Bylong's scenic beauty hides a family tragedy

RICK Yagodich’s father killed his wife – Rick’s mother – on a Bylong property nearly 40 years ago and committed suicide in a jail cell while awaiting trial for her murder.

In January Rick Yagodich, who was on holidays in Sydney when he was orphaned at the age of seven, will return to Bylong for the first time to see a famous property now under threat from a coal mine, where his parents’ tragedy played out.

“It’s the end of my 40-year ‘holiday’. I’m coming back to Bylong for the first time,” Mr Yagodich said about the trip from England, where he now lives, to visit Bylong for the 40th anniversary of his mother Alison’s death on January 23, 1978, when she was just 37.

Korean energy company KEPCO, which bought iconic Bylong properties Tarwyn Park and Iron Tank in 2014 as part of its plan to run an open cut coal mine on the site, agreed to Mr Yagodich visiting Iron Tank where he grew up, when the property was known as Zora.

The approval came as a NSW Planning Assessment Commission requested a more detailed heritage assessment of Tarwyn Park and Bylong Valley as it considers whether to approve the mine.

Mr Yagodich plans to visit on January 19 and 20 and hopes to meet former Bylong residents who knew his mother and father Zivorad “Jack” Yagodich.

He has little but his parents’ death certificates, a few photographs and snatches of memory from the years at Bylong before his world fell apart. He and his brother didn’t attend their mother’s funeral and left Australia to live with relatives three years later.

Their father was a killer but it was only hinted at for years, and confirmed with little detail when Mr Yagodich was an adult.

He does not know what to expect when he returns to the only place he has ever thought of as “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,” he said.

He contacted the Newcastle Herald after reading online articles about KEPCO buying up most of Bylong Valley for its controversial coal mine. The ghosts of Mr Yagodich’s childhood are in buildings marked for demolition and under guard.

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 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. Peter Andrews went on to develop his natural sequence farming methods on Iron Tank and Tarwyn Park.

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.

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.

Peter Andrews visited “Jack” Yagodich in jail before Mr Yagodich hanged himself, aged 54, in June 1978, five months after he killed his wife.

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.”

Peter and Ann Andrews, other former Bylong residents and relatives have indicated they would meet with Mr Yagodich when he visits the area, to help him fill in some of the blanks from his childhood.


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