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Punishment, before and after

By Ilsa Evans - posted Tuesday, 19 May 2015

She recalls laying in a foetal position, head tucked, breath shallow. The car-boot was dark, thick with the oily scent of despair. This time the punishment was to last several hours but it was time suspended. Perhaps that was why, when the end came, the car boot was also the place she chose to store her husband's body.

 Sexually abused as a child, Robyn met Dave Buller at the age of twenty-five. He was good-looking, charming, and she couldn't believe she could be so lucky. She tells matter-of-factly how the possessiveness began during the honeymoon and the violence soon after. Psychological, physical, sexual and relentless.

She left him once during those fourteen years. When the abuse escalated, punctuated by flickers of desperate affection, she went to the local police. Not to report him though, but to share her fears he would commit suicide. But that desperate affection, along with a promise to attend counselling, also lured her back. He had her signature removed from their bank account, arranged a document stating that if she 'ran off' again, she would be entitled to nothing. The first counselling session did not even last the full hour. He left midway. 


She recounts how the abuse got worse. She internalised the insults; she was fat, ugly, too loose to give a man pleasure. The miscarriages were her fault; she was worthless even as a mother. Her dog's throat was cut. Thoughts of suicide became her constant companion, centred on his collection of firearms, but she was bizarrely reluctant to use them without permission.

 On the day that Dave Buller died, according to his wife, she told him a secret she had been hugging for weeks. She might be pregnant. The beating this time was particularly severe, culminating in the forced simulation of oral sex on a rifle barrel. For Robyn Buller, rock bottom was her home.

While he slept, she researched hitmen on the internet before deciding that suicide was easier. She placed a rifle beneath her chin. What happened next is a matter of conjecture; even the sole survivor is unclear. The rifle was proclaimed to have a hair trigger at trial. What is undisputed is that at some stage, a sleeping Dave Buller was shot in the back of the head.

Over the next 36 hours, Robyn Buller loaded her husband's 118 kg body into the boot of the car after looking up disposal online. She drove the car to a dam where it became bogged. She walked 18 kilometres home. And several months later she was found guilty of wilful murder.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, the majority of intimate partner homicides involve women being killed by their male partners (73%). Almost half of all spousal homicides committed by men involved killing the women who left them, or were attempting to do so. Twenty-four Australian women have been killed by their partners or ex-partners already this year. Conversely, in the vast majority of cases where women kill their partners, there is a history of domestic violence victimhood. Statistically speaking, men kill women who try to leave them while women kill men who have abused them over a period of time. Escape may seem a dubious option.

Yet there is a particular type of fear reserved for women who kill their partners. A 2000 study of media representation found that of the 10 domestic homicides reported during the research period, the word 'murder' was used only for the two cases involving a female perpetrator and a male victim (one woman acted alone while the other acted with her current male partner). For the remaining eight cases, where men killed their ex-partners, the headlines were less judgemental. 'Gunman left apology note', 'Not guilty plea in wife killing', 'Family angry at court flip'. Robyn Buller's case follows this pattern with 'Murder she wrote, after consulting the internet.'


Robyn Buller was sentenced to life. She has spent the past fifteen years at Bandyup Prison, north-east of Perth. During that time, she has completed a Bachelor in Sociology, plus a second major from Murdoch University and, ironically, a Graduate Diploma in Crime & Justice. She has received first class honours and made the Dean's Honours Roll on two occasions. She now tutors other women in Bandyup. She is an active member of the Peer Support Team, working with victims of family and domestic violence.

Until very recently, a cell-mate was Lesley Dowling, whose son Marcus killed his abusive stepfather in 1995. Upon discovery, Lesley attempted to conceal the crime. She was found guilty of wilful murder and was incarcerated for over 19 years. She was released at age 60.

Dowling's case has parallels with that of Victorian Heather Osland, the battered wife who served nine and a half years after she and her son killed her sleeping husband. A man who even the presiding magistrate described as 'cruel and vicious.' Her son, who struck the fatal blow, was found not guilty.

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About the Author

Ilsa Evans is a Melbourne-based author who also writes social commentary, primarily on gender issues. She has a doctorate in social and political inquiry. You can follow her on Twitter at, and her Facebook page is Her website is Ilsa Evans.

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