I’ve been away from here for a while.
To begin with it was because of the usual, boring, too much work, too busy type of things. And then it was for more significant reasons.
I’ve been wanting to come back for a while. But have been held back by the usual, boring, too much work, too busy type of things. And the flu.
What’s made me come back is my Mum. Last night I took my Mum and my sister-in-law to South Pacific. I am not really a fan of The Musical. The odd drunken sing-a-long with Grease or The Sound of Music, fine, but most of the time it’s not my thing. My Mum and sister-in-law love them, however, and I saw an opportunity for a Good Daughter night out with Mum and a good 40th birthday present for my sister-in-law, leaving my brother at home with the kids. I was obviously in something of a fog due to other things and booked it for Grand Final Night, but ignoring that it was a great night.
We went out for Japanese before the show. My Mum has never really had Japanese food before, which surprised me somewhat because even though she doesn’t get out that much, she’s always been creative with food. She comes from a diverse culinary background and we always ate a wide variety of cuisines. Even my sister-in-law, a ‘retired’ chef, hadn’t spent that much time with Japanese food. This made for a pleasant evening as I ordered everything and they loved everything.
That, however, is an aside. Over dinner talk turned, inevitably, to something Mum and I had already discussed on the phone when organising said dinner: Jill Meagher.
I am a 40 year-old woman (something that happened in the last couple of months in addition to everything else). I have lived alone most of my adult life.
I have walked home from work or going out, or to or from public transport, or to find a taxi, in the inner city, in the dark, at all hours, for more than 15 years.
This has always worried my Mum. Always.
Even though this to me is simply Life.
I live in the inner city. I work long hours which frequently mean that I go home from work, not to mention to work, in the dark. I’ve been known to stay out for a drink, or five, and make my way home. Most of the time alone. Many, many times via public transport and/or walking.
Especially as I didn’t own a car for 8 years.
Over the last 15.5 years I have lived in Parkville (12 months), North Melbourne (7 years), Brunswick (5.5 years) and now Coburg (2 years).
I have and do walk these streets alone all the time. During the day, at night. I was in the block where Jill Meagher disappeared on both days over last weekend. One of my close friends lives around the corner. I regard it as ‘my neighbourhood’.
My Mum’s first question to me the other day was to confirm that I now drive to and from work everyday. I do. If I didn’t I am certain she would have demanded that I immediately start.
Until 3 months ago, even having acquired a car again in the last couple of years, I still took the tram to work every morning and the train home every night. I still walked through Coburg to the tram every morning, and from the train every night.
I recently acquired a parking space in the city, near my office, for only two reasons: (i) having lived very close to the tram stop in Brunswick for years, a 15 minute walk to the tram/train was eating major time into my already long work days; and (ii) my personal circumstances a few months back required me to able to leave the office at any time and get places quickly, which public transport could not facilitate.
My personal safety had nothing to do with it.
Nevertheless, my Mum’s comment was “thank goodness you drive every day. If you didn’t already you’d have to now.”
I balked at that. Why would I have to now?
“You have to be careful, it’s only a small adjustment,” said Mum.
Are you kidding?
In full discussion on Saturday night, my sister in law and I had to point out to Mum that, no matter how much she was worried, and no matter how much we appreciated that, switching from public transport and walking to driving was a massive change of life. And that no matter how awful, how close to home, how tragic, and how evil what happened to Jill Meagher was, it should not – for anyone – require a change of life.
I also saw a tweet during the week from someone that I am sure only had everyone’s best a heart. It said something along the lines of ‘if you’re a guy and you see a woman walking alone at night, respect her feeling of vulnerability and cross the street to walk on the other side of the road’.
I’m sorry, but no. No.
As a woman, walking alone on the streets at night, I pay attention to the people around me. I do not feel automatically nervous if a man, or group of them, are around me. They’re allowed to be on the street as much as I am. I do not expect them to cross the road to avoid me.
I pay attention. I am vigilant. Sometimes I am uncomfortable and I change my behavior. Sometimes I move to the other side of the road.
Most of the time there is nothing. Nothing at all.
As it should be.
It is true, though, that I was once assaulted on the street.
In Little Collins St, at 5pm, on a weekday, in broad daylight, by a troubled, probably drunken woman, who didn’t like my expression and punched me, unprovoked, in the nose and kept on walking. Fortunately I was on my way to the pub and could apply a pint to the punched area and avoid a black eye or two.
The thing is, something similar once happened to my Dad, out walking the dog with his wife in front of the Children’s Hospital. Someone going passed just punched him in the nose.
You can pay attention, you can be vigilant. Sometimes these things just happen.
What happened to Jill Meagher was horrific. Awful, inconceivable, tragic. It makes me tremendously sad. I listen to ABC local radio every day in the car, driving to and from work, and listening to her colleagues made it feel even closer than it already did because it occurred in my neighbourhood.
But it was random.
No matter how much my Mum would like it, and regard it as not much of a change, I am not changing my life because of it. I will not.
I should not be required to drive everywhere or stay home because of an evil or troubled or ill bastard.
Seeing tens of thousands of people out on Sydney Road today paying tribute to Jill Meagher and taking over the street again brought tears to my eyes and made me so pleased.
I should not feel that I need to change my life because I am a woman alone who frequently walks on the street in the dark. No matter how much my Mum worries about me.
I won’t. I can’t. I should not have to. I won’t. No more than any guy walking on the street at night should feel compelled to cross to road in order to make a woman walking alone feel safe. He won’t. He can’t. He shouldn’t have to.