In October 2020 Christine Holgate once again became a household name. This time for all the wrong reasons.
The high-performing CEO of Australia Post had been publicly humiliated from the dispatch box by then Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and effectively forced out of her job by Post Chair, Lucio di Bartolemeo for rewarding employees with $20,000 worth of watches. In her words, she had been thrown under a bus and it then reversed back over her. Or as she more succinctly puts it now, she became the “victim of a theatre to distract from a corrupt government.”
Today on the NSW Central Coast, Christine relieved the incident and fall-out that followed, including giving evidence to a bruising and highly charged Senate Inquiry at which she accused the two men of abuse and bullying her out of the job. Speaking at a breakfast event titled “Work-Related Gendered Violence & Challenging the Patriarchal Agenda”, Holgate was powerful, passionate and deeply personal.
She led with anecdotes of growing up in the UK with her sister, who was subjected to ongoing domestic abuse, but kept returning to her abuser, despite the best efforts of her family to keep her safe. She told us how Edward, the son of her now-dead sister (who passed away from cancer in 2008 when her son was just two) had seen the AFR cartoon of her portrayed as a prostitute leaving Scott Morrison’s bedroom and called her to ask what was going on – and how this tipped her over the edge. Holgate has said publicly that the ordeal had left her suicidal, but that she has been helped every day by the hundreds of messages and calls of support she has received.
Christine is a numbers lady – and she knows all the statistics when it comes to the disparity in economic and social indicators between men and women in Australia. The yawning gap in leadership roles, salary and superannuation between men and women and the appalling statistics regarding domestic abuse, family violence and homelessness. Numbers that “nobody living in this country can be proud of”, numbers that result from "long term structural problems that need to be addressed.”
Christine was followed on the stage by one of those numbers. A woman, Kristy, who spent 20 years being gaslighted and violently abused by her husband to the point she was literally broken – no family, no friends, no hope. A repeating theme in her awful narrative was how everyone wrote her off as a crazy lady, a drug addict, and how her husband perpetuated the myth, including grooming their eldest son and reporting her to the Police for abuse.
I left that breakfast table asking “where were we as a community when she needed us to lean in and ask if she was ok, to knock on her door because we noticed her children hadn’t been playing in the yard or her windows were boarded up, to waylay her as she caught a bus or stood in her yard with bruises under her make-up or wearing a jumper in summer. Where were we? Where were her supporters who reached out as they had done to Christine with messages of support, advice, contacts, a place of safety.
We all have a role to play in making our society and communities safer. In stepping outside our comfort zones and intervening when we see someone in distress, asking if our work colleague with unusually heavy make-up on is really ok? Stepping in to support young vulnerable women when you see something that makes you look twice. Not turning a blind eye, having the courage to call out abusive and threatening behaviour and sharing your story. Just as Christine and Kristy are doing.
Helpful Tips from 1800RESPECT to help you spot the signs and start a conversation with someone you think might be a victim of family or domestic abuse.
- They become more withdrawn and stop going out and spend less time with friends and family.
- They’re worried about making their partner angry and make excuses for the partner’s negative behaviour.
- They’re focused on timeframes that revolve around the partner. For example, they’re fixated on getting home because their partner is due home soon.
- They seem scared or wary around their partner.
- They may feel that they are being watched or followed in some way
For the person using abuse or violence, it’s often subtle things that indicate an unbalanced level of power and control in the relationship. You might notice that:
- The abuser may act in ways that make the other person scared.
- They get very angry when the other person doesn’t follow their wishes.
- Their conversations with their partner will often revolve around control of their partner.
- They may use threats or put-downs to intimidate and control their partner
If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, you can call these support services, 24 hours, 7 days:
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467