A killing, a call and a reckoning

Bylong's dark past collides with its controversial present as a man tries to return home after 40 years


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He was seven when his father killed his mother at Bylong, and now he wants to return.

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TWO death certificates and snatches of memory are all that Rick Yagodich has left of the year he turned eight, when his father killed his mother on a famous Bylong property and five months later committed suicide in a Long Bay Jail cell.

Mr Yagodich was on holidays in Sydney with his older brother on January 23, 1978 when relatives told them their mother was dead. The boys never returned to Bylong. They didn’t attend their mother’s funeral.

They left Australia three years later and haven’t been back. Their father was a killer but it was only hinted at for years, and confirmed with little detail when Mr Yagodich was an adult.  

Nearly 40 years later Mr Yagodich wants to end the “holiday” and return to Iron Tank – the lesser-known section of Tarwyn Park, where maverick Bylong farmer Peter Andrews developed his natural sequence farming method, and where Mr Yagodich was a happy child until the unthinkable happened.

He wants to see where his mother died and life took a turn that’s left him unable to call a place “home”.

“Since leaving Bylong I’ve never felt I belonged anywhere. I’ve always been just passing through. As I near the 40-year mark I want to put the whole thing to rest. I want to learn whether returning will feel like coming home, or if that’s something I simply am not capable of feeling,” Mr Yagodich said.

He contacted the Newcastle Herald from the United Kingdom where he lives, after articles about Korean energy company KEPCO buying up most of Bylong Valley for a controversial coal mine.

The ghosts of Mr Yagodich’s childhood are in buildings marked for demolition and under guard.

“Would KEPCO let me wander the property as I remember it, and go into the house? Is there anyone left who would remember my family?” he said. 

He’s not worried about what he might find when he returns to Bylong for the 40th anniversary of his mother’s death.

“The trepidation is that the reconnection with the past may be entirely academic, that I won’t feel anything,” he said.

Peter Andrews’ former wife Ann remembers Alison Yagodich, who was the only Bylong resident to phone and welcome the Andrews family after they bought the rundown Tarwyn Park in 1975.

“I was impressed with her attitude. She was involved with the pony club and the school. I can still picture her quite clearly. She had quite a pleasant-looking face and a reasonably solid build. We hadn’t been there for very long when it happened. It seems so long ago but you don’t forget these things,” Mrs Andrews said.

Alison Yagodich was 37 when she died. Her death certificate lists the cause of death as a fractured skull and a brain injury at the property “Zora”, which Peter and Ann Andrews later bought and re-named Iron Tank.

As a child Rick Yagodich was told his mother died from a fall down stairs. It was only years later that relatives said his father attacked his mother with a metal rod during a fight in a barn.

“I remember being told in one room and it taking a moment to make sense. Then I left the room, went to another, a sort of enclosed veranda, I think, and just crying. There was a hollowness, a gaping void in my reality,” he said.

“I think only once since then have I had a strong emotional reaction to anything.”

The two boys, aged seven and nine when their mother died, were taken almost immediately from Sydney to Perth on a three-day drive to live with an uncle’s family on their mother’s side. Three years later they were sent to Switzerland to live with another uncle for an “unhappy” seven years.

Rick during his time in Switzerland

Rick during his time in Switzerland

“I escaped to the UK when I turned 18 where I’ve been ever since,” he said.

It was a distant relative when Rick Yagodich was in his late 20s who confirmed their father killed their mother.

“No one had bothered to tell us the truth before that,” he said.

Ann Andrews remembers the shock of 1978, and hearing her neighbour from two kilometres away was dead and her husband was in custody. She remembers being told Alison Yagodich ran outside where she was killed near the front gate. She remembers the marriage was under considerable strain. 

Rick Yagodich has long since forgiven his father for killing his mother.

“It was an accident. He didn't hide from it. He called the police himself,” he said.

What he can’t forgive is the suicide.

“In the note he left he said he couldn’t live with what he had done to us boys, depriving us of a mother. For that I can’t forgive him,” Rick Yagodich said.

“While the first was an accident in a fit of rage, this was a proactive choice that denied us the right to make our own decisions about whether we wanted him to be a part of our lives.”

He has his father’s death certificate. It notes that Zivorad “Jack” Yagodich, a farmer, was 54 when he died “about 19th June, 1978”.

“Whilst in the lawful custody of the Department of Corrective Services, died by hanging, self-induced, on that date, with the intention of taking his own life,” the NSW Register of Deaths records.

Peter Andrews visited his former neighbour once in jail as he awaited trial on a manslaughter charge.

“I only went to see if I could do something to see that the boys were looked after. He was just stressed to the limit. Jack was just very depressed before it all happened. The whole valley was in a kind of turmoil at the time and it affected him. He was always telling me about the family and about getting out of there. He wanted to sell but she didn’t,” Mr Andrews said.

Peter and Ann Andrews remember talk of an affair or affairs associated with the Yagodiches, linked to them selling up and leaving Bylong. Rick Yagodich says he has also heard of a possible affair involving one of his parents, but like most of his past there are whispers but no evidence.

“The marriage was very strained,” Peter Andrews said.

“I had a bit to do with them because I wanted to buy Iron Tank and Jack wanted to sell. I have memories of the boys. They were a couple of good kids. Jack was an authoritarian father in a way. They were always out there weeding the property by hand. It looked immaculate.

“When she died it swept through the valley that he hit her with a lump of pipe. There was an argument, I assume,” Mr Andrews said.

“We didn’t know where the kids had gone.”

Mr Andrews bought Iron Tank at an auction after Jack Yagodich’s death. Mr Andrews’ son Stuart, who bought Tarwyn Park and Iron Tank from his father in 1999 after years of struggle to have natural sequence farming accepted, agreed to sell to KEPCO in 2014 after three years of fighting a proposed coal mine.

Mr Yagodich, who is a content management consultant and author of a book on the subject, and was diagnosed on the autism spectrum as an adult, said he hoped to experience some sort of connection or completeness when he returns to Bylong “because it’s not something I’ve experienced in almost 40 years”.

“After so long there are no active feelings about my parents. I don’t miss them, because I’ve never really had them in that part of my life that I can remember,” he said.

The story A killing, a call and a reckoning first appeared on Newcastle Herald.

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