Exploring feature writers I enjoy, Crusade for Kaitlin by Billy Rule

Billy Rule uses an effective literary tool to engage readers, the second person. He directly address the audience, ensuring a feeling of intimacy and inclusiveness with the text. This is a powerful way to get under the reader’s skin, generating empathy with the protagonists, passion for the issues and produces an experience of the central figures’ emotions.


Rule uses ‘heart’ figuratively and literally as a recurrent motif, unifying descriptors and encouraging readers to seek the next reference. The piece begins inviting readers to recall trauma, reminding of time they’d felt ‘a claw of fear gripping your heart’. He teases with, ‘Something you didn’t expect and barbed wire wraps around your heart’, an allusion to oncoming pain encouraging the reader to continue to the end of the piece.


Rule places the narrative at the chronological start, Debra Chittleborough’s introduced, and her ‘heart was going just fine’. The statement builds impending doom.


Figuratively, heart is inferred to as the story’s pacing, resembles a pulse. It calmly introduces the protagonist and then creates a rapid panic, continuing, punchy, vigorous, short sentences, staccato phrasing and concise small words. (ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom)


The literal heart motif continues, ‘Debra’s heart seized’ on discovering her daughter’s drowning. When she attempts to reach the hospital, ‘heart pounding with fear’, obstacles block her path. Seeing her daughter initially, there ‘was a small heartbeat, but it was just from the drugs’, giving hope for life, before ultimate loss.


Final paragraphs see motif repeated; lasting effects of losing Kaitlin are experienced as a ‘cyclone ripping me apart inside, so when you’ve had your heart ripped out, people can’t see your pain.’


The power of Rule’s piece is the reader’s emotional reaction, empathising with the situations and protagonists. The loss of a child is almost too torturous to imagine. Rule eloquently describes Debra’s grief, frustration and anger. Readers yearn for her justice. Anyone who cares for children experiences a world we hope never to enter.


People I trust have cared for my three children on many occasions. I’ve taken Debra’s risk, assuming others as attentive, responsible and safety conscious.



The frank, earnest, open way Debra’s actions are portrayed captures grief and mourning, challenging readers to question maternal sanity. Unusual coping strategies include taking her dead child home, dressing her, brushing her hair, singing and reading to her in bed, and extended cuddles to say goodbye. The post funeral mention of the psychiatric emergency team, Debra’s friends wanting to take her away and concern at potential self-harm, invite readers to question grief becoming mental illness.


The media’s role in the push for change is highlighted. Pool fencing regulations are understood, but until Debra Chittleborough made her Crusade for Kaitlin, supervision was expected, not legislated for.


The media is a valuable tool for providing cautionary tales, evident as Rule recreates a mother’s experience, so others won’t have to live it.


In New York, Debra spoke to Today Show’s, Al Roker, showing a photograph of Kaitlin, reminding America, they ‘have to look after their kids.’


Australians reading the 2008 Walkley Award winner, saw reasons a child died and parent’s agony at preventable death.


The W.A. coroner concluded Kaitlin’s inquest, stating “the woman…was not watching Kaitlin and her own daughter…and there were no apparent suspicious circumstances.” These comments were widely reported, reminding Australian parents of the need for supervision.


Despite divorce, together the parents sued the friend who hadn’t prevented Kaitlin’s death. The court case enabled Debra to speak to the press, “People have got to be made accountable so they think before they walk away and leave young children in a pool.” Hopefully Debra’s crusade ensures others won’t repeat the error, which cost Kaitlin’s life.


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