Australian of the Year Rosie Batty at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares BOSS. True Leaders Feature. Attention Sam Bennett. Portrait of Rosie Batty Australian of the Year in 2014. Pic by Nic Walker at the Fairfax studio in Sydney. Date 3rd August 2015. Photo: Nic Walker
Huge self-doubt, total exhaustion; and grief, just so much grief.
And a simple little shelf with a few mementoes.
Rosie Batty’s term as Australian of the Year is nearly over. She’s spoken at 250 conferences to more than 70,000 people; talked all day and all night. She’s done some crying, but privately.
Crying in public focuses attention on her. She wants people to think about Luke and all those other victims of family violence, all the death and despair we could avoid if the system worked differently, if we thought differently.
On February 7 she flies to India to have a real holiday, far from the phone, the media and her little house in Victoria.
Far from a simple Ikea shelf in her son Luke’s bedroom.
“Soon after the funeral, when my family left, within weeks a friend and I went through all of Luke’s bedroom … I was so methodical and made myself do it.
“I chucked out anything that was Greg’s; and all the things which were not sentimental.
“I gave things away … [Luke’s] Lego, I donated it to the Lego library in Frankston. I thought through it to make the best of where it went, making sure it went somewhere that was of benefit.
“I’ve kept personal things, milestone things from his birth, but they have been in a cupboard and I’ve not looked at those. I haven’t gone through those baby memories and I haven’t looked at baby photos.”
And what’s on the shelf in his old bedroom?
“Pieces of Lego he made, his slippers, hats, toys, his favourite books. Things that were something which meant something to him and I can look at that.
“Whenever I move, that will always be there. It’s not like a shrine.”
Artist Jacqui Clark painted a portrait of Luke and that’s in her living room.
“Everyone sees it who comes to the house. It’s not creepy. It’s beautiful, it’s like him.
“He is here, but not here.”
Rosie Batty became Australian of the Year after the murder of her son Luke by his father Greg on February 12, 2014.
Most of us grieve in private, but Batty decided against that. She was determined to talk about family violence every single day. And she has.
Batty is the first ever ordinary Australian to be appointed Australian of the Year. She wasn’t famous before the murder of her son. She was a single mother on a small income whose son was the sun in her life.
Everything she did centred on Luke: where she lived, how she spent her money. It was Scouts and drama and cricket and football.
“I didn’t have any family support, I didn’t have people on hand to babysit. My life was Luke and me and I worked hard to build relations with people in this area which you can more easily do when you are a parent. I didn’t have a lot of spare money and it was a struggle financially.”
She had absolutely no experience of dealing with the demands of public life.
“She came to prominence through the most tragic of circumstances and she astounded everyone with the power of her message,” says Jeremy Lasek, chief executive of the National Australia Day Council.
“She was a very different Australian of the Year and we may never see another one like her, I think because she hadn’t had a career [with] a support base or had a management structure, publicists, a support team.”
Batty had much to learn – and so did the Australia Day organisation.
“We had to adjust our thinking and what we do … Rosie being the person she is, we could have given her 10 full-time staff and it would not have been enough.”
Batty credits Lasek with giving her astonishing support during the process. He says he does it for everyone but not too many Australians of the Year had to deal with the ruthless attacks of former Labor politician Mark Latham.
Says Lasek: “We had to remind each other that for every Mark Latham, there were several million people who felt she was a great choice and had given amazing service to Australia.”
Now the year is over. “I don’t know whether to be pleased or sad. I had no idea about the volume of contact, I had no idea and I wish I’d had a team in place to be ready to support me at the start. I didn’t understand the impact it would have on my life. It places a lot of pressure on you.
“That kind of high-profile talking, anywhere from 200 to 2000, that’s been new to me. I had nerves and self-doubt, huge self-doubt at the beginning, and then I became more confident when I could see people appreciated what I was saying.”
A group formed around her, most of whom she didn’t know before Luke died.
“What happened to me when I became Australian of the Year isolated me somewhat from some of my friends.
“But to be completely honest, my friends have got children and partners and I would have been relatively isolated anyway after Luke’s death. What linked us together was Luke, but now I am doing different things.
“It helped me survive a lonely and difficult year after Luke’s death. Of course, it doesn’t get any easier, but it’s a distraction.
“I am not in denial and I feel the loss of Luke, but it comes in waves and at a different times.”
How do people respond?
“People know the quivering voice and see the tears well up and some people see me lose it and are very compassionate. I don’t see pity in people’s faces now and that’s a relief. But some don’t understand and don’t expect grief to look like this and it triggers their own discomforts and insecurities. It can strain friendships and that can be within your own family as well.
“I’ve been disappointed. Whether its because they’ve upset me or I’ve upset them, I feel friendship is about being there through thick and thin when the worst thing in the world has happened to someone.
“We should be able to find the bigger part of ourselves.”
On January 26, the Australian of the Year title moves on. Two governments have already been in talks with her about where she goes next, although she admits some frustration with politics and politicians who don’t always take kindly to criticism.
“I’m obviously determined to be a strong public advocate and continue the momentum, to keep speaking out.”
There are people in Batty’s life who have come through with her and she now has a solid underpinning for the Luke Batty Foundation, where she will continue to be an advocate who can help Australia stop family violence.
“We are in a strong place for the future.”