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tara

The Family Left Behind

Alisa Smith

Trigger Warning: DV

After the untimely loss of a loved one, it is impossible to measure the full effect of loss. Stories about the person and the circumstances of their death become embedded in the memories of families, friends and the community for generations.

In February this year, Tara Costigan was murdered. She left behind three children, and a very close family. The murder investigation surrounding her death and her funeral gained a lot of local and national media coverage. In 2015, Tara was the 15th woman killed due to violence in Australia. Her ex-partner, Marcus Rappel, has been charged with her murder and is currently awaiting trial.

Canberra is often described as a big country town: there are so many close connections between people here that six degrees of separation is superfluous, often one or two will do.

It is for that reason that Tara’s cousin Nathan chose to speak to the media quickly after her death, to ensure Canberrans, and all of Australia, knew about Tara’s dedication to her children and her beautiful nature. Nathan says that being the family spokesperson was one of the hardest things Nathan had ever done. The close-knit community of Canberra meant that he was opening up himself and his family to a lot of scrutiny.

“I wanted people to know that Tara was a young, hardworking mother doing everything she could to look after her children. Right after she was killed people had so many opinions, and I wanted to make sure everyone knew the truth.”

Nathan had grown up with Tara. The Costigan cousins were often sent to their grandparents place in Tuross on the South Coast for school holidays. Tara lost her father when she was seven and became estranged from her mother in her teens. Nathan’s mum took on a mentoring role for her niece; she was a single mother too and knew what it took to raise young kids on her own, so she helped out with Tara’s children.

The Costigan family gathered at a BBQ every Sunday, and this was how they came to know Marcus. A year before Tara was killed, their Pop became ill and Nathan recalls Marcus and Tara visiting him in hospital before he passed away. Marcus was quiet and reserved, but polite around the family. Tara was very happy with Marcus in the beginning; he was the first man she’d really loved.

After a year or so, Nathan had heard from his mum and Nan that Tara and Marcus were having issues, but these didn’t seem out of the ordinary at first, after all it’s not uncommon for couples to argue. However, things escalated, and Tara told her aunty and Nan that Marcus was becoming very jealous. He didn’t trust her and had started waking her up at night to argue.

Eventually, Tara sought a domestic violence order against Marcus. The next day, she was killed.

Nathan believes that domestic violence education is vital in changing the culture in Australia, and preventing other families from losing their loved ones.

“I learned nothing at school or football or anywhere about domestic violence until Tara was killed. I used to be one of those ignorant people who would say ‘why wouldn’t you walk away if your partner was abusive’, but I’ve learned so much in the last six months. Now I feel like a walking encyclopaedia for domestic violence triggers.”

Nathan organised for the Domestic Violence Crisis Service to provide an awareness session to members of his football club, and was awed at the response from members; over a hundred people attended the session.

The information was confronting, behaviours that most people would consider harmless on their own, can indicate controlling habits such as:

  • commenting on a partners outfit;
  • asking where a partner is going and who they are spending time with; or
  • requesting their partner to spend more time with them or less time with certain people.

On their own, these behaviours are not necessarily dangerous, but when they are combined or used to control a partner, they may indicate something more serious. Understanding these types of triggers and being aware of their implications means that friends and family members can make more informed decisions about whether or not behaviour is cause for concern. From there, if an educated person observes controlling or abusive behaviour, they can feel empowered to say something, or to report it.

Throughout his focus on increasing awareness of domestic violence, Nathan has come across people who are very defensive of men’s rights. People can be highly critical of information about men perpetuating domestic violence. This is not what domestic violence awareness is about however, and Nathan points out that the focus needs to be on awareness and keeping our own behaviour calm and supportive.

“It’s about how you talk to people, your staff, your kids, your friends: you need to set the standard in your own conduct.”

After losing Tara in such horrific circumstances, Nathan’s entire perspective on life has changed. He is aware now more than ever about the importance of displaying good sportsperson-ship on the field: his son and all of the young players are watching. He’s learned that playing powerful footy is one thing, but that aggression or negative reactions to the game are no longer acceptable.

“When I’m asked what the greatest thing about my son is, I say it’s his compassion for others. He shares toys at daycare and is kind to the other kids. He’s great at football too, but it’s his good nature I admire the most.”

Nathan feels fortunate in his role as a senior coach at the Tuggeranong Hawks football club, because he is in close contact with players of all ages and wants to use his position to positively influence the culture of the club. He believes that leaders in any community are closely scrutinised, and therefore their conduct is vital in supporting cultural change.

The first day back at football training after Tara was killed, Nathan experienced exceptional support from his team. No one said a word when he arrived, and training started as usual. Then throughout the session, each member of the team came up to Nathan, patting him on the back or nodding encouragement.

“There were no words, but I felt their support through their silence – their acknowledgement of what I was going through. This one horrendous event, it stripped everyone of their background, of their cultural and religious beliefs – they all stood behind me and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

For the Costigans, the shock of Tara’s murder and the burden of saying goodbye to a bright and beautiful member of their family is only the beginning.   They have held weekly meetings since Tara’s funeral to support each other in the logistics of managing Tara’s estate and ensuring an ongoing connection with her children.

“The way in which Tara was murdered has changed us all. Someone came through her door and killed her. We are now all committed in our own individual ways to supporting Tara’s kids and keeping her memory alive.”

 

To donate to the Tara Costigan Foundation visit www.taracostiganfoundation.com

 

Domestic Violence – Information, Awareness and Supports Available in the ACT (Brief)

Suited for:  Members of the ACT Community

What: This one and half hour information session is for those interested in gaining a basic understanding of what domestic, family and intimate partner violence is and the services available, including DVCS programs. This session will increase your general awareness to assist in the overall reduction of violence in our community.

Date: 12 November 2015 – another session will be held in July/August 2016

Time: 5.30pm to 7pm

Where: Canberra Southern Cross Club, Woden

Cost per person: Nil

Bookings: Please make your booking and payment here.

Domestic Violence – Information, Awareness and Supports Available in the ACT (Basic)

Suited for: People whose personal or professional lives might intersect with domestic violence

What: This three hour information session is for those with little to no understanding of what domestic, family and intimate partner violence is and how it affects the indiviudal, their supports and the community. You will leave the session having gained a more informed understanding of what domestic violence is, how to support those experiencing violence and what supports and services are available in the ACT, including DVCS.

Date: 13 October 2015 – another session will be held in July/August 2016

Time: 9.15am to 12.15pm with Registration commencing at 9.00am

Where: Canberra Southern Cross Club, Woden

Cost per person: $50 ($40 for DVCS Members)

Bookings: Please make your booking and payment here.

Domestic Violence – Information, Awareness and Supports Available in the ACT (Advanced)

Suited for: People whose personal or professional lives might intersect with domestic violence

What: This three hour information session is for those with an established understanding of what domestic, family and intimate partner violence is and how it affects the individual, their  familes and supports and the community. You will leave the session having gained a more informed understanding of:

  • How best to respond to clients who disclose that they are/have lived with violence
  • Phases involved in leaving a violent relationship and how to work with clients in these various stages
  • Difficulties of working with the intersection of legal systems relating to domestic violence – particularly in relation to civil (relating to protection orders) and criminal law, with considerations also given to family law, and child protection
  • Additional complexities that affect vulnerable groups (such as Culturally and Lingustically Diverse, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and women with disabilities)

Date: February/March 2016 and November 2016 – dates yet to be finalised

Time: 9am to 12noon

Where: Canberra Southern Cross Club, Woden

Cost per person: $50 ($40 for DVCS Members)

Bookings: Not yet available (limited to 50 people)

 

Photo courtesy of Nathan Costigan

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Alisa Smith

Alisa Smith is a HR professional and has worked in the public service for over 14 years. She recently graduated from a Bachelor of Writing degree and believes in the power of stories to bridge societal and cultural divides. Alisa is passionate about sharing people's wisdom and experiences through their stories. More about the Author

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