"I have joined a club, a club that nobody ever wants to join.
How on Earth, when you become one of these tragedies — these worse-case scenario tragedies — how do you live with murder?"
'A Mother's Story' - Rosie Batty
“Violence towards anyone, man, woman or child, is never acceptable and never the right choice. It is similarly not okay. As the Australian of the Year, I’m committed to building greater campaigns to educate and challenge community attitudes. I am on a path to expose family violence and to ensure that victims receive the respect, support and safety that they deserve. And to Luke, my little man, you did not die in vain and will not be forgotten. You are beside me on this journey and with me every step of the way. Thank you.”The concluding paragraph of Rosie Battie's speech on accepting the honour of Australian of the Year 2015.
I started reading Rosie Batty's memoir 'A Mother's Story' with both curiousity and apprehension. How does a mother even begin to be able to put down on paper the painful nightmares of both an abusive long term relationship and the violent death of her son at the hands of her former partner? Would the memories be too confronting and too graphic? How would I relate to her story as mother and as a woman?
I've come away from reading 'A Mother's Story' with even more admiration and respect for Rosie than I had before knowing her and Luke's story. It must have been incredibly difficult but also a testament to the good person that Rosie is to keep her discussion of Greg and his severe mental health and personality issues on a respectful and factual tone. Rosie writes with such a warm and engaging voice it was somehow 'easy' but also jarring to read about the violence she and Luke suffered at Greg's hands.
In her memoir, Rosie provides an insight into how her childhood may have shaped the romantic relationships she found herself in as an adult. She remembers being a young child in denial about her mother's death for several months in the hope that there had been a case of mistaken identities at the hospital. She also remembers her stoic and somewhat distant father doing his best without his wife before eventually marrying a lovely woman who provided stability, boundaries and routine for Rosie, her brother and then a stepbrother she came to love with a passion.
Restless legs and a desire to see more of the world saw Rosie leave the family farm in rural England for adventures around the world and finally a working holiday in Australia that extended itself due to her love of the place and its people. In Australia, Rosie begins to understand some of the issues within herself surrounding marriage and men as she navigated the dating scene. The failed relationships each served as learning experiences for Rosie and she was always able to end things and move on. Until she met Greg.
Outwardly, Greg Anderson appeared a departure from the 'type' Rosie was learning to avoid. He had good prospects, presented himself well and for a short time, their relationship was romantic and filled with the good things about being a couple. It didn't take long, though, for the veneer to chip away as more than one of Rosie's friends advised her to be rid of him. Inappropriate comments, menacing behaviour and an obsession and misinterpreted perceptions of organized religion made many people around Rosie feel uncomfortable in his presence. Greg appeared to have a temper as brittle as kindling, delusions as to his self worth and ability as well as an impressively sized sense of entitlement. He wasn't able to hold down jobs and it was always someone else's fault when he lost a job.
With the benefit of hindsight, we'd all run away from the Gregs of the world but something made Rosie stay. A sense that she could somehow rescue him from his failings. And then the news that she was pregnant with his child.
As the pregnancy progressed, so too did Greg's descent into permanent unemployment, fits of abuse and intimidation and periods of what sound like psychosis with hallucinations and feelings of paranoia. Rosie realised that she'd be raising their child on her own and gladly made plans contingent on this. She also hoped to give their child the chance to get to know their father. There was a point when she could have moved back to England with the baby to live with her family but fear and a hope that things would change kept her in Australia. It was also hard for her to give up the life she had created for herself.
Despite all his issues, Greg knew that Rosie and Luke were important to him. Luke represented his legacy to the world and Rosie a meal ticket. It was in his best interests to keep them both on a short leash and under his control because as the man he'd now deteriorated into, it was really unlikely he'd be an attractive proposition to anyone else. In addition to violence, his tools were a cunning mix of working the legal system, playing up to the police when they attempted to arrest him and playing to Rosie's emotions as he called her to pick him up from train stations and to give him a place to sleep at night. For Rosie, it was much easier to give in and keep some kind of peace for the sake of Luke.
But as Luke grew older, his initial adoration of his father gave way to suspicion and embarrassment. Greg would often meet Luke at cricket practice having slept rough in his car overnight. He'd then proceed to offer religious sermons to other parents. He was rarely violent to Luke but would insinuate all sorts of untrue and inappropriate things about Rosie's relationship with him.
Yet Greg was also a help to Rosie as she tried to provide everything she could for Luke in a financial sense. Greg would share pick ups and drop offs, he'd help around the property. Isolated in Australia, Rosie was somewhat dependent on Greg and it was something Greg used to his advantage.
Luke and Rosie were offered respite from Greg during his spells in communes and monasteries. Rosie finding herself in a long term relationship also seemed to deter Greg. Unsurprisingly, though, he eventually sabotaged that relationship leaving Rosie again vulnerable to him.
The lead up to Luke's murder represented a time where perhaps Greg realised that his grasp on his son and former partner was rapidly weakening. They just didn't need nor want him in their lives. Court orders and other family law matters were frustratingly slow to enact and Greg just wouldn't engage with the process. The police seemed powerless to protect Rosie and Luke because firm evidence of an immediate threat from Greg was always just out of their line of sight.
So the inevitable happened. Greg took his revenge on Rosie by killing Luke and leaving Rosie to live the rest of her life grieving and suffering. While that was his intention and Rosie did and will still grieve, her life has been given new purpose and meaning to advocate for those who have suffered through family violence.
The fall out from Luke's death shattered Rosie but also forced her to rebuild herself into a woman determined to not let Luke's death to have been in vain. Along the way, Rosie looked clung to the 'small mercies'. That though so physically close to the murder scene, her back was turned at the time of Luke's death. That Luke would have died almost instantly during the attack. That Greg also died shortly afterwards.
'A Mother's Story' left me inspired. It's the kind of book that makes you reflect upon your own life. To find the small mercies, to continue finding the courage and energy to live fearlessly and to not live with regret. To Rosie's way of thinking, regret over decisions made in the past do nothing to change what has actually happened. And flawed as some of those decisions may have been, they did bring a beautiful person into the world. His time on earth was too short but his memory will live on forever within his mother as she continues her work because of him and the other hims and hers who need her voice to speak for them.
More information about The Luke Batty Foundation can be found here.