Tiny white coffins. A young woman killed by a man she was trying to help. A mother still struggling to work out why her daughter was taken more than 30 years ago.
Broken hearts that will never heal.
This is the real pandemic in Australia – one that has claimed more than 2200 women and children.
They are deaths that consume award-winning journalist Sherele Moody who has spent much of her own personal time detailing and documenting them in her crusade against senseless violence.
On Tuesday, women and men from across Queensland and beyond gathered for the launch of All That Remains, the Red Heart Campaign’s memorial website to women and children lost to violence.
For Moody, the memorial is deeply personal.
“We all have a moment in our lives that either breaks us – or makes us. My moment started on May 22, 1990 when my mother’s husband abducted, raped and murdered nine-year-old Stacey-Ann Tracy in Roma,” she tells those gathered.
“His name was Barry Hadlow. He was a convicted child killer who was on parole for the murder of five-year-old Sandra Bacon in Townsville when he chose to end Stacey’s life.
“His actions were life altering for many people – for Stacey’s family, for her friends and for myself and my family.
“And that impact continues to be felt today. Stacey’s death lead me down the path of journalism and her death is a key part of why I advocate to end violence.”
The memorial website features tiny red hearts for the children lost and larger hearts for women taken too soon.
Behind each of the hearts are details of the tragic stories, like that of toddler Hemi Goodwin-Burke who was beaten to death by his babysitter Matthew James Irelend.
Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi over a two-hour period while babysitting him at the family home in Moranbah in March 2015.
The little boy’s body was covered in 78 bruises from being kicked and punched repeatedly.
Hemi’s grandmother Lyn told this week’s memorial launch of how Hemi’s mother raced into a plane in her pyjamas to get to her son in hospital before he died.
“I drove 800 kilometres to get there, tried very hard not to kill anyone or myself.”
She said it was still hard to relay the impact of what happened.
“Do I tell you about my son having to turn his son’s life support off, how he held him and felt his last breath taken?”
“Do I tell you about everyone else crying, the doctors, the nurses, even everyone else in the other rooms at the hospital?
“Do I tell you about the police coming and taking his body because that was now evidence?
“He was tagged and bagged and taken.”
Ireland had his charge downgraded from murder to manslaughter with a sentence of just four years for the death of the 18-month-old.
Judith Anderson, the mother of Annette Mason, is still clearly haunted by the death of her daughter in Toowoomba in 1989.
Annette, just 15, was found concealed under a doona in a sunroom of of a house she shared with two other women at 131 Anzac Ave.
No one has ever been charged with her murder.
Judith told of how she had moved to the Gold Coast for work so she could get bond money together to get a home for her family.
She returned on weekends and the plan was for Annette to move to the Gold Coast as well before she was killed in a crime that shocked the Darling Downs.
Judith struggled for the right words to say as she told of the family’s quest for inquests to discover who was responsible for her daughter’s death.
But her message was powerful as the emotion in her voice: the violence must stop and those responsible must be brought to justice.
‘We really don’t have a justice system, we have a legal system’
Sonia Anderson, whose daughter Bianca Faith Girven was strangled to death by a man she was trying to help, told the launch Australia didn’t have a justice system but a legal system.
Bianca was murdered by her boyfriend, Rhys Austin, in 2010 at the foot of Brisbane’s Mount Gravatt Lookout.
The two 22-year-olds had been the best friends since high school.
On that horror night, under a full moon, Austin told Bianca to jump in the back of a van because he wanted to tell her a secret.
“He said, ‘You are going to die’,” Sonia told The Australian. “He wrapped himself around her so she couldn’t struggle and he said, ‘You’re not going to survive this’.”
He never went to trial for Bianca’s murder after being found of unsound mind. He claimed he was driven by voices in his head.
Adding to the pain was the fact that his psychiatrist wrote a book detailing the crime.
Sonia sat through a book launch and admits losing it.
“For the first time in my life I publicly lost my cool.
“I just had to hide because I had been betrayed and humiliated.”
Even as the mother of the victim, she was not given access to the psychiatric reports on Bianca’s killer.
More than 10 years later, Sonia is still going through court cases resulting from her daughter’s murder.
“There is no closure after murder,” she says.
Since then, she’s been consumed by campaigning for change.
“I actually thought I was going to make a difference and it would stop,” she says of her initial naivety.
But she also knows that Bianca’s story, and her relentless campaigning, help to convince the Queensland Government to introduce the nation’s first ‘non-lethal strangulation” laws that recognise “choking, strangling and suffocating in a domestic setting” as a serious criminal offence with a maximum penalty of seven years’ jail.
She says Bianca, who even as a young woman was passionate about helping homeless women and victims of violence, would have been among those who gathered for the memorial launch this week had she been alive today.
‘This is a wake-up call to all of us’
Queensland Great and veteran television journalist Kay McGrath, who hosted the launch, paid tribute to the incredible work of Moody in creating the memorial.
McGrath, who co-chairs the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council, said Australia had to show the same resolve and urgency in fighting violence against women and children as it had with tackling COVID-19.
She said the The Red Heart Campaign’s memorial was a “really graphic and horrifying picture of the extent of violence against women and children.”
“This is a wake-up call to all of us when you see the powerful image of the lives lost and you hear the stories behind these hearts.”
“Here we have got another pandemic that has been raging in Australia and around the world for countless years – that is the murder of women and children.
“So why is it as a society we can’t harness the energy, the outrage, the courage and the strength to call out this violence in a similar way that we are tackling a health pandemic.”
“It is really time that we understood the severity and impact of these deaths on individuals on families and on communities.”
“It starts around the kitchen table. It starts with role modelling in the family homes and it goes out into the community, into the schools, into the workplaces, into government, into the corporations.”
“If each and every one of us begin to own the issue, we can and we will end the violence against women and children.”
IN HER OWN WORDS, SHERELE MOODY TELLS OF MEMORIAL
Sherele Moody writes below about her work building the memorial
Over the past five years I have – as of today – researched and documented the unlawful killings of 2281 women and children.
In August last year, I asked my friends and supporters to take a huge leap of faith by investing in a crowd-funding campaign.
My dream was to build the world’s first fully interactive online memorial to women and children lost to murder, manslaughter and other forms of violence.
That crowd-funding campaign raised a little over $16,000. I set aside some of the money for the artworks on this site.
The images you see on the Memorial were created by artist, lawyer, anti-violence advocate and incredible warrior Amani Haydar. Amani’s artwork and her advocacy is inspired by her mum Salwah, who was murdered by her dad.
The rest of the money raised was used to fund the website development undertaken by Sunshine Coast-based Digital Nomads HQ.
Myself and the Digital Nomads crew met in September last year. During that meeting I gave them a very concise brief.
Over the following months they created a program from scratch that would import all of the stories of violent deaths that I had written.
They created the incredible user interface – that is the wall of interactive hearts – and we are still working together to improve the memorial’s functionality.
The memorial was designed to show the impact of violence on Australia – behind each interactive red heart sits the story of a woman or child killed in Australia or Australian victims killed overseas.
You can hover over a heart to see some brief info about the victim for whom the heart belongs. Then tap the heart to read the victim’s story, access media reports and to see their photos. Large hearts are for women and small hearts are for children.
Where possible the names of victims and their photos are used. But for the victims who cannot be identified, we have two brilliant images created by Amani.
This ongoing journalism-based story-driven project aims to document and commemorate every Australian woman and child killed unlawfully from white settlement to current day.
The memorial has a strong statistical element. I designed the project to deliver data breakdowns in what I believe is Australia’s first real femicide and child death census.
This is what the data extracted from the memorial tells us:
NSW is the most dangerous state to be a woman or child in Australia. It has the highest number of women and children killed.
It is closely followed by Victoria and Queensland. The ACT is the safest place in the country for women and children.
53% of the women and children documented on the memorial were killed by family members, partners or former partners.
16% of victims were killed by strangers, 12% were killed by people known to them – for example colleagues, neighbours or clients.
Women and children are more likely to be bashed to death, with blunt force trauma involved in 25% of killings. Asphyxiation is the next most common cause of death, accounting for 15% of killings around 7% of victims were raped and 18% of deaths involved sharp objects.
It will come as no surprise to hear that the data shows gendered violence is the major problem for women and kids, with 78% of these deaths perpetrated by men. Just 7.4% of the women and children on the memorial were killed by women.
Partners, strangers, fathers and former partners were the main killers. Around 15% of the cases on the memorial are unsolved and 11% of the deaths were murder-suicides.
In creating the memorial, I used the journalism skills I have honed over the 25 or so years I have spent working in the media.
I drew on every ounce of knowledge available to ensure all the stories are sub judice proof and defamation proof.
Ensuring these stories meet basic media law standards is vital as one wrong sentence or paragraph could result in a jury being dismissed, I could go to jail for contempt or someone could sue me for defamation.
Each death is researched and documented using a wide variety of sources including first-hand accounts from family members, coroners’ reports, supreme and appeal court judgments, media archives and police sources.
Most importantly, I’ve tried to ensure the stories don’t cause extra grief for families but that they provide an appropriate level of accuracy and openness to ensure those who visit the memorial are given an honest view of the epidemic of violence against women and kids.
While the technology, the statistics and the journalism behind the memorial are important, these are not the soul of the project. The soul is in the stories of the people whose lives were erased.
The people on this site were once living breathing humans whose existence had importance for families and friends.
I know every face, every name and every story on the memorial. I know many of these victims’ families and I know the incredible trauma everyone endured.
Their lives were stolen in the most heinous of ways, leading to relentless distress, anger and turmoil.
This is most evident in the stories of nine-year-old Stacey-Ann Tracy and five-year-old Sandra Dorothy Bacon.
The memorial is a tribute to their young lives, their unfulfilled futures and the bravery of their families and friends who were forced to navigate the distress and darkness that only those touched by murder can understand.
This project is also a pledge to every Australian woman and child lost to violence – our nation cannot change your stories, but collectively, we can change the stories of those who follow in your footsteps.
Because after violence, hope is all that remains.
Mark Furler has been a journalist on the Sunshine Coast for more than 30 years. He wrote his first feature article at university on the cycle of domestic violence. Sherele Moody works as part of his team overseeing regional news sites.