Ann was asleep in her WA home when her ex-husband broke in and shot her two children.

Ann O’Neill has a confident, warm demeanor and a genuine interest in the people she meets. When I arrive alone to a function at the Prime Minister’s traditional Sydney residence, Kirribilli House, she is the first person to approach me and strike up a chat.

We talk about the house, the view, her trip over from Perth – the simple pleasantries of small talk. A little while later, O’Neill is introduced to the room by Lucy Turnbull, who is hosting the event as a brand new ambassador for the national organisation tackling violence against women and children, Our Watch.

O’Neill has joined Our Watch as an ambassador as well.

She steps up to the podium to give a brief speech, one she had told me lightheartedly earlier that she hadn’t really prepared for.

She begins by saying she never wanted to be a domestic violence victim’s advocate.

“I never expected to be lying in my bed sleeping, when my estranged husband came and shot our two children, Kyle and Latisha, attempted to kill me and committed suicide in front of me.

“I then didn’t expect to wake up in my hospital bed after they amputated my right leg to hear the media saying what a nice guy he was and that he hadn’t seen the children that weekend, even though he’d returned them at 6.30.

“I hadn’t been prepared for the only thing for media to say about me was that I kept a neat cottage.”

Ann O'Neill at the Our Watch event at Kirribilli House. Photograph by Rick Stevens

At this point, O'Neill looked up again from her notes and said: "I really want to be messy now, but my OCD won't let me."

We all laughed with her, as she said something about humour being a salve, before returning to her speech.

"The most common question I got asked was 'what did you do to "make" him do that'?

"I figured out a really smart arse answer to that, some fifteen years later: 'I happened to be breathing, and I think that’s what really pissed him off'."

Since these horrible things happened to O'Neill 20 years ago, she has completed a PhD, founded angelhands, a non-for-profit organisation assisting victims of trauma in her home state of Western Australia, and never stopped pushing for changes to the way we talk about family violence in this country.


Speaking directly to the media at Kirribilli House that night, O'Neill continued: "When survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault share our most precious and vulnerable moments with you, we hope we can trust you to accurately describe our experience with care and respect.

"It is then that the injustice of our predicament is validated, our healing is enhanced, our survivorship is honoured, the community better educated and a safer community is created."

O'Neill then pivots to the main game: Stopping the violence in its tracks.

She says Australia is at a pivotal moment "when it comes to violence against women and their children".

"There are community organisations, businesses, governments and individuals putting their hands up to stop violence against women before it starts."

O'Neill is one of a number of new Our Watch ambassadors, alongside Turnbull, Julia Zemiro, Tara Moss, Tasma Walton, disability advocate Sue Salthouse, chairman of the West Coast Eagles Alan Cransberg and other survivor advocates, Tarang Chawla, Rebecca Poulson, Rachel Kayrooz and Arman Abrahimzadeh.

Her story is a powerful reminder not just of how far Australian society has come in understanding and combating domestic violence, but also how much further we have to go.

In her own speech Natasha Stott-Despoja, Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls, and the chair of Our Watch, drives that message home once more.

"One in four Australian women will experience intimate partner violence," she says.

"On average one woman a week is killed by her partner. One a week."

We know the statistics. And women like O'Neill know the reality. She tells her story so that the message gets out there, far and wide.

"It's only then that Australian women and their children will live free from fear."

If this post brings up 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. It doesn’t matter where you live: They will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.