Batty on bittersweet award experience

When Rosie Batty walked onto a breezy Canberra stage in 2015 to accept the nation's highest honour, her son Luke had been dead for almost a year.

The grieving mother appeared composed but in reality was broken, crushed by the trauma of watching her estranged partner murder their 11-year-old child on a Melbourne cricket oval.

Ms Batty, who'd also been abused by Luke's father, knew the title of Australian of the Year would give her an extraordinary opportunity to do something about the country's family violence epidemic.

What she didn't know was that it would also drag her down a dark tunnel of threats and abuse, as faceless people she'd never met spat venomous accusations at her online.

Men's rights groups accused her of using her son's murder for her own self promotion, of being a man hater, of wanting to strip fathers of their parental rights.

Public figures including Mark Latham joined in, suggesting she was trying to paint every man as a "potential wife basher", every woman as "potentially at risk".

Even now, almost five years after she accepted the honour, the abuse continues. She recently had to call the police because someone was threatening her life.

It's little wonder then that the anti-violence campaigner looks back at her time as Australian of the Year with a mix of competing emotions, from feeling deeply humbled and grateful, to traumatised and injured.

"When you've been given an award, nobody expects the backlash. But it happens," she tells AAP.

"How does anybody know that when you've had your son murdered in front of your own eyes, that you could be blamed for his death? The men's groups saying what did she do to cause the situation? Maybe refused access?

"Some people just don't trust the fact that I can be up in public, and I can appear composed, or coping. They have challenged and questioned the fact that I've been able to do what I've been able to do."

Ms Batty avoids Twitter these days and limits her interaction with other social media platforms. And she "just doesn't go looking" for anything that's been written about her, focusing instead on the inroads she's made in tackling family violence, and the band of determined supporters she has around her.

Not every Australian of the Year has challenges like the ones she has faced. Who doesn't love The Seekers, Paul Hogan, and the three Aussie cricket captains who've taken the title in years gone by?

But Ms Batty says others recipients, including anti-racism campaigner and champion AFL footballer Adam Goodes, have also experienced the "double-edged sword" of being Australian of the Year.

In 2014, the proud Adnyamathanha man took the top honour in recognition of his sporting achievements, efforts to empower the next generation of indigenous role models, and battle against racism after enduring racial slurs on the field.

The rest of his playing career was dogged by a relentless booing campaign as he continued to speak out against racism. In 2015 he was driven from the game, reduced, in his own words, to "an emotional wreck".

Ms Batty says the only difference between her experience and that of Goodes was that "I didn't have to go into a stadium every week to be booed to the point of it destroying my career, and my mental health".

Despite the savage pitfalls of being granted the award, Ms Batty says it gives those who use it well an unrivalled opportunity to advance their causes, and she is personally very grateful for that.

"For me, it was a double-edged sword. It was something I'll always appreciate, and I'm very thankful for, but it came at a huge cost.

"It certainly gave me a platform - and a credibility - that I know other victim advocates don't have. I've been able to make this a mainstream conversation among people who'd never discussed it before.

"It doesn't mean we understand all of its complexities. It doesn't mean that one woman a week isn't still being murdered. We're still on a journey, but journeys of social change take decades."


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