Vigil

It was cold and clear as we walked across Princes Park. My friend Joe said “I guess we go in this direction” and my daughter Emily said, “let’s just follow the people”. There was a steady stream of people heading to the Vigil being held in remembrance of Eurydice Dixon, who was raped and murdered last week. She was a young aspiring comedian, so there was a lot of media attention about her murder. Clumsy comments from the police, that ignored broader societal issues of violence against women, also ignited a debate about respect for women. Princes Park is also well frequented iconic park, that many people have great attachment to.

But tonight was to remember, pay respects, show solidarity and reclaim public spaces for everyone. A small spontaneous memorial had been created at the point that she was found. We had teams of volunteers over the weekend available to have a listen to people who want to talk. The amazing Damo was making sure everything ran smoothly. He had this pure poetry to say about some of the things that he saw:

We could see them coming across Princess Park – 30 or so young blokes, muddy, sweaty, a little sauce here and there. Just finished the most blokey of Aussie rituals – footy in a suburban park on a Saturday morning. Young they were – I’m guessing early 20s, late teens. Some a little older than the man who took Eurydice’s life, some a little younger. Fit, good-looking young men, covered in sweat and dirt and the grime of battle. With little prompting, they circled the small collection of flowers and, linking arms, teams alternating, collectively bowed their heads and were silent.

Then one of the coaches says this, “Boys, take a moment. I want you all to think about the women in your life.”

Not the important women, all the women. We all watched. We were all silent.

A minute later, restless boots starting to shuffle, the coach says, nearly to himself, “this is a fucking disgrace.” And they left. Media took photos, did an interview. And they were gone.

I went out to Princess Park on Saturday, in an official capacity. We met some amazing people, heard some great stories, wiped away quite a few tears. Lots of people are now in possession of a hand-made Teddy. It was bloody cold, but the love of that community in Carlton North was heart-warming. People told us stories of how they knew Eurydice – a 40ish woman who served her at a shop, a lady whose son grew up with her – and they told us stories of the Park, and how much it is part of their community. The local fireys came and laid some flowers. A lady came and folded an origami crane and left it. Fathers brought their sons. Mums and girlfriends and complete strangers came and were silent and tearful and respectful.

I don’t know the coach or the kids; i don’t know any history. But the coach saw an opportunity from a terrible, horrific tragedy, and made those boys recognise it, respect it, reflect on that moment, and the women in their lives.

My Mate John Richardson posted something on the Book of Faces last week in response to the ham-fisted social media post released by VicPol in the wake of the death of Eurydice Dixon in Princess Park. I’m nowhere near as elegant or eloquent, so let me summarise “Blokes, stop being dicks. Parents, bring up good boys. Society, stop victim-blaming.” (Apologies to John. Go read the post at bottom).

The coach or those young blokes will probably never read this. That’s ok. I just wanted to share with you the moment that a bit of hope hammered its way in to an old bloke’s jaded heart”

AS I’ve written previously, these sort of tributes allow us to make a little bit of sense of the horrible events, to come together and share the sadness and the hope.

Tonight’s vigil was a simple affair. The floodlight soccer pitch. A crowd that was mainly young. Possibly 15,000 there. All rugged up. People sharing candles. A welcome to country, and then the floodlights were out. The white light transitioned to a warm orange flow of the candles against the night blue sky. Then we stood in silence. For 20mins. There was a peace, as everyone was just focussed in the moment. People hugging, people not. Candles flickering. Collective breath into the cold night air.

Yet the sounds of the city remained in the background, keeping us connected with the outside world. Sounds of the city. A light aircraft. The sound of a baby crying. Dogs barking. A tram bell dinging, and the ever present hum of traffic taking people home. It was a time to reflect on the tragic events, take stock, of what happened here, and what happens every week, somewhere. It’s not often you are still for 20minutes, in such an invigorating climate. I think of Lisa St Clair, my school friend, who left her husband, and when she returned to the house to collect some of her belongings, he stabbed her to death. I think of the sobs of the woman on night shift I nursed whose husband lay in wait for her as she returned home, and beat her with an iron pipe. My friend’s daughter who was attacked in broad daylight, just out for a jog, and a man thought it was OK to grab her. This is what women deal with, every day. This is why we have too many vigils.

It was overwhelmingly a young crowd. Perhaps because they identified with Eurydice. I also wondered if, in our increasingly secular society, that younger people have little chance to come together like this, be still, and be part of something bigger, humanity.

Then the sounds of a choir in the distance, and we can just make out the strains of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.  Then each in their own time, start to move. No thankyous, no its over. People left to make their own decisions when they have paid their respects.

I think of the hope that I have, that we continue to come together when it matters,  when we see poor behaviour, at the ballot box, and keep the pressure on, and that with that pressure, change will come, we won’t have to have these vigils into the future.

Thanks to Damian Moloney for allowing me to share his wonderful words.

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