Denman W18 Masthead 2

Family violence: close to home

Amanda Whitley

Family violence is something that affects so many of us and has been kept behind closed doors for too long. It’s time to bring it out into the open.

Last Monday, I was fortunate to be named as a Champion for the Domestic Violence Crisis Service, along with Jess Bibby, Alan Tongue, Christian Lealiifano and Adam Shirley. I’ll be actively working to help to reduce domestic, family and intimate partner violence by keeping it at the forefront of public consciousness. This isn’t a case of me jumping on the latest bandwagon – it’s an issue that’s very close to my heart, as my grandmother, mother, and my sister and I have both experienced it in various forms. 

You see, my grandfather beat my grandmother (pictured above at left) for years and my mother (above at right) suffered psychological abuse from my father—and my sister and I were part of the equation. Can I say up front that I love my Dad and I have forgiven him for what happened…but that doesn’t mean that we can pretend it didn’t. I’m sure that he never, ever, thought of his behaviour as abuse…and that’s why we need to talk about it…to change our perception of what’s ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’.

This is my mum’s story.

“From a very early age I can recall my father berating my mother verbally. As I grew older I realised that Dad not only abused her verbally, but physically.

I remember the times that he would come into the house in a rage and sweep all the tinned foodstuffs and canisters of flour and sugar onto the pantry floor and stand over her ranting and raging until she cleaned up his mess.

I recall the frightening nights, listening—but with pillows over my head—trying to block out the physical punishment he was dishing out to my dear Mum. Wanting to hear it stop but dreading the silence just in case he’d finally killed her.

I can’t forget the shame of the girl next door telling the kids at school that she and her family had heard my father say that “he was going to run over us and kill us”.

No-one realised the extent of his  physical abuse but those who had seen the edge of his anger could have guessed.

As I grew up we would protect Mum  as best we could but it was the times when I was at school that I dreaded most as I had no idea what was happening to her.

The last time I saw evidence of Dad’s cruelty was after I was married and was at my parents’ home for a short visit. Mum had a huge fist-sized bruise on her upper arm and when I asked what is was, she told me that Dad had punched her but ‘didn’t remember doing it’. When he asked her the next day how she came by the bruise she told him she had run into the door knob. Mum always said, and believed, that Dad didn’t know what he was doing or what he had done in one of his rages. By the next morning he always switched back to his ‘good guy’ persona, and so it continued.

The abuse wasn’t confined to Mum, as at least twice a week I would be beaten with the razor strop and locked in the cold, dark laundry for hours.

For all the 22 years I lived at home, I was berated for things that Dad imagined to have happened in my relationships with boys or in my personal life.

Sadly my dear Mum succumbed to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and for many long years lived in nursing homes without recognising her family.

By the time my father died, all respect, love or any feelings for him had gone, to be replaced by a feeling of relief.

Because of my father’s physical abuse, I learnt to become a peace-keeper so as to avoid conflict.

Perhaps because it was all I had ever known in male figures, I was drawn to my husband, Michael, because he was dominating and would stand up to my father. “Sit down and shut up”seemed to be my lot in life.

(You can read about Michael’s time in the Vietnam war and his struggles with PTSD here.)

Any important decisions were taken over by his mother, as according to his thinking, I had no common sense and wasn’t bright enough  to make any decisions in our married life.

After my two daughters were born I couldn’t go to work so finances were difficult. When they were a little older, I commenced driving a local school bus so I could take our youngest girl with me whilst the eldest went to kindergarten. Once both were school age I took on motel room cleaning, worked part-time at the local general store plus continued part-time school bus driving so I could buy food and clothing for the girls and I. My husband took most of my earnings, only giving me $50 per week for all expenses for the home and for the girls and myself. His mother purchased all his clothing.

When the girls were 11 and 12 we moved to a larger town with my husband’s work and he then decided that he was taking over the disciplining  of the girls because he believed I had been a ‘tart’ as a teenager and had no idea of raising children. This is despite the fact that he had little involvement in their lives to that point.

I took on work at the town’s educational facility and was praised highly  for my work ethics, but each afternoon I was dragged back down to the lowest level. The moment I arrived home I changed from a capable working woman to a meek and mild mouse. He exerted such control!

The requirement was that I HAD to be home by 3.45pm.

We weren’t allowed to flush the toilet unless absolutely necessary. The washing water had to be caught in a bucket which was then poured into a 44 gallon drum and then onto the garden and lawns (both of these measures were apparently to save water).

I wasn’t allowed to have the catcher on the lawn mower so the girls and I spent hours each weekend raking a 1200m2 block.

We weren’t allowed to use the remote on the television because it was ‘lazy’.

When the girls became teenagers, and all their friends were catching up on the weekends, they were allowed one outing per month. They had a bedtime of 9pm even when they were 16 years old.

When they left home (as soon as they finished school) I was not allowed to phone them unless I had the money for the call to put in the phone tin.

I wasn’t allowed to take the car to the shops (apparently a waste of petrol) so in some cases I would struggle home with four or five heavy bags of groceries in the extreme heat or cold.

Friends initially used to visit but my husband treated them so badly or was so blatantly rude or ignorant towards them that they stopped visiting altogether.

When my husband was diagnosed with MS , I was ‘ordered’ to stop work so I could be home with him all the time. Unfortunately, once I’d prepared his meals, I may as well not have existed.

I eventually made the decision to leave. It wasn’t easy, and the fact that he was sick when I did filled me with guilt. Looking back though, I cannot believe what I endured and saw as ‘normal’, and wished I had left my marriage years before.

These days, I live  alone, but I have a full and happy life with my family and friends….and I do what I like when I like.

It may have taken me 50 years, but I broke free of the cycle of abuse!”

I think it’s important for me to note that neither my mother, sister or I see my father as a ‘bad man’, despite all of us having been affected by years of being ‘controlled’. We do, however, know that his behaviour—likely to have stemmed from the PTSD he suffered from after the Vietnam War—was wrong and completely unacceptable. And this is why it’s so important for women like Mum to tell their stories – because not all abuse is physical

According to the DVCS website, “Domestic and family violence is more than just physical and/or sexual violence. It can include emotional, psychological or financial, or it could be a combination of all or some of these elements. The non-physical elements are often not thought of as violence, but they are just as dangerous and common.’

A quick look at the list of violent behaviours checks off a lot of my dad’s behaviour. Control, manipulation and belittlement do not have any place in a healthy relationship, and it goes without saying that neither does physical violence or sexual abuse. We all need to speak out and say ‘no more’. #lovedoesnthurt

If you are concerned about someone’s behaviour, call DVCS’ crisis line on 02 6280 0900.

Also check out this article if you’d like advice on what to do if you’re in a domestic violence situation.


Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women. More about the Author

  • Kylie

    Thank you Amanda, and thank you to your mum – both of you have been very brave to share your stories. Every time you and people like you speak up and speak out, your actions erode a fraction more of the silence and shame that allow abuse to continue to happen.

    • Amanda Whitley

      Thank you so much, Kylie xx

  • Ms Jennifer

    How brave you are to share your story. Sending you hugs x

    • Amanda Whitley

      Thanks @disqus_8pVxq94oKR:disqus x

  • Thank you to you and your mum for sharing your stories. Domestic abuse comes in many forms and is never OK. I hope your story encourages others to speak out or get the courage to change their situation. You’re amazing.

    • Amanda Whitley

      Thank you @bopperlea:disqus – sharing our stories wasn’t something we did lightly, as we’re very cognisant that there is a much broader family circle that is affected. We hope they understand our reasons for doing so.

  • Jill Elderton

    I am a survivor of dv and would like to do more in the community to help. Domestic violence sadly does not end when you leave, I am still affected by text and interactions with my kids so every day we survive as best we can, but so much happier to be away from it every day

    • Amanda Whitley

      I can attest to the fact that it still affects me even 20+ years after I left home. Congratulations on being a survivor, Jill x

  • Amanda Kay

    Thank you Amanda for sharing yours and your mother’s stories. I think your balance between trying to understand those who use abuse, and holding them to account is key to making progress on this issue. I’m so glad to have you as one of our DVCS Champions!

    • Amanda Whitley

      Thanks so much, Amanda x

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