AL Andrew Leigh
RB Rosie Batty
RB So I think that that’s the difficulty. Is, the onus of responsibility seems to imply that the women should leave and fix the problem by getting out of the situation. Rather than the perpetrator of the violence taking responsibility and actually changing their behaviour and learning how to make different choices.
AL Welcome to The Good Life: Andrew Leigh in Conversation. A podcast about living a happy, healthy and ethical life. In this podcast, we seek out wise men and women who have lessons to teach us about living life to the full with humour, pleasure, meaning and love. We’ll chat with musicians and athletes, CEOs and carers about making the most of this one precious life. If you like this podcast, do take a moment to tell your friends or give us a rating. Now, sit back and enjoy the conversation.
Rosie Batty is Australia’s best-known family violence campaigner. Her work began in 2014 after her 11-year-old son, Luke Batty, was murdered by his father, Greg Anderson. Less than a year after Luke’s murder, Rosie was named the 2015 Australian of the Year. Rosie’s autobiography, A Mother's Story, tells about her childhood in the UK, and the violence that Greg Anderson subjected her to, as well as what she’s gone on to do following that horrendous incident. Rosie, welcome to The Good Life podcast.
RB Thanks, Andrew. Nice to be here.
AL You grew up in Britain. How would you characterise your childhood?
RB I think on many levels, it would’ve been idyllic. I grew up on a farm where there were cows, beef cattle, sheep. In a small village where we could roam free and our parents didn’t see us from dawn till dusk, almost. And the adventures we could have and the freedom we just took for granted, just memories that I have really close to me. And all of the community that I grew up with and all the people I knew in the village.
And I guess the thing that detracted from my childhood being idyllic was that I lost my mother when I was six. And it was a sudden death and very, a shock to everybody. And that really changed the life of myself and my two younger brothers. But we had really lovely extended family.
I had a grandmother and she ended up living till she was a hundred. So we were really, it was wonderful to have extended family, people that we could reach out to that we knew, who could care for us. And it must’ve been a really difficult journey for my father to have three such small children. As he was a farmer and having to work.
AL You write in your book about how people tried to keep the death of your mum from you. What do you think caused them to do that and how did that affect you as a little girl? Just six years old at the time.
RB Yes, I think it’s always affected me in ways that I continue to unravel. I’m certainly incredibly sensitive when I find out something that I feel like I should’ve known. And I think I’m overly sensitive to that. But back then, I’m nearly 60. So we’re talking of some generations earlier where children were really brought up to be seen, not heard. And people did things to protect children. So I have no doubt that what they thought they were doing was protecting us and shielding us.
But what I feel that we know now is that children need to be able to be supported and included in that grieving process so that they understand and can feel and not be frightened of the pain. Because it’s all something that we can’t avoid. We’re always going to find grief and loss impact us at some point.
AL Your grandmother, Nana Atkin, sounds like the perfect English grandmother, right? Tell us about her.
RB Her name was Gertrude and I have to say that she herself thought that was a ridiculous name. She had a glint in her eye and she was a funny, she had a great sense of humour and a really inquisitive spirit.
And for me, she’s the role model of what I hope I can be as I age gracefully. Her family was the centre of her world. That was all that was important to her. She lived independently at home for the entirety of her life. She required more support to be able to do that but was fiercely independent.
And I still have an image of her as she would cook Sunday dinners. And she continued to do that for family for really quite a long time. But I can still remember her having difficulty mashing potatoes so she put the saucepan on the floor. And she’d put her body weight behind the potato masher and still mash those potatoes. So for me, she made the most of her life.
As she got older and she could do less and her physical frame became more fragile, she adapted and still had hobbies and interests, still was interested in life. And as I said, she was a role model to me of what’s possible.
And her complaint would be that she had too many people visiting her and she got overtired at times. And I thought, how lucky she was, really, to live in a village where all her family were in a very, a lot of them were in walking distance, actually. And everybody would pop in almost daily. So that she was always baking. And she always had cakes and a cup of tea. And she was, after my mother died, I would think that she became the most important person in my life.
AL When you were in your twenties, you followed a well-worn path for many young English people and became a working holiday maker in Australia, which was when you met Greg Anderson.
You write in the book about Greg’s need, from the very beginning, to have a sense of power and control in the relationship. And it reminded me of a conversation I had on the podcast with Jess Hill where she talks about the notion of coercive control and of perpetrators almost following a playbook. Looking back, what were the patterns in the relationship that he pursued?
RB I’d never had abuse in my family. I’d never had witnessed or experienced violence in any form. I didn’t know what it looked like and I certainly didn’t realise, initially, for quite some time, that the confusing and disrespectful and abusive behaviour was indeed violence. And it took me having counselling to understand that I didn’t cause it. It wasn’t something I did wrong.
And it was a journey to understand, also, that there are different forms of violence. And that because I think I associated at the time that violence was physical, and it didn’t occur to me that the other forms of violence and that the things that were making me unhappy were actually violent. And when I understood that, it really did make me more determined to put boundaries and to end the relationship and make it very clear there was no going back.
But certainly, coercive control was not a term that was recognised or understood. And I think that that’s certainly come into a more familiar term over the last year or two. But it’s something that, of course, people working in the family violence space have understood has always been part of this. And absolutely, that was my journey. And certainly, it’s really difficult for people to understand. Because they really understand how to get to you. How to undermine you. How to confuse you. How to make you doubt yourself and your truth and your perspective of life.
It’s a really interesting journey as you look back. To think, how could I, a strong, independent woman find myself being dragged into this type of dynamic? And it went on for years and years and years.
And he would know. He would switch and change what he could do and how that might unsettle me. And as you get desensitised to that, there would be another form that would disable you or that would blindside you. And often that would be maybe access visits with Luke where he wouldn’t turn up. Or he didn’t bring him home. Or he would change some part of that arrangement and make it seem like that was my fault.
And it’s very, very difficult for anyone else involved to really understand that some of these seemingly small things are actually aimed very concisely at you and your reaction. It becomes more and more. You just become less of the person, gradually and gradually. And that’s what it’s all about.
And it’s very difficult for police in people like this. Because invariably it’s not bad enough for them to be able to do anything about it. And unfortunately in my situation, that coercive control ended up in the murder of Luke, which is the ultimate act of power and control. As I began to put those boundaries in place and he no longer could manipulate and dominate me in the ways he had over years.
AL Yes, the way you describe coercive control feels a bit, to me, like the discussion of microaggressions in racism. I remember Barack Obama’s written about the petty slights that Black men are subject to. Being handed the keys to a car outside a hotel where someone assumes you’re the valet. Or being called boy. Or having someone just grab at their wallet as you walk close to them. And those little actions add up cumulatively to minorities not feeling their place in society.
In the same ways, it sounds as though you’re talking about the many small actions of coercive control just working to steadily undermine the self-esteem of victims there.
RB And it’s all calculated. It’s all calculated and it’s not by accident. And it’s quite an, what would be something I would find difficult with, somebody else would look at and perhaps not really understand why that emotional reaction or why that impact would’ve made such, why it would’ve had such an impact on me.
And this is the difficult thing for police and judicial system to really be able to understand. Unless you are in that and if you have a deep understanding. So it is a very… And it’s incredibly dangerous. It’s the most dangerous aspect of family and domestic violence. And ultimately it doesn’t always mean that there is physical violence. It can be a number of different forms that they would use in order to have control over you.
AL You also talk about Greg having been generous at times. Coming round to help clear brush from outside your house or to help build things around the house. So those acts of generosity interposed with acts of violence and abuse. That really is quite a common part of a family violence cycle, isn’t it?
RB Well, it is. Because I don’t think, in my view of the world, no one is entirely bad. And in complex relationships, there are moments of fun and happiness and jokes and light-heartedness. It’s not that you wake up every day and violence is ever-present. For some it may be. But for others, it can have gaps. And something can just turn something into a very dangerous situation because of external pressures or for whatever reasons, whatever may be going on.
But you can always guarantee that once violence has entered into a relationship, it will inevitably escalate unless there is intervention. And the gaps between violence can be not just minutes and days but actually months and even years.
And so it’s difficult for people to understand that in the periods where the relationship’s seems to be repairing and you find that space between each other that’s fond and one would even say, loving. Your hope returns and you think, well, this is the man I really like. Or, this is the man I’m attracted to. This is the man I love. And you hope that that person is going to stay like that.
And then unfortunately, you begin to learn that you can’t tread on eggshells forever and you can’t adjust everything you do to try to make sure that there isn’t another episode or incident. And you realise that no matter how careful you are, there will always be something that triggers that violence.
And until somebody acknowledges and takes responsibility, you can’t change that. And so I think that that’s the difficulty. Is, the onus of responsibility seems to imply that the women should leave and fix the problem by getting out of the situation. Rather than the perpetrator of the violence taking responsibility and actually changing their behaviour and learning how to make different choices.
AL Luke Batty would’ve been 19 this year. Tell us a bit about him. What was he like?
RB Yes. He was a really, really model baby. I was so lucky. I just had a fabulous time when he was as a little new-born baby. And it was very difficult. I had to go back to work when he was four months old and that really tore me apart, leaving him at such a young age. But he adapted to childcare and he was really well-looked after.
And life as a single mum, for me, was really stretched and really, it’s hard work. It’s really hard work. But every moment in every day is so worth it. And he was a really, I think every mother would say that about their own son and every child. But he was an incredibly good-looking little boy. And very sensitive. And as he grew, he’d liked to be funny. And I know that that didn’t always go down well in his classroom. And I’d often be part of teacher discussions as Luke learnt how to…
Being the only child in a single mother household, I really understood his need to assert himself as a rough and tumble young boy. And he had no one to practise with at home other than his mother. And we did. I did used to find myself doing rough play with him and things.
But as a boy, that’s what they look for from their dads and brothers. And so he would get into trouble at school often with finding himself in the playground with other kids, wrestling. And if he wasn’t crying, somebody else would be or something like this.
But he would’ve had the academic intelligence to do whatever he wanted. But I’m fairly sure he would’ve been a bit like me, which, he didn’t enjoy study. And I look at his friends and where they’re at now, and I’m not sure what direction Luke would’ve gone in. But I think I’d have been hard-pressed to keep him at school for as long as I would’ve liked him to.
But he liked performing magic tricks. And he did enjoy football. I don’t know whether he would’ve continued with it. He got a bit bored with cricket. But actually, when he was the man of the match at one time and had a great match and so that rekindled his love of cricket for another season. He always wanted to be picked to, whether it was doing a magic trick. Or if somebody’s actually asking for someone to go up on stage, Luke would always be desperate to be the person chosen. And of course he never was, which would really, really upsetting to him.
So he was a bright young kid. He was actually surprisingly romantic. And when I say that, he was only 11. But he’d written a letter a year or so beforehand. And I’ve still got the copies of these letters. They were very funny. I think I put one of those in a copy of my book, actually. It was such a sweet, innocent letter saying that there were a few…
It was to a little girl that he really had a crush on for a very long time. And he wrote to her saying that, there was other people in the class that really liked her too. But he was the best. This is the gist of it, at least. And that was because he could do really good cartwheels. And I thought to myself, I’ve never seen him do a cartwheel yet.
But he was such a thoughtful kid. If he knew I was upset, he would know how to comfort me. Which I felt was a lot for a little person to find himself in that place. But I was really reassured that he knew how to be kind and to be thoughtful. And he would write me little notes. And that was really, really sweet. And all of those, I’ve kept as well. Because I intended, at some point, on his twenty-first or something, to present him with a lot of these things just as a reminder of what a funny little fellow he was.
AL You say that attending your own child’s funeral is a complete inversion of the natural order of things. I don’t know how much you want to say about the circumstances of Luke’s death. But what stands out to you in that? The leadup and the awful tragedy itself.
RB Yes, I suppose it’s like everybody would say. That you have no idea of what’s coming. And so what seems to be like this normal day where you’re just busy doing household chores and zipping down the road just to pick Luke up from cricket practice on a really hot night. And then the next thing, your world has just changed.
And your body just can’t take in what’s happening. It does protect you. And certainly, I wouldn’t wish that experience on anybody. It’s something that certainly affects you, obviously, for the rest of your life. And I think that the finality and the fact that he’s gone, is just something that you can’t absorb. It’s just something too difficult to comprehend. And you’re just in shock. And you just function or not.
I have some memory but I’m sure there was many conversations that I don’t recall and things that I would’ve said or done that I don’t have a memory of. But certainly, I remember on the night, saying, I’ve joined a club. I’ve joined a club that no one wants to be part of.
And I thought of the three little Farquhar boys outside of Ballarat whose father drove them into a dam and they all drowned except him, he got out. And the little girl, Darcey Freeman, that got thrown over the West Gate Bridge. And I thought of these kids and I just thought, how do you recover? How do you recover from something like this? How can this be happening to me? This doesn’t happen to anyone I know.
So you begin to, you can’t comprehend that it could be possible. And certainly that, with all Greg’s faults and all of his problems, I never, I truly never imagined he was capable of what he did. And to think that you had known someone for an extended time and shared very intimate and important parts of your life with. To think that they were capable of something like this is, it’s beyond me. There’s never in my life, and none of my family, that I know would never comprehend killing anybody, least of all their own child. So it’s just horrendous.
And to think, for everybody that cared and everybody that knew Luke and I, so many people were affected because… And his friends, and the children. How could your father kill you? And how do you explain that? How do you explain that to them? And what do you say? It’s horrible and it’s still very confronting. And I think that we all just try and get through the best we can. And everybody was equally as horrified and in disbelief.
And a lot of people, not a lot, but probably a fair number of people had known my difficult journey with Greg and Luke’s father. But no one would’ve ever anticipated that it would’ve ended up in Luke’s death.
AL You say that you became Australian of the Year, because I have endured the kind of tragedy that makes people recoil. But it’s more than that. Others have endured tragedy. What made you so unusual, I think, Rosie, was the way in which almost immediately, you stepped into the role of advocate and explainer. And talked about family violence and raised the profile of that issue in a way that no one before had managed to do. What made you decide to step into the public arena at a time when you’d endured such an awful private tragedy?
RB I wish I could say it was a conscious decision. I wish I could say that it was a planned and thought-out approach. But it really wasn’t. The day I chose to speak to the media, which was the day after Luke had been killed, it was really out of stubbornness. Because I heard, my house was full of people who all came together to be together, to support me but to support each other. I just recall at some point, waking up from a sleep I didn’t know I was in and seeing my house full of people.
And I heard, my recollection of this is that I could hear them talking about the media being camped outside. And that somebody should go and tell them to move away. And for some reason, I felt that people weren’t asking me. They were talking about protecting me but they weren’t actually consulting with me. And I just said, well, if anyone’s going to tell them to go, it’ll be me. And just stubbornly decided to head outside, much to everybody’s astonishment.
AL Is this the day after Luke’s death, Rosie?
AL I just can’t imagine confronting TV cameras after losing my 11-year-old son.
RB Well, when you see me, you can see the exhaustion and the pain and the grim and the shock all in that face. And I genuinely went to say, very respectfully, I know you’ve got a job to do. But out of respect, would you please mind leaving? That’s what I went out to say.
But then the media had no idea who I was and they were incredulous, actually, that I was the mother. And so we started to talk. And I can’t tell you how long I was out there for, really. And I do recall some of the key things that I did say. But obviously what came out from my heart and I just spoke my truth in that moment.
And that is really how it changed that conversation about family violence. Because people were able, the media was able to put it into a context that had impact. And I’ve really had a lot of media support over my journey. And I’m really thankful for the journey I’ve been able to have through those supportive journalists with integrity who have been able to help raise this issue. And it become a mainstream conversation. Because without the media behind you, this is incredibly difficult to do, if not impossible.
AL Yes, that’s interesting that you say that. The relationship with respectful journalists is really important in getting the message out. And presumably, you then began to link up with other family violence campaigners over the coming days.
RB Yes, I did. Very quickly, people from organisations that work in the family violence space were able to reach out to me. They then became an invaluable resource of support as I understood how to expand my advocacy. And to really place, to challenge community attitudes and to speak in ways that had cut through and to be able to quote very stark and statistics. And they really were amazing.
And certainly they helped me with political appointments and preparing for, and supporting me to meet with lead politicians at a federal and a state level across the country over that time. Which obviously became certainly much more, since becoming Australian of the Year. Australian of the Year really gave me that national platform where I was really thrust into that opportunity where you could really use that platform to create a momentum and some significant change. Which is what I was really determined to do.
AL And you weren’t just talking about family violence too, Rosie? You were also talking about what it is to deal with such immense grief and loss. I think about the United States at the moment. Having, as its new president, a man who has lost two children and a wife. And the ability that Biden has to speak to grief, probably like few other American presidents have ever been able to do.
How do you go about speaking about tragedy? What do you say to others who’ve suffered terrible loss? People must come up to you and share their stories all the time. What advice do you offer to them?
RB It’s really difficult because everybody’s different and each journey’s different. And just for me to be able to say, it will get better or it gets easier or time heals. Nothing sounds as if, it doesn’t sound realistic or probable. You feel like you are never going to escape the intensity of the pain. And I can certainly understand why people would feel its too much. And you find the right words because you speak from the heart to that particular person in wherever they’re at at that point.
And I think that sometimes it’s not even words. It’s a shared knowing. They know how I feel. I know how they feel. And it’s not always words that you find. It’s a shared knowing and an understanding. And when you do start to talk to each other, and I have, as you say, met parents who’ve lost children in varying ways. And there’s quite often a similar path where it really challenges relationships between husband and wife, mother and father. It challenges relationships with extended family and friendships.
And some people that you feel you could count on and your friendship is unshakeable, you do find that they don’t go the distance. But you find that new people come into your life that you just hadn’t anticipated were the right people at the right time and your journey continues to unfold. And people come into it. And I think that that’s very difficult. It’s very difficult.
And you may not be reacting in the ways that people think you should. I don’t talk at length to my parents about the work I do here in Australia. It’s difficult for them [?] to understand. And I tend to not talk about it with them.
And yet I find a lot of deep understanding amongst new colleagues and friendships I’ve made over this journey. Who, maybe through tragedy or maybe because of the work that they do in areas like family violence or mental health or other areas where they really work hard to improve the world we live in. And it’s a passion and a journey we share together that could help support each other.
But there’s no doubt, for me, that having the opportunity I’ve been given, particularly through the Australian of the Year award that I got, gave me a purpose and a meaning that you lose. And how you flounder and you’ve got to reinvent your life. Because the life you thought that you were going to have or the direction you thought you were going in is just been pulled away from you.
And so I’ll be forever grateful that the decisions I made that day, to speak to the media, set me on a path where I felt I had purpose and meaning at a time when I had nothing. And I think that’s really, very important to try to… And I can see that’s why so many people, not just myself, but so many people, through tragedy go on to try to make change and to raise awareness. Because it gives them that hope and that reason to keep going. Because they don’t want people to go through the same things that they’ve gone through.
AL Yes, that sense of purpose that you display is just extraordinary. And you mentioned, too, counselling before. How have you used counselling? How often do you see a counsellor now? How often did you see a counsellor in the past? For people who’ve suffered these sorts of experiences, do you have any practical advice on using counsellors?
RB Yes. I would say, 30 odd years ago, I went to my GP and I was struggling with what I didn’t realise was a lot of anxiety at the time. And this was, he said, look, you’ve got three greatest contributors to stress happening at this point. You’re buying a house, you’ve got pressures at work and you’re in a relationship that’s not working. And so ultimately, that was a point where, I think for the first time in my life, I didn’t understand what was happening within me and why I didn’t appear to be… What was happening to me.
And so through counselling back then, you start to put things into a perspective when you start to recognise and understand.
And then you start to work on some, perhaps, things from your past, from your childhood that you haven’t taken, made the opportunity or taken the time to resolve. And I think that that’s counselling comes in and out of your life. Well, that’s how I’ve used it. In times where I’ve been very confused or very lost or very deflated or even depressed. And so I think it’s important to find the right counsellor and I certainly know that when I’ve not been tracking particularly well, my doctor’s very good.
And so I revisit counsellors when I feel that I’m struggling a little. That I can’t shake off melancholic and ruminating thoughts. That I just get up every day. And I still go through those periods of time. And it’s recognising that you’ll always come through these feelings. That’s my thinking.
You’ve got to keep doing a number of different things. Counselling isn’t the only thing that works. But for me, it’s an important part of what I do when I feel I need to speak to somebody. To really express what’s going on and have that professional skillset that helps you have clarity around that and a deeper understanding of why those feelings are there.
But the other thing I do is I love dogs. I always have, since I was a little child. And I love walking my dogs. And there’s no greater joy for me each day than going and walking my dogs, having a quick chat with a doggy-oriented people and seeing the fun that dogs have just sniffing and running around and playing. And I think that that, for me, has always been a really important thing.
And then the other thing I’ve realised is, as I’m feeling apathetic or low or despondent, the last thing I feel like doing is actually going and doing some exercise. But once I’ve pushed myself and get back into a routine, I realise just how much better I feel, both mentally and physically, doing exercise that I begin to enjoy. I can’t say I enjoy it when I first start out but for me, my challenge is that consistency.
And certainly, I’ve been here in Victoria in Stage 4 lockdown, we really weren’t able to go to the gym and do those kind of things. So I’m off track a bit. But I will get there. But I have always wanted to trek the great walks around the world. And 20 odd years ago, I did go trekking in Nepal which was just the most amazing experience. And I’ve been determined to walk in other parts of the world since.
And then when I had Luke, of course, like most parents, they put those kind of adventures and self-indulged holidays on hold. Because your priority is your child and doing child-oriented things. And now I haven’t got Luke, I’ve rekindled that determination to walk in beautiful parts of the world. And I have done that as often as I can over the last few years. And that, I feel, has given, it physically challenges you. But it’s almost like a walking mediation where you’re in your thoughts but you’re also embracing the beauty around you in stunning scenery.
And with likeminded people and every day you get up, have a hearty breakfast and walk.
And you come home, back to the next hotel or wherever you’re staying, tired from walking throughout the day. Have a nice meal. Good conversations, again, around dinner. And go to bed early and get up and do the same thing.
And I can’t tell you how much it helped me in my recovery and in my journey. And I know that may not be for everybody but I think that, for me, it’s something that I know has really helped me get to where I am now. And I see that as a very valuable thing that I intend to do as long as I’m fit and able to.
And some of my closest friends now are in their mid-seventies. And I go on some really tough walks with them. I walked across England on the Coast to Coast Walk with them a few years ago. And they’re my inspiration for what retirement can be. And it’s frighteningly close for me these days. And so I look at, if I want to have a good physical health, I need to be active. And I need to really honour my body and nurture it and take care of it. So those are the things that I try to do. I try to sleep well. I try to eat well.
And I do like people. And I do like to catch up with people. And friendship is incredibly important to me. So I’d like to continue to be a good friend and to understand how important friendships are in my life.
AL And for anyone who’s interested in the role of walking as a way of improving your mental well-being and dealing with loss, I’d highly recommend Jono Lineen’s books, Into the Heart of the Himalayas and Perfect Motion. Which follow the tragic death of his brother. Jono is one of the great walkers and very wise about its impacts.
But Rosie, one of the other things that strikes me about how you’ve dealt with the tragedy of 2014 is your sense of respect towards Greg. He also died that day, shot by police in resisting arrest. And you’ve been very thoughtful and extraordinarily generous in the way in which you’ve remembered him. And also talked about how you felt the system failed him as somebody with mental illness. Can you tell us a bit about that and also about the way in which that framing has affected your own outlook on life?
RB There’s nothing to be served, really, in speaking about Greg in a really angry way. I still can’t believe he did what he did. And I think of his parents and his brothers and his family who loved him. And I feel really sorry that they have to bear that pain and that discomfort of what Greg did. I can only imagine how hard that must’ve been and still be for them to know what he did.
But I think that, to be frank, I think it was easier for me because he’s gone. If I’d have had to sit through a trial, if Greg would be alive and in prison for what he did, I think it would’ve been even more difficult. But my grief has really been all-consuming about Luke. And I give Greg very little thought, very little thought.
I just want to be a better person. And I want to be… I fail my own expectations on a frequent basis. But I strive to be a kind, compassionate and generous person.
My father is and if there’s anything I’d like to think that I’ve gained from him, are those qualities. And as imperfect as I am and as flawed as I am, I strive to be that better person.
How can you help somebody that won’t help themself? How can you help somebody that refuses to see that their life is going down the path it is? Because it’s their fault. It’s no one else’s fault. And so I think that when somebody has got such complex mental health issues and chooses the path that they do, which is destructive, it’s sabotaging. There were a lot of people Greg affected and it was very difficult. It was easy to like him initially. But you would see a side of him that would always come up. And I think that it would…
What my biggest disappointment was is with his mental health, he could just carry on making my life a misery without any intervention. And the day he assaulted me and things really escalated in a way that frightened Luke and I, the police did take him for a mental health assessment. And by then he’d obviously calmed down, was lucid enough to say the things that he needed to say to be able to get out. And that was all they needed, was just a ticking of box and off he goes again.
And yet if you’d have delved a bit deeper, if you’d have taken a bit more interest, you wouldn’t have taken you long to realise exactly how damaged this man is and what at a risk he is.
And so there wasn’t a system. And I don’t think there still is, of genuine intervention for people struggling with really complex mental health issues. And they’re a risk to themselves. And really sadly, they can make people in their families and their immediate circle, it can be incredibly problematic and highly dangerous. And until they actually do something, there is nothing that can be done.
And often these people are put in prison because we’ve never replaced or we haven’t got the right type of support to be able to help people. So it’s really catastrophic, actually. And certainly an area that we recognise is sadly lacking.
AL Rosie, you set up the Luke Batty Foundation after Luke’s death and then shut it down in 2018. Can you tell us about that foundation and what you learned from the experience of establishing it?
RB Andrew, I would be the same as so many people that once they have something happen, it’s tragic. Often people will suggest or you will have the idea to build a foundation. And what you’re trying to do is keep the memory alive, keep the name alive. You don’t want them to get forgotten. You want to plough everything into this organisation to keep that memory going in their honour.
And when we start off with that intent, we may not have, and I certainly didn’t, the professional understanding or knowledge or experience. I hadn’t set up an organisation before and most people haven’t or a charity.
And it is a legally complex thing to do. But then you actually have to have a board and staff and you have to have governance and accountability and all of the things. And of course, I didn’t have any of this experience. And it was all an absolute learning curve for me. I didn’t understand the function of a board or the role of the chair.
And when I set it up, I was very fortunate because certainly, how it started was really people gave to me because they felt so sorry for my situation. And people wanted to help. So they just gave me money. And I put it into an account and I called it Luke Batty Trust. And so for me, that was just putting the money aside, not knowing really what to do with it. But thinking I would donate it to a charity at some point when I determined which was the right charity to give it, to donate it to.
And then as my journey grew and I began to see possibility. And so my first vision was to, how do I educate people about family violence? But then as my journey catapulted me into other areas, I began to understand more and work with organisations.
And where I really wanted to be was, how do I stop violence before it starts? And I recognised that in that primary prevention space was an area that I could really help shift community attitudes and really do valuable work. And so the foundation was incredibly successful and we raised over a million dollars, certainly.
But I was utterly exhausted and I hadn’t taken any time. Every day, every day I was up at the crack of dawn. I’d be on the computer seven days a week, till about ten o’clock at night, until my eyes were blurred, replying to people’s emails. People in crisis, people wanting to tell me how terrible their experience with the Family Law Court system was. The journey was exhausting. And I felt such a responsibility to answer everybody’s emails, everybody’s letters. And sometimes it took me weeks and months to get back to people. But I always did.
RB And it was so important to me and it was so worrying to me that people may not get a response or the response they were looking for. And I couldn’t help everybody. I couldn’t do everything. There was only one of me.
And I began to feel that as people were hired to come into the organisation by the board and by the chair, I began to feel the foundation was, I was losing my connection with it. And I began to feel that Luke and I were, my vision was being taken from me. And I just find it really difficult and confusing to understand.
And at the end of the day, I hadn’t had the chance and opportunity, and I hadn’t created the time to do what people had told me I needed to do, which was grieve. And I thought I had been grieving. I thought I’d been grieving every day because the pain was so much. It was as much as I could bear. I didn’t realise there was further to go.
And at some point I just felt, I did do this walk on the Coast to Coast in the UK. It took 22 days. And I went away for two months and I came back knowing that I couldn’t keep [inaudible] what I was doing. That I had to slow down and stop. And really work out how I could work in a more sustainable, balanced way.
And it became apparent to me that the board or the chair had realised that somebody else needed to lead that organisation and I wasn’t the right person to do that. And so I stepped aside, recognising that I needed to take that time out for mental health issues, which were grief, trauma, PTSD, you name it. I was still struggling with all of that.
And unfortunately, the decision to close the foundation was made by the board, not by myself. And so I felt incredibly, incredibly saddened. Because everything I’d tried to do, everything I’d worked hard to do, every day I’d got up, was for the foundation. And so to have decisions taken out of your hands was really difficult for me to accept and understand that.
And I said to myself, well, Rosie, Luke wouldn’t care. He would just say, mum, I want you to be happy. So I did spend six months, at least, grieving at a level I didn’t realise was possible by taking really long walks on the beach and staying at home and being really, in a space that I had avoided. I’d avoided it for as long as I could. And it finally had to, I had to sit with it.
And once I had done that, I had plans to do some more trekking. And gradually I realised I’d come through the worst of it. And began to feel relief. Began to feel relief that I actually didn’t have the worry. I didn’t have to be concerned about staff. I didn’t have to be concerned about money. I didn’t have to be concerned. I could just feel the pressure lift and start to find myself again. And become the person I felt I’d lost. And that was really confronting.
But here I am now, three years later, still sad. Still sad that I couldn’t, it wasn’t the right thing for me to do. Because there were many things I would’ve liked to continue to be able to do with the foundation. But accepting that that path was just too difficult for me.
AL Thanks for sharing that. That’s really insightful. Let me close with a couple of standard questions that I ask all my interviewees. Rosie, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
RB Oh gosh. I tell you what, my self-doubt has held me back and crippled me at different times. And to just not doubt yourself. To just know you’ve got this.
AL What’s something you used to believe but no longer do?
RB Well, I still have a spiritual belief system but I think that’s changed. That’s changed from the Catholic upbringing as I had as a little girl at school and the Sunday school I used to go to, and the religious views I had back then. To how I would view myself now as a spiritual person rather than a religious person. So maybe that’s what’s changed.
AL When are you most happy?
RB I’m most happy when I am walking along the beach with my dogs on a warm, sunny day. When the tide is low, the sky is blue and I see my dogs fishing, trying to fish. They never catch one. And you see they’re just so immersed and having such fun.
And the beach that’s local to me takes me about 20 minutes to get there. On a lovely summer’s day, it is just stunning. And I take that time to really appreciate its isolation, its rawness, its naturalness. And I realise just how lucky I am to have access on my doorstep to that type of beauty. And that’s what I really, I love. Making time for just stopping and really appreciating what I have.
AL What’s the most important thing you do to stay mentally and physically healthy? Is it those dogs?
RB I would say that’s a big part of it. But I tell you what, one of my older dogs, Zach, he died at the end of December. And I think, oh gosh, it hurts so much again. So there’s always going to be happiness and grief and loss.
And I’ve just now bought another little puppy that I wasn’t sure that I wanted another dog. But I have. And his name’s Spencer and he’s a little cocker spaniel that I’ve wanted to have since I was a child. I’ve got three dogs. And they are my family, really. I can’t remember the question, actually, Andrew. Any excuse to talk about dogs, I think.
AL Most important thing you do to stay mentally and physically healthy.
RB Yes, walk them.
AL And you said, three dogs which, yes.
RB Yes. Walk them, actually. Being outside, walking them. I just think that that gets you out, it gets you moving. I have chats with people because I like to be friendly. And I just love the interactions dogs have. It puts you in a good frame of mind. And then you come back, have your breakfast and tackle the day. I like getting up early, walking the dogs as early as I can, and being outside.
I live on acreage. I’ve got two donkeys and a half-blind, off the track racehorse who’s a paddock pet. And I like pottering outside. I like smelling of horses. I like getting dirty. And I guess that farming girl and childhood I had is just ever-present. It doesn’t ever leave you, I don’t think.
AL Sounds like there’s a nice Dr Dolittle aspect to the way in which you live at the moment. Do you have any guilty pleasures?
RB Oh gosh. I am a killer for chocolate. I need to go and see my counsellor again because I am eating way too much chocolate. I think it’s because I can. I think it’s because I’m still at home a lot, working remotely. And I know that if I buy it, it’s sitting in the cupboard and I’ll devour it with very little self-control, actually. So chocolate is my weakness. And that’s my main one, really, I think.
AL Finally, Rosie, which person or experience has most shaped your view of living an ethical life?
RB That’s a good question, Andrew? What has just sprung to mind is, I do like reading biographies. And one of my favourite biographies, actually, is Michael J. Fox. I read it many years ago now. And what I related to him was, he’s my age and he’s chronically affected with Parkinson's. And you saw him as this very successful person on TV and film. And then you saw the decline in him.
And what he says is he’s the luckiest man alive because again, through that illness, he's discovered strength and insights of himself that he otherwise would not have had. And he’s a nicer, a better person for that. And those are the kind of people that I aspire to be. Because they are the examples of what’s possible and what strength we have within us. And we always have those choices when adversity faces us or when we have choices to make. And I think that that inspires me.
AL And the title is brilliant. No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality. It’s a pretty wonderful book from someone who’s gone through a lot of adversity.
RB It is.
AL Rosie Batty, Australian of the Year, family violence campaigner and just all-round inspirational person. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your wisdom on The Good Life podcast today.
RB Thank you, Andrew. It’s been really insightful talking to you.
AL Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Good Life: Andrew Leigh in Conversation. I referred to a couple of past podcasts in this discussion. And so if you enjoyed it, you might want to listen back to the interviews with Jess Hill and Jono Lineen. We appreciate getting feedback on the podcast. So please, leave us a rating or tell a friend about the show. Next week, we’ll be back with another inspiring guest to discuss living a happier, healthier and more ethical life.
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