News, Culture & Society

How a sleepy town on Gunnedah is rocked by school holiday horror

No one in this sleepy town can comprehend why a 10-year-old girl has allegedly been brutally murdered by her 14-year-old cousin.

The mayor is moved to tears, schoolgirls look at every classmate as a potential killer and neighbours can only think of a happy girl playing in her paddock.  

Gunnedah, a town of just 10,000 in northern NSW, was only known as ‘koala capital of the world’ and the home town of supermodels Miranda Kerr and Erica Packer.

But from Wednesday it is also the site of an alleged killing so disturbing the local magistrate has banned any details of the crime from being published.

Police are seen hunting for the alleged murder weapon. The search could take several days given the size of the farming property

Police examine a spot of interest during their all-day search of the property on Thursday

Police examine a spot of interest during their all-day search of the property on Thursday

An SES volunteer examines enormous hay bales piled well above his height on the farm's grounds

An SES volunteer examines enormous hay bales piled well above his height on the farm’s grounds

The 10-year-old was visiting her cousins on the farm a few kilometres out of town for a school holiday sleepover.

Both girls were fast asleep when the older girl’s mother checked on them before going out at 6.30am to tend to the farm.

When she returned just half-an-hour later she found her niece horrifically slain and her own daughter vanished.

The 14-year-old was found at a neighbour’s property and later on Wednesday charged with murder. She will stay behind bars until at least September.

Her little sister will have to go back to school when holidays are over, knowing everyone looks at her and thinks of what allegedly happened.

‘I feel sorry for her going back to school. I don’t know how she’s going to manage it,’ one local told Daily Mail Australia.

The sleepy town of just 10,000 in northern NSW, was before this week only known as 'koala capital of the world'

The sleepy town of just 10,000 in northern NSW, was before this week only known as ‘koala capital of the world’

The mayor is moved to tears, schoolgirls look at every classmate as a potential killer and neighbours can only think of a happy girl playing in her paddock

The mayor is moved to tears, schoolgirls look at every classmate as a potential killer and neighbours can only think of a happy girl playing in her paddock 

The girl’s family have lived on the mixed-crop farm for at least 10 years and are well respected for their agricultural skill.

A close neighbour a few paddocks down the road was shocked the little girl he remembered playing in the grass was accused of a heinous crime.

‘I used to see her and her sister running around the paddock, playing, or with her parents at cattle market,’ he said.

‘She was always very polite and happy, I never had any qualms with her. How does this happen?’

The fellow farmer said the girls came over for dinner with their parents when they were younger, before school kept them busy.

Now he is worried his friends will never recover from an unimaginable family tragedy that will follow them around for the rest of their lives.

‘There’s two tragedies, the poor girl who’s deceased and who knows what’s going to happen to the other one,’ he said.

‘It’s a small town so it will be hard to live here with this.

‘They are the best farmers I know, they get more production off that place than anyone.’

Gunnedah is about an hour west of Tamworth and 450km from Sydney

Gunnedah is about an hour west of Tamworth and 450km from Sydney

Other neighbours were so shaken they couldn’t muster the words to describe the situation.

‘It’s just another crop farm… They’re perfectly normal,’ one said. 

Locals the accused girl’s own age are among the worst affected, fearing they could be suddenly die in a town they used to feel safe in.

‘My friends and I are scared because she’s our age and if she could do this then one of our classmates could too,’ Brooke, 15, said at the cafe where she works.

‘Nothing like this has ever happened here. We all want to know, how does someone end up like that?’

The girl’s mother allegedly told police her daughter recently started behaving strangely for no apparent reason.

A classmate also said she pretended to be a tiger and would ‘hiss’ at people as well as eat food from the ground like a cat.

Besides farming, the coal mines outside Gunnedah are the town’s biggest employers with orange high-vis clothing perfectly acceptable attire for all occasions.

But mine worker Renee Frenette, 38, said her coworkers were so shocked by the alleged murder they barely talked about it during her shift on Thursday. 

‘Gunnedah is such a small town so it really hits home because I know someone I know will be impacted by this,’ she said. 

‘Hearing Gunnedah on the news yesterday was quite a shock.’

Mine worker Renee Frenette, 38, (pictured holding her daughter Isabella, 3) said her coworkers were so shocked by the alleged murder they barely talked about it during her shift on Thursday

Mine worker Renee Frenette, 38, (pictured holding her daughter Isabella, 3) said her coworkers were so shocked by the alleged murder they barely talked about it during her shift on Thursday

The 10-year-old was visiting her cousins on the farm (pictured with the surrounding countryside) a few kilometres out of town, over the bridge across the Naomi River, for a school holiday sleepover

The 10-year-old was visiting her cousins on the farm (pictured with the surrounding countryside) a few kilometres out of town, over the bridge across the Naomi River, for a school holiday sleepover

Gunnedah Mayor Jamie Chaffey told Daily Mail Australia the community’s prayers were with the family.

‘They’re dealing with this devastation of losing a young member of the family,’ he said.

‘The community has been through so much through three years of drought and COVID-19 but we are resilient and supportive of each other to get through the tough times.’

Mayor Chaffey said the community was ‘devastated’ but would rally around the family in the coming days.

‘We will be there to support each other and we will support the family,’ he said. 

‘We appreciate the thoughts of the people reaching out from the broad areas across NSW that are offering their thoughts and prayers.’

A member of the family with police outside the home on Thursday. The girls and therefore their family cannot be identified

A member of the family with police outside the home on Thursday. The girls and therefore their family cannot be identified

Detectives and forensics crews spent all day on the farm gathering evidence

Detectives and forensics crews spent all day on the farm gathering evidence

Police and state emergency service volunteers meticulously searched paddocks and fields for what is believed to be the alleged murder weapon

Police and state emergency service volunteers meticulously searched paddocks and fields for what is believed to be the alleged murder weapon

The deceased girl is from Orange, a town west of Sydney past the Blue Mountains, and also from a locally prominent family. 

Detectives and forensics crews spent all day on the farm looking for the alleged murder weapon.

Police and state emergency service volunteers meticulously searched paddocks and fields for what is believed to be the alleged murder weapon.

They have refused to give details of the girl’s injuries except that that were substantial, and the court has suppressed such information anyway.

Police also refused to reveal if they had seized a murder weapon. 

A post mortem examination in the next few days will uncover more clues about how the alleged murder unfolded. 

The teenager did not appear in court on Thursday and bail was not applied for and refused until her next court date on September 16. 

None of her family were present.

SES crews and police arrive at the property on Thursday to search it for clues

SES crews and police arrive at the property on Thursday to search it for clues

FAMILY FARM HORROR: TIMELINE

Wednesday July 8

* 6:30am: Mother leaves home in Gunnedah, north-west NSW, to do farm work. Her daughter, 14, and niece, 10 are asleep inside.

* 7am: The woman returns and finds the younger girl with serious lacerations and her daughter missing.

* 7:15am: Emergency services arrive at the property but the 10-year-old is already dead.

* 8:30am: Police find the 14-year-old on a neighbouring property after a frantic search. She is taken to Gunnedah Police Station.

*10pm: The child is charged with her cousin’s alleged murder.

Thursday July 9

* The teenager’s case goes before Tamworth Children’s Court. The girl was not in the courtroom and did not apply for bail.

* Police and SES crews search a paddock next to the farmhouse 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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