Suffering Children and the Absence of Role Models in ‘Kill the Possum’

James’s Moloney’s Kill the Possum is an intriguing and detailed story set in Australia about a girl “desperate to live a normal life” although her family is “tormented by a monster’s cruelty.” (Penguin Australia) During the story, we see how the children act and how they develop with the environments and role models around them. Some of the choices they make, their suffering, and their failures rely on the lack of strong role models. The three main topics that need to be discussed are the situations the children go through that make it clear that they do not have efficient role models, the role models themselves and what makes them bad influences, and how the children can also be seen as role models themselves.

The children, Dylan, Kirsty, Tim and Melanie, lack strong role models. A good and stable role model can be defined as a person whose behaviour, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people. This form of relationship is never exactly shown throughout the progressing story, nor is it inferred that the children are able to look up to their role models, if they have any, success. It is clear to see that Dylan, Kirsty, Tim and Melanie do not have strong role models due to the choices they make that are influenced by their superiors. Scenarios such as Tim and Dylan stealing a gun and attempting to murder Ian Cartwright; “We’ve beaten the bastard at his own game. He invades your house and we do the same to him. He doesn’t know we’re here and he never will. This is it Tim. This is the place, Tim. Here in this room, this is where we are going to kill him.” [quote extracted from chapter 15 page 171, from Dylan Kane]. Other than invading houses and plotting murder, the children are also drinking and getting drunk at their young age, skipping school, abusing a live harmless animal, getting trouble in the law, and much more. James Baldwin, an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic says “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them”. This means that the examples given from their elders could be accidentally adapted and taken as their own, even affecting them in the future lives. Abuse may even be found in their future households, excessive drinking, and bad relationships with their partners, family, and friends could also appear. Though their bad choices aren’t entirely their fault right now, it is relied on the people who had raised them and the people who had given them example.

The main role models in the story are the children’s parents and carers; Ian Cartwright, Louise Beal (Mrs Beal), Rosemary Kane (Mrs Kane), and Mr Kane. The two pairs of parents both have many things in common, although one stands out the most; they can’t solve their own problems. Being unable to solve your own problems guarantees a failure or suffrage if one wants to help another, though it varies throughout these particular characters if they would even like to help their own children or if they are even capable. Other qualities that identify them as unstable role models are abusive or sadistic behaviour, frail or weak conditions, bad communication, unable to put forth the effort to improve and create things that will make a difference, and no clear sense of what is important to them. An additional and very important motive almost explainable for their behaviour is their pasts. Although it is not clearly mentioned, it could possibly be inferred that Ian Cartwright didn’t have the greatest past living with his own family and could have taken example from his own role models making him the man that he is today. Ian may seem like a nice guy and ideal role model to the public eye, but behind closed doors each Sunday he is far from it. Any inspiration could be like an Ian Cartwright and you wouldn’t even know it unless you experienced it yourself. For example in 2007 Chris Brown was convicted of physically abusing his current girlfriend at the time Rihanna.

Brown was raised surrounded by domestic abuse; his stepfather allegedly abusing his mother. In the relationship between the two pop-stars, it was said that there was much a lot of mental abuse first hand until Chris had started beating and chocking her to unconsciousness. This is an example of a world-wide inspiration, being someone totally different behind closed doors. Many children look up to such widely admired public figures, and can make poor personal choices from their examples. The affair is also similar to the relationship between Ian and Louise. Louise Beal lost her husband, her love of her life, to fatal disease. If that didn’t break her down enough, then being tormented by the abuse of Ian and the Committal did. She had lied in court, tried to kill herself, ended up in a psychotic ward, and being labelled as an ‘unreliable witness’ in court. “It made a real mess out of Mum. She’s never been the same since. Hopeless, bloody hopeless and now Ian thinks he can get away with anything…” [quote extracted from chapter 6 page 69, from Tim Beal]. This quote describes Mrs Beal as an unsteady and powerless figure. Rosemary Kane is better but to an extent. She may be the best role model in the book, besides Mr Beal, Fiona and Eric – but the children/child sees very rarely of them or not at all anymore therefore making them not the strongest of role models. Rosemary Kane is a decent mother to Dylan, but when her child is found to be drinking alcohol and causing havoc with law, Rosemary doesn’t seem to freak out as much as a normal and caring parent would and doesn’t give any form of reasonable punishment or scolding. Dylan’s father, Mr Kane, abandoned his son for a new family, a new country, a new wife, without much acknowledgement to him. He doesn’t provide any gifts for special occasions nor does he bother to regularly call or visit. This also impacts Rosemary Kane; the remains of distress and sorrow cause her to be an unstable role model. All the parents have provided very poor examples into choosing the right choices and behaving in the right manner. This could also impact the future.

In a sense, the children can be seen as role models to each other as well. A role model doesn’t necessarily have to be a parent or someone older, but someone to provide and lead an example of some kind. Dylan Kane sets an example for mainly Tim and Kirsty throughout the story. They rely on him as a stronger figure and role model. He does take good care of the Beal children, but as a child himself he makes the same bad choices as they do and doesn’t know any better. In fact Dylan had mainly influenced the acts of drinking alcohol, killing and abusing live possums, and even triggers the plan to kill Ian. This makes him a weak role model. Kirsty Beal creates example for her siblings, Tim and Melanie, and possibly even her mother in some ways. Kirsty is a very motherly figure in the Beal household as she is the one to organise meals, watch over Tim and Melanie and keep her entertained, Kirsty comforts her mother after each Sunday, and is the only one capable and strong enough to stand up to Cartwright. Although she does possess many good qualities to make a strong role model, she also has her weaknesses and disadvantages. She also suffers from the pressure of everything in her life, and so that’s where Dylan comes in to comfort her. “An impulse takes over her and surprising the both of them, she hugs Dylan. She’s giddy with the recklessness of it. The hug is over and now she’s crying. She’s grateful to this boy for what he’s said” [quote extracted from chapter 9 page 93]. This quote indicates that Dylan is a more able and reliable character in the book. They all do have their strong points, but not enough to be called a strong role model.

There are many, many role models in the novel, although they are not strong and leaders with potential to leave necessarily a good influence on others. All the role models in the story have people who look up to and take example from them which could then lead to their own future mistakes and similar behaviour. If the children in Kill the Possum had positive effective leaders, not only would the problems not arise in the first place, but they would be able to take care of the situations better and influence their futures to be better than it would be.