Standing against domestic violence
YOU may never know her name, but her story has been told many times behind closed doors by people in whispered voices.
Her story resonates with the hundreds of women who are victims of domestic violence across the Southern Downs.
She has told her story to mark November’s National Domestic Violence Month, and it is hoped it will give other women courage to seek help and – if elements of this story ring familiar bells with their lives – to speak out.
For 15 years of a 25-year marriage, she thought they were a “normal” family, with four children on a remote property in Western Queensland. Then a stranger slithered into the family home. The woman stiffens in the chair when speaking of her life before Warwick.
“It was a gradual change, an insidious thing which took place over a number of years,” she said.
“I tried to be a good wife, a good grazier’s wife always by his side, mustering and fixing things, but soon I became the fly in the ointment and everything I did was wrong.
“‘Sit down and shut-up’. I would go through conversations in my head before they happened to make sure my responses or questions wouldn’t set him off.
“It’s hard to have a conversation at the dinner table when you’ve got tight parameters in fear of saying the wrong thing.
“It’s a tiny room with no doors or windows, you’re always on edge.”
Emotional abuse, like physical abuse, is based on power, control and is verbal or non-verbal.
While the abuse does not leave a mark, it can tear shreds off a person’s self-confidence with on-going disapproval, criticism, insults, blame, insinuations and accusations.
“I was accused of hiding tools, and be frog-hopped around the house looking everywhere until it was found. I realised later he was the one who hid it and knew where it was all along,” she said.
“It was a constant cat-and-mouse game between us; he would continuously set me up.
“He used to lock the phone in the filing-cabinet. Our nearest neighbour was two miles (about 3.2km) away, I felt very alone. It was like brain-washing – if you’re told something often enough you start to believe it.”
She speaks of an internal conversation which lasted almost 10 years while waiting for the “right time” to leave.
“Was it the time he belittled me in front of the bank manager when we applied for a loan to keep the farm going? ... Or the time he said he would stab me and wrapped his fingers around a peeler, but his fist made contact with my back? I had my back to him, I didn’t know he didn’t have a knife,” she said.
That was 23 years ago. Finally, when the kids had left home, she felt she could walk out and not look back.
Not until she grappled with elevator buttons on the side of a wall did she realise how isolated she had been.
“I walked out once for 10 months but came back when promised things would change and stayed for three and a half years – it worked for a while – until the situation went back to how it was before,” she said.
“I walked out with nothing; left everything and stayed with friends on the Southern Downs.
“Back then domestic violence was a new concept.
“I took my marriage vows very seriously.”
It took many years for her to reignite her self-confidence and identity and she now celebrates life as a great-grandmother and basks in the support of her children.
“I stayed with friends until I got my health back,” she said.
“I volunteered and that work grew into paid work.
“I’m a stronger and resilient woman now with a strong Christian faith.
“No matter where you come from, the church is always there for guidance.
“They’re caring enough to listen.
“For years I felt like a genie in a bottle and I’m not going to let anyone put the cork back in.”