A message from Ashton, in his own words.
Content warning: some readers may find this story distressing. Ashton’s story is true and he’s told it in here his own words.
“I tried so hard to save her.”
That’s what my then 6-year-old brother told me the day our Dad burnt our Mum, Viola, to death.
“I called the police, and I called the ambulance for Mum,” my brother, Grant, told me. He had even hauled out a garden hose and tried to put out the fireball that was our Mum.
I’m sorry if that shocks you. It’s a brutal story, but it’s true.
My name is Ashton Kline and that terrible day occurred on 27 September 2000.
I’m writing to you because I understand that you generously support the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.
I’d like to thank you for your support, and to make sure you know just how important the Foundation has been for my brother, Grant, and I to heal and recover.
And – I’ll be frank – I’d like to ask for your help to support other children who have experienced terrible trauma.
I’ll tell you how it worked for us. This is our story.
My earliest memory of my Mum and Dad is one of violence. I must have been only 5 or 6 and clutching Donatello, my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle plush toy. Hearing Dad come up the driveway late at night, I’d run and hide under the bed, taking Donatello with me for comfort.
I was terrified of what might happen when Dad came through the door. Would he lash out at Mum? Or would he start on me?
One day when Dad came home, he grabbed Mum by the hair and dragged her down the driveway because he believed that someone had been in the house. That driveway was long, and hard and rocky.
I saw this at 6 years-old and I was consumed by guilt because I couldn’t protect my Mum.
He threatened to kill us
Another time Dad held a knife to Mum’s throat and threatened to kill us. This kind of thing went on for almost my whole childhood.
There were many promises of change. Mum would go back to Dad. She was vulnerable. She wanted the best for us kids and she thought going back to Dad was the best thing for our futures. With little education, she didn’t feel like she had many choices.
It all came to a head when I was 15 and Grant was 6. Dad grabbed me by the throat and tried to strangle me. That’s when Mum got a family violence intervention order (FVIO) on Dad.
“The bliss period” – when we felt safe
The FVIO was a real turning point. I call it “the bliss period”.
A genuine intervention order meant Dad couldn’t come to the house. For 9 months we experienced real living and felt safe for the first time.
Mum, Grant and I were able to be a family. Mum had found some financial stability and had managed to get a house for us where we finally felt secure.
Dad tricked Mum into coming around
Then in September 2000, 9 months after he’d tried to strangle me, Dad coaxed Mum around to his house. He insisted there was a need to clean out a caravan that had some of Grant’s toys in it.
I remember thinking, “What is it about these toys that is so urgent, and why? They’re just toys.”
Dad kept calling the house and saying, “You’ve got to come and clean out this caravan, and we’ve got to get rid of these toys.”
I pleaded with Mum before she left not to go to Dad’s, and to have the day out we’d planned.
And I remember looking out that window as they walked down the street. Grant turned around, and I waved as they walked away.
I had no idea of the horror to come.
“Your Mum’s been in an accident”
Then, about an hour and a half later, Grant appeared on the doorstep with a nurse from the hospital. He was weeping and looked dreadful.
“We need you to come down to the hospital. Your Mum’s been in an accident,” the nurse told me.
“Grant, what happened?” I asked. What he said next still breaks my heart.
He said, “I used the phone, Ash. I called the police, and I called the ambulance for Mum, and I tried so hard to save her.”
That was the day we lost our Mum forever. I was 15 and Grant was only 6.
She died a terrible death. Dad had soaked the caravan with petrol in advance, pushed her in, threw the match in, and locked the door.
Then he locked the back fence so no one could get in to rescue Mum.
Grant was desperate. He grabbed the garden hose from the front yard. Mum had managed to break out of the caravan while she was in a ball of flames. Grant did everything he could to reach her with the garden hose to put her out.
“Take care of my children”
When she arrived at the hospital, she had burns to 99% of her body. She died later that night. But before she went, she mumbled some final words. “Take care of my children, and tell them that I love them,” she said.
Grant and I know that we were everything to Mum. Everything that she went through, the violence, the abuse, was really all for us.
She ultimately gave her life for us.
And as I stood over her lifeless body at the hospital, I knew that the one thing that she would’ve wanted was for me to take care of Grant. She’d want me to make sure that he was in the best place possible.
And so I made a vow to always take care of him. Grant has end-stage kidney disease, and at that point was on kidney dialysis.
That first night, we clung to each other the whole night. The next days were a blur.
“There’s no one to take care of you”
On the third day, we had a visit from the Department of Human Services.
We were told, “There’s no one to take care of you, and you’ll need to go into foster care. And the best option is that you’ll be separated. You’ll need to leave this house. And Grant will be going to Melbourne closer to the Royal Children’s Hospital where he has care. You’ll be remaining here and we’ll find foster homes for you.”
I remember thinking, “How am I going to keep my promise of protecting Grant if we’re separated?”
And how am I going to get through this without Grant?
And if we’re not together, how am I going to retain Mum’s memory and Mum’s legacy with Grant?
Once we had the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, everything changed
That’s when we came into contact with the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. Amazingly, once they were advocating for us, everything changed.
Finally, there was someone there who was able to articulate and advocate for us in a way that we weren’t able to for ourselves.
That gave us a sense of power in a very powerless situation. And for the first time in that whole process, that whole three, four-week period, I felt like there was someone at the table who was genuinely listening to us, and interested in our needs, and taking on board what Grant and I were actually wanting.
We had no idea who to trust. So at that point, it was very important to know that there was someone that I trusted who had no agenda other than our needs.
It was the turning point for those conversations. Without that input, I’ve no doubt that Grant and I would’ve been separated, and we wouldn’t have been able to remain together as brothers, as a family.
And that’s the point of difference with the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. They genuinely care and they take responsibility for doing what they say they’ll do.
Please help other traumatised children heal
I’m in my 30s now and a university lecturer. I’ve learned to live with what happened to us, although it’s been a long hard journey. My life has been dominated by a sense of guilt that I didn’t somehow stop it all from happening.
Grant and I live together. He’s had two kidney transplants. Both have failed unfortunately but we’re hoping for a third soon. He now has a part time job.
For all that we’ve been through, one constant through all those years has been the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.
I’ve had some really rough patches. I have to say, if it weren’t for the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, I don’t think I’d have made it through.
These days, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation does a whole range of stuff for children who have experienced trauma.
Their Children Ahead program helps children like Grant and I who have experienced extreme trauma.
Another program trains kindergarten and childcare teachers to identify and work with children in trauma.
The wonderful Buddy Bag program delivers a backpack full of comfort to children arriving at refuges, moving into foster care or otherwise in crisis, and can be the first step to connecting with a frightened and disrupted child.
And if a child has to go to court, as we did several times, the Foundation now has the Cubby House service there, to occupy and support children in our situation.
Please support the Alannah & Madeline Foundation
If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you understand why I’m asking for your support today. Every child’s trauma is different. Every child’s situation is different. So to be effective, the response has to be individually tailored – flexible and authentic.
I know from my own experience that the Alannah & Madeline Foundation does exactly that.
There’s a whole folder of applications sitting on the desk of the person running the Children Ahead program, waiting for admission. I’d hate to think that a child in our situation might miss out because there’s no money for a spot for them.
If you can’t give right now, thank you very much for the support you have given in the past. It’s because of compassionate people like you that children like Grant and I have a chance to heal and recover.
Thank you for reading our story. If you found this content distressing or in any way triggering, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Donate now to help children like Ashton and Grant recover and heal from trauma. Your donation will help fund important support services like our Children Ahead program and support children whose lives have been torn apart by terrible violence, helping them recover so they can go on and live their best life.