'I'm a mum from Ballarat. Last night I marched for our murdered women.'

This story discusses domestic violence. 

In my daughter's bedroom is a framed photo of my sister Coco at the 2017 Melbourne Women's Day March. The photo was taken only a couple of weeks after I'd given birth to my first child, and I remember Coco texting it through from the protest frontline while I sat at home grappling with my newborn.

In the photo, Coco is holding a sign which reads, "I'm marching for my niece. I'm marching for the next generation."

That year's march was particularly poignant. On January 21, the Women's March brought millions of people to the streets of their hometowns – a global response to the election of President Donald Trump, and an Inauguration Day message to the world that equality and women's rights matter, and that sexism, abuse and misogyny should never be tolerated. It was the largest single-day protest in US history, sparking hundreds of global rallies. 

This mood of solidarity was repeated at Women's Day events around the world.

Fast forward seven years and we are still marching for women's rights and calling for government reform. We are still chanting for a better future so that our nieces and daughters don't have to imagine their names and faces ending up in news headlines, synonymous with violence and tragedy.

On Friday night, I marched because three women in my hometown Ballarat have been allegedly murdered – Rebecca Young, Samantha Murphy and Hannah McGuire.


Hannah McGuire, Rebecca Young and Samantha Murphy. Image: Supplied.

When the snap rally was announced earlier in the week, I thought about taking my now seven-year-old daughter. I kept thinking about the rally's message. How could I articulate its purpose without frightening her?

Last year, the Voice to Parliament rally's purpose was clear: we walked to show our love and support for the Wadawurrung people. But Friday night's rally presented a different challenge. This time it was personal. We are marching because we are being murdered. We are marching because we fear for our lives. We are marching because we can't walk and run alone in Ballarat's streets, parks, bush trails. We are marching because we are grieving. We are marching because we are raging.


For the past two months, I have worked hard to minimise my daughter's exposure to what's been happening in Ballarat. I stopped listening to AM radio on the commute to school and opted for Taylor Swift instead. I have delayed watching the 7pm ABC news bulletin until she is asleep. And when I have talked to friends and family about the recent tragedies, it's been in hushed tones and never within earshot.

I worry all the time that she's going to find out about the killings. And, what do you tell a seven-year-old about a kind woman called Samantha who went out for a run one day and did not come home? How do you explain how a beautiful girl named Hannah, who was not much younger than our beloved nanny, was found in a burnt-out car, allegedly murdered at the hands of a man who told her he loved her? Or why, another mother named Rebecca, who had six children and a grandchild, was allegedly murdered in her own home?

On Friday night, I decided at the last minute to leave my daughter at home with her dad, in front of a movie and a pizza box. And while she and her siblings watched The Greatest Showman for the ninth time this school holidays, I hit the streets, joining the hundreds of other Ballarat residents who showed up to the rally organised by the formidable Djab Wurrung woman, Indigenous rights' campaigner and community leader, Sissy Austin.


The rally started at the train station. And although we arrived 15 minutes early, the area was already packed. Hundreds of people piled into the car park, pouring out on to the street, stopping traffic in both directions. There were women and men of all ages, and many held banners and signs. Some pushed prams, others carried flowers and candles, and many clutched on to the arms of their friends and family members. There were lots of tears and an emotional heaviness.

The women of Ballarat are calling for change. Image: Supplied.


As we walked through Ballarat's heritage-lined streets, past my daughter's favourite hang out spots – the bookshop, the art gallery, her favourite café—Sissy Austin, armed with a megaphone, passionately shouted, "What do we want? Women's safety! When do we want it? Now!"

The walk finished at a popular gathering place where three easels prominently displayed the photographs of Rebecca, Samantha and Hannah.

We then listened to an extraordinary lineup of speakers, from government ministers and councillors to frontline workers and representatives from domestic shelters. Among them were CEOs and feminist advocates such as Clementine Ford. Local musicians and sisters, Maggie and Rose, performed a beautiful rendition of Hidden Ones by Missy Higgins.

But the most heart-wrenching moments of the night were when the family members of the women spoke about their loved ones. Rebecca Young's sisters and mother talked about how Rebecca's "banter would light up the room", and her unwavering dedication to motherhood. They spoke of the unimaginable pain of moving forward without her and reiterated that violence against women can never be justified.

Michael Murphy, Samanatha's husband, initially hadn't planned to speak to the crowd of over 1000 people but felt compelled upon seeing the overwhelming turnout.


"If you see someone doing something wrong, let someone else know, let the authorities know," he urged. Michael expressed gratitude to the community, the police, and the media for amplifying their messages.

"Ballarat is not usually like this, it's a beautiful place. I've lived here my whole life, everybody looks out for everybody... it's a community where people want to live, it's just so nice," Michael declared.

As Michael finished speaking, the crowd began to chant: "Bring Sam home!"

After the rally, I walked with my friend back home, along the dark tree-lined streets. I waited with her until her lift arrived. Once inside, I snuck into my sleeping daughter's bedroom to have another look at the photo of her aunt. I will never know whether it was the right thing to leave her at home tonight. I'll also never know when the right time is to tell her about the events that transpired in Ballarat during the 61 days between February and April 2024. I'll never know when I should broach the subject of safety in numbers or why she should not tolerate a sexist joke or put up with the phrase, "boys will be boys".

I remember when my sister texted me the photograph. Amidst the chaos of nappies and breastfeeding, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride. I was hopeful for the future, and I was excited for my daughter to be part of it. Little did I know, by the close of that very year, the #MeToo movement would catalyse a profound transformation in women’s workplace experience and confront corporate sexism head-on.


When I reflect on that photo, it's tempting to think that little progress has been made in seven years but that wouldn't be true. Change, though slow, is underway. It may seem to move at a glacial pace but beneath the surface it's happening.

As I walk the streets of our resilient community, a community united in pride and sorrow, I find comfort in the belief that tomorrow holds promise for my daughter. She lives in a city that cares deeply, a city that shows up, that stands in solidarity, that marches shoulder to shoulder. A city that is bruised but not defeated. A city that is striving for a better future for our daughters and sons. A city that boldly declares: "No more! And, enough is enough!"

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most. If you would like to support their mission you can donate here

Feature Image: Supplied.