Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 10, 2018

Author event: Cindy Wockner at Beaumaris Books


The Pastor and the PainterTo mark World Day against the Death Penalty, owners Cheryl and Andrew Martin from Beaumaris Books invited author Cindy Wockner to talk last night about her book The Pastor and the Painter.  It’s the story of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the drug traffickers who were executed in Indonesia in 2015, and I reviewed it here.  Also present was Christie Buckingham, pastor at the local Bayside Church, who ministered to Andrew Chan in his last hours and was present at the execution.  Her role had been to help Chan with his Bible studies so that he could become a pastor, and she never expected to be chosen by him as the person to be with him at the final moment. She found herself needing to read the scriptures from Matthew in order to steel herself for it.

It is Cheryl’s practice to trawl the books for food references when she organises the catering for these author events, and there is usually some jocularity about the menu provided by the restaurant Ginger Fox.  But somehow no one really felt like laughing when they learned that there are numerous references to KfC in the book and that the crumbed chicken we were eating was what Sukumaran had for his last meal.  It was a sober start to a sobering presentation.

Cindy began by reminding us that she had made a promise to keep fighting the death penalty.  She read out part of a letter Sukumaran had written to her at the end, in which his thoughts were for the families who had to endure the cruelty.  Because of the long, drawn-out process of appeals, there were numerous times when he thought that death was just a few days away.  And each time was agony for their loved ones.  It was clear to the audience that Cindy is still very emotional about this time in her life – to her great credit, it’s a far cry from the image of the hard-bitten and dispassionate journalist.

The execution of the two men from the Bali Nine was not her first experience in reporting on the death penalty in Indonesia.  In 2008 she was in Indonesia covering the execution of the Bali Bombers, when there was a cheer squad for the death penalty, which was welcomed in Australia. Even then she though the death penalty was pointless, because it didn’t bring back anyone who had died.

It seemed quite bizarre in the quiet suburban safety of a restaurant in Beaumaris, to hear these two women talk about this grim experience, and both of them spoke passionately about using the story of Chan and Sukumaran as a ‘drug-proofing’ strategy.  They talked about ubiquitous drug-taking in Australia, and how the eight countries that have the death penalty in our region are also those most visited by Australians.  Christie said that it astonishes her that parents pay for their children to attend Schoolies Week in Bali, where they are surrounded by drugs, where they are drinking alcohol which is illegal for under 21-year-olds, and where the risk of something terrible happening is grave indeed.

The barrister Julian McMahon AC was credited as the catalyst for the reform of the two men.  Cindy said that her relationship with the two men was a journey which began with not liking them very much.  Their patently untrue denials and lack of remorse didn’t help their legal cause either because honesty and repentance are crucial elements in a defence case in Indonesia.  It was McMahon who – when he took over the case from the previous inept legal team – told them that they must choose between the light and the dark and to acknowledge what they had done and the terrible harm it could potentially cause.  The subsequent judicial review was the first time the men admitted guilt.

As we know, all attempts failed, but the campaign to abolish the death penalty goes on.  I was pleased to hear that Australia is now making a more determined effort within the UN.

Journalist Sally Warhaft also speaks movingly about the impact of the horror on the families in this ABC report and Christie Buckingham is featured as well.

If you would like to help in the campaign against the death penalty, contact:

  • Amnesty International who began campaigning 40 years ago and have seen the number of countries who have abolished the death penalty rise from 16 to 104
  • Reprieve Australia whose president is Julian McMahon AO who represented Chan and Sukumaran and also Van Truong Nguyen who was executed in Singapore in 2005, as well as numerous other cases around the world.

The Pastor and the Painter is available from Fishpond: The Pastor and the Painter


  1. Sounds like a really stimulating event Lisa. Thanks for the report.


    • These events at Beaumaris Books are really good to go to…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nothing like eating out AND talking about books. I wonder who the ‘inept legal team’ were – I’ve had some of them represent me (in civil cases).


    • I think she said they were a form that mainly did conveyancing work.



    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh wow, this must have been quite an emotional event Lisa. A difficult subject that touches us all. Sounds like ‘The Pastor and the Painter’ has much to contribute.


    • Yes, it was. I think those women, especially Christie Buckingham, had enormous courage.

      Liked by 1 person

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