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IT WAS the summer of 1976 when Helen Cummings found the courage to leave her violent husband, take the children, pack the car and head for a new life.
Her husband, Stuart Wynter, was a respected doctor but in the privacy of his home he was a tyrant. His tirades, physical abuse, need for absolute obedience and a growing interest in guns finally compelled her to escape. Eight years later, his second wife and their child were not so lucky. He killed them both and then himself.
Now Ms Cummings wonders whether she would leave that marriage today given the Family Law Act's emphasis since the 2006 amendments on children maintaining a ''meaningful relationship'' with both parents. She thinks she would probably stay rather than leave her two children alone with their father in some shared care arrangement the court might order. Read an extract from Helen Cummings' memoir, Blood Vows.
''What scares me is that today I would not have left. It was easier to leave then; family law in the 1970s and 1980s offered a degree of protection to women like me.''
She describes herself as the daughter of a famous mother and the mother of a famous daughter. Her mother was the late Joy Cummings, Australia's first female lord mayor, and mayor of Newcastle from 1974-84; her daughter is the US-based actor Sarah Wynter.
But with the publication of her memoir, Blood Vows (The Five Mile Press), Ms Cummings, 61, is achieving fame herself. Her graphic account sheds light on a particular kind of domestic despot, the middle-class professional, much admired by outsiders, who treats his wife as property. It also shows how a woman can blame herself for a man's violence, look to her own behaviour as a possible trigger and live in fear. And it is a valedictory to Rakentati Wynter, Stuart's second wife, and their four-year-old daughter, Binatia.
''In writing our story, I hope I've resurrected a little of the life that was taken from them.''
It took Ms Cummings six years to leave. She was 20 when she married, madly in love and in awe. He was a leader in the anti-Vietnam war movement. She was an accomplished singer. They made their home in Gloucester, north of Newcastle, where she devoted herself to Sarah and son Brendan while her husband won the esteem of his patients.
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