Yvonne Keane on making a difference for domestic violence victims.
HAVING GROWN UP IN AN ABUSIVE HOME, THE ADVOCATE AND LOCAL MAYOR CHANNELLED HER EXPERIENCE INTO HELPING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS BY LAUNCHING A WOMEN AND CHILDREN’S REFUGE
Iwas only four years old, yet I still recall that day vividly. Mum told me to pack a few toys into my little suitcase. She picked me and my sister up, and we left our house with only the $20 she had for a taxi. As we drove away, my father chased us down the street in a drunken rage. I remember he threw a milk carton after us. I can still see the milk spill out onto the road.
The violence didn’t stop immediately. My father would occasionally find us and attack my mum. When I was five, she married David, a wonderful man who is my dad in every way. The day David confronted my father was the day he finally left us alone.
Growing up like that changes you. I had seen my mum brutalised on a daily basis, and I had been this tiny little thing trying to stop my father hurting her. I have always felt an urge to save people, to do the impossible.
Last year, the board that I chair opened The Sanctuary, a refuge in north-west Sydney for women and children fleeing violence. Our shelter manager rang me one afternoon and said, “We have our first woman coming in. I know your story – I know your mother was 17 when she had you. I’m going to talk, because if you talk, I’ll cry. And if you cry, I’ll cry. And I need to remain calm. Yvonne, she’s 17 and she has a six-week-old baby. Congratulations, you just saved your mother.”
This was the most full-circle moment of my life. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me. I cried for six hours.
When I walk through our refuge it is the small details that have the power to move me. On the day we ran I had to leave behind a crocheted blanket my grandmother had made for me; it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase. We had a group of local women crochet blankets for each bed in our home for the women and children to keep. Having something
special of their own, that has been made with love, will be more valued than most people realise.
I’ve done many things I’m proud of. I started my own business, I founded a charity for deaf children after my son was born with a hearing impairment, and I’ve been involved in local and federal politics.
I’m just a girl from the suburbs who never should have achieved all of this. But I’m grateful for every moment.