I wanted to do something about domestic violence, so I went on an 800km run

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Documentary trailer: Iceberg

One woman runs 860km through Western NSW to raise awareness about domestic violence but what she discovered is just the tip of the iceberg. Vision: THIRTY3SOUTH Films.

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It was a long and winding road that led to me running almost a thousand kilometres to help break the silence around domestic violence. From that experience, I learned one simple thing: each of us has the power to create change. Too often we doubt our ability to have an impact; especially on the big, complex issues. But my life over the last few years has left me with an inescapable truth – change starts with a single step and our challenge is finding a way to be brave enough to take it.

Around three years ago, there was a spate of news reports about Australian women being killed by their current or former intimate partner. I'd never really been exposed to domestic violence at that point. I thought it was something that Australia had largely left behind in the 1960s. I was wrong.

As the story of one particular woman unfolded on my screen, I found myself inexplicably drawn to her. It wasn't something I was expecting. I paused, looked into her eyes, and something shifted inside of me. I realised that, if I'd known her, we probably would have been mates. She was just like me.

In my spare time, I'm an ultra-marathon runner. I wasn't always. It all started eight years ago when I managed to drag myself off the lounge and jog around the block. It was a hobby that became an obsession. To celebrate my fortieth birthday in 2011, I ran the full 262 kilometres of the Great North Walk with two of my girlfriends. We were the first women ever to run it. As achievements go, I was really proud, but I was also pretty sure I didn't want to commit to such a big run again. Little did I know, three years later, I'd more than triple that distance.

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I'd be out on long training runs and would start thinking about those women. I'd find myself crying. It wasn't a deliberate thing. But it kept happening. My subconscious was clearly telling me to do something to help end the violence, and it wasn't going to let go until I did. But I was scared to lift my head above the parapet, scared of what people would say, scared that I might be putting me or my family in danger. I was also scared that I might fail.

I started to read more to help myself feel on familiar ground. That was how I came across White Ribbon. I liked their focus on prevention so I reached out to a client whom I knew was a White Ribbon Ambassador and asked for an introduction which he gladly made. Then I hesitated. I procrastinated. I drafted an email to White Ribbon and that's where it stayed, in my drafts folder. I opened it. I put it back. To send that email would make my ambition real. It would make it public and I would have to keep moving forward. I stopped.

But the murder-count kept rising and deep down I knew why. I felt sick in the pit of my stomach. I knew that our silence – mine and that of society at large - was exactly the reason the violence was winning. Because silence creates fear and stigma. I decided it was time to raise my voice. I wasn't going to let violence win, and I hit the send button.

Running over 500 miles in extreme heat is much more of a mental challenge than a physical one. It requires extraordinary mental strength to stay focused on the task at hand, to stay relaxed and in control and not let thoughts drift to the hundreds of kilometres yet to be conquered.

The days before the run I was deeply nervous. As we drove out to Walgett I questioned what I had taken on and if we could have any impact on breaking the silence. I had been monitoring the weather forecast and knew we were about to have successive days reaching 40 degrees and more. I knew the road was going to be asking me what I was made of and I wondered if I had the answer.

I woke on the morning of the run and I could barely eat from nerves. My crew gathered around me, there were hugs and a few tears and then they bundled me into the car to drive to the start line at Walgett Police Station. I was surprised to find that as soon as I started running the nerves disappeared. My mind cleared and the determination and focus set in. From that moment I knew I was going to finish the run. I didn't know how events were going to unfold but I knew I would find a way to finish. Through all the pain and exhaustion that determination never wavered.

As I had hoped it would, my running became an ice pick that would chip away the silence surrounding domestic violence. The novelty of what I was doing under such extreme conditions became a great source of discussion in the communities I passed through. It was inevitable that the question of why I was doing it would arise and the words 'domestic violence' couldn't be avoided.

When we stopped in towns people would approach me. Often the conversation would start with questions about running, such as how many blisters I had or how many pairs of shoes I had with me, and then there would be a pause. I came to know that pause well. After the pause a deeply personal story would be shared about their experience with violence or they would ask questions that were clearly uncomfortable for them to verbalise.

I could see in people's eyes just how much bravery it was taking to break the silence. It was humbling and overwhelming that people were so willing to take a personal risk and join us in our endeavour .

And it all started with a single step. Let's find a way to be brave together - because together we can make the violence stop.

Kirrily Dear's journey was made into the documentary Iceberg, which will air on on Compass on ABC TV at 6:30pm on Sunday, April 3.


If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732