New documentary sets fresh perspective on Claire Murray story

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Shocking revelations: the Wild Butterfly documentary lays bare the shocking story of how and why Claire Murray headed down the road to drug addiction.



It has been ten years since the tragic passing of liver transplant patient Claire Murray in Singapore at the young age of 25.

Claire died surrounded by members of her family after suffering complications arising from a genetic condition that resulted in severe post-operational clotting. She had earlier received part of her aunt Carolynn’s liver.

Shocking revelations: the Wild Butterfly documentary lays bare the shocking story of how and why Claire Murray headed down the road to drug addiction. (Facebook)

The trip to Singapore was a desperate move by the Murray family. Claire was a recovering heroin addict who already had undergone a liver transplant in August 2009 and was on methadone. She had been staying in a halfway house and finding a new purpose in life when the sky came falling down on her all over again. Hospitals in Perth did not want anything to do with her, given her long history with the health system that would subsequently become the subject of a documentary some nine years later.

At the time, the general media spiel was that Claire was undeserving of a second chance in life having squandered her previous chance. Hence she ought to be placed at the bottom of the waiting list despite having only months to live before her liver eventually gave out. Fortunately for them, a well-known private hospital in Singapore was able to perform the life-saving surgery on the mother of two young sons. The only catch was that it was extreme costly and beyond the means of the family.

At that point, the Government of Western Australia stepped in and offered the Murrays a loan of $250,000 payable after two years. Channel 7 also signed a deal worth $30,000 with the family. What the State Government offered was in effect taxpayers’ money that could have gone towards struggling artists still feeling the aftershocks from the Global Financial Crisis that happened two years before.

Despite the best care provided by doctors at Mount Elizabeth Hospital located in the heart of Singapore’s main retail district, Claire Murray succumbed to complications and left us for a better place on 1 April 2010. She would have been 35 if she survived till this day. As a Singaporean, I cannot help but feel proud of those medical professionals. They are top-grade and patients from all over the world flock to Singapore for medical treatment their own health services are unable or unwilling to provide. Claire was yet another soul asking to be saved, but fate had already decided her time had come. Credit should be given when it is due.

Not long after Claire’s death, filmmaker Shireen Narayanan began researching material for a documentary about Claire. She has spent close to a decade speaking to the Murray family and has become one of their closest friends. The title of this documentary, Wild Butterfly, comes from a phrase Claire’s parents Mick and Val described their deceased daughter when she was a child.

It was a known fact that Claire was on medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and that was a possible entry point for her foray into hard drugs like heroin later down the track. The use of dexamphetamine to treat ADHD has been questionable. Former WA state member of parliament Martin Whitely had cautioned about the effects of overmedicating children who were diagnosed with ADHD in his research papers. In an interview with Psychology Today, Dr Whitely mentioned that many children were misdiagnosed with ADHD. Wild Butterfly also addresses this issue as Claire herself did not suffer from ADHD at all. Rather, the once-promising student may have had post-traumatic stress disorder after being sexually assaulted at a Year 7 school camp. The perpetrator was never caught, and Claire was left so badly shaken that she never spoke of it, even to her parents. In the next few years, she was hospitalised for several suicide attempts. Dr Whitely was one of the guests at the official premiere of Wild Butterfly in February 2020 at Luna Cinemas Leederville. In his review of the film, he was harshly critical about the role played by pharmaceutical companies in the treatment of ADHD.

Wild Butterfly is Narayanan’s first feature-length production. Her background as a clinician helped quite a lot in the production of this film. Much of Claire’s dialogue was reconstructed using material obtained from her family and her alma mater. Ashleigh Zinko plays the character of Claire, a role she carries with distinction. The film alternates between interview footage of Claire’s parents and dramatised sequences of Claire’s life. Viewers of Air Crash Investigations are no stranger to this format.

The film explores the link between childhood trauma, mental illness and substance abuse that is quite often overlooked. The fact that the general public is usually unaware of these links makes them rather quick to judge others. As such, Claire wanted her story told. The way in which the media covered her ill-fated trip to Singapore was extremely disgraceful and did her little, if not, no justice at all. The public would certainly have been shocked beyond words if they were privy to what went down during Claire’s turbulent teenage years. It is important that law enforcement officers, social workers and journalists should understand the concept of trauma in order to do their jobs more effectively.

Wild Butterfly was shown at Cinefest Oz in Busselton in August 2019 before its official premiere in early 2020. The original plan was to screen the film at several locations in Australia with the support of various community groups. One such screening included the one organised by Phoenix Support and Advocacy Service at Belmont WA on 8 April. Unfortunately, due to the global coronavirus pandemic that Australia is currently swept up in, the event had to be scrapped. It was meant to feature a question and answer session with victims’ rights advocates.

I consider myself fortunate to have secured a spot at the Rockingham screening in Perth’s south just before the nation went into lockdown. The story of a young woman, full of hope for the future, walking into my hometown for a life-saving medical procedure, only to return home in a box disturbed me. This film has helped me understand her pain better and made me more aware that there is always more than meets the eye where drug addiction is concerned.

As the screening sessions at Carlton VIC and Devonport TAS had already sold out before lockdown, these will still go ahead, albeit in September. Wild Butterfly will also be shown overseas, at the Manhattan Film Festival in June 2020.