Rosie Batty: I was reeling with raw grief while Australian of the year

Campaigner says Australia has made great progress over the past 12 months but domestic violence still at epidemic levels

The outgoing Australian of the year, Rosie Batty, has described how, at times, she felt overwhelmed over the past 12 months as she fought for reforms to prevent family violence and was inundated with stories from victims and their families.

Giving her valedictory speech in Canberra on Monday, Batty said that, when she was announced as the 2015 Australian of the year, she was still grieving the death of her 11-year-old son, Luke. She was granted the honour less than a year after Luke was killed by her former partner on a cricket field in Victoria.

“I was still reeling in the very raw grief of losing him and adjusting to a world without him,” Batty said.

“I had no idea what was about to hit me and no idea what a huge year it was going to be. I felt that I had been given this award because of Luke’s death. I’d made it to this point because of of a traumatic and horrific event that was beyond my control but I was reassured very quickly that it was not because of Luke’s death, it was because of the way that I had responded and reacted to it.

“As I juggled grief and loss, suppressing my sadness whilst enjoying the most amazing opportunities of my life, along my journey I became mindful that I was becoming some sort of public figure, perhaps even a tragic type of celebrity, and that I was still fragile and vulnerable.”

But Batty said she felt incredibly supported throughout the past year, which had helped her to advocate for increased support for family violence services and to highlight the attitudes towards women that underpin the violence against them.

Over the past year she has given more than 250 speeches, reaching more than 70,000 people, and has given countless interviews about family violence.

“I have met many people who have been affected by family violence in their lifetime and this did not exclude men, who also shared their experiences as powerless little boys, unable to intervene or protect their mothers, sisters, or even themselves,” Batty said.

“Victims, both young and old, women from our communities, women with disabilities. Women hiding and living in disguise, no longer recognising who they are because they cannot be known for who they once were. And children pulled from their schools and communities because they cannot be kept safe.”

Batty said she felt pressure to achieve change before her time as Australian of the year ended. She said she would continue to advocate against family violence and work with the Never Alone campaign, which was launched in Luke’s memory by the Luke Batty Foundation to provide support for women and children affected by family violence. The campaign now has 50,000 members.

“I believe we, as a nation, have made great progress over the last 12 months,” she said.

“The conversation has not only started, it is now well under way. Family violence is still epidemic and it will be for some time. It is a serious abuse of human rights in our advanced and privileged culture and must continue to be addressed as an absolute priority by both our federal and state governments and by our current leaders as they also recognise the impact family violence has on their workplace.”

Batty highlighted the need for an increased focus on violence against Aboriginal women in 2016, saying Aboriginal women were 35 times more likely to be hospitalised.

She urged the nominees for the 2016 Australian of the year to recognise the opportunity they had to draw attention to causes close to their hearts. She told them that at times they would feel overwhelmed by the opportunity but encouraged them “to be big, to be bold and to be brave”.

“You can make this opportunity as big as you’d like it to be and do amazing things,” she told them.

“But, at the same time, remember the award was given to you, not to your cause, and not for the experiences and achievements that may have defined your past. It was given to you for the potential you have to make Australia a better place.”

In a press conference prior to her speech, Batty responded to a podcast from the former Labor politician Mark Latham uploaded to the radio station, Triple M, in which he attacked her for running “a generalised campaign against all Australian men” and described her as a “spokeswoman for the feminist left”.

“I really hope that someone like Mark is able to become more informed and [is] not stuck in the, I guess, ignorant position because that type of thinking went out several decades ago,” Batty told reporters.

“But, as I said, there are still some people unfortunately very influenced and stuck in those [times].”


Melissa Davey

The GuardianTramp

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