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.”
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.