RICK Yagodich’s mother knew her marriage was a mistake the day she stood beside the husband who eventually killed her, and said her marriage vows.
Her son, who travelled half way around the world this week to fill in the details of the year he turned seven, when his father killed his mother and then took his own life, now knows his mother always believed she would die the way she did.
“She knew it was going to happen. I spoke to one of the people who helped clean out the place after she’d gone. In her underwear drawer my mother left a letter that said ‘To whoever finds this. If you’re reading this, I’m no longer here’,” Rick Yagodich said.
On Friday he walked around the boarded-up house in the Bylong valley he has always called home, despite living in England and Switzerland since his parents’ deaths in 1978. He laid the past to rest.
He knows his mother, Alison, took out a domestic violence order against his father, Jack, in the weeks before her death after she suffered injuries when he hit her. He knows he and his brother David were with relatives in Sydney in January, 1978 because it was the school holidays, but also because the marriage was coming to an end and his mother wanted to protect the boys from their parents’ arguments.
“Everyone I’ve talked to so far has said my father was extremely meticulous about everything being done well. If you were a strong-willed woman like my mother, I imagine that would be very hard,” Rick Yagodich said.
“I spoke to a woman who was a friend of my mother’s. In a conversation they had my mother said she knew on her wedding day that the marriage was a mistake because my father said to her, ‘Everything you own is now mine’.
“He was born in the 1920s in central Europe. They were different times. Men had different ideas about relationships with women. They were strong feelings he had.”
I spoke to a woman who was a friend of my mother’s. In a conversation they had my mother said she knew on her wedding day that the marriage was a mistake because my father said to her, ‘Everything you own is now mine’.- Rick Yagodich
Rick Yagodich and his brother never returned home to Bylong after their mother died on January 23, 1978 and their father took his own life five months later while in Long Bay Jail awaiting trial on a charge of murder. But for the past 20 years or so, since discovering neither his mother nor father died of natural causes, he has wanted to return “home”, which has always been Bylong, he said.
On the drive from Rylstone on Friday morning he remembered the winding road between the two country towns and the day when snow fell. He remembered the January Bylong heat as the temperature climbed on Friday.
He walked around the old house at Iron Tank, which was called Zora when his parents bought it, but changed to Iron Tank after it was sold following his parents’ death. The old windmill is still there. A shed or two are missing. The cattle fencing is as it was.
The house is fenced off and there are signs warning of asbestos. Iron Tank – bought by maverick farmer and Natural Sequence Farming inventor Peter Andrews to add to his neighbouring property Tarwyn Park – was acquired by Korean Government-backed energy company KEPCO in 2014 as part of its controversial buy-out of Bylong valley to make way for an open cut coal mine.
KEPCO employees politely escorted Mr Yagodich on to the property and waited as he walked around with retired NSW policeman Keith Grimshaw, who drove from his home outside Dubbo to meet Mr Yagodich and tell him details of his family’s final weeks at Bylong.
Mr Grimshaw took out the domestic violence order on Mrs Yagodich’s behalf before she died. He took the call from Jack Yagodich who said he’d bashed his wife, and drove Jack Yagodich around Iron Tank’s paddocks only hours after the killing, to open gates so that cattle could find water.
Mr Grimshaw agreed that it showed the extremes humans are capable of – a man bashes his wife to death but shows concern for the cows that would suffer if they can’t reach water in the heat.
Rick Yagodich said he felt nothing emotionally as he walked around, other than a recognition that Bylong is no longer “home”.
“It’s always been home. Wherever I’ve been living, in England and Switzerland, it’s never been home because Bylong has been home. Keith pointed out things I’d not known about. He showed me where mum was found but the emotion’s not there. It’s as expected. I was only seven when it happened,” he said.
“I was on holiday away from Bylong when it all happened. For 20 years or so I’ve felt like I had to come back to say the holiday’s over. It’s being able to tick the box, see Bylong, find out as much as I can about what happened, and then realise the holiday is over and it’s time to get on with my life.”
Mr Grimshaw and Mr Andrews were two of many former neighbours, friends and teachers who travelled to Bylong this week to meet Mr Yagodich, or called to make contact.
Mr Yagodich is writing a book. He is also content with his memories.
“I don’t have much memory of my father but there is one. We were sitting on the veranda outside the kitchen, eating tomatoes he’d just picked. It’s just that memory of the two of us. There’s no particular emotion attached to it, but it’s clear.”
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