In happier times … Christine and Jason Hodder with their daughter.
Natasha Wallace Health Reporter
July 9, 2008
CHRISTINE HODDER, 38, was a much-loved woman with a husband and a three-year-old daughter, and had almost completed her Bachelor of Nursing degree when she killed herself in her backyard.
Ms Hodder, after enduring years of bullying by male colleagues at Cowra ambulance station, where she was the first and only female officer, hanged herself on her child’s swing in April, 2005, a parliamentary inquiry into the NSW Ambulance Service has heard.
She could not even leave her car at work because the tyres were let down, her toilet at work was urinated “all over” and she was constantly ridiculed by fellow officers in front of patients, her mother-in-law, Carolynn Hodder, has told the inquiry in a written submission. She believed her death was the culmination of
sustained victimisation by colleagues since she started at Cowra in 1999. She said the bullying went up the line to management and was ignored.
Christine Hodder had lodged two formal complaints, one in 2001 and another a few months before she died, about bullying and harassment by several officers and had twice been on stress leave.
In a five-page complaint dated February 20, 2005, which has been made public, Christine Hodder said she felt she had never been accepted there because she was a woman.
“In the past six years I have been badly treated as other staff members collectively bullied, belittled and intimidated me,” she said.
“The staff in this station has constantly alienated and attacked my character and physical appearance since my arrival.”
She felt “totally ridiculed” and officers had said she had a “hairy lip” and that her “hair looked like one of the Aboriginal ladies at the mission”, she said.
Yesterday her husband Jason, who is struggling to cope with his wife’s death while caring for their daughter, Brittany, now 6, said several managers told him that bullying was a problem but were not prepared to speak publicly or put it in writing for fear of litigation.
“Every high-ranking ambulance person I spoke to was quite happy off the record to say this is really, really bad … and told me that they don’t see that much is going to happen [change],” Mr Hodder told the Herald. “This is why it nearly took me as well … I’ve only just survived.”
Mrs Hodder said that on the day before her daughter-in-law died she had told her she felt the situation was hopeless and she had lost faith in management over dealing with her complaints.
“She felt that nobody cared and there was nowhere she could go. Nobody listened,” Mrs Hodder told the Herald.
In her submission, Mrs Hodder described Christine, who immigrated from France when she was 15, as “a clever, shy, beautiful girl in both appearance and manner”.
“Christine initially laughed off the harassment from her fellow officers, but it was relentless, and when it continued over the years, it became very hard to bear. She often said, ‘What is wrong with me? Why do they hate me so much?’ There were so many incidents perpetrated against Christine,” she wrote.
“She took her own life by hanging herself from her daughter’s swing in the family backyard. We didn’t see it coming, and I cannot even begin to describe the utter horror, disbelief, grief, and unbelievable sadness we feel because she isn’t in our lives any more.
“We miss her, and what utterly saddens me is she will never see her beloved daughter grow up. For the people who have caused this devastation, the whole chapter is finished. Unfortunately for us, the life of a much-loved wonderful girl is also finished. We will never see Christine again.”
She urged the inquiry to ask “serious questions” of the NSW Ambulance Service.
“Why they have allowed these types of behaviours to continue to the point where people from that one station are transferring away, going on stress leave and in Christine’s case becoming so demoralised and depressed that she committed suicide.”
In July, 2005, the chief executive of the NSW Ambulance Service, Greg Rochford, wrote to Mr Hodder and said an investigation had been completed.
The letter, also made public, reveals the service began the investigation three days before Christine Hodder died and found a culture of male dominance, “acceptance of poor standards of cleanliness” and “white-anting”.
It recommended staff receive training in workplaces free of harassment and bullying, that the service should explore how to change the behaviour of staff, and that no female officer be appointed to Cowra for six months.
No officer was disciplined.
Last week Christine Hodder’s former colleague Phil Roxburgh gave evidence that she had been victimised, that management ignored her complaints and that he himself was bullied when he tried to support her.
For help call Lifeline on 13 11 14.