Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: Surviving Violence

As a kid my childhood is cleaved in two. BD and AD. That’s before the death and after the death of my father. I was six when he drove his powder-blue Valiant into the oncoming car of what I was to later discover was a school friend’s grandfather, killing him as well. Of course he was drunk. He didn’t drive any other way.

The police came to our house to deliver the news and I quietly watched it all play out while the adults in my life sobbed and writhed in a spectacular hysteria. It was like watching TV with the sound off. I was small but I understood what being dead was. He wasn’t coming back. Ever.

Good. Better than Christmas. I didn’t cry. I didn’t ever experience grief. Only profound relief. This was the day I had prayed to arrive. And it had. I remember taking my mother’s hand and whispering, “It’s okay, Mummy, at least now we’ll have peace’. She remembers that, too. A kind of chilling thing for a child to say on learning of the death of her father.

Back in 1974 in regional Australia there were no domestic-violence services. There were no refuges. No counselling lines. There were no safety strategies. No-one ever turned up to see if you were okay. I was a child who wasn’t afraid of monsters. Nothing was more terrifying than the monster I lived with.

My dad was a classic Jekyll and Hyde alcoholic. When sober he was warm and affectionate and funny. When drunk he was cruel and violent. He was a binge drinker. He’d drink past being wobbly or embarrassing; he’d drink for days headlong into full-scale blackout. It was a madness. He wasn’t slurring or stumbling. He was demonic.

You wouldn’t have known he was drunk. He was a tower of rage seeking to torment my poor mother. To humiliate her. To degrade her. One night he smashed all her things on the floor. He held up each piece of crockery and would ask ‘who gave you this?’ And she’d say ‘my father’. She loved her father and he’d just died so then my dad would smash the plate on the floor.

Then he held up the next piece and repeated the question, ‘Who gave you this?’ until the entire dinner set was in pieces on the floor. He tipped sugar on top. Then milk. Then flour. She was up cleaning the mess for hours. Another night he threw her clothes outside and locked her out of the house. That night we slept in the bush behind our house. There was nowhere to go.

No-one wanted to get involved. We had neighbours just 20 metres away on both sides, the police station was maybe 100 metres away, but no-one ever came to see if we were okay. We had no phone. It didn’t matter because there wasn’t anyone to call. She had her collarbone broken. She had black eyes. He pushed her. He threatened to kill her.

Home was hell. I can’t even explain what it feels like to not feel safe where you live. To be terrified of your own front door. As a small child I lived with a heavy sense of dread. Every day. It was no wonder I ended up with OCD. I was the child at preschool who never wanted to be picked up.

I remember thinking that everyone lived like this. I thought every family had a monster who broke doors down with chairs while you were sleeping. Who punched holes in walls. Who came home with cops in hot pursuit screaming for his gun: ‘There’s only one way out of this – I’m going to shoot my way out’.

That day Mum had taken the gun and hidden it. If she hadn’t acted on that impulse I’m certain that day would have ended with his shooting us and then himself. About 12 cops tranquillised him and dragged him out. But it didn’t stop the violence. It continued. It escalated. He was never charged. There were no violence orders. Either we’d die or he would.

Luckily for us it was him. I finally had a chance at a childhood. A lot has changed in the 40-plus years, and thanks to people such as Rosie Batty, domestic violence is no longer seen as a ‘private’ issue. It’s moved to the forefront of the public domain.

Domestic violence is now a political issue. And it should be. These days women have options. With innovative strategies such as Staying Home Leaving Violence, instead of women being removed the violent offender is removed. Police and workers engage in safety meetings to assess risk levels.

There are programs for violent men. There are places to go. There is support. And there is a growing conversation asking bigger questions about domestic violence, and how we, as a community, perpetuate a hypermasculine culture that continues to support it. But even with that, women are still dying. Two a week. We need to get that statistic down to zero.

DV Hotline is the first point of call if you want to know what to do – 1800 656 463 – and for counselling ring 1800 737 732.

12 responses to “Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: Surviving Violence”

  1. violet says:

    A very personal and important article Mandy. After a walk up to the lighthouse this morning , thinking some whales and dolphins would lift my soul. I found myself weeping over the hurt that I thought I had come to terms with as a survivor of domestic violence. It is important for those of us who have survived abuse to know that we are not alone. I was deeply moved by your article , one of my dearest friends lived with a father like yours, and I lived with the father of my son having the same demeanour. Thank you for sharing your story . I was stunned to read in the Nimbi news 2 weeks ago that the female writer stated the figures on domestic violence were over exaggerated and made up . So as a journalist keep raising awareness , every story , overtime a help line number is printed some one is helped either in the mind or in the soul.

    ( I have written articles in my blog about domestic violence and women empowerment issues if you ever have time to check it out the “website is below )

  2. Ashara Branson says:

    Thank you for sharing, your very personal and sad story, Mandy

  3. Ashara Branson says:

    Thank you Mandy, for sharing your very personal and sad story.

  4. Ron Robinson says:

    Crikey I didn’t like reading that, couldn’t believe I read that

    Really/// and I thought my Dad behaved badly

  5. Ifa says:

    Great humane journalism Mandy xo

  6. Daniel Flesch says:

    “….women are still dying. Two a week. We need to get that statistic down to zero.”
    We are a very long way from that , Mandy ,while State and Federal Liberal governments are REDUCING funding for Women’s Refuges, which are already underfunded.
    Women who are turned away from full Refuges are sent home to the mayhem and violence .
    For some it’s a death sentence.
    In other cases AVO ‘s against violent partners are often unenforced and they commit more violence.
    Proper and adequate funding of appropriate services would go a long way to solving the issue ,but there aren’t enough votes in it , are there Mike and Malcolm ?

  7. Oh Mandy…. How powerful and ragingly honest… As a kid I knew all the houses in my street where it was a bit scary… Yep, 1950’s country WA was pretty grim too … Glad I got away.

  8. Louise O'Shea says:

    violence and substance abuse are very closely linked,thanks for your story Mandy.

  9. Kerry says:

    Impressive and compelling revelations from a much-read writer. Very moving, and timely. Respect. This is a profound issue for Australia. DV has touched so many people’s lives, and not been really dealt with, in the morass of daily dramas we are now subjected to. So much domestic violence in the fifth richest nation in the world with the 4th highest living standards… very telling flag for overdue change. You would be a great advocate for a nationwide campaign with Rosie Battie (whose story did not change much as enough politicians could not hear her enough to act powerfully). It is time.

  10. Dominique Vollaers says:

    a beautifully written brave piece ! thankyou Mandy

  11. Edward Johnston says:

    As a survivor of childhood trauma of a different kind I love that new awareness & healing of generational patterns is happening & to be aware that our spirit chooses these lessons in forgiveness to evolve through & from is important too – thanks for sharing Mandy & what a special & unique & strong & aware & fabulous person you are ( as well as being absolutely fucking hilarious !!! ) blessings

  12. Amanda Wone McHugh says:

    A powerful and much needed story to be told, it explains to me why you are so powerful, giving, caring and a true humanitarian. I know not everyone who goes through this turns to community contribution but you are an amazing woman who just gets more amazing the more we hear and see of you. Thank you Mandy for your example you give me a lot of strength and hope.

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