As Chris Dawson is arrested in connection with his wife Lynette’s disappearance in 1982, Thomas Tobler looks at the impact of podcast sensation The Teacher’s Pet on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Gilwinga Drive looks like any other street in Bayview on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Not far from McCarrs Creek Reserve, where houses backed on to the water have boats docked at the end of their backyards, the cul-de-sac is populated with dense trees that occupy the space between the houses.
It’s the place where homes on the “insular peninsula” meet the border of hectares of forestation. It is also the street that is now infamous around the world thanks to journalist Hedley Thomas’s true crime podcast The Teachers Pet.
Thomas’s podcast investigated the cold case of Lynette Dawson, who went missing 36 years ago after leaving her home in Gilwinga Drive. Today (December 5), her husband, Chris, was arrested in connection with her disappearance, and later extradited to NSW from Queensland’s Gold Coast, where he moved in 1985. He was charged with murder after arriving in Sydney, and refused bail.
BREAKING: Chris Dawson has been arrested in Queensland and will be charged with the 1982 murder of his wife, Lyn @australian#TheTeachersPet
Downloaded more than 26 million times, the podcast not only revived a mysterious cold case, but has had a wide impact on the Northern Beaches community. The area came under the spotlight, not just locally, but also across Australia and overseas.
The Teachers Pet also uncovered evidence of widespread predatory behaviour by male and female teachers at Northern Beaches high schools in the 1980s, now the subject of a police investigation by Taskforce Southwood, created earlier this year.
The editor of the Manly Daily, Steve Howard, said reaction to the podcast had been particularly strong in certain parts of the Northern Beaches, and “particularly [for] those who lived in the area, who knew the Dawsons and who … went to those schools”.
“The reaction has been quite one of shock, sadness, dismay and probably a bit of surprise that this has all been rekindled again.”
Chris Dawson was a PE teacher at Cromer High School and was having an affair with a student, Joanne Curtis, at the time Lyn went missing.
One local who was a student at Cromer High in that era spoke about the impact of The Teacher’s Pet. “When it came out, a lot of people were very interested in … what it was all about,” she said. “A lot of people remembered back to those times when it was all going on.
”We’ve been talking about it. Absolutely. Everyone’s been giving their thoughts on what happened and where Lynnette might be.
”I remember one our mates was a bit pissed off and saying, ‘Who’s dragging all that bloody rubbish up again? … talking about the student-teacher relationships.’ And other people were saying that what these teachers were doing was wrong and they have to be held accountable.
”Everyone was a bit freaked out and a bit taken back by the whole thing because it was all in the news. Everyone around Sydney was starting to talk about it.”
Thomas, meanwhile, believes that the community has been very supportive of the podcast, and of its exposure of dark secrets.
”Most people from the Northern Beaches are probably of the view that this has been a travesty of justice for a long time,” he said.
“While it’s made parts of the Northern Beaches, particularly Bayview, internationally known, it’s a necessary thing. Because as a result of the publicity and the new evidence, the police and the Office of the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] have more evidence to work with.
“A case that has haunted a lot of Lyn Dawson’s friends and family for years might be solved.”
The Dawson case is now the hottest talking point on the “insular peninsula”, where everyone feels connected to the story in one way or another, and there is a collective passion for justice to be done all these decades later.
The mayor of Northern Beaches Council, Michael Regan, believes the podcast and the case have had a big impact on locals, both directly and indirectly. ”How could it not, with the media coverage and all the events unfolding and the allegations continuing in our backyard?
”There are residents whose lives have been very much affected – they went to that school, they knew students, or were possibly victims as well. I think, too, that the alleged behaviour of school teachers at that time is alarming for anyone who is a parent now.
“Fortunately, times have changed, procedures have changed, and I do believe society has changed.
”My hope is that it sends a message that … we do not always have to be driven by the misguided views of social commentators or social media. The podcast has served as a way of presenting the facts, and hopefully now any commentary will be more informed, and ultimately result in some closure for … family friends.”
The podcast inspired locals to come forward with information and reveal secrets that had been long held in the community.
Lyn’s brother, Greg Simms, told The Australian following Mr Dawson’s arrest today: “We’re just completely over the moon that something has finally happened.”