Rosie Batty in conversation
Rosie joined ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson in a conversation about giving a voice to victims of family violence and what it meant to be Australian of the Year.
Recorded at the National Museum on 1 November 2015
HEIDI PRITCHARD: Good afternoon everybody and welcome to the National Museum of Australia. My name is Heidi Pritchard and I’m the manager of the community outreach section. As always, I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, the traditional custodians of this land on which we meet, with their vibrant and ongoing culture. It is great to have you all here today, and thank you so much for coming.
This is the first in what we hope will become the annual Australian of the Year lecture. It is particularly wonderful that we get to do the first one with Rosie. It is appropriate that we have this event here at the National Museum because we’re a social history museum. We tell stories; we are where our stories live and where our stories come alive. During the week we had the Senior Australian of the Year, Jackie French, who was launching her book Horace the Horse. She told us that books are the magic potion for the imagination, and that really resonates with us.
Today we have Rosie telling us her story of advocacy and how one person can really change a national debate. At the National Museum we have a lovely relationship with the Australia Day Council and last year we exhibited items from all of the state and territory finalists. It was a beautiful exhibition. Who saw that one? Well, I’d like to see more hands next year at this lecture. This year on 16 December we are launching the exhibition again and, once again, we’re showing that stories can be told using objects – it’s lovely. Rosie actually had her doll here, a beautiful moment. I strongly encourage you all to come and see it over the holidays. Bring your families, bring your friends, come to our Australia Day festival.
We are very lucky today as well to have Sarah Ferguson from the ABC here doing the interview. Sarah has had one heck of a career and I am absolutely sure she needs no introduction. Despite that, everybody I have spoken to agrees that Sarah was the perfect choice for this conversation, including Rosie. Rosie said, ‘Oh she’s the perfect choice,’ which was lucky because had she have said ‘she’s not the perfect choice,’ then it would have been me doing the conversation – and, trust me, you want Sarah.
Sarah began her journalistic career in newspapers in the UK before moving to France where she worked for the BBC. In Australia she’s worked for the SBS program Dateline and Insight as both the producer and the reporter. Sarah has worked for the Channel Nine program Sunday; Four Corners and recently was working on the 7.30 Report. She’s also currently working on a really interesting two part series that I want you all to keep an eye out for. But for now, I would like you all to join me in welcoming Sarah Ferguson and Rosie Batty. [applause]
SARAH FERGUSON: Thank you all so much for coming. It’s lovely to see such a full auditorium. Although it’s not a perfect Canberra day, I left a perfect Sydney day, but still it’s lovely to see you all here during the day to listen to this extraordinary person. It was a very easy question for me to answer when they asked me if I would come down here and have a chat with Rosie in front of you. There are very few people that you meet in your life, in your career, who singlehandedly shift the paradigm – it’s a bit of an ugly word but it’s true – who actually shift and change the way we think about the lives we lead. It’s such a rare thing so a very easy question for me to answer.
The reason they did ask, which was referred to just now, is that I am in the middle of making a series on domestic violence for the ABC, which will be on at the end of November. When I set out to make that series, the very first thing I did, I was working on a political series at the time but I stopped to go and have lunch with Rosie. We had a bit of a boozy lunch in Newtown where Rosie was wearing one of her crazy hats. But the reason I wanted to sit down with her was because I wanted to ask her where she thought I should focus my thinking, where in this landscape of this extraordinary issue that we all need to grapple with we should focus our thoughts. Again, because of that thing I understood about her from everything that I’ve seen, that peculiarly powerful authenticity that Rosie has that many people have written about and have witnessed in the course of this extraordinary couple of years.
We’re here to reflect on Rosie’s year as Australian of the Year and to talk a little bit about her book, which I’ve read and which I strongly recommend – and Rosie will be available for book signings afterwards. That is another extraordinary piece of work. She just told me that, in the course of this year, she’s going to be up to 300 events in her Australian of the Year year reaching directly, that means talking directly, to 70,000 people. [applause] Yes, exactly. Where in the course of that year she’s had time to write a book – I lead a busy life – I cannot begin to imagine. There’s no sense of that hurriedness in the book.
Rosie, the reason that I wanted to see you that day, I think, is the reason why a lot of people come to hear you speak, which is that bafflement we all felt that how is it that you managed to step out the day after Luke died. That’s really the moment where I want to start. You describe it beautifully in the book, you’re crumpled on the sofa, you’re holding on the SpongeBob Square Pants, and the media of course, as we do, are amassed outside. I meet a lot of people making this series, people working in domestic violence. They want to protect victims and victims’ families, sometimes to the point of stifling their stories, and I say to them, ‘Just imagine trying to stifle Rosie Batty. It isn’t always the right thing to do.’ What is it that made you get off the sofa that day?
ROSIE BATTY: I think stubbornness. I still find that people try to protect me and shield me from things they think might upset me or because they think I’m busy and in the earlier stages they felt – when you’ve got something like that happen, everyone just wants to do something to help you. I think that it would be a natural feeling for them to want to protect me and feel that protection from the media was part of their role. But I guess my life has been making my own decisions, and that wasn’t going to change, whether it was making sure that the funeral was what I wanted it to be and not just what everybody else wanted it to be – making sure that I had a voice. I think that really was it. But I have to say, Sarah, that I’m glad [you] described it as a boozy lunch because I can’t remember any of the answers I gave.
SARAH FERGUSON: The thing was that most of the people there were being terribly serious and work-like, and you said, ‘But surely we’re going to have a drink, aren’t we?’
ROSIE BATTY: I don’t know what she’s saying about me. That is not true.
SARAH FERGUSON: I think only you and I were the ones having the drink. That’s what I remember most of all actually. That day stepping out in front of the media and in those early days, how did you know what to say?
ROSIE BATTY: Look, I didn’t. I’m lucky, I guess, that when you look at your life experience and you look at your career that you’ve had, your strengths and your weaknesses, sometimes perhaps they just come together at the right time. All I can say is I was relieved when my friends saw me on the news and said, ‘Wow, Rosie, that was great,’ and not ‘Oh my God, what have you just said?’ I had no idea. I had absolutely no idea that what I said would be seen as something quite unique, different, strong – I just spoke from the heart. What I find in life is when things go wrong, it’s very common for us to want to blame. The ugliness of humanity comes to the fore, and we look for vengeance and recrimination – I didn’t want that. It’s never been part of me.
I wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity for Luke’s death to be seen as a tragedy. I know, too, that it’s normally what we learn from tragedy. It’s really sad that it takes tragic events for us to become aware of an issue or to seek change either as legislation, policy or attitudinal. I felt like there was only ever going to be a brief window in time to capture the media or the attention of people to make a difference. I had no way of understanding or knowing that that was going to continue to this point.
SARAH FERGUSON: One of the extraordinary things that moment did was to shift the attention away from Luke’s father onto Luke and onto yourself. You had practised quite an extraordinary degree of compassion and understanding about him in that very troubled history. How conscious a decision was that to move people’s attention away from him?
ROSIE BATTY: I think it’s really easy to demonise people, to seek to blame and focus on that and not really learn anything from it. What is there to be gained? It’s not condoning what Greg did. I’m incredibly sad there was nothing I could do to intervene and stop something that you wished had never happened. But to focus on that ugliness pulls you into that space. Even though it’s really easy, you seek to be a better person through something and I guess my way of trying to handle life is how can I be a better person through this, and this event – losing Luke – was the biggest test that you can ever have. But still you want to be the better person through it.
SARAH FERGUSON: Was that something that you were already thinking about? Was that a journey of self-examination that you were already on?
ROSIE BATTY: Yes, because I had 12 years with Greg – not with him but 12 years subjected to his abuse. I could allow myself to be equally as vindictive or behave in a derogatory way or a blaming way, but I wanted to be the best role model for Luke and to support him in understanding what compassion and empathy was and how to be a good friend and to be a good person and a spiritual person. I wanted him to also have that as a modelling. Even though at times I felt incredibly angry with Greg or would be hysterical, and frequently was, I tried to find a place of how can I not let him define me, not let him ruin our lives. How can I be bigger than this for Luke to grow into a man that is not going to be an abusive man but is going to be a kind, caring, sensitive soul. And he was – not without fault – but he clearly was on that path. I think for me I had to really challenge myself to be that better person.
SARAH FERGUSON: You mentioned Luke there, and one of the things that comes through in the book is his personality. There’s a lovely letter that they’ve reproduced in the book with him pleading with you to let him buy a bird and his commitment to the care of the bird. We do through the book – so I urge you to read it – get a little sense of who Luke was, particularly at that stage in his life because he was changing, wasn’t he?
ROSIE BATTY: He was. The most gratifying thing for me is that, just weeks and a few months before he died, various friends of mine within the community who hadn’t seen Luke for some time but had bumped into him at an inter-sport school day or whatever but I wasn’t there. He’d greeted them in a really well-mannered, engaging, respectful way and they all said to me, ‘Gosh, I bumped into Luke. He’s such a lovely young man.’ Your kids obviously when they are at home with you aren’t always perfect, so the very fact that he knew how to be social, polite, well-mannered and engaging – I was really proud of him.
SARAH FERGUSON: Helen Garner reminded me of something – she wrote a piece about you in The Monthly and you talked about the response of people when you went into the media. She talked about the awe with which the rest of us looked at what you said that day. But she also said a friend of yours rang up and said, ‘Get yourself together, excuse me, you look like shit.’ Is that true?
ROSIE BATTY: Yes. And do you know what, he still rings me every day, reminds me about how much weight I’ve put on and reminds me when he says, ‘People think you’re special because you’re Australian of the Year. Well I know what you’re really like.’ So he keeps me grounded. Actually since Luke died, I have to say some of the best support I’ve had have been from male friends, my father and my brothers – not that that’s remarkable but I do feel it’s really important to note that some of my best male friends are the people who speak to me each day and who perhaps have been on the end of the phone or with me when I’m at my most vulnerable.
SARAH FERGUSON: After that first speech that you gave, which I think will go down as a speech in the contemporary history of Australia actually. It was an extraordinary moment where a lot of things came together. Was there a part of you that wanted to retreat after that and go into your grief and stay there?
ROSIE BATTY: I don’t think – not at one moment, not at any one time. Again, it’s not right for everybody – I’m a person that likes company but I’m a person that likes privacy and time to myself as well. I found it incredibly important that my house was open, that everybody who knew me and Luke could come, and in the first weeks the house was full all of the time. Family travelled from New Zealand and England to be with us. To have that display of that emotional support was incredibly important. I live alone, except I have dogs and cats, and my family are in the UK. So for me I enjoy having the space and privacy in my own home, but it would make me really depressed if I was alone too much. I think that’s the balance for me. For some people it wouldn’t work for them, but for me it really has.
By being able to push myself to do the things that seemed intuitively right to do, have indeed been right to do, from that I have gained so much more. In fact what really used to – dare I say – piss me off was when at the beginning people would say to me, ‘Don’t you need time to grief?’ I would think I’m grieving for goodness sake. Grieving comes in waves, and it affects you at different times. Sometimes you’re screaming at something that is just nothing – that’s grief. At other times welling up with tears from a triggered memory – that’s grief. At other times it looks in different ways. By people saying, ‘I just don’t know what to say.’ I would much rather somebody come to me and say, ‘I’m really sorry and I don’t know what to say.’ I would say, ‘You know what – thank you because I don’t know what to say either, and that’s okay.’
But other people you never see again, because either that triggers sadness for them or they feel awkward so they’d rather avoid you. For me the hardest part of my journey has been people not knowing how to speak to me. You see that fear in their eyes because they are frightened to meet you. Maybe they’re frightened because of their own emotions and they don’t want to upset you, but I think it’s all very normal. For me, it’s okay to well up with tears. But now people come to me and they go: ‘Hi Rosie, are you Rosie Batty?’ Somebody said to me one day when I was walking the dogs, ‘Has anyone told you that you just look like Rosie Batty?’ I said, ‘Yes, This is Rosie Batty without makeup on. She’s not as good looking.’
SARAH FERGUSON: You said once that you wondered whether the activity that you became more and more involved in – it started, the momentum picked up and it hasn’t stopped since and we’re months and months later – a part of that was a way of trying to reverse what had happened.
ROSIE BATTY: Yes. In my life I’ve always been very driven and pushed myself. I emigrated here and really I was a backpacker. I had no intentions of living here. When you first move from another country, you go through homesickness, you have to establish a new network of friends. Well now I’ve lived here longer than I lived in the UK. In one way when I’m here, I refer to the UK as home, but when I’m in the UK I refer to here as home. I can’t remember the question –
SARAH FERGUSON: Filling your days full of activity, is that a way of keeping it at bay?
ROSIE BATTY: For me, I’ve gone through events in my life where I’ve had to work out how to push through them. It could be a broken relationship; moving from Melbourne to Sydney and having no friends in Sydney and then moving back to Melbourne – re-establishing yourself, having to push through career ups and downs. Whatever it is – we all have tough times. Sometimes it’s not apparent why we’re feeling depressed, but you go through different times in your life and need different things at different times.
SARAH FERGUSON: Why did you say yes to being the Australian of the Year?
ROSIE BATTY: I don’t think I was asked. You get nominated.
SARAH FERGUSON: And it happens.
ROSIE BATTY: It’s nearly a year since I was here and remembering when all of the Australian of the Year finalists came together to be interviewed and for the first time we heard each other’s stories and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, these people are amazing. There is not a hope in hell that I’ll win. And I don’t care, because these are amazing people.’ This is an amazing experience. Even to be nominated and to be invited to come to Canberra and have the opportunity to do so many things and meet so many different types of people and the whole ceremony in itself and the leading up to it, that’s a life-changing memory. So even if you didn’t win, you wouldn’t begrudge it of anyone else and you’d be really happy for them.
SARAH FERGUSON: You had already seized the moment in a sense that you’d been giving lots of interviews and you were talking about domestic and family violence. What is it that you thought you could do by taking that position?
ROSIE BATTY: I think one of the reasons I felt that it wouldn’t be me that would win was because the finalists I was with had done amazing work over decades, whether it’s child advocacy for abused children or whatever it may have been. They have been doing this for decades. Clearly for me it was what I was going to do with the award and the timing of this social issue. Obviously everybody has done something to get there, but what are you going to do? For me, I knew that I couldn’t let down anybody – because family violence has never been an issue that people have openly discussed – [including] the victims of violence that are still unsafe or cannot speak. [When] you look at the funding for front-line services, which is abysmal, and you look at the responses we need to keep victims and children safe, it is far from adequate, you realise this social issue that has always been there needs to have a voice. It’s for all of those people working in the family violence sector who have worked in it for decades and felt that they would never ever have government on their side.
SARAH FERGUSON: Does that mean that at the beginning your ambition was in a way a simple one that you were just going to talk about it and that’s how you were going to change things?
ROSIE BATTY: Really, I was aware that I needed a strategy, and I guess my strategy was always going to be to continue to develop relations with the media, recognising with the media supporting this issue – but not just supporting this issue but actually becoming very informed about how they report this issue. It can either sensationalise the story and have the wrong connotations and cause harm; or it can be reported in an educational way so that we as a society and a community start to recognise that we’re experiencing two women a week being murdered; and that by somehow blaming victims continues that. I guess it’s the community awareness that we are really trying to shift.
SARAH FERGUSON: At the same time I’ve asked this question myself in my ignorance many times: ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ We know it’s a question you’re not supposed to ask, but I know a lot of people can’t help themselves from asking the question. Did you already understand – You had a different relationship with Greg because he wasn’t living with you for all of that time, but did you already understand why that question is the wrong one?
ROSIE BATTY: Yes. I can’t quite remember how many years ago I graduated but I did a diploma in community welfare and I studied family violence as an elective. So I actually had already been trained in it as a subject and also trauma and attachment theory. I found all those subjects incredibly interesting. Ironically, I couldn’t get a job in the welfare sector so I ended up not pursuing a career in welfare but doing something else. But, without a doubt, my studies and my training, which I loved, have absolutely equipped me with the understanding I now have. It doesn’t make me an expert, but I can tell you I’m a hell of a lot more of an expert than a lot of the people that deal with vulnerable people – and that really concerns me.
SARAH FERGUSON: One of the big questions, which emerges from many of the things that you’ve said, is the degree to which we are still putting the onus on women to protect themselves. And indeed, for you, that was the case that on various points over that decade or more, you were put in the position where you were expected to manage Greg and you were expected to keep Luke and you safe.
ROSIE BATTY: It’s still what we do. Basically the question – why doesn’t she leave? – again it comes from the position of ‘we assume that you should do something’. We’ve got some very knowledgeable women here. I love it because hearing the confirmation makes me feel very good. What is it about women having to take more responsibility for everything? This is very entrenched in society. What we’ve always expected is for women to do something. That’s what I experienced when I had Luke. People would be saying, ‘Why don’t you do this and why don’t you do that?’ You know what – would you stand up to him [Greg] as a six-foot man? Do you really understand what fear is and to be unsafe? When we consider at this point in time where we’ve had some real tragedy here in Canberra, some significant tragedy here this year, when you choose to leave a relationship, that is at your most vulnerable point, that is the time when the violence can very much escalate.
SARAH FERGUSON: You knew that and you went to the police, you went to the system to help you put things in place to protect yourself. It was a complex history. What did you take from that? When you then went into your year and you were going to bring about change, what is it you wanted to change more than anything else?
ROSIE BATTY: I am very concerned that people are not doing risk assessments with victims of violence. Sadly, if you come in from particular angles, you won’t necessarily ever have a risk assessment or the risk assessment that you’re given actually doesn’t include you and other people are actually deciding without even speaking to you, and understanding and taking time to talk to you about the history of the abuse. I very much agree with a strength based approach, which is that it’s your decision what to do. But sometimes if you’ve been in an ongoing violent dynamic, you may absolutely need some further expertise to understand and look at the violence which is escalating or has gone on for a long time. You need somebody to have an expertise here.
For me, the violence wasn’t enough for me to qualify, because I needed three incidences of violence in a year – not just the two – to go to the family violence specialised unit in my area. If that had happened, they would have advocated with me in court, they would have helped me with intervention orders, they would have been more involved with Greg. But at that point child protection never did a risk assessment. There’s lots of things that could have been done differently. The coronial inquest, the outcomes from that have now been announced, and universally it is that you would expect the training to be so much better for people who are involved in the dynamics of family violence.
SARAH FERGUSON: When we look at you – you talked about the position for women going through court is about as lonely as it’s possible to be – you’re well-educated and you know how to advocate for yourself, yet that system drove you to tears. It drove you to a point where other people told you to calm down. How do we change that?
ROSIE BATTY: A total revamp of our judicial system. There is nothing else.
SARAH FERGUSON: It’s a big call.
ROSIE BATTY: It comes down to our magistrates and judges, who are not God and who actually need to like everybody in society become aware of this issue and that it isn’t your fault and you’re not to blame. What’s really interesting is the law and the history of the law. I haven’t become an expert in this but I’ve had some very interesting facts shared with me, which at some point I would like to investigate further. One of them is we commonly say ‘the rule of thumb’. Well, the rule of thumb comes from the law in England where you were able to beat your wife and family as long as the welt wasn’t wider than the thumb. So we come from a society that allowed you and gave you the privilege and entitlement to own your wife and children and do what you will with them. So that kind of attitude is still somewhat present in our society. That’s what we really have to address and look at openly and honestly.
I know from my grandmother’s era, although she was the centre of our world and the centre of our family and never experienced violence in any description, she was a housewife, she didn’t drive, she had no financial independence and, if you made your bed you lie in it, you’re married for life. So we’ve changed a lot but we are not experiencing equality. Certainly what is reaching me is that there is a shifting awareness because I don’t think young women are taught the history of a woman’s journey either. I was lucky to see a preview screening of a new movie with Meryl Streep in it, although she’s in it very briefly, called Suffragette. It’s a really great film and worth going to see. But the lasting impression was ‘Oh my gosh, how far have we really come from the fight that they had for the vote to true equality?’
SARAH FERGUSON: When you look over this year that you’ve been living going to events – sometimes, as you said before, three events in one day – you have this experience, you have this tragedy, how did you manage the year that’s not quite finished yet but is still going?
ROSIE BATTY: People say, ‘How do you cope talking about it all the time?’ But actually you’ve probably picked that I love talking. And when I say I love talking, I love deep conversations. I love conversations with meaning. I love robust debate with intelligent people. So I love to feel like I can learn and keep learning. What worries me sometimes is that people see me as a bit of an expert and I’m thinking ‘What am I an expert in?’ Yes, I’m an expert in the experience of being a victim but have I the expertise and all the answers that sometimes people expect me to have, which put pressure on me sometimes because I feel like I don’t know everything.
I feel that in the conversations I have or in the talks that I give, it’s not dwelling on the misery and the demise of the journey of being the victim, it’s allowing me to continue to remind people of the prevalence of the issue and I feel like I’m making some difference. I feel like I’m making some difference because of all the wonderful comments that people write to me or email me or post on Facebook or greet me at the airport or wherever they may see me. It’s men and women, lovely old and young people who say to me, ‘We think you’re great. We admire what you do. Keep doing what you do.’ So for me it gives me incredible reassurance that I’m on the right track, that I’m doing something that is appreciated, and that gives me purpose and meaning. I think that’s what everybody needs in their life.
SARAH FERGUSON: Do you understand where that comes from because you used the word ‘victim’ there. I think we would all agree there’s one thing about Rosie – the word never occurs to me to think of you as a victim, people don’t look upon you as a victim. Something happened that was terrible in your life but you are not a victim, even though you are the person to whom it happened. Is there something about your life that made you ready for that?
ROSIE BATTY: Again what I’ve liked about my journey is that people ask me questions and I have to really think, which I’ve always really liked to do. So it makes you really appreciate events in your life or people in your life or books you’ve read or films you’ve watched – what is it that has given you the toolkit that you are carrying with you that help you through adversity?
I think that probably the first life-changing incident, and we all have them from childhood, is where you can turn the clock back and say, ‘When that happened to me, it defined me in a way and changed my life.’ I lost my Mum when I was six, my brother Robert was four and my little brother was not even two. So for my father to all of a sudden to have three children under the age of seven and to be a farmer – it must have been an incredible thing for him back then. My Dad is one of the best men in the world but not able to verbally or in any way show his affection or feelings. Back then, we weren’t told as children that she’d died. We didn’t get to go to the funeral. We found out when he told us, and it seemed like everybody else had known before us. That has been a bit of a pattern in our family where we’ve certainly got better at that.
I can honestly say the first time I saw my Dad very emotional was with Luke’s death. The second time was when he came over for Australian of the Year. It was amazing for him to see ‘Oh my gosh, what’s happened. One minute I’m here for the funeral of my grandson and the next minute I’m here because my daughter is being recognised as this’. In England you don’t have English person of the year –
SARAH FERGUSON: Pom of the year.
ROSIE BATTY: So they think: what is this Australian of the Year thing? My friends were saying, ‘Geoff, do you understand what this is?’ He’s going, ‘What do you mean?’ There are 23 million Australians, there’s only one Australian of the Year and that’s Rosie. They’re going ‘Oh’. I think they’re beginning to get it that it’s actually a big thing. A friend of mine said to me while my parents were here, ‘Your parents are the most underwhelmed people I’ve ever met’ - in the most lovely of ways.
SARAH FERGUSON: I wonder if along with that there is also a moral strength that comes from them that you’ve inherited.
ROSIE BATTY: Yes, it is. When you look back, my grandmother lived until she was 100, and actually she was an important part of the exhibit that was here. What she modelled to me was no matter – she lost her only daughter out of five children. She was the centre of her family; everybody adored her; everybody gained something when they visited. Her only complaint really was that she got too tired with all the visitors. She was still fiercely independent. She still lived at home. When she couldn’t do something then she did embroidery. When she couldn’t do embroidery, she did tapestry. So she evolved and always kept up with what she could do. You never found her unable to cope with her life or depressed or victimised. She always had a chuckle and a very good sense of humour.
So you do have within you the modelling of who has been there before you. From your grandparents who were all hard workers. They are hard-working people. That’s what they admire, that physical hard work. And my Dad the same. Probably the difficulty we’ve had is the honesty in being able to express emotions. On the plus side you have that English stoic approach to life and pushing through adversity no matter what; on the other side of it you’ve got the inability to speak openly, emotionally and honestly.
SARAH FERGUSON: Yet it seemed – I don’t know whether this is you or whether it’s coming here or a combination of those things – that with Luke you had managed to bring both of those things together; is that right?
ROSIE BATTY: That’s what I really strived to do. It was really isolating for us to live over here. There were times when I was disappointed not to see more of family and things like that, but you tried your best to do the most you could. It was my choice to live in Australia. But then of course when you have a child with somebody, it becomes not your choice, you have a responsibility, which I think is fair and reasonable, to be able to support the relationship with both parents.
SARAH FERGUSON: You also had quite high expectations of Luke in a way, and I’m very moved by that, that he had a difficult father but you were training him to manage it, weren’t you?
ROSIE BATTY: I felt that Greg adored him and would go out of his way to travel for hours on public transport just to see him and give him a hug in whatever strange dilemma or situation he was in. He was incredibly attentive and loving to Luke. Clearly his behaviour to me at times – not every time but at times when he was threatened or challenged – was derogatory at best, verbally abusive most, and intimidating and physically challenging at the worst. So clearly Luke had memories, but a lot of it was kind of what he’d known. But I was always open and honest with him and, as you say, trying to work out an age appropriate way that didn’t shield him like maybe my family had done with the ‘kids were seen and not heard’ kind of mentality.
I used to say to him, ‘Look, Luke’ – and he didn’t necessarily understand but I felt at some point he would understand if I kept saying it – ‘You will always love your Dad and your Dad will always love you, but you won’t always like what your Dad does.’ I think that’s it, isn’t it? As a child you are wired to love your parents. No matter what they do, you are wired to love them. You can still love them but not respect them or agree with what they do. And then as you become an adult you’ll challenge that potentially. But I think it’s very hard not to love your family.
SARAH FERGUSON: In the course of this year, you’re giving speeches, the book is being written, in the middle of all that you also went through the inquest. Was that a good process in the end for you? Was it helpful?
ROSIE BATTY: The other irony of this, too, is that access to justice is becoming more and more impossible, I think, for the average person. Those that get justice are the ones that can pay for it. Quite often with the other question: why doesn’t she loo leave? Well, financial problems are one of the huge hurdles, and very reasonable fears of homelessness and poverty are very realistic hurdles to leave. That’s across all socioeconomic – what was the question again?
SARAH FERGUSON: The inquest – it’s the great care and attention that went into the inquest and things that came out of it, although no one thing is deemed to be responsible for Luke’s death apart from Greg’s actions. What was the experience like of piecing all of that together?
ROSIE BATTY: That’s where initially I didn’t understand or know what the coronial inquest was likely to be and I thought, ‘I don’t need to know how he died. I know how he died. I don’t need to be part of this.’ So I immediately said, ‘No, I don’t want anything to do with it.’ But then I was approached by a legal team who wanted to work pro bono with me because they felt that what had happened to Luke demonstrated systematic failings that were going to be high profile enough to be able to really help with change.
So I reviewed that decision and they helped me pro bono. With the coronial inquest, everybody else involved has state paid for unlimited legal representation, except the victim. You are penalised all along the way. Even though the coroner is an incredibly fair and reasonable and really insightful man – he was brilliant – I most definitely would have been disadvantaged if I hadn’t [had a legal team]. I spent three days in a witness box – talk about victim blaming, and they don’t even know they’re doing it. I spent three days in that witness. I was the only one having to defend myself as the mother, and it was really intense. It was incredibly intense.
The good thing was that it was intense for everybody in the room, including the media. It was a really great example, I think, of saying, ‘The mother got the hardest grilling of them all.’ When there were very questionable police responses, very questionable child protection responses, very questionable systemic responses, the one that got the most grilling was the victim. For me, what I learnt through that is the forensic detail that my legal team went through and the piles – I am talking of piles – of folders of information from every angle was great for me. The night that Luke got murdered, a dear guy that worked with me from homicide that led the homicide investigation said to me, ‘Rosie, this was a premeditated act. You were not to blame.’ That stayed with me all of the way through this horrible journey.
All I could think of was: ‘Oh my God, how would Lindy Chamberlain have felt?’ She was blamed right from the beginning by everybody and even served a prison term because we couldn’t believe her and we made it fit that she was guilty because of the way she looked, because of the way she acted, because we couldn’t believe it was feasible. Years later we realised it was a very bad investigation that was set up to really condemn her – she was suffering the grief of losing her baby.
For me, through that forensic examination and all of the detail that came to me and looking at what everyone had said from every statement and from every angle, it really helped me fully understand the complete journey and I agreed with the coroner that it is futile to personally blame everybody but lack of training, lack of shared information, lack of collaborative approaches failed Luke and I. So it’s the system that needs to develop and change. That’s given me – and when the findings were announced a few months or weeks ago, people would say: ‘How are you going to feel?’ I actually felt good because I felt that Judge Gray had really taken on board every angle that my legal team had presented to him. He missed nothing and he again didn’t blame anybody, but the findings and the recommendations he gave were completely in line with what we wanted to have.
SARAH FERGUSON: Does what that detective said on the night that it was a premeditated attack – and I know there were a series of events leading up to it that make that very clear – does that mean that you were to some extent relieved of the terrible ‘what ifs’?
ROSIE BATTY: Yes, I think so. I think with the journey of grief you go through different phases. The first stage is: How much did Luke know? Did he feel pain? What could I have done? But I think that you are incredibly protected because your body can only absorb so much information and it numbs you in quite a way for a period of time. You’re there but you’re not. Look, I don’t even know what people would say about me in those early days or early weeks and how I am different now or not – I’m not sure. I haven’t really talked to them about it.
SARAH FERGUSON: Do you feel like you’re different?
ROSIE BATTY: Yes, because you’re much sharper, more clarity. I think back then I’d probably – mind you, I can still do this – flip from one thing to the next thing without keeping that train of thought. But certainly it has helped me enormously. And particularly all the way through the investigation, I worked very closely with a man called Charandev Singh who is a completely unsung hero. He works on coronial inquests all of the time.
I looked in the paper yesterday in Melbourne and it had a coronial finding of a woman that was happening within weeks of Luke’s. It was an Indian lady who had been, I hope, murdered before she was set on fire, but he’d tracked her down using a private detective and he killed himself too. But the only person at that coronial inquiry was the private detective and no-one representing her. It was a tragic death and she was a faceless victim. So somebody like Charandev Singh and people in the sector wanted it to not be just another incidence of a tragic murder that otherwise would have been just another one, because without somebody representing them, it doesn’t have the same voice.
And also Darcey Freeman, the little girl that got thrown off the Westgate Bridge, I read the findings in the paper as well, and it seems that, again, she had been to various agencies and people and said, ‘This is what my husband is doing.’ So it’s unfortunately not joining the dots together, not recognising certain threats, minimising them, dismissing them, not reading significant psychological –
SARAH FERGUSON: When you actually go back over that sequence of events yourself and, as you said, you had some training in the area so you knew what family violence was unlike most people who don’t think they’re in it until something happens. When you look back on it, does it look different to how it felt living through it?
ROSIE BATTY: One of the things I talk a lot about now is we really feel that the worst of family violence is the physical, and certainly it’s very hard for the police to prove psychological violence – it’s much harder. So the threat to kill me the year before and various things he did, even if they got to court, which they didn’t get to court, it would be unlikely that he would have been penalised in any way or indeed, because it wasn’t witnessed, that they would have believed me. When I look back, what I did do, which is like a lot of other people, is I felt my situation wasn’t as bad as other victims because I hadn’t been hospitalised or beaten and he’d restrained his control at different times.
What I’m completely convinced of now is that psychological violence is possibly more dangerous than the typical – not that I am saying any is better than the other – but I would say the psychological violence is incredibly concerning, and somehow we have to work out how we take that into account very seriously.
SARAH FERGUSON: How do politicians respond to your forthright manner?
ROSIE BATTY: They don’t like it when I talk about family terrorism – other people do. One of the questions that comes up quite a bit now is the wording: Why do we say ‘family violence’? Why do we say ‘domestic violence’? Why don’t we just say ‘men’s violence towards women and children’? I’m not really precious on language to that point – I’m not sure what is right – but I do understand the importance of language.
Violence is not tolerated on our streets. Violence is not tolerated, yet put family in front of it and all of a sudden it’s reduced and not seen as quite as bad, which is completely arse about face really, because what it should be is if you are experiencing violence in your own home, that should be even worse.
I was talking at a community event a couple of days ago at Swinburne University where an older lady, who was 82, came to me and said, ‘Rosie I’ve really been wanting to meet you.’ She passed me an envelope and said, ‘This is my story.’ I said, ‘Look, I will get back to you but it may take me a little while.’ She’s experiencing elder abuse from her son-in-law and her husband, and she doesn’t actually even know whether she’s going to be murdered. There are many forms of abuse. We have a lot of older people who are incredibly vulnerable, who are dependent on their carers or dependent on their family, and are intimidated and very frightened. So we have huge violence within our families.
SARAH FERGUSON: What you are seeking to do and we’ve heard this from the language that you’ve used – this is by way of wrap-up – is that in fact you are challenging all of us, aren’t you, to reconsider the way our society functions and the way we relate to one another? You’ve had an extraordinary year as Australian of the Year, the book is extraordinary, and it will be two years in February since Luke died. What’s next?
ROSIE BATTY: Well, I’m going on holiday trekking in India for two weeks.
SARAH FERGUSON: Bon voyage from everybody.
ROSIE BATTY: However, I will confide that I did go on a fun – it wasn’t a fun run, it wasn’t fun for me. Some people had a lot of fun. I did the walk, and it was supposed to be 10 kilometres and I had to get someone to come and pick me up after six kilometres. I have a lot of training to do. I’m very unfit. So getting fit and healthy is really important for me next year. It’s been incredibly difficult to say no to dessert and good wine and great hospitality.
In March I’m going to New York to a United Nations women’s conference, which I am really excited about. So next year is really growing my foundation. We have a never alone campaign. What I would suggest – do you lot know how to Google? – is to go on to http://www.neveralone.com.au/ and join my campaign. It’s a campaign I have set up to support victims of violence and say you’ll never be alone. I currently have over 40,000 members. It was designed so that, when I am no longer Australian of the Year, the momentum will keep going and continue to really keep this as an issue that governments can’t avoid. That is what I will be doing next year.
I have had some interesting conversations about roles, but the main thing that is important to me is that we cannot let this topic go back behind closed doors. I do understand that, because it’s never been a topic we’ve really discussed, unless you are involved or have been personally experiencing it – and let’s face it one in three women have – there are a lot of myths. There are a lot of misunderstandings. So let’s talk about them; let’s understand them.
But what we really need to say is: it is not your fault if you are a victim of violence. We need to introduce people who are affected in violent relationships into support services. The best way to do that is ring 1800-respect and to talk about your situation and then be connected to the great specialised service who can support your decisions. If that means crisis response and involvement, what’s most important is finding safety.
But what we really need to do – and this is where we haven’t even really begun but we will see a lot of change in this space – is when we start talking about victims and why doesn’t she leave, let’s switch the conversation and say, ‘Why has that man chosen to be violent?’ Because it is a choice. It’s not alcohol; it’s not drugs; it’s not mental illness – it is a choice. One of the things that our new Prime Minister said recently, which I’ve rehearsed many times now and I think I’ll get it right, is when he said, ‘Not all disrespect of women ends up in violence but all violence begins with disrespect.’
If we understand that a victim of violence is not to blame and that we should not be discussing what they do and what they don’t do with criticism and judgment, what we should be doing is placing the blame on the perpetrator of violence. We should be placing the blame there and saying, ‘What can we do, what do we have to do as a society to own this problem and stop this from happening?’ It seems to be such an insurmountable problem. However, when I hear our previous police commissioner from Victoria, Ken Lay, speak, he compares it to the anti-smoking campaign. When I came to Australia 28 years ago, you could smoke in the workplace, if you were here now you would be fagging away, we’d be smoking our heads off. We all know now that you can’t smoke in public places; you can’t smoke on flights; you can’t smoke in cinemas; you can’t smoke in workplaces. If you do want to smoke, you’ll have to go right out the building, right down there. We know that smoking is not the right thing to do. We know that it’s not cool and we know that the health risks are huge. Our younger generations are actually growing up thinking that’s dirty, that’s smelly, why are you doing it? And Luke certainly was one of those kids that thought you’re crazy, I don’t understand why people would smoke.
That has taken two decades – maybe longer, I am not sure – but certainly the turning point I believe was when we realised passive smoking was killing us and the very fact that you might not be a smoker but someone was killing you because of the smoking beside you. I guess that’s where I can see great hope – when we as a society with government leadership and investment, but all of us taking responsibility, when we can see that violence in the home isn’t something we have to put up with and live with – that in fact we will see long-term change.
SARAH FERGUSON: When we look back on this period and we look for the turning point, I think Rosie Batty will have been that turning point. The challenge is to all of us to create the society that she’s talking about. You are a conscience for all of us. Thank you for speaking with us today, and thank you for listening to Rosie. [applause]
ROSIE BATTY: Thank you.
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