Local Champion Award Acceptance Speech

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands on which we are meeting today.

Sovereignty was never ceded.  It always was and always will be Aboriginal land.

It is a great honour to receive this award today in recognition of my work in preventing and responding to family violence in Victoria. 

However, it is imperative that when we talk about the abuse of power and control and the use of violence, that we first recognise and reconcile the fact that this country was colonised using those same tactics. 

Over the last 12 months, women across Australia have made one thing very clear – the personal is political.

My name is Geraldine Bilston. I am a victim-survivor of intimate partner violence. I have openly shared aspects of my story publicly many times. As a victim-survivor, I have wanted to highlight the problems, but I also want to contribute to creating the solutions.

I am more than just my story.

The Mornington Peninsula is my home.  It is part of my past – it is where I was abused.  But this place is also my future – it is where I am raising my daughter and I believe in a future where women are respected and safe across the peninsula.

Since that time in my life I have worked, very hard, to push for change.  I have shared my story and I have more recently been working to assist in policy reform and service delivery in the family violence space.  It is hard work.  I am often tired, sometimes despondent, but always hopeful.  I believe in a future where every single person is safe – and I know that, that is completely achievable because violence against women is absolutely preventable. 

We must continue to find ways to give voice to victim-survivors.  We cannot fully understand the problem or create appropriate solutions without hearing directly from them.  Making the voice of people central will ensure we have a true understanding of the nature and context of this problem.  Engaging with victim-survivors is engaging with imaginative, system thinking that is energised for change.

It has been an honour to share my own power and place with victim-survivors across our community and include their voices in evaluating and reforming our systems.  This year will also see my ‘Wisdom in Practice’ reverse-mentoring program piloted here in Bayside; as well as Eastern Metropolitan Melbourne, where social work graduates will be partnered with and mentored by victim-survivors as they enter the family violence workforce.

Family violence is the most pervasive and common form of men’s violence against women in Victoria. It is the leading cause of death and disability in women aged 15-45 years old and is the biggest contributor to women’s ill-health. Family violence is also the single largest driver of homelessness for women, and as we face a housing crisis in this community we cannot continue to ask “Why doesn’t she just leave?” when there is actually nowhere to go.

In the first 6 months of 2021, 817 women reported incidents of family violence to Victoria Police across the Mornington Peninsula.  This was almost double the Victorian local government area average.  We have a problem and we need community led solutions.

We all have a role to play in ending family violence.  When we have a society and community that disregards gender equality we create space for the abuse of power and control to flourish.

So while I am honoured to accept this award as a Local Champion, I cannot accept this without asking you if you will play your role too?

We should continue to listen and draw strength from courageous leaders like Grace Tame, like Rosie Batty, like Sue and Lloyd Clarke.  But I am asking you to do more than just listen.  We must all be local champions of change if we are to truly realise a future free from violence for our community. 

Of all the things my perpetrator took away from my life he could not take away my hope.  And my hope is that you will work with me to create that future free from violence for our community.