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Olga had one safe place: her yoga class. Then her abusive husband colonised it

An inquest into the deaths of Olga’s children, Jack and Jennifer, at the hands of their father John Edwards in 2018, heard how Edwards used to make fun of Olga for her love of yoga.

“He used to tease her a lot, he mocked her attending yoga,” Detective Sergeant Tara Phillips told the inquest this week.

“She was quite good at it. He always used to complain that she would always go to yoga.”

After Olga had summoned the courage to leave Edwards in March 2016, Olga took Jack and Jennifer and installed them in a rental house she thought was safe, in Sydney’s leafy West Pennant Hills.

She launched Family Court proceedings to gain legal responsibility over the children, who were scared of their father and did not want to see him.

She kept going to her yoga class, her safe place.

Then one early morning in February 2017, when she lay in the darkened yoga room awaiting her class, the instructor arrived and turned up the lights.

Illustration: Reg Lynch

Illustration: Reg LynchCredit:

In the mirror in front of her, she saw Edwards, who, unbeknownst to her, had been lying in wait just a few metres behind her.

She fled the yoga studio and went straight to Hornsby police station to report the incident, which terrified her.

But the police there did not take her seriously – they said she seemed “more angry than scared”. They accepted Edwards’ explanation that it was just a coincidence that he and his estranged wife happened to be in the studio for the same class.

Police did not take out an AVO on behalf of Olga and they did not ring the yoga instructor to investigate independently what happened.

If they had, they would have learned the instructor was so perturbed by Edwards’ behaviour that he asked him not to return to the studio.

Months later, when Edwards applied for a gun licence, the yoga incident did not come up on the police record search the NSW Firearms Registry did on Edwards.

A lot of other incidents did – Edwards had a 30-year history of harassing, assaulting and stalking the women and children in his life.

None of it mattered. Edwards was able to obtain the licence and, then, the guns he used to kill his children.

The Edwards inquest is the kind of story that stays in your head and sticks to your skin. Edwards had such a strong history of violence that it is tempting to think it would have been impossible to prevent him committing the unspeakable act he did.

But the yoga incident – and the fact it was not seen in context and taken seriously by police – is a real “sliding doors” moment.

Olga was caught in a Chinese finger trap – the more she pulled away, the tighter she was drawn in.

Olga was battling Edwards in the Family Court and evidence to the inquest showed her allegations of Edwards’ violence towards their children were treated sceptically there.

The children’s own lawyer, appointed to represent their best interests, labelled Olga “uncooperative” because she would not facilitate the children’s visits to family therapy with the father they feared.

The lawyer told Olga if she did not facilitate the visits, she would recommend to the judge that the children be removed from their mother’s custody.

Olga was battling hard to be free but she was caught in a Chinese finger trap – the more she pulled away, the tighter she was drawn in.

In 2006, Howard government changes to the Family Law Act came into effect which imposed a presumption that parents should be given equal shared parental responsibility in custody proceedings.

Ever since the presumption was enacted, various parliamentary committees have recommended repealing it.

Women’s rights groups say it forces women and children into contact with abusive parents.

In its submission to the inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence being conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, the Law Council called for the removal of the presumption of Equal Shared Parental Responsibility and the bias towards equal time which flows from it.

“Parental responsibility should be a matter for the court to determine in the circumstances of each case,” the Law Council submitted.

When Parliament sits in October, it will consider a private member’s bill moved by Labor MP Graham Perrett which removes the presumption.

He drafted the bill after the shocking murders of Hannah Clarke and her three young children, Aaliyah, Lainah and Trey, at the hands of her partner and their father.

“This bill does nothing to displace the common law duty of parental responsibility.

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“What this bill does is ensure that when that common law duty is displaced by a court order, that order will be made in the best interests of the child,” Perrett said in his introduction speech for the bill.

“Every child deserves to have decisions made about their life, made in their best interests and only their best interest.”

The bill has some cross-party support.

There is no way of knowing if such a change would have protected Olga Edwards.

But it might have led to her having a very different experience in the Family Court and stopped the order which mandated her children have ongoing contact with the father they feared.

It should be considered very seriously by Parliament.

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