Sturt Reserve place of courage launched for those affected by domestic violence
A memorial to victims and survivors of domestic and family violence has been unveiled on Murray Bridge’s riverfront.
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A couple of hundred people have attended the launch of an artwork acknowledging domestic and family violence in Murray Bridge.
The memorial sits in a peaceful area by the River Murray at Sturt Reserve and consists of black marble with ripples on top, alongside words of hope and comfort:
To all who have died, all who have suffered and all who are still suffering from domestic and family violence. May you find comfort and healing here.
The artwork is part of the Ripples Across SA project, which has set up similar anti-violence memorials in Adelaide.
The one in Murray Bridge is the first in regional South Australia.
The well-attended Place of Courage launch, held at the Station because of stormy weather, featured women who had personal experiences of domestic violence.
Among them was Linda Martin, chair of the Murray Bridge Regional Collaboration on Violence Against Women and Children.
Ms Martin explained why ripples had been incorporated in the Sturt Reserve memorial.
“Ripples represent when we have violence or abuse: it affects the relationship, it affects the family, and it extends out to neighbours,” she said.
“It also affects our community statewide, nationally and globally.”
Ms Martin hoped that people who visited the memorial would “sit, be at peace and belong”.
“One survivor said to me that ‘Sitting there, I feel like I belong, and I’m talking to all these other women; they’re not there, they might be dead, but I know their suffering.’”
‘Nobody ever did anything, and nobody ever asked how we were’
Helen Oxenham OAM, an advocate for survivors of domestic and family violence for more than 45 years, started the Place of Courage campaign, which aims to provide public places where people can gather and reflect on the issue of domestic and family violence.
Her daughter Heather Oxenham, director of the non-profit Spirit of Woman, praised the leadership of Mayor Wayne Thorley and Councillor Karen Eckermann, who were instrumental in establishing the memorial in Murray Bridge.
Ms Oxenham then read a message from her 92-year-old mother, who couldn’t be at the event due to illness.
“I’m now in the very last stages of my life,” Helen Oxenham’s message read.
“I can’t tell tell you why I have spent a great deal of my life reliving my experience of domestic violence as a child.
“It hurts to the very soul, especially when you know people heard the screams in our house and nobody ever did anything, and nobody ever asked how we were.
“We must change this.”
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Heather said that she didn’t want to focus on blame when it comes to domestic and family violence.
“Blame leaves us in a position of powerlessness and shame and means that we don’t ever talk about it or do anything about it,” she said.
“So the ripples are about acknowledging this issue – bringing it out of the home and into the community so that there is a community response to the issue.”
Heather Oxenham also mentioned that, when she was growing up, her own best friend had told her that her father had axed down the door at her home, and that she hadn’t wanted want anyone to know about it.
The friend later became a heroine addict to run away from the pain, Ms Oxenham said, and had since died.
She wondered if things would have turned out differently if she had said something about her friend.
But she wanted to remain positive about the future.
“Murray Bridge has been courageous in bringing this issue out into the open, into the community, so that we all can take a position on it,” she said.
“Let’s not back away from the conversation,” she said.
Male role models take a stand
More than a quarter of Australian women, and 15 per cent of men, have experienced violence or abuse at the hands of a partner, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Murray Bridge mayor Wayne Thorley said he had zero tolerance for such behaviour, regardless of whether it was perpetrated by a man or a woman.
“This isn’t an issue of gender – this is an issue relating to society and the behaviour of individuals in society,” he said.
“The other thing which I see, especially after such a tragic week (in which four South Australian women were allegedly killed by their partners), is that it’s really about looking for solutions to a problem which is just not acceptable in modern society.”
“It’s easy for a person like me, who’s never experienced these problems, to overlook them; but the reality is we must never overlook them.
“If we know there’s a problem, we don’t look the other way; we bring it to the fore.”
Another man who wanted to express his anti-violence sentiments was local hip hop artist Inquest, who performed a song at the launch that he’d written specifically for the event.
“I named the song Place of Courage,” he said.
“With domestic violence, my experiences and what I’ve seen growing up, I put these into the piece of music that I was able to bring here today.
“The more it’s spoken about and put out there, people that may commit these things will start to become more accountable, realising that it’s not things they’ll be able to get away with.
“I think it’s that’s when there are no consequences, people do the wrong thing.”
Murray Bridge council CEO Heather Barclay, Cr Eckermann, members of SA Police, Senator Marielle Smith and students from Murray Bridge High School were also featured at the launch event.
The Murray Bridge Rotary Club provided lunch for all.
Get help: Call the Domestic Violence Crisis Line on 1800 800 098, or Murray Mallee Adelaide Hills Domestic Violence Service on 8228 8960; visit the Haven at the Edwards Square Community Centre, Murray Bridge between 10am and 2pm on weekdays, or the DVINA Centre on Standen Street between 10am and 4pm Monday to Saturday; or, in an emergency, dial 000.
Disclosure: The author won a prize in a raffle at the launch: a wellbeing treatment at Tailem Bend.