changing’ written all over them.
Two of Australia’s most notorious outlaws, who have had the chance, and made the choice, to do something better with their lives
A victim of child sexual abuse himself, Russ spent most of his early life either in jail, escaping from jail, robbing banks to pay for his heroin addiction, and then heading back to jail. In total he spent 23 years of his life behind bars. Russ doesn’t do that anymore, and as the book describes has a remarkable story to tell about how a smart and resourceful kid from the rough end of Sydney, ended up being locked, aged 14 in a jail for adults, in a cell with a paedophile. A necrophile to be more precise, but finer points aside, the tale of a life horribly derailed by abuse and institutional incompetence, to become one of the country’s leaders in the ongoing fight against the scourge of child sexual abuse, is an inspiring one to say the least.
Author John Killick.
Author John Killick meanwhile used to supplement his modest income as a freelance writer by robbing banks, which in turn paid for a gambling habit of the type where ‘losing everything you have’ meant literally that and happened on a number of occasions.
Unimpressed by authority, Killick’s reckless charm and disregard for the rule book, led him into all sorts of trouble, but most famously to pull off one of the most spectacular prison escapes in history, after leaving Silverwater jail without permission from the Governor, via the helicopter hijacked at gunpoint by his girlfriend. A legend in convict circles, John is now a leading crime writer, charity worker and tireless advocate for prison reform.
Either with Russ’s company or on penal reform matters, I’ve been lucky enough to work with both of these two terrible scallywags and outlaws, who have been as disliked by the authorities as they are revered and respected by that class of society known to civilians and the media as the ‘underworld’. In reality, determined and organised criminality certainly exists, but the underworld is more myth than place. Instead, if you look properly you’ll find simply the real world, a place not of criminal conspiracies, but normal people in sometimes impossible situations, making their way through a life where they have been abused, ignored, neglected and despised by a society they have come, understandably, to distrust and disobey in return.
If it’s a criminal conspiracy you’re looking for, a real and demonic underworld peopled by remorseless and well-organised criminals, then may I direct you to the Vatican in Rome, where you will find all those things operating as a well oiled machine; or perhaps the juvenile justice system in Australia where — from my own experience of working with Russ’s company — the large majority of paedophile predators are known to lurk, allowed, with seeming impunity, to act and rarely brought to full justice.
If it’s a criminal conspiracy you’re looking for, then may I direct you to the Vatican in Rome
Russ and John may be rogues of a type, classic Aussie villains, but they know that full well, and they own it, tell it straight and turned it around. Now powerful voices for change they ask for a system of compassion not coercion, rehabilitation not incarceration, and one designed to protect and support the abused, not enable and then hide the abuser.
I remember the chats I had with Russ when I met him at rehab a few years back. ’You should write a book’, I said. ‘I’m thinking about it’, he replied. ‘I reckon I’d make for a good documentary’, he said, ‘A fascinating one too’, I replied. ‘You might even end up famous’, I said (because Russ has ‘famous’ written all over him). All those things have now come to pass and all along the hope has been that public exposure, ‘fame’, might embolden more sexually abused people, currently silent, to come forward, find their voice and make that critical step from victim to survivor.
Russell Manser at the Gunnebah Addiction Retreat, NSW, Australia. Photo by Nick Jordan
I’m proud to know both these blokes, Killick and Manser, who’ve helped me see that meaningful change rarely comes from the top down, but from the bottom up, from the streets and places where mere words are replaced by actual deeds, easy promises by lasting commitments and false smiles by active compassion.
I’ve yet to read The Voice of a Survivor, in some ways I’ve had a ringside seat already. But I can recommend it anyway, because if it’s anything like the men who lived it and wrote it and meant every word, it will be a blistering and darkly entertaining ride through a world that few of us see, but will recognise immediately, from its obvious humanity, from our common desire for fairness and justice in everyday life and from the hope that we all share for a better day tomorrow.
To purchase a copy of The Voice of a Survivor, by John Killick, contact the company of the same name here. In Australia call 1300 863509.