Life imitates art as 'Mad Bastards' movie star is jailed for killing

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The Independent Online

A new film about life in Western Australia's Kimberley region has been praised as a realistic depiction of the problems facing remote Aboriginal communities. So realistic, in fact, that on the day Mad Bastards opened, one of the cast members, Roxanne Williams, was jailed for the manslaughter of her violent partner.

The film, made by Sydney-based Brendan Fletcher, features mostly untrained actors, many of them residents of the town of Wyndham, where Mad Bastards is set. It traces the efforts of an Aboriginal drifter, TJ, to build a relationship with his son.

Unflinching in its portrayal of the violence, alcoholism and abuse that blight many Aboriginal lives, the movie received glowing reviews in the US after being screened at the Sundance Festival in January.

But when it opened in Australia last week, the fanfare was muted, with one cast member dead and another in jail. Both Ms Williams, 29, and her late partner, Joseph Johnston, had small parts in the film. And, in a tragic case of life imitating art, she stabbed him with a kitchen knife during an argument at their home a few months after filming ended.

The court heard that she had been assaulted repeatedly by 30-year-old Mr Johnston over the years.

On the night of his death, after both had been drinking, he attacked her once again. Ms Williams, who was 14 weeks pregnant, grabbed a knife and stabbed him in the chest, intending only to disable him, she said.

Jailing her for just three years, the judge, Justice Michael Murray, said she was clearly remorseful and had acted out of fear. He also observed that Mr Johnston's violent behaviour "reflected his cultural deprivation and no doubt difficult life circumstances".

Several of the actors in Mad Bastards have spoken publicly about the way the film mirrors their own experiences.

Dean Daley-Jones, who plays TJ, has admitted to a history of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as domestic violence. In the film, he is asked by an elder to talk about his problems. He says: "I wouldn't know where to start... I've got a little man inside of me with an axe."

Reflecting on his own life, Mr Daley-Jones told The Australian: "I just exploded in my mid-20s... I became angry about the way my people were being treated... and I went about dealing with that anger in a bad way."

Ms Williams was born to an alcoholic mother, who rejected her. She was sexually-abused at the age of eight. Her father is in jail for sex offences and her brother hanged himself when she was 15. She has been convicted for kicking her daughter – now eight – in the head because she would not stop crying.

On the night of Mr Johnston's death, she had drunk nine beers and 10 tequila shots when he began assaulting her. Ms Williams later told police that he tried to strangle her. She fled to the kitchen, where she grabbed the knife. "I just wanted to... injure him in the shoulder to stop him from hitting me," she said. The killing was a big shock to cast and crew.

Mr Fletcher gave Ms Williams a character reference in court, saying she had behaved in an "exemplary" way during filming and was a "loving and caring" mother.

Her defence lawyer, Peter Collins, said that alcohol had poisoned her 10-year relationship with Mr Johnston.