There has been a lot of focus on domestic abuse and family violence this month with the focus on the White Ribbon appeal. Many brave women and even men are coming out with their stories talking about how they got out and what they had to deal with. Domestic abuse isn’t a new thing and there are many avenues of help that you can get these days if you or your loved ones are in an abusive relationship. There is always the questions later. “Why didn’t you leave sooner?” “Why did you stay?” But what about those people who suffered that couldn’t leave? Who for whatever reason wasn’t able to leave?
My mother is one of those people. She suffered domestic abuse in a time when a woman raising children on her own had a stigma against them unless they were a widow. Women who ran away from their husbands were sent right back to them. My mother had no family living in New Zealand and only his family around to help her, or not, as the case may be. There was no women’s refuge and only widows got benefits back then.
I sat down with my mother and interviewed her about her life with my father.
How did you meet?
We first met at his 21st. His cousin Bev took me, she was a Maori girl, and a couple of other girls, Mary and can’t remember the name of the other one. Then it was a couple of months before we met again. This time it was at a pub. I got there about quarter to midnight after finishing work. I was again with Bev. He came in about 10 minutes later and sat down beside me. Bev asked what he was doing and where was Esther (his wife at the time). He explained that he’d come home from work to find her in bed with another man. He’d chased the naked man down the road with a hammer.
When did you start courting?
We talked until the pub shut at 6 am and then he walked me home. We pretty much started courting then. He would work from about 6 am and finish about 4 pm and then he would come over and we would talk until it was time for me to go to work. Then he would walk me to work and go home to his parents until I finished work at 11 pm and we go to supper at The White Lady which was a caravan that sold pies and coffee. Then we’d back to my place and sit on the steps until dawn then he would go home, have a quick shower and go to work while I would go to bed to sleep.
When did you move in together?
His mother through a hissy fit. She gave him a choice. We either moved in together or we broke up. We’d been courting for a few months by then.
What would the first few years of your relationship like?
We lived virtually opposite where I used to live close to the hospital where I worked. The relationship was good. We’d talk. We’d visit family. We even went to Australia for a year.
We had come back from Australia on the 28th April and I wasn’t feeling well and went to the doctor on the 29th April and was told I was pregnant. His sister got married on 1st May. I asked him not to tell the family but he did. We were living with his father then after coming back to New Zealand. He announced it at his sister’s wedding. Nobody believed him until he told them the doctor confirmed it.
We then moved into a big 3 bedroom flat on the top floor of an old fashioned house with his father, Jeff. Jeff used to come home from work at Women’s National Hospital and hand me a glass of red wine because he insisted it was good for the baby. I didn’t like red wine so I’d tip it down the sink when he wasn’t looking. Jeff was courting his second wife, Tui, at the time.
When did things start to go bad and when did you first notice?
It was just after Geoffrey (3rdchild) was born so we’d been together for about 6 years. I suddenly noticed that I didn’t see a lot of my friends anymore. A lot of the female neighbours no longer stopped to talk to me especially when he was around. He would come home and say he’d had a row with someone and I was no longer allowed to talk to them. Then I lost 3 pregnancies in 18 months. With he last one the doctor had told me that I was confined to bed rest and wasn’t allowed to work. Graham told the doctor that he’d better hire me a nurse because he wasn’t going to look after me. We had 3 children already by then.
The insurance man turned up one day during the last pregnancy to collect the insurance money like they did in those days and looked at me while I was weeding the little garden in the front. He asked how far along I was. When I said 4 months he said I shouldn’t be doing that and I said well nobody else is going to do it for me. I lost the baby that night.
When Norma (a neighbour) died of breast cancer I’d just had Geoffrey and with 3 children couldn’t go to her funeral which was in Hamilton. He took the neighbour who had helped Norma before her death down to the funeral and they came back the next day and she never spoke to me again. We had been good friends until then. It turned out that he was propositioned her when they were down there. He’d had apparently been propositioning all the female neighbours and that was why they had stopped talking to me when he was around. I didn’t know this at the time. It was much later when you were born before I found out about all the women.
The first time he hit me, I had dug up a garden along the front of the house because there was no path then and I had saved up to purchase some very expensive bulbs over the summer with my money. I planted them in this garden during the winter time. He came home and threw a hissy fit because he didn’t want a garden there and the next thing I knew he’d dug up all my expensive bulbs, chopping them up so they couldn’t be used, and threw them in the bin. We argued about it all afternoon. I was on the bed with the 3 older kids cuddled up to me because I was still angry and crying. He came in then and started hitting me first on one arm and then the other while yelling at me. He kept punching me until I was black from shoulder to wrist on both arms. Then he went out to the lounge and sat down to watch tv.
I got up, fed the kids and put them to bed. I was still angry so I gathered up all his headache tablets and took them. It didn’t seem to do anything so I grabbed the bread knife and tried to slice my arms but it was too blunt so it didn’t do anything other than make a scratch so I went back to bed. I woke up feeling sick not long after and started vomiting into the toilet and passed out in a pool of blood on the toilet floor.
He came out, saw me in the loo and turned around to watch tv. It wasn’t until around midnight that he suddenly realised that the kids might wake up and find me so he finally rung the ambulance to take me to hospital. He told me afterwards he had left me there on purpose to punish me.
I woke up in the hospital with a cop leaning over me. They could see the bruises on my arm and they asked me why I did it. I said I was very angry and went back to sleep. I was still very groggy at the time. The next time I woke up was the next morning with Graham shaking my shoulder and telling me I had to tell the cops that I did it. I hazily said “did what” and went back to sleep. He didn’t know that the cops had already been. The next day he came in furious and asking why the nurses were treating him as a criminal and an abusive husband.
The abuse (mostly emotional and verbal) carried on for the next 8 and a bit years. He was territorial. If I so much as looked at anyone he would start. The screaming matches would escalate. The smallest things would set it off. We only ever saw his family.
He hit the roof one day when I was talking over the fence to a neighbour. One of his favourite threats was to take the kids away and I’d never see them again. After arguing with him about the neighbour I left for a walk to cool off and when I came back all the windows and doors were locked which was unusual because we never locked them in those days. I found a window in the lounge wasn’t quite locked properly and managed to open it. I climbed in and neither he nor the kids were there. I figured he’d taken the kids to get dinner but they didn’t come back that night I guessed he’d taken them to his mother’s in Whangamata. It was late the second night before they came back. I was getting worried because the next day was monday and the kids had school. He carried the kids to their beds and went to bed himself completely ignoring me.
When did it end?
The end of January I told Graham I was pregnant again. We told his family then a week later he decided he was going on a trip. He had been going on work or hunting trips for a while. What I didn’t know was he was taking a girlfriend with him.
On the Monday he came back with a suitcase and I thought he’d gone down to his Mother’s and when I saw the suitcase I thought she had sent something up for the kids. When I asked him he said no, he and his mother had discussed it and they decided he was leaving me. He went into bedroom and packed his clothes and I said to him who’s going to tell the kids. I was in shock. He said “I’ll wait that long.” The kids came home from school about 10 minutes later and he’d already put his things in the car by then. He turned around to the kids and said “I’m leaving” and walked out.
He came around the following weekend with a trailer and started loading all things into it with me telling him he couldn’t take half of it because some of it was mine and some of it was the kids things. He took the trailer load away and came back the next day. I rung the police while he was loading it the second day. They came around and watched him and said they couldn’t do anything without a lawyer but he also wasn’t supposed to take things away without a lawyer.
So I went and found a lawyer in the city the following Monday. I was told not to get one from South Auckland where we lived because they all work with one another and Graham had already gotten one from there. There was a lot of to and froing. That’s when Graham put the house on the market on an auction without telling me. I received the notice and took it to my lawyer who said that he couldn’t do that because it was in both our names.
And then I got a bill for Anita’s horse (Anita was his brother-in-law’s wife) which has nothing to do with me. I readdressed to “The Tramp of Tampon Street” (Graham’s girlfriend had quite a reputation) and when it arrived his lawyer contacted mine with threats. My lawyer phoned me laughing asking what it was all about and when I explained that they’d sent me a bill for their horse he said to send anything like that to him in future.
Then I got the note from his lawyer asking if the house could be sold and I said no. We finally agreed that the house could be sold when the youngest was 16. And I said that would be a good 16/17 years away and his lawyer turned around and asked how that was possible because Geoffrey was 9 at the time. Graham hadn’t told them I was pregnant. Then they asked if it was his baby. And I said “well who else’s baby would it be?” So that fell through.
They then decided that I would buy him out. State had just brought out what was called a second chance mortgage but to get it you had to have 3 refusals. So I went to 3 different banks asking for a refusal. Each one offered the mortgage but I explained I wanted the second chance mortgage and needed them to refuse me a mortgage to get it. I got the second chance mortgage and brought him out. You were about 2 then by this stage.
There was all sorts of things going on during this time. He didn’t want custody of the kids but he wanted visiting rights. He would arrange visits but never turn up. In the second year he told the lawyer that I wouldn’t let him see them and when the lawyer phoned up I told him he already had visiting rights but never turned up. And the two times he did turn up he was late and only took them for an hour. He wanted to cut the child maintenance.
When he left, he hadn’t bothered paying the 3 months prior of bills for phone, power, rates etc. I had to struggle to find ways to pay it before the lawyer dealt with it all. Your step-grandmother, Tui, paid for the phone bill saying I needed a phone since I was pregnant. Others worked out either a payment plan or put the bills on hold until I was able to pay it.
When the welfare benefit first started, I was still pregnant with you. I remember crying in this tiny office with a huge line behind me. In those days the benefit had a 6 week stand down and then 6 months of a half benefit. When the stand down finished, I was back in the welfare office crying because I had no money to buy food etc. We lived on scones for lunch and breakfast because flour was cheap.
You were 3 months old before his mother and sister bothered to come see you and they brought with them a newborn size outfit. None of his family bothered paying attention to any of you kids. Your cousins were given beautiful presents at Christmas but you kids only ever got a card with money in it.
So there you have it. A small glimpse into the life of a woman suffering domestic abuse before all the white ribbon appeals and the focus on helping those who are suffering from abuse and violence. I wish someone had been around to help my mother back then.