Tag Archives: Elie’s Cafe

Honouring one of the 62

rose_nadiaIt was another gorgeous spring day in Bathurst, with birds vying for trees and plum blossoms dusting the footpaths with pink petals. The priest in white and gold stood on the steps as we made our way into the cathedral with its giant sandstone columns, soaring stained glass windows and an altar surrounded by dozens of flickering candles. There were easels holding up two portrait shots of a beautiful brown-haired woman. One was a close up with her chin resting on her hands. The other showed her with a young boy. Moving quietly among us were Zenio Lapka and Chris Seabrook, photographers for the Bathurst City Life and the Western Advocate. Their presence was a reminder that this was not an ordinary memorial service. People were here, and people would want to know about this ceremony, because Nadia Cameron is one of the 62.

So far this year, that we know of, 62 women have died at the hands of their partners or ex-partners. Back in July, the number was not quite that high, but it was climbing. It was on July 18, the day Bathurst was blanketed in snow, that word went around town that something dreadful had happened: Elie Issa, proprietor of the ever-popular Elie’s Cafe, right in the middle of town, had murdered his ex-partner Nadia, who worked at Bathurst Real Estate a couple of doors down. He’d shot Nadia twice in his living room in his house at Kelso, and then he had turned the gun on himself. It was shattering. In the days afterwards, piles of flowers appeared at the doors of both premises.

Today’s service was a chance to to process the shock and celebrate a beautiful life cut short.

“As Nadia died violently and suddenly is important for us to gather as a community and grieve together,” said the celebrant, Father Paul Devitt.

The cathedral was the appropriate place because Nadia was a regular churchgoer. Father Devitt pointed out the spot where Nadia usually sat on Sunday mornings.

Nadia’s friend, Barb McTaggart, read the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon…

Another friend, Lee Illingworth, told us that her own youngest son and Nadia’s son Jordan had been best friends for three years. They’d both attended the Cathedral school. The boys had ridden motorbikes, gone swimming, played soccer and eaten at McDonalds together. Lee had first seen Nadia at the school gate wearing “Kylie Minogue hotpants and a boob tube”. She was a woman who took great care of her appearance, and was quite open about trips to Sydney for cosmetic procedures and hair extensions.

“She wasn’t bragging, she was just telling me in case I needed to get some hair extensions,” said Lee.

She spoke of Nadia’s generous spirit and care in showing her friends that she cared for them.

“Every time I see a beautiful woman I’ll think of Nadia,” said Lee.

David Swan, speaking on behalf of Judge Andrew Colefax SC, who was unable to attend because of illness, read out First Corinthians Chapter 13: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Another friend, Christine Le Fevre, who runs the Bishops Court Estate boutique hotel, said Nadia had come into her life in “such an effervescent way”. Nadia had turned up to book her son’s Christening party, but stayed on to become one of Christine’s dearest friends. She was a “beautiful gorgeous girl” who lit up a room; she never forgot a birthday or other special occasion; she was radiant, beaming with life, a beauty on the inside as well as on the outside. She loved the finer things in life, like champagne and shoes and Paris. Christine and her husband David Swan had been in Paris when they got the news of Nadia’s death in the middle of the night. The following day, David went to the Somme as planned but Christine was in no mood for the battlefield. Instead, she spent the day shopping with Nadia, seeing things Nadia would have liked to see, buying things Nadia would have liked to have.

“She’s been taken from us,” said Christine.

Christine said she had taken all the flowers and cards left for Nadia outside Bathurst Real Estate office and was composting them ready for a memorial garden in her honour. The garden will feature a lipstick maple tree.

And then Christine turned her attention to the 62. She said that TV presenter Lisa Wilkinson had spoken out against domestic violence, and Nadia’s face was there on screen as she spoke.

“Nadia’s out there being remembered in our world,” Christine said. “We must stop this from happening.”

Barb McTaggart added her own memories of Nadia. The two women had met at the Health World gym. Nadia had shown a great talent for chatting, exercising and keeping up with the instructor at the same time.

Michael Buble’s “Home” and “Flying High” rang out from the overhead speakers.A team of beautifully dressed women – dressed in honour of Nadia’s dress sense – gave out tiny plastic glasses of champagne or sparkling mineral water. Father Devitt asked us all to be upstanding. He said we should stand partly so that we could drink a toast to Nadia, and partly because “we must make a stand against domestic violence.”A woman came along the pews handing out fresh long-stemmed white roses.And then we all spilled out onto William Street. Just a couple of blocks away, Elie’s Cafe remains closed. But Bathurst Real Estate will open its doors as usual tomorrow. And it was still a beautiful spring day.

Two shops in William Street

Elie's Cafe, July 26, 2015
Elie’s Cafe, July 26, 2015

Yesterday afternoon it was cold and wet and squally in Bathurst. A grey sky; raindrops on the car windows. We park in William Street and I get out to take photographs of two shops: Elie’s Cafe and two doors down, Bathurst Real Estate. It is Sunday afternoon, wet and quiet, but there are a few people on the footpath stopping, like me, to look at the heaped flowers and read the messages. Bathurst is a town that has had a piece blasted out of it; a bit of its ordinary daily life shot to pieces. There’s a function on at the town hall. You think you’ll just pop in to Elie’s beforehand and grab a – no you won’t. Not that cafe.

There’s still the sign on the front door. It’s the sign that went up on the day of the news of the murder-suicide, or probable murder-suicide. Officially, we don’t know exactly what happened. Officially, we won’t know until the coroner’s report. “Due to unforeseen circumstances…” says the handwritten sign, delicately.

Unofficially, it’s pretty clear what went on. Not just a senseless explosion of random forces that left a cafe proprietor and a real estate agent dead on a living room floor in Kelso, but the murder of a woman who wanted to leave by a man who did not want her to leave.In Australia this year we’re already up to more than 50 women dead at the hands of their partners.

Tribute to Nadia Cameron
Tribute to Nadia Cameron in the window of Bathurst Real Estate, July 26, 2015.

The police are apparently exploring a “separation theory” in this case. Like “unforeseen circumstance”, “separation theory” doesn’t sound particularly scary. It doesn’t convey the terror, the horror, of murderous rage. Nor, for that matter, do the words “family violence”. There’s something slippery about these words. There’s a sense of an all-in ruckus, as if all the members of a family were overturning tables and throwing punches. When what we’re usually talking about is one man – with a gun, or a knife, or a blunt instrument – and his terrified hostages.

I can’t help brooding over this. I’ve just read, almost in one sitting, Helen Garner’s book about the man who drove his three children into a dam on Father’s Day. All he wanted to do, as his children drowned behind him, was go to his ex-wife’s house to tell her what he’d done. To make her suffer.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. With more than fifty women dead already, with the year only halfway through, this is laughable. It’s clearly the other way around.

The snow job and the murder-suicide

Snowy back yard.
Bertie in the snow-covered back yard, Bathurst, July 17, 2015.

Last Friday was strange. We were up at about one or two in the morning, standing in the pool of light just outside the back door, looking at the white dots gently, steadily, coming down out of a black sky. The black dog was being speckled with white stuff. We had white stuff on our shoulders. Snow. Snow, for most Australians, is an unusual thing. It’s something to get excited about. It’s transient. And then it was daylight. I’d hardly slept because I don’t sleep well these days and being awake for the snow had made it worse, so I was snuggled far down under the doona, but Steve was making me get up to have a look. Out of the bedroom window, everything was white. In the back yard, the little tree we’d planted over my dead cat ten years ago was half its height, branches touching the ground, weighed down by snow. Steve made snowballs in his bare hands and threw them at Bertie, who caught them in his teeth. Unlike a tennis ball, they had no resistance. His teeth snapped down over them as though they were made of nothing. He wagged his tail furiously.

Snowmen appeared all over town.

When Steve got home after work, he asked if I’d heard the news. This seemed odd – I’d been living the news of the day along with everyone else. It was Snow Day. What more news could there be? So you haven’t heard about Elie’s Cafe? No. What about it?

Elie’s Cafe is one of the town’s most popular cafes. It’s diagonally opposite the Council chambers, not far from the Western Advocate, in the main street, near the war memorial. It’s housed in the old Royal Hotel where town leaders once addressed the citizens from the balcony. That Cafe. Well, Elie Issa, the owner, was found dead in his living room today. Everyone knows Elie. He’s the jovial man in the corner opposite the counter, laughing with friends who join him at the table, poring over the day’s papers. To go into Elie’s Cafe is to also see and hear Elie, a permanent fixture. Oh. He is dead. Not only that, but his girlfriend is dead, too, and they were found in the living room with a gun nearby, and there are no other suspects, and they’re saying it was a murder-suicide.

And you go into cognitive dissonance. You hold the two ideas in your brain – this jovial, laughing man greeting his customers and friends, and the bloody aftermath of violence – and they don’t match up. This is what it is to be shocked: the world is not quite what you thought it was.

And then, in the hours and days afterwards, a narrative framework  begin to emerge that might hold these ideas together. The next day, in the Sydney Morning Herald, there’s a story based on interviews with friends and family of Nadia Cameron, the beautiful woman found dead with Elie in the living room of the ordinary house on Rosemont Avenue, Kelso. They say she’d broken up with him, and he was trying to win her back. They say he’d been jealous and controlling and she wanted nothing more to do with him, but she felt sorry for him. And now the story begins to settle around a national conversation about domestic violence and women dying at the hands of men who would control them. A new Elie Issa emerges, a Jekyll and Hyde: jolly at work, murderously jealous at home. Laughter as snow job; as a thin veneer over the darkness.

There’s a story, and then a shock. But we can’t stay in shock, in the fact of our not-knowing. As quickly as possible, we want to build a new story so that we are not left hanging in that strange space between ideas that seem to have no connection.

The next day, the sun was shining. Snow Day had vanished. There were just tell-tale patches of white in the shade, and odd white piles that had been snowmen. And the day after that, just damp ground.