Exploring Genre through the text “Chrissie Venn”

Today I worked with my class to explore genre using the harrowing true story of Chrissie Venn. I started by offering some background about the real life murder of the little 13 year old girl, Chrissie, in the Tasmanian town of North Motton, in 1921. The murder case was so poorly handled that nobody was ever convicted, and it remains an unsolved case to this day. A book was published in 2000 which explored elements of the case and told Chrissie’s story. That book only had a small print run, and my sister Fiona managed to get a copy through advertising in the paper, after her curiosity was piqued when hearing all about the tale. Indeed, there are many myths, legends, rumours and innuendos that have circulated throughout Tasmania about the death, the court case, and the suicide of the man who was originally accused but then acquitted. I read my students the following summary I wrote of the tale:

On Saturday the 26th February 1921, Chrissie Clare Venn was cruelly and brutally murdered at the once quiet and peaceful hamlet of North Motton.

The body was found on Allison Road, by the farm of John Hearps Sr. The appearance of the body showed unmistakable signs that a violent murder had been committed. The bodice of her white muslin dress had been ripped and shoved into her throat. Dr Ferris, who made the post-mortem, gave evidence that Chrissie suffocated from the gag in her mouth, placed there by her attacker, when she had uttered the piercing scream which was heard by the two young Hearps boys while ploughing in the farm some distance away. The scream not being repeated, no aid came to the unfortunate girl, who met with dishonour and then death after which the body was hauled into a gigantic hollowed out stump in the lonely and secluded site of the crime.

No one has ever been found guilty of the crime.

Hostility surrounds this murder and for over 80 years since the trial, nobody has spoken “on the record” of her murder.

Mr King, a pig farmer who had originally been convicted of the murder, was acquitted, but was said to have committed suicide some years later.

It turned out that one student in the class had actually been to the murder site, as it is customary for young people to engage in a ritual of visiting the site at night, t0 do a lap of the hollow stump in which she Chrissie’s dismembered body was buried. This has led, as the book attests, to “a fascinating mixture of legend, mythology, ghostly tales and eerie sightings”. My sister tells the tale of her own daughter who engaged in this practice, and how she was scared so much during the visit she became hysterical. My student said that her car stalled when she visited, and this is a common report by many. Others claim to have seen apparitions of axes appearing on the road. I think this story would make a fabulous movie!

So in small groups, I gave each person in the group a different character from the story and a few pieces of real information about the character. I explained that they had to write a recount of the day’s events as the police were collecting witness and testimony from all who were involved in sighting Chrissie on the day of her murder. This writing in role technique is one I use frequently, as giving them the role of “expert witness” provides both a motivation to write and also frames their language use in particular ways that can lead to elevated language use. We then spent time reflecting on structure and grammatical features typical of this kind of recount.

Next I gave the students the task, in their groups, to write a newspaper article about the event, for a range of differing purposes, using Wei Wang’s description of the micro genres of news commentary:

(Wang, 2007, based on Martin & Peters, 1985; Hoey, 1983; and White, 2002)

Again, we spent some time sharing and then reflecting on the way the language changes according to context and purpose.

Finally, since the story of Chriss Venn is the stuff of legends, I asked the students to create a poem, a nursery rhyme, a song lyric or cautionary tale about her. If I get permission, I’ll share some of the writing later, as it was amusing, clever, poignant, and “hair-on-your-neck-stand-up” spooky!

UPDATE:

Here is a poem by one of my very talented students:

The Lament of Chrissie Venn

The stump lies
Silent,
Shrieks unheard
Secrets untold
Ghosts unbound
A dress undone
Fabric unravelled
This is the dead
Eye stare of
A close knit
Community.

(c) Chris Rattray 2010

There is more to come!

25 Responses

  1. How interesting! These texts of various genres themselves may be compiled together as a single text to make a very particular text like a dictionary or a story encyclopaedia. Somehow it may become a genre collage with the central plot and the main characters being approached differently.

  2. Hi Angela, Here is my haiku about the murder of Chrissie Venn-

    The screams heard but left
    pain and suffering torment
    consciences never lie still

    I sooooo enjoyed that lesson! see you Thursday.

  3. Hi Angela,
    I accidentally put an extra syllable in my haiku last line should read:
    consciences never still… (doh!)

  4. hey guys
    i live in burnie tasmania me and my brother heard about the myth from one of his friends so we went with him to check it out entering the place my car fogged up it was a summers night with the windows partly down we only stayed for like 2 mins no one would get out the adrelane was intense awesome feeling

  5. hi there ok in 2002 myself and my partner at the time and a friend went to the cemetary where chrissie venn lays,note i left out where chrissy venn lays “to rest” it was around 11pm on a winters night in 2002 that we went to the site where the groosem event took place,at the time we where driving a 1999 model car which at that time was fairly new,on approaching the site there is a slight hill and this is when the car started to shutter and splutter,so i chose to just gently roll back,i could feel chrissy venn and she didnt want us there that night so i obeyed her wishes,but i can tell u this much she is either at the cemetary or the site of the murder,she will never rest and the reason being is that the murderer was never found guilty as u know.im once again returning to the site with a group of 4 of us in october this year so once again il see if she lets my group actualy arrive at the site this time.
    feel free to email me with questions /thoughts etc

  6. hi there me n my friend went out to allisons road but could not find where chrissie venn was buried could someone plz email me the location of where the grave is and the tree stump! I want to go check it out for my self and my mum and sister wants to camp out there for the night, crazy i know haha!

  7. I was up Alisons Road in North Motton a few months ago with a few mates and we parked the car and got out and had a walk around, by the time we got back to the car only a few minutes later the windows were all fogged up and there was writing on the inside of the windows! Creepy!

  8. Hello,

    my great, great, great Grandfather was John Hearps of Hearp’s farm. On the way to North Motton, is Hearps’s road which is named after the familly.

    He and his 2 sons who owned and worked on the farm adjacent to where Chrissie Venn was found murdered in the stump were questioned and interogated about the murder by the Police for some months.

    Also, one of John Hearp’s daughters whom was my great, great Grandmother was in the same grade and class as Chrisie Venn at school (North Motton Primary) when she went missing.

    Thought you all might be interested to know!

  9. Grade 8s at Parklands High go up there to Paton Park for camp and people had seen a ghost a grave yard and someone had actually been possesed by this ghost.

  10. hello all who read this,my name is pete. my family & i live in north motton opposite a large row of old pines & only three doors from her final resting place which is quite well cared for by locals. the church is now gone. the grave sites must have been hard work preparing as the ground is water logged,but in the spring is abundant with beautiful wild bulbs & fine roses.the road which the grave site is on is called church road but in the past has been known also as venns road . i know this because cris venn (male freind of mine) lived very close. it’s not spoke of much but i plan to gather more local history to add to our b&b,cheers pete.

  11. my family have quite alot of bush land up that way and i always go there along allisons road and, the axe on the road is there when i go but isnt when i come home, but i havent experinced my car having trouble or anything, but the story is so sad :(

  12. I’m working on a short film based partly on this event and partly on the Gyra Ghost in NSW. I have also recently done a small comic strip you can see here which mentions what I remember of visitnf the site. http://picnicrock.blogspot.com/2011/08/ghost-hole.html
    You will also notice it’s full of factual misinformation which I have come to accept as part of the whole “Legend”.

  13. Hi There, I am of the firm belief that my great-great-uncle, Charles (Chick) Purton, murdered Chrissie Venn. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has connections to this awful crime, particularly George King’s family.

    Thanks

  14. A few years ago, eight of us drove to Allison’s Road in two cars. Although nothing was seen or heard, it was the most horrifying experience. Walking down the track towards the stump, we were all cheerful and it was a quiet Summer’s night. At the bottom of the hill, four of us felt our eyes water and without even saying a word to each other we felt the need to run back up the hill and leave the area. The other four continued along the road, and from the top of the hill we could hear them scream and come running back up the track. The warm Summer’s night became suddenly cold and the car windows had fogged. None of the last four would speak of what they saw, but confirmed they had made it as far as the tree stump.

  15. ^^ if anyone has been there it would be extremely hard to loose control on a straight long road. Oh one more thing a friend of mine was taking a video on her phone, a bit of smoke appeared on her screan and blowing noise started and it then disappeared, what’s down at pattson park? We walked all the way down to the scout hall and saw no grave yard?

  16. I have read the book Suffer Little children, due to the connection of my Grandfather Charles Purton, in the Court Case, i have copies of the court case,, but lent the book to a person who never returned it, I also lived in North Motton in 1982 and visited the grave, and my sons road their motor bikes past the area where Chrissi was murdered, they told stories of a shadow of a AXE falling across the road, there was a lot of gossip anout my grandfather, who went missing about 1945,and the family never heard from him again,

  17. The poems are great, and a lot of comments very interesting, My great Grandfather Charles Taylor was in the search party and was the first to look into the stump, which was about 12 feet high,he noticed shoe holes in the stump and in one was a spur, Chrissi Venn was not dismembered, she was head first in the stump, with lace material and a brooch stuffed in her mouth, she also had Hay band wire twisted tightly around her neck, Chrissi was also sexually assaulted, the place she was taken for the Post Mortem was SEA VIEW HOTEL (River Arms), my grandfather Charles (chick) Purton was also on the road on his horse the day Chrissi went missing ,about 1/2 a mile from Chrissis home. About the Book Suffer Little Children, the person who wrote that in my opinion -wrote it in a way to put the blame on Charles Purton, which upset some of the Purton children, especially my uncle and my mum. All through my life i have heard stories about Charles Purton, and my grandmother Minni Purton who i was very closed to, said many things to me , that i still think about today, George King was suspect due to scratches on his face and hands, and he did not join the search party the day Chrissi was found,

  18. In 1982 I visited the stump with a carload of people at night.”suffer little children” was painted on the road.It is a very spooky place.I thought the story was a myth until my grandfather told me it was a real murder.I was also told that a suspect was a Freemason and through this connection was able to move to the mainland and avoid conviction.

  19. I was bought up with the legend of CRISSY VEN my grandfather (who I lived with at the time) was Chics brother I was in Tasmania 2011 visited the property where the family lived and the remains of the stump I can remember the spot as it was pointed out to me many times over the years as we used to go to Purton Flat to visit the family I to am a family member and I remember Minnie Chic and many other members of the Purton family I have now passed the Legend along to my Daughter who will follow this through ,she and I are going home TASSY that is latter in 2012 and I shall take her to the site of the old home the flats and of course to Crissy Vens resting place may she be able to rest in peace

  20. have just read a comment about someone walking down a track to the stump sorry Mate you are the one who was led up the track NO TRACK WHERE SHE WAS LEFT IN THE STUMP FAMILY MEMBER

  21. Brenda I hope you check this site my daughter Christine McArthur (see above messages) would love to hear from you in regards to this matter

  22. Brenda you do not say if you live in Tasmania . The Ulverstone Historical Society may be able to help with the court copies at a small cost . by the way the man I knew as Abo was your Uncle or Great Uncle ? unfortunately they all had nick names that is the only name I remember him by . I seem to be jotting down bits and pieces , it is only as I think of them . if you live in Tassy we would love to meet with you p;ease get in touch before April 2012 MAUREEN

  23. Hi Maureen,
    I tried to contact Christine via Facebook the other night, but the new timeline version i couldnt see where to send her a message, OK!!i live in Devonport, my mum is Gwenella (GWEN) 4 left out of the 11 Purton Children. I do have the copies of the court case had them for many years, i also have tried to trace my Grandfather, and found their is no Death Certificate (name change?) my Uncle was Dallas(Appo) he passed away some tears ago in Vic. one of his daaughters also live in Tasmamia and is also involved tracing relatives. I would be happy to meet up with you all, Iam on Facebook, BRENDA Atobe(nee PERRY)

  24. Brenda send me am e mail if I do not hear from you I shall get Christine to try to contact you we will be at Ulverstone for a short time MAUREEN

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