Why Helen Oxenham wants a domestic violence memorial in Murray Bridge
The veteran Spirit of Woman campaigner has invited the city's council to consider establishing a "place of courage" to encourage reflection on a critical issue.
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A women’s safety pioneer hopes to see a memorial built in Murray Bridge for victims of domestic violence.
Helen Oxenham OAM opened one of South Australia’s first shelters for women in 1977, and has advocated for survivors for more than 45 years.
She visited Murray Bridge on Tuesday to promote her “place of courage” campaign: an effort by non-profit organisation Spirit of Woman to establish public spaces in communities across South Australia where people can come together and reflect.
Such a memorial would also serve as a visible reminder of the problem, ensuring domestic violence would never again become something spoken about in hushed tones and behind closed doors.
“For society to face all sexual violence, we need to mourn our dead: mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and children,” Ms Oxenham told Murray Bridge’s councillors on Tuesday night.
“We need to change from centuries of silence and never talking about it; we need to scream into action to protect each other and our children.”
Childhood memories motivate a veteran campaigner
Though she is now aged in her 90s, Ms Oxenham is still spurred to action by memories of the terror she experienced during her childhood.
Her father had been like a volcano, she said: liable to blow up at any minute.
“I still remember how terrified we were,” she said.
“We would try to become invisible when he was around.
“My mother ... went to mass every morning, our house was always spotless, dinner on time, kids in bed; we talked in whispers until we were sure that he was in a good humour.”
Neighbours heard screams, police visited, doctors stitched her mother’s wounds, priests would have known, but no-one did anything more.
So Ms Oxenham has spent her years campaigning to make sure other mothers did not suffer the same fate.
Building a place of courage in Murray Bridge would contribute to that goal, she said.
Artworks like those installed at the first few places of courage, in Adelaide, could speak to people from all cultural and social backgrounds, Women's Legal Service CEO Zita Ngor told councillors.
A Murray Bridge site might take the same form as the others, Ms Oxenham's daughter Heather said, or the council might commission a local artist to design one.
Memorial could be a venue for vigils, place of reflection for families
Councillor Karen Eckermann, a member of the Murray Bridge Regional Collaboration on Violence Against Women and Children, said the locals working to prevent violence had long wanted a memorial like the one Spirit of Woman envisioned.
“(The collaboration) will use this memorial regularly to hold their vigils, to offer victims and families a place of contemplation and reflection and memory, and to generally educate and highlight the scourge of domestic violence that continues to plague the rural city,” she said.
“Hopefully we can move forward on this very soon.”
The council voted unanimously in favour of exploring the idea further.
Council staff will work with Spirit of Woman to determine what form the memorial should take, where it might go and what it might cost.
Whatever that cost, Mayor Brenton Lewis said, it would be worthwhile if it helped curb domestic violence even a little bit.
More information: www.spiritofwoman.com.au.
Get help: Visit the Haven at Murray Bridge Community Centre between 9am and 4pm on weekdays, or the DVINA Centre on Standen Street, Murray Bridge between 10am and 5pm Monday to Saturday; call the Domestic Violence Crisis Line on 1800 800 098, or Murray Mallee Adelaide Hills Domestic Violence Service on 8215 6320; or, in an emergency, dial 000.