The young women growing up in one of the poorest places in Australia.

The North West coast of Tasmania is one of the most naturally beautiful places in the country, but despite being home to a wealth of greenery it’s one of the poorest.

Between the beaches and bushland, nearly a third of young people in the area have lived through family violence, with the average age of children escaping violence just two and half.

“It’s ridiculously young,” says Elspeth Blunt who is the producer of Project O, a program tackling the issue of violence with a group of 20 young women from Wynyard, a town not far from the city of Burnie.

One of the participants, Emily Shires, 14, admits people don’t expect much from girls from the town.

“They don’t have a good reputation,” she says.

“[Violence] has torn communities apart, and it’s an issue for all of us because now we are seen as this community with family violence. We’re more than that.”

Emily Shires. Source: Supplied

The town of Wynyard is in the electorate of Braddon, which the government calls a domestic violence "hot spot". It's the poorest electorate, in the poorest state in the country.

Nearby Burnie has the highest youth unemployment rate in the country, around 21 per cent, and the number of Newstart recipients has jumped by 40 per cent in the last five years.

Statistically, teenage girls like Emily are twice as likely to have unwanted pregnancies and only half of them will finish year 12, but that's not the story they want told nor is it the one they're writing for themselves.

Which is where Project O comes in.

Focussed on generational change, the program gives young women skills to equip them for the future, the benefits of which will feed back into their struggling community.


"Twenty young women a year for five years? That’s 100 powerful women in the community," Elspeth says.

In the early days of the program she asked the group, who are all high school students aged between 14 and 15, to close their eyes and put up their hands if they knew someone affected by family violence, whether physical, emotional or financial. Almost all of them did.

More than half revealed they'd been directly affected by it, while a quarter revealed they'd spent time in a women's shelter or crisis accommodation.

Briannon Crole, Lauren Street Angel Beltane and Izzi Ward are all part of Project O. Source: Supplied

According to Emily, "there are lots of people who are afraid to talk about family violence.

"It happens to a lot of people, a lot of people don’t talk about their own experiences, then they grow up and the cycle continues, or they feel powerless.

"I grew up a lot around family violence and poverty was a big problem for my family, but it’s nice to be able to make a change now."

She wants to be an events manager, a career she only learned existed when she became involved with Project O last year.

Another girl involved, Izzi Ward, 14, says it's inspired her to become a photographer -- something she hadn't thought was possible.

She says a difficult childhood doesn't define her and wants her little sisters to grow up knowing they can do anything they want.

"I think we’ve all had our own experiences with [family violence] ... We don’t all talk about it, but we all know that we kind of experienced it," she says.


"I think people need to know that a lot of us have had difficult experiences or childhoods but that doesn't define us as who we are and we can achieve what we put our minds to."

Izzi Ward. Source: Supplied

The girls from Project O are currently in the midst of organising a 24-hour Colourathon, which has already raised thousands of dollars for local women's refuges and will provide play therapy for the kids who stay in them.

More than that, they're hoping it will make state and federal policy makers take notice.

"We’re trying to build a community that has more opportunities for women in the community, we want the things we say not just to acknowledged but acted upon," they say.

As Elspeth points out, discussions of family violence often happen in the abstract — it's something happening to someone else, some place we've never been — but that's just not the reality.

It's a national issue, happening in homes all over the country and it needs a national platform.

So far, Project O has captured the attention of the Tasmanian Commissioner for Children and even the federal Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash.

When she heard about it she asked to be briefed and is potentially looking at a ways to roll out similar projects interstate.

"These young women they’re at the forefront of this issue," Elspeth says, "they're providing a lot of inspiration not only in their own community but on a national level as well."

You can find out more about Project O and 24-hour Colourathon and donate here.

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