Vicki Fenner's Death

The most tragic episode that Bobbie and I ever experienced occurred on 30 March, 1958, just after I had been elected to The Royal Society. Our youngest daughter, Marilyn, had contracted rheumatic fever and, after Dr Lorimer Dods had seen her in Canberra, she was transferred under his care to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children at Camperdown, in Sydney. Bobbie had gone down there to be with her. I was left in charge of the house and Vicki. One day I came from the garden into the kitchen and surprised Vicki and Catherine (Kate) Webb, the daughter of Professor L. C. Webb (Professor of Political Science in the Research School of Pacific Studies in ANU), a girl of Vicki's age who lived up Torres Street. They were handling two large kitchen knives. I thought this odd, but dismissed it. Next weekend I was in the garden picking strawberries when Len Webb came running down Torres Street and said that something terrible had happened. We went together up the street, across Mugga Way and up a lane between two houses that led up Red Hill. There lay Vicki, a rifle she had borrowed from Kate Webb beside her. Vicki had placed the tip of the barrel in her mouth and shot herself. She had left a note in her bedroom saying that ‘Life is not worth living’. The only possible reason for this statement that I could think of was that she had read Neville Shute's book, On the Beach, which tells of the destruction of the world by nuclear war and which I had just read. There was, of course, a coronial enquiry, but they could find no other motive. Kate later became an outstanding journalist, especially during the Vietnam War. Some years later, both Professor Webb and his wife were killed in a motor-car accident.