As Australian of the Year Rosie Batty arrived in Brisbane yesterday, she shared her excitement in releasing her first book, her thoughts on changing our culture of family violence, and how she finds the strength to keep fighting for what’s important.
Words: Jas Rawlinson
Walking onstage with a peaceful strength that surpassed all understanding, came the familiar face of one of Australia’s most courageous women. Although I had witnessed her strength many times before through media posts and televised snippets, it was another thing entirely to see this incredible woman in the flesh. I look to a poster side of stage and find myself nodding in agreement; the words before me a powerful statement of the woman about to speak:
“When I think about the need for courage, I think about Rosie Batty” – Dame Quentin Bryce.
Arriving at Rosie’s September book launch at The Greek Club in West End (hosted by the Avid Reader Cafe and Bookshop) I joined with many other women and men to celebrate and support the release of ‘A mother’s Story;’ a memoir of Rosie’s journey as told with the help of journalist and author Bryce Corbett. Seated onstage together, they took turns in sharing what it was like to bring Rosie’s story to life and how they came to work together.
As Bryce recalled their first conversations following on from Luke’s death, he spoke of the moment he and Rosie realised they may be able to work together to bring her story to the nation. Much to our amusement, Rosie interrupted his recollections to share her version of events.
“He was trying to get me to go into the Woman’s Weekly [where he worked],” revealed Rosie with a smile. “And I agreed, but what I didn’t agree to was being put at page 105 and being bumped by – what was the baby’s name?”
“Prince George,” answered Bryce with a grin.
“Yes, the royal baby! The baby got the front cover!’’
The audience break into laughter as Rosie mockingly chastises Bryce; an editorial decision that she will obviously never let him forget. Despite this however, it is clear that the two were meant to work together, with Bryce penning what the grieving mother ‘couldn’t write herself.’ Interestingly, it was in fact 15 years ago that Rosie first sat down to write a book, but back then – much like many moments throughout the last 19 months – the process simply seemed too hard.
“[Around 15 years ago] I think I wrote about three pages, and then I thought, ‘this is really hard! This is going to take forever!’” she laughed. “So I decided I’d write it another day. Timing is everything isn’t it.”
Similarly Bryce also noted the timing, mentioning that it was a rather ‘auspicious’ day for the book launch given the extremely heartening news that had come to light earlier that day: the federal government announcing that they would pledge $100 million toward a women’s safety package.
“You must feel it’s a great day of celebration,” he said warmly as the audience clapped along in support. As Rosie spoke, the nodding of heads and soft murmurs showed she had the respect and shared vision of all in the room.
“It’s been an amazing year,” she began. “I’ve been working really hard since Luke died, but I know how hard many, many people have worked in this sector for decades. I also know how long Dame Quentin Bryce has been pushing this subject, thinking ‘will anyone ever hear? will anything ever change?’
“I’m really thankful that a lot of people are saying I’ve had a lot to do with this, but we’ve all had a lot to do with this. I’m very aware, as has been the rest of Australia, how bad it’s been here in QLD lately. My heart goes out and I know how it feels,” she said sincerely.
“Today I was emotional because I really feel [things are] changing, but we cannot take our foot off the pedal for one moment. We have to really seize the day and keep pushing.”
Throughout the evening as I listened, I noted that it was often Rosie’s humour and ability to speak with calm, clear articulation that struck me most. With all that she has been through she has continued to rise, to grow, to smile; a pillar of strength and inspiration to so many who struggle to find their voice.
“Humour is really weird isn’t it,’’ said Rosie at one point. “Because at the most inappropriate times you can find something really black to laugh at. Whether it’s hysteria – whatever it is – humour comes out…sense of humour lightens your load, it’s really important.”
Rosie also shared about her love for nonfiction books, and the power that personal stories wield in healing and inspiring, particularly during the dark periods following the loss of her son.
“For 20 odd years I’ve read a lot of nonfiction and I think those books have really helped me with my spiritual journey. When it’s a good book I never part with it; it’s part of my life and my history and my journey. I love reading biographies; I love reading about people’s courage, survival, spirituality. People who really grow through very traumatic things, [to] become stronger. These are all the things that I want to do.”
As a lover of powerful stories myself, I asked what book has stayed with Rosie over the years. “Oh there’s been so many,” she said thoughtfully, looking skyward as she racked her brain for the most memorable. “I think Michael J Fox’s autobiography…Maybe because he’s closer to my age, and the way he’s dealt with Parkinson’s Disease has been so inspiring.”
“I love reading biographies; I love reading about people’s courage, survival, spirituality.”
This love for the tenacity of the human spirit has been instrumental in pushing Rosie to tell her own story, and she is hopeful that it will not only encourage those who have experienced violence, but also those who want to understand the issue more deeply. It is a story that resonates regardless of gender; one that has deeply touched the lives of both women and men. Just as importantly, the writing of the book has also allowed for her to work through some of her grief, and to honour the memory of Luke; something she feels Bryce has done with incredible accuracy. “Luke is alive in those pages,” she says.
And despite all she has been through as a survivor of male perpetrated domestic abuse, Rosie is very clear on one thing: men have played just as big a part in her healing and support network as anyone else.
“I can tell you that the best emotional support I have had since Luke’s death has been from men,” she told the audience. “My dad, my brothers, Bryce, [a friend] who rings me every day; he stirs me, he makes me laugh. Men are capable – as we well know – of being as emotionally supportive as anyone else; as caring, as deep, as passionate. The ones who are the problem are the ones who are caught up in their male entitlement and privilege, stuck in this gendered stereotype that serves no one.
“ – just like me trying to be Elle Macpherson,” she added humorously.
It’s hard to put into words all of the amazing work that Rosie has done in the last year and a half, but her tenacity and courage are by far some of her most inspiring traits; qualities which will undoubtedly stay with all those who hear and witness her speak. Her message is ultimately one of hope, one of passion and one of purpose.
“I’ve always been driven to make a difference. I can’t go back to the life I had…but I’m really fortunate to be given the opportunities that are coming my way.”
“There is always light at the end of the tunnel.”
To find out more about what Rosie has been up to, and the push for Respectful Relationship programs in our schools, keep an eye out for Provoke’s October / November issue! If you are in need of help or counselling, please contact 1800 Respect via 1800 737 732 or head to 1800RESPECT.org.au. More details and resources can also be found on Never Alone, Rosie’s campaign page.
If you loved this event and want to see what else is coming up at Avid Reader Bookshop and Cafe, check out their extensive event calendar here.