This is not the sort of subject I usually cover in my blog. Sunshinyday’s all about living a good life, looking after yourself, your community and the environment. But the shock news of Keli Lane’s conviction for murdering her baby daughter has prompted me to look back at the 3 years when she and I lived side by side in a small, friendly block of units in Manly. A lot of people are speculating about her character and motivation. I want to share my experience of being her neighbour and my feelings about the guilty verdict.
Keli Lane was my next door neighbour for three years, and we’d had a cup of tea together a few days before the news about baby Tegan’s disappearance broke. Then a whole load of press photographers turned up on my doorstep and everything changed.
Keli often used to pop in to say “Hi”. I had a baby in 2004 and she, along with her own child who was 2 at the time, was fascinated by my little daughter. Keli loved to come round and see the baby and was always very considerate, teaching her own child to treat the new baby gently – I remember her saying “Gentle, it’s a baby not a dolly!” She was a pragmatic and down to earth working mum who balanced her job at a north shore girls school with looking after her young family. When she married her partner at around this time, she told me “I’m not that bothered about marriage, it’s for my little one really.”
As my daughter grew into toddlerhood she loved visiting Keli’s unit (we were a close knit block of units in Manly, we all knew eachother’s names and looked out for eachother). Keli’s child’s bedroom was a cornucopia of delights for my little girl who loved to play with the ‘big kids’ toys and try on the dress ups. Her husband was a fellow pom and we used to chat at the communal clothes line as we juggled kids and laundry. He was a nice, normal dad. We still see him occasionally, he and the child he had with Keli live close by to where we live now and our children play in the same parks. We never discuss what we know about his family’s tragedy.
When the news first broke about Tegan’s disappearance, I didn’t believe it was ‘our’ Keli. Even when I saw the pictures of her on the front of the local newspaper, I told my husband it was just somebody who looked a bit like her. Finally, I had to accept that it really was my next door neighbour who, as I watched her being accused of killing her baby on the evening news, was sitting just a few feet away from me in the adjoining unit.
When the press started knocking on the door, then hiding out in the nature reserve opposite our units, I sent her a card offering support. I couldn’t believe it. We were sure she’d done something stupid like give the baby to somebody in return for money. That made sense to me – at 21 yrs old, I did a few misguided things that I wouldn’t want to tell the world about. Maybe not as daft as selling a baby, but I could understand how a young woman backed into a corner could make a crazy decision like that.
As the story unravelled night after night on the TV, so did Keli’s relationships. She spent less and less time at the unit and we hardly saw her. When we did, she was anxious and hurried. Our evenings were punctuated by the sound of Keli and her husband rowing next door. Every night they screamed and shouted as they tried to come to terms with what was happening to them. I can only imagine how it all felt for her child, lying in the next room and trying to make sense of the madness that had taken over her family. Keli’s best form of defence seemed to be attack as the arguments became more aggressive and hot-tempered. Eventually we stopped seeing her in the corridor and we no longer heard the rows. The pressure became too much and she left the unit. I know that shortly after that her husband and their child moved on, as did we.
I still find it hard to believe that Keli Lane is a baby killer. Determined, single minded, combative – yes, she was all those things. In fact, all the traits that we celebrate in sports people (especially men), but which have contributed so much to her vilification. But having seen her care for her child and spend time around my own daughter, I find it incomprehensible that she would murder her own baby. My daughter still enjoys playing with some of the dress ups that Keli gave us as her own child grew out of them. Whenever she puts on the blue sequined play-shoes that Keli gave her, I think about Keli and wonder what the future holds for her three surviving children.
So I guess this blog post is about what it means to live a good life after all. Keli’s story is about the interconnectedness of all people and all things. It’s about how the choices we make affect those around us. I don’t know what happened to baby Tegan, but I do know that Keli Lane is not a monster.