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Byron Shire
April 21, 2024

Vigil remembers Lindy Lucena

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People place flowers on mandala for Lindy Lucena. Photo David Lowe.

Yesterday evening, Ballina paused to remember the first woman allegedly murdered in 2023 by her partner. In a moving vigil beside the river at sunset, around a mandala of flowers, those present pledged to do whatever is necessary to stop the scourge of domestic violence.

Mandy Nolan thanked everyone for coming, saying, ‘This is about a whole of community response.’

Elder Aunty Nancy Walke speaks at the vigil. Photo David Lowe.

Bundjalung Elder and DV expert Nancy Walke welcomed the gathering to country. ‘Stay safe, love each other and seek guidance and help if you are involved in a violent relationship,’ she said.

Ms Nolan then spoke about her own lived experience of domestic violence as a child and adult. ‘I know how scary that place is, and I know how easily your life can be lost,’ she said.

She praised Ballina Rotary for its proactive approach to the issue in the Ballina community, saying she was ‘honoured to be part of what I believe is a powerful movement about speaking up to violence across our community.’

Seventeen, and counting

Ms Nolan noted that 17 women had been murdered since her participation in Rotary’s last anti-DV march in Ballina, including Lindy Lucena (who was known to her friends as Kimmy). ‘Domestic violence touches all of our communities and the answer isn’t out there. The answer is here with all of us to take responsibility,’ she said.

Mandy Nolan. Photo David Lowe.

‘We need to reach out, provide support and push for the change that we need.’

Mandy Nolan said she’d been speaking to Lindy’s family, who sent their love to those at the vigil. She then read a letter from Lindy’s sister Julie, who ‘thanked the beautiful people of Ballina and surrounds for coming out for Lindy tonight.’

Julie noted the local community had suffered a lot with the floods, with many still lacking permanent homes. ‘Lindy was one of this community and she loved the area. The family are devastated by her loss and the brutality of her last day.

‘Lindy was a happy soul. She grew up in Launceston, Tasmania, living close to the beautiful Cataract Gorge, which was always the ideal playground for her and Kim, her best friend. She always had a wicked sense of humor. She loved the Aunty Jack show and Monty Python, and she also loved her music.’

Julie then wrote about her sister’s family, and friends, and Lindy’s move to Sydney. ‘She met her husband and they were married for 25 years raising their daughter, who she adored and was so proud of. They parted amicably and stayed in touch.

Poster for the event remembering Lindy Lucena at Ballina.

‘Lindy had a lot of online friends from all over the world, and she loved playing games. She would devour crossword puzzles, and her favorite colour was purple,’ the letter continued.

‘Unfortunately, Lindy met the wrong person who tried to isolate her from family and friends. And when they wanted to help her, the situation played out in a way that should never have happened.

‘Lindy was a warm, funny woman who didn’t deserve to be left battered and beaten in an alleyway. She didn’t just fall through the cracks, she fell into a chasm. We want justice for Lindy. Our hearts are broken.’

Delta Kay lights a candle at the vigil. Photo David Lowe.

Hard conversations

Mandy Nolan said, ‘We need to have the courage to talk about something as uncomfortable and as ugly as the murder of a woman in our town. Until we make the changes, the blood is on our hands. And we need to make that difference.’

Ballina Mayor’s Sharon Cadwallader then spoke, initially acknowledging Aunty Nancy’s crucial role in addressing domestic violence in the community, before moving on to the most recent tragedy.

‘I wish we were meeting under better circumstances here on such a beautiful afternoon,’ she said. ‘I love it when we do get a first, but this is not one that I relish. Being the first town for 2023 to have a murder in our town is not an enviable record for us to have.

‘But at the same time, it’s not something we can hide behind and pretend it didn’t happen. We have to own it.’

Mayor Cadwallader noted that Lindy had lost her home and was in a terrible situation. ‘It’s heartbreaking what’s happened here in our town, absolutely heartbreaking, and domestic violence is a scourge.’

Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader speaks. Photo David Lowe.

She then spoke about Ballina Rotary’s Love Bites program, which was designed to educate high school students about respectful relationships.

Mayor Cadwallader said early education was vital, and if bad behaviour was tolerated, it would inevitably get worse, followed by tears, and stories and flowers and ‘it’ll never happen again. But it does happen, time and time again. And it gets worse to the point of what we see here: an act of murder in our town. So it has to start somewhere.

‘It’s going to take generations for this to change,’ she said. ‘It seems to have been acceptable over the years, that women can get shoved around, beaten up, beaten into submission, manipulated – whether it’s physical or emotional abuse, whatever sort of abuse it is, it’s not okay. Every person matters…

‘You can’t turn a blind eye to it, you can’t pretend it doesn’t happen. And quite often the victims feel shame. They don’t talk about it, because they feel shameful about it. But the shame actually lies with the perpetrator,’ she said.

‘It needs to be called out for what it is. It cannot continue. And we all have a responsibility to do something about it, not turn a blind eye, but report it to the authorities. And I’m so pleased to say there’s so much more available today… The police, generally speaking, are fantastic.’

Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader speaks. Photo David Lowe.

Horrific personal experience

Mayor Cadwallader said things were very different in the past when she was herself subjected to domestic violence.

‘I was beaten to within an inch of my life, chased with an axe, had my head flushed down the toilet, driven off the road into a ditch. Yes, all those things and more – raped more times than I’d care to think about.

‘I’m so glad there’s much more support today. And the only way that things are going to change is if we collectively bring about that change. Call it out when we see it. That’s what needs to happen.’

Mayor Cadwallader then led the gathering in a prayer for Lindy Lucena, her family, the Ballina community, and the police officers who have to deal with dangerous DV situations.

Mandy Nolan thanked Mayor Cadwallader for breaking the stigma and sharing her own lived experience. ‘It’s powerful… when you consider where she is today. That’s what happens when women become survivors, we become thrivers.’

Ms Nolan said the eternal question of how to keep women safe was not something that should be asked, or could be answered. ‘It’s about changing the behavior that exists, that puts women at risk,’ she said. ‘We deserve to be safe in our homes.’

Mandy Nolan. Photo David Lowe.

She said culture needed to change, and the fact that most violence was coming from men, upon women, meant men needed to lead the way. ‘This is the opportunity for men to have powerful conversations with other men to be part of changing the culture. And that’s how you keep women safe.’

Heart of gold

Ms Nolan then read a message from another friend of Lindy Lucena’s who was unable to attend. ‘You had a heart of gold and a smile so kind and soft. I’ll hold it in my mind forever. You had a love for all things different. You always had a way of putting your touch on things.

‘You had a cheeky attitude that wasn’t the norm, especially for your age. But that’s what made you Kimmy. I’m so sorry this happened to you my dear friend, you didn’t deserve this. You’re at peace now and no one can ever hurt you again. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here in person to speak these words. But know that we will remember you, Lindy Lucena.

‘Rest in peace beautiful.’

Mandy Nolan then introduced Ballina woman, Georgia Taylor, who said, ‘I’d like everyone to just take a big breath, in and out, and in and out. I just taught you the ultimate way to help someone that’s a survivor. Sometimes, all we need is a little bit of oxygen, a little bit of fresh air, and someone with us to help us get through.’

Terrible numbers

Ms Taylor went on to say, ‘One in three women has experienced physical and or sexual violence perpetrated by a man they know, and one in two women has experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 11 times more likely to die to domestic violence.

Georgia Taylor speaks. Photo David Lowe.

‘64% of people with disabilities report experiencing physical violence, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, emotional abuse, or stalking from the age of 15, compared to 45% of people without a disability.

‘Women with an intellectual or psychological disability are nearly three times more likely than women with a physical disability to experience violence.

‘Violence against women and girls with disability tends to occur more frequently over a longer period of time and quality across a wider range of settings. The current system doesn’t work. I feel like we all know this,’ said Ms Taylor.

‘It’s personal responsibility for all of us, we are community. We have to rely on each other. And we have to be able to, we have to stand up. We have to be accountable. We have to take ownership and responsibility over ourselves and each other. Because otherwise, what’s the point? Why be a community? You know, we could all go back to sitting at home during COVID locked in our houses. I’m pretty sure we all hated that…

‘The problem is, on average, it takes 23 years for survivors to come forward and make a report,’ she said. ‘Depending on when you’re abused, you might not get that long to tell your story.

‘I’m 25. I was sexually assaulted for the first time at eight. I started telling my story at eight to someone who didn’t believe me, in my own family. We need to believe each other, we need to trust each other. We can’t keep each other safe otherwise.’

Former Magistrate David Heilpern. Photo David Lowe.

The law

Mandy Nolan said that while the community couldn’t wait for government and laws to change, judicial reform was absolutely needed. She then welcomed former magistrate David Heilpern to the podium. He spoke to Lindy Lucena’s family first.

‘As a coroner for 22 years, I learned that there is a special pain that comes when people die from senseless violence,’ he said. ‘We’re here because we feel your loss. We’re here because we care…

‘Our presence here is an act of speaking out of saying no more of saying to the police, to politicians to judges and magistrates, we’ve had enough, you need to reprioritise’.

Mr Heilpern said three aspects needed to change. ‘The first of those is attitudes. For 30 years, I’ve done sentencing exercises with judges and magistrates, and police, and community groups and students, and lawyers. And there’s two scenarios.

‘The first of those is a man walking past a pub, who is set upon by strangers and beaten to the point that he needs to be taken to hospital. The second scenario is a woman at home who burns the dinner. The man rips the phone from the wall and beats her to the point where she needs to go to hospital.

‘On average, the sentence for the first is double the sentence for the second. That’s universally, not just with judges and magistrates, not just with police, not just with men, but universally, and that attitude needs to change. The walls of houses, the barriers of families should not be walls, where justice stops.’

Former Magistrate David Heilpern. Photo David Lowe.

Mr Heilpern said the second aspect that needed to change was priorities. ‘I had thousands of search warrants and listening devices past my desk, as a magistrate… and not one for domestic violence, not one. Where are the priorities in our policing?

‘Thirdly, and probably most importantly, we need to recognize that murders rarely start with murders. They start with threats. They start with assaults. They start with sexual assaults. They start with control. And each of those steps is an opportunity for victims to seek help.

‘But what do we do to victims when they do seek help? Sometimes they get it. But often they don’t. And I’m thinking here of people like Grace Tame, and Brittany Higgins. We have to stop demonizing victims of violence,’ said Mr Heilpern.

‘So my hope is that if we can change attitudes to sentencing, if we can stop demonising victims, and if we can start to reprioritise our criminal justice system, there’ll be no need for us to be here again. Thank you so much for listening.’

Josh Booyens. Photo David Lowe.

An issue for everybody

Nationals candidate for Ballina Josh Booyens then spoke as a ‘very proud member’ of the LGBTQ+ community.

He said, ‘Domestic violence is an insidious thing. It’s toxic, it cuts through gender, it cuts through sexuality, it cuts through the community. It is nothing short of a scourge, as has been said tonight, and it’s not just this community, but in communities across the world.

‘Isn’t it amazing, though, that tonight there’s such a beautiful peace amongst this crowd and this community, and that has been led by such strong, powerful women in this community that deserve to be acknowledged.’

Candles at the vigil. Photo David Lowe.

Mr Booyens said he hoped that the sad, tragic death of Lindy Lucena would not be in vain.

‘Talk to your children. Talk to your parents, talk to your community, talk to your friends, talk to those close to you. Ask “Are you okay?” And if you see the behavior, call it out.

‘The behaviour that you walk past is the behaviour that you accept, regardless of gender, regardless of sexuality, regardless of where you sit in the community,’ he said.

Áine Tyrrell sang, and everyone lit their candles as the sun fell below the horizon across the river. After two minutes of silence, the crowd shouted Lindy Lucena’s name, so that she would not be forgotten.

More photos below:

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