Ellie and Tim’s surprise February wedding at the Old Parliament House rose gardens had a…
Trigger Warning: DV
After the untimely loss of a loved one, it is impossible to measure the full effect of loss. Stories about the person and the circumstances of their death become embedded in the memories of families, friends and the community for generations.
In February this year, Tara Costigan was murdered. She left behind three children, and a very close family. The murder investigation surrounding her death and her funeral gained a lot of local and national media coverage. In 2015, Tara was the 15th woman killed due to violence in Australia. Her ex-partner, Marcus Rappel, has been charged with her murder and is currently awaiting trial.
Canberra is often described as a big country town: there are so many close connections between people here that six degrees of separation is superfluous, often one or two will do.
It is for that reason that Tara’s cousin Nathan chose to speak to the media quickly after her death, to ensure Canberrans, and all of Australia, knew about Tara’s dedication to her children and her beautiful nature. Nathan says that being the family spokesperson was one of the hardest things Nathan had ever done. The close-knit community of Canberra meant that he was opening up himself and his family to a lot of scrutiny.
“I wanted people to know that Tara was a young, hardworking mother doing everything she could to look after her children. Right after she was killed people had so many opinions, and I wanted to make sure everyone knew the truth.”
Nathan had grown up with Tara. The Costigan cousins were often sent to their grandparents place in Tuross on the South Coast for school holidays. Tara lost her father when she was seven and became estranged from her mother in her teens. Nathan’s mum took on a mentoring role for her niece; she was a single mother too and knew what it took to raise young kids on her own, so she helped out with Tara’s children.
The Costigan family gathered at a BBQ every Sunday, and this was how they came to know Marcus. A year before Tara was killed, their Pop became ill and Nathan recalls Marcus and Tara visiting him in hospital before he passed away. Marcus was quiet and reserved, but polite around the family. Tara was very happy with Marcus in the beginning; he was the first man she’d really loved.
After a year or so, Nathan had heard from his mum and Nan that Tara and Marcus were having issues, but these didn’t seem out of the ordinary at first, after all it’s not uncommon for couples to argue. However, things escalated, and Tara told her aunty and Nan that Marcus was becoming very jealous. He didn’t trust her and had started waking her up at night to argue.
Eventually, Tara sought a domestic violence order against Marcus. The next day, she was killed.
Nathan believes that domestic violence education is vital in changing the culture in Australia, and preventing other families from losing their loved ones.
“I learned nothing at school or football or anywhere about domestic violence until Tara was killed. I used to be one of those ignorant people who would say ‘why wouldn’t you walk away if your partner was abusive’, but I’ve learned so much in the last six months. Now I feel like a walking encyclopaedia for domestic violence triggers.”
Nathan organised for the Domestic Violence Crisis Service to provide an awareness session to members of his football club, and was awed at the response from members; over a hundred people attended the session.
The information was confronting, behaviours that most people would consider harmless on their own, can indicate controlling habits such as:
- commenting on a partners outfit;
- asking where a partner is going and who they are spending time with; or
- requesting their partner to spend more time with them or less time with certain people.
On their own, these behaviours are not necessarily dangerous, but when they are combined or used to control a partner, they may indicate something more serious. Understanding these types of triggers and being aware of their implications means that friends and family members can make more informed decisions about whether or not behaviour is cause for concern. From there, if an educated person observes controlling or abusive behaviour, they can feel empowered to say something, or to report it.
Throughout his focus on increasing awareness of domestic violence, Nathan has come across people who are very defensive of men’s rights. People can be highly critical of information about men perpetuating domestic violence. This is not what domestic violence awareness is about however, and Nathan points out that the focus needs to be on awareness and keeping our own behaviour calm and supportive.
“It’s about how you talk to people, your staff, your kids, your friends: you need to set the standard in your own conduct.”
After losing Tara in such horrific circumstances, Nathan’s entire perspective on life has changed. He is aware now more than ever about the importance of displaying good sportsperson-ship on the field: his son and all of the young players are watching. He’s learned that playing powerful footy is one thing, but that aggression or negative reactions to the game are no longer acceptable.
“When I’m asked what the greatest thing about my son is, I say it’s his compassion for others. He shares toys at daycare and is kind to the other kids. He’s great at football too, but it’s his good nature I admire the most.”
Nathan feels fortunate in his role as a senior coach at the Tuggeranong Hawks football club, because he is in close contact with players of all ages and wants to use his position to positively influence the culture of the club. He believes that leaders in any community are closely scrutinised, and therefore their conduct is vital in supporting cultural change.
The first day back at football training after Tara was killed, Nathan experienced exceptional support from his team. No one said a word when he arrived, and training started as usual. Then throughout the session, each member of the team came up to Nathan, patting him on the back or nodding encouragement.
“There were no words, but I felt their support through their silence – their acknowledgement of what I was going through. This one horrendous event, it stripped everyone of their background, of their cultural and religious beliefs – they all stood behind me and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
For the Costigans, the shock of Tara’s murder and the burden of saying goodbye to a bright and beautiful member of their family is only the beginning. They have held weekly meetings since Tara’s funeral to support each other in the logistics of managing Tara’s estate and ensuring an ongoing connection with her children.
“The way in which Tara was murdered has changed us all. Someone came through her door and killed her. We are now all committed in our own individual ways to supporting Tara’s kids and keeping her memory alive.”
To donate to the Tara Costigan Foundation visit www.taracostiganfoundation.com
Photo courtesy of Nathan Costigan