Wrong Skin, new podcast from Richard Baker at The Age, Melbourne, tells the dark story of the fates of two forbidden lovers in the Australian Outback. In 1994, Julie Buck (age 23) and her boyfriend Richard Milgin (age 24) were defying the elders of their community by dating while Julie was promised in marriage to a much older man. During the wet season of that year, Julie and Richard disappeared. Ten months later, Julie's body was found under a tree, and Richard has never been seen or heard from again, though he is also presumed dead. While Wrong Skin has a murder at its center, it is not your typical entry into the true crime podcast genre. It's about much more than Julie's murder and Richard's disappearance. Here's why you should check out Wrong Skin.
Richard Baker is a great journalist.
The podcast is high-quality investigative journalism. If you're a crime podcast aficionado, you might recognize Richard Baker's name and voice from the 2016 podcast Phoebe's Fall, the story of 24-year-old Phoebe Handsjuk, who died under suspicious circumstances after falling down a garbage chute in her apartment building. (I highly recommend this podcast as well.) Baker does an expert job of navigating the often-sticky territory of reconciling native laws and knowledge with modern Australian customs. He's coming to the Outback as an outsider, just like his listeners, but Baker interviews several native persons -- including powerful people in the community -- who offer him keen insight into the world he is visiting. As an outsider, Richard is honest about what he doesn't understand at first and which customs he was wholly unfamiliar with before investigating this crime. Moreover, he's transparent about how he then goes about learning that information. Because he is learning a lot of this cultural knowledge alongside the listener, Baker does an excellent job of explaining traditional norms and their origins.
There's a cultural and historical lesson to be learned.
The investigation sheds light on what Richard calls "a part of Australia few of us know enough about." The Australian Outback itself looms large in the podcast, with traditional customs and Aboriginal laws of the land shaping the story and framing the events of the wet season in 1994. I learned a lot about Aboriginal culture in the six episodes of Wrong Skin, including what the term "wrong skin" even means. If you're at all interested in indigenous cultures, this podcast offers a rich lesson about the practices and customs of people in the Outback, from marriage and kinship laws to how they treat the land they inhabit. Once we're better able to understand the world Julie and Richard were living in, we're able to look at the murder and disappearance from several different possible angles. Hearing Indigenous voices on the podcast is significant in and of itself because these voices are rarely, if ever, heard in mainstream media.
The crime is genuinely mystifying.
The crime at the center of the podcast is perhaps so mysterious in that it has taken people 24 years to start talking about it. This of course makes it all the more difficult to investigate because people's memories aren't as fresh as they were in the 1990s. There seem to have been a lot of assumptions made about what happened to Julie and Richard, and there are some people in The Kimberley who think the couple had it coming because of their non-adherence to traditional kinship laws. Julie left behind a young daughter when she was murdered, and her killer has still not been found or punished. Richard also left behind a young child, and nothing at all -- save some rumors -- has ever been determined regarding his whereabouts or proof of life. Not surprisingly, Julie's murder did not receive near as much coverage as it would have if she had been a non-Indigenous, 23-year-old Australian woman. This sheds light on an issue that has come to the attention of the true crime community in the past few years: the vast under-reportage and unsolved rate of missing and murdered Indigenous people (especially women) across cultures. (Take the podcast Missing and Murdered as a great example of another program trying to highlight this systemic problem with Canada's native population.)
Here's the takeaway.
If you're into true crime and investigative journalism, this podcast is a quick (it's only six episodes) and easy listen. The episodes are only about 30-45 minutes long, but a lot is packed into them, so it's not a podcast you'll want to have on in the background. There's a lot to pay attention to. Because of that, it's sometimes a bit difficult to keep up with the names of all the key players, but The Age provides a good Who's Who list to reference, which is something I used a few times to refresh my memory. Overall, I'd recommend it. Even if the crime doesn't interest you, there is a lot to learn here. And if you want one more focused on a crime and of a similar length, check out Phoebe's Fall.
Let me know what you thought of either of these podcasts! What's your favorite underrated crime pod?
Images of Julie's marker and Richard's missing person notification are from The Age, Melbourne.