Perth Writers Festival Blog

Dan Box on Bowraville and the Power of the Podcast

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Crime reporter Dan Box turned Australia’s least known serial killings into front page news with his gripping podcast Bowraville.

Hear more from the award-winning journalist before his Perth Writers Festival sessions Cautionary Tales and Bowraville and his workshop The Power of the Podcast with Dan Box.

For those who haven’t heard your podcast yet, could you please tell us about it?

It's about a serial killing; specifically the disappearance and murder of three aboriginal children in the northern NSW town of Bowraville between 1990–91. All three children were staying on the same street when they disappeared and the same man was seen at the scene of each. The police mishandled the original investigation and that man was subsequently found not guilty. For a quarter century since, the children's families have been calling for a retrial.

What first sparked your interest in the Bowraville case?

I had a cup of coffee with a cop, who told me about the case. He told me the police believe they know who committed the killings, and that they had the evidence to put him away, but the government was refusing to send the matter back to court. Also, it's about three dead children. It's had to look away when there are kids involved.

Why did you feel a podcast was the best way to explore the case?

It's very personal – you can hear the people involved tell their story in their own words. You can also hear the emotion when someone catches their breath to stop themselves from crying. I'm normally a newspaper reporter, but it's almost impossible in print to convey that immediacy and depth of hurt.

What are the challenges and the rewards of using the podcast form as opposed to writing for a newspaper or writing a book?

The main challenge is that you have to be there. You can't sit at a desk and imagine a place, and there is only so much you can do over the phone; you have to be there with a microphone to record it. Also, the editing takes a lot of work.

The reward is that it’s a medium that really seems to fire people's imagination. Nothing else I have done has had this kind of reaction before.

Were you surprised by the interest in this largely forgotten case through the podcast?

Yes. My target was to get over 3,000 downloads. So far, we have had over half a million.

What do you think the initial investigation revealed about racism in Australia?

That its influence can be felt in subtle, yet terribly significant ways. Each of the three children's families say they tried to report their relatives missing to the police, but were told they might have gone 'walkabout' and no serious investigation was launched for days. Those first few days are often vital in a murder investigation, and had the police responded then, we might not be in the situation we are in today.

Why do you think audiences are so interested in true crime?

I think it tells us a lot about ourselves. As a crime reporter, I have seen people at their most exposed, and also at their strongest. It also helps us realise the darkness that exists out there, and sometimes how easy it can be to step out of the light.

What genre do you most enjoy reading?

I avoid fictional crime, because I see too much of the real thing and its real effect on people at work. For escape, and because I do a bit of it myself, I love reading mountaineering literature.

What makes a good podcast?

The incidental sounds; insects in the forest, the sound of footsteps in the leaves. As a listener, those details transport you into the place itself.

What podcasts are you into?

At the moment, I'm listening to StartUp, Mountain and The Right Stuff