Please note: If this post raises issues for you…. if you or someone you care about is experiencing family violence,
please call the 1800 respect national 24/7 help line. You can also visit their website to access telephone or online counselling and other resources and advice.
A Mother’s Story, a memoir, by Rosie Batty is a confronting book to read. And it’s not a book to review in the ordinary sense of the word: it’s more a matter of bringing it to people’s awareness, because of the message it sends.
International readers may not know of Rosie Batty, and why she was Australian of the Year in 2015. In 2014, her son Luke was murdered by his father Greg Anderson at a cricket ground in the small community of Tyabb, southeast of Melbourne. With parents and children still present after cricket practice, Anderson – who had a long history of violence and mental health problems and was subject to an order for arrest – stabbed the 11-year-old boy in the cricket nets. Anderson was subsequently shot by police when he resisted arrest and died in hospital from gunshot and self-inflicted knife wounds.
Despite the immediacy of her grief, Rosie Batty became a powerful campaigner for an end to domestic violence. She had battled for years to manage her estranged partner without compromising her son’s relationship with his father. As Anderson became increasingly erratic and aggressive, she had sought help from the justice system, but it had failed her in the end. Her public profile strongly influenced the Victorian government to set up the Royal Commission into Family Violence. She has also set up the Luke Batty Foundation in her son’s memory.
This memoir is part of Rosie Batty’s determination to raise awareness about the insidious way in which domestic violence entrenches a woman’s inability to escape it. A large part of the memoir is about how the relationship developed, and fell apart, and how she tried so hard to deal with the fallout, including making mistakes along the way. But overwhelmingly so, it is also a record of a mother’s love and the horrific loss of her child.
This audio version is narrated by Rosie herself, which adds to the emotional impact. Unlike a reading by a professional actor, this recording includes occasional awkward pauses, and not every break in her usually confident voice has been edited out. As the story reaches its dreadful climax, her voice trembles and breaks and the listener is awed yet again by the magnitude of her loss. The audio engineer has not edited out these brief pauses, allowing the listener to empathise with her efforts to regain control of her emotions. Especially harrowing is the moment when she realises that she has become a ‘case’, like those infamous cases where a child was thrown by her own father from the West Gate Bridge as his other children watched from the back seat, and the one where a father drove his three children into a dam to drown them. The poignant authenticity of Batty’s own voice as narrator is a firm reminder that this is a mother relating the circumstances of the murder of her child, by a man she thought would never hurt him.
With the benefit of hindsight and knowing what actually happened, it is quite sickening to listen to Rosie reading from her Will in 2006, in which she states her belief that although there was no meaningful relationship between herself and Greg, she believed that Greg loved Luke and Luke loved him. She knew at the time she made that Will that Greg was mentally unstable, and she also knew the statistics for the number of women killed by their partners or ex-partners. What she feared was that he would harm her, and so she made provision in her Will that Luke would be cared for by her friends Mark and Sharon as guardians if Anderson did commit murder. But she also wanted to provide some financial support from her estate for Luke to be able to maintain a relationship with his father. This included buying a unit and a car in Luke’s name, for Greg’s use to enable access visits. It is awful to hear her plans for her estate to pay for trips to the UK so that the boy could keep in contact with her family, and for funds also to be available for annual father-son holidays together. It never entered her head that Anderson would harm his own son.
I hesitated to post this sobering ‘review’ at this time of the year when many of us are happily making plans for a joyous Christmas with our families. Even people with no religion or who have a non-Christian religion celebrate Christmas as a family festival, replete with reunions and gift-giving; it is a universal festival, whatever form it takes. Yet I know from my work as a teacher where our enrolments swelled in term one with kids from emergency housing near the school, that many women and their children will find that the financial and social pressures of Christmas are the trigger for family violence and they have to flee. I hope Rosie Batty might find some solace if it turned out that reading about her book helped someone in need.
Update 24/12/16 Louise reviewed this book too, at A Strong Belief in Wicker.
Author: Rosie Batty
Title: A Mother’s Story, a Memoir
Publisher: Bolinda Audio books, 2016
Source: Kingston Library
Available at Fishpond: A Mother’s Story