real life

"I'd never seen Mum cry like she did that day." A letter to my late sister, Vicki Cleary.


This story deals with domestic abuse and might be triggering for some readers.

Phil Cleary lost his sister Vicki to domestic violence in 1987. Here is his open letter to her.

Dear Vicki,

How are you, gorgeous girl? I’m always thinking about you. Small of frame, but big of presence, dispensing love and humour like confetti at a wedding. Alongside Mum and Dad at the footy, defending me from the traducers.

Remember the cake they brought out after my 200th game at Coburg in 1987 and how you blew out all the candles before I had a chance to draw breath? 

You were a special woman, young Vick. No wonder grandmother Gladys put pen to paper the day you were born. 

I’ll just read a couple of lines: ‘I can’t tell you in words, Lorna, just how happy I am for you at the moment... I don’t think it has really set in with me yet, but I will have to wait until I see her...my heart is so full for you...I think you have been rewarded for your goodness and I love you so much’. 

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Lorna Cleary’s first daughter, after four boys. 

What joy you brought into the world! Baby Vicki on my knee in the back of that old Ford leaving the Sacred Heart Hospital behind as we headed home to that brick veneer alongside the Merri Creek Mum had made home for all the kids in Shore Grove. 

I’ll never forget how Dad swept you up and got you to the Children’s Hospital after Elma Seidler’s car nearly ended your life in 1965, and how you wailed, the lament haunting us as we retreated down the corridor after every hospital visit. Yet when the cast came off, you ran just as you did that day in front of Elma’s car.

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You were always quick, Vicki. 

In the street, on the running track or the netball court, and in the backyard with a cricket bat in hand. Quicker on the pitch than those boys in the Darcy Doyle print, The Cricket Match, you proudly laid out on Mum’s kitchen table. 

How many children had you cuddled and beguiled with a story that Thursday in the second last week of August 1987 when you scrambled off the North Coburg tram and charmed Sarah and Beth with those joyous words.

Your long dark hair, rich and vibrant in the soft and fading winter light. Your blue eyes, piercing and satisfied, as if you’d just conquered the world. My daughters mesmerised as you touched and enticed them. 

How blessed I was to be your big brother! I wish I’d told you that day how much I admired you and the letter you’d put under your new boyfriend’s windscreen wipers: ‘Thank you for a great couple of weeks, Chris.  

I’ll miss you something terrible but I’ll be with you in spirit... I hope that you work everything out in New Zealand...I can’t tell you enough how happy I’ve been. It’s a great feeling... I’ll miss you but I’ll keep in touch. All my love, Vicki xx’.    

Our sister, a mere 25 years of age. So easy to love and so loving. I can see it in those big hardback, ornate books on American Indians and gardening, and the complete works of Henry Lawson you bought for Mum. 

I know how much you loved that picture of the Drover’s Wife, arms around her son after conquering that embodiment of evil, a ferocious black snake. 

The Drover’s Wife, our mum and her daughter writ large. But it’s a picture that makes me a little sad, for it causes me to think of that grim morning in the hospital when we lost you to the man of evil who took your joyful life. 

I’d never seen Mum cry like she did that day and cry she did every time she wrote about you in her diaries and lamented how patriarchal justice abandoned you.

How she cried when she wrote this last letter to you: ‘My Darling Vicki I think of you often, always with tears in my eyes and wonder why it had to be. Life has been very hard for me to carry on and be normal and the strain of it all gets to me... I need you, my Vicki, to be with us all, but I know that is impossible. Unfortunately, the worst thoughts of your death attack my heart overshadowing the beautiful life you had growing up. You dear Vicki, were always a beautiful child, a young girl such a beautiful and compassionate nature... Mummy.’

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I don’t really know whether you heard the eulogy I delivered when we lowered you into the soft earth all those years ago, so I’ll just repeat the last few words:

Our sister’s name will not fade

Instead, it will spring from the lips

And the hearts of all who said I knew her

And fade it has not, Vicki; you, the young woman who stripped Justicia and the lawmen of their patriarchal blindfolds and changed my life and the lives of so many women forever. 

You, young Vicki, whose name will ring out on Vicki Cleary Day at Coburg on June 19, 35 years after we lost you. You, young Vicki, who continues to inspire campaigners against men’s violence everywhere.

Vicki Cleary, Ron and Lorna’s beautiful child, lost but forever alive. 

Phil

Feature Image: Supplied.

May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month and, at Mamamia, we're sharing women's stories of bravery and courage. If you have the means, please donate to RizeUp to help women and families move on after the devastation of domestic violence.

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.

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The Men’s Referral Service is also available on 1300 766 491 or via online chat at www.ntv.org.au.www.ntv.org.au.