across Australian and the Pacific against sexual abuse & domestic violence for First Nation women.

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Breaking Silent Codes

In August 2018, UNSW Arts and Social Sciences, Women’s Legal Service NSW and the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence sponsored and hosted a unique forum of 42 Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Pacific Islander women intended to ‘Break Silent Codes’ and share stories of cultural and spiritual responses to the issue of sexual assault and family violence in communities across Australia and the Pacific.
The forum provided a platform for women to discuss the ways in which community, religion, authority and family create silences around sexual assault and family violence. There are many injustices experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait and Pacific Islander communities. For a long time, it has seemed that all other matters of injustice are more important than the sexual assault and domestic violence in communities. Women experience this as a silencing of issues important to their spiritual and physical well being.
Through this book, we share with you the stories of this gathering which has now become a movement of its own for First Nations women across Australia and the Pacific.




‘The blanket of colonisation has been woven on violence and oppression has denied us all of a kind truth. The impact of broken culture and languages and spiritual practices has left a deafening silence around violence in our intimate relationships causing violent assaults and sexual abuse.

Kindness is a movement. Sharing it is accessing your basic human right to personal and communal safely. We need to own our stories and come together to appreciate each other and listen. Violence hurts, it hurts society, it hurts families and it hurts you and I.

My Grandmothers were stolen from their families and enslaved, their culture and language denied. As a young person who witnessed family violence, I would never have believed I would be here today.

Understand that someone may not be ready to leave, and be kind and understand, don’t carry judgment or resentment of someone else’s journey. Give them a place to speak openly without being afraid or judged.

I said to my good friend, ‘I can’t live in this oppressive state of mind and not do nothing about the violence we are experiencing, personally and in society’. So begins the change when knowledge is learned and processed. Holding onto anger and resentment isn’t worth it.

No one person can be what you need to be or feel what you need to feel. Find safety within yourself.’

-Dixie Link Gordon
Senior Community Access, Women’s Legal Service NSW
Adjunct Senior Lecturer UNSW.

Dixie Link-Gordon

Kowana Welsh

“Breaking Silent Codes was the first time I had ever shared my truth through my vulnerabilities which turned into my ultimate strength. As a woman that has experienced violence first hand I know the impact it has on you, your children, family, friends and ultimately community. Also why it is so important to live in your truth and speak out is to regain your power from the perpetrator and break the silence about violence. My advice to others is live in your truth even though at times it is painful to sit in and allow yourself to be vulnerable, it is in these moments you get to reflect on how far you have come, how much further you have yet to go and how much you won’t accept.”

Caroline Herewini MNZM

“Maumahara Ki ō mana ake me te kaha wairua”

“Remember you uniqueness and strengths within”

Vika Bete Lumuni

‘Bula Vinaka to all my family friends in Australia, Torres Strait and the Pacific Islands women in the Breaking of silent codes. It has been an honor for me to part of this great and resilient group. Coming from a small country that still conducts silence in the family, villages and community. It has been a great challenge for me and those young women around me to not only know but also to share this awareness within my community not only to young women and girls but to all members of the household. Being an integral part of my tradition and culture is for women to be silent -silent when been spoken to-silent when there are decisions been made and silent when you are being abuse- verbally, emotionally or physically. To open or share your story is just a disastrous event because you will be pointed at, looked down at, and mostly caste aside. You are not alone …. together we will demolish this act or behaviour of violence because when we stand as one, we are impeccable and non-destructive. We are women of great powers and we will continue this fight for violence against women and young girls. Domestic violence is not acceptable where we stand, Domestic Violence is not only a community concern but everyone’s business. Ni sa moce and a blessed day to all of us.’

Vika Bete Lumuni

‘Silence isn’t empty , its full of answers’,  – Anonymous

Sonia Smallacombe

Jackie Huggins AM

Olive Whap

‘The women here are absolute powerhouses’

Jennah Dungay

“Violence against women is everybody’s business. Statistics in Australia show that 1 in 3 women will experience violence throughout their lifetime. If you flip that statistic and say if you have your Mother with you, a sister and a daughter statistically, it is saying one of them will experience violence. When you personalise that statistic it becomes unacceptable. What I have learned through breaking silent codes is the strength and resilience of indigenous women of the world. The fact that each of our cultures possess our own ways of traditional healing is our unique ways of healing. By bringing together indigenous women of the world we were able to amplify our sovereign voices and trade on our historic healing practices. It is important to speak out against violence to break the next women’s silence. To show that by doing so you will be heard and you will be supported. Being a proud Wiradjuri & Dunghutti woman I stand with and for my sister’s who have spoken out, and those who are still suffering in silence and are yet to find their voice in this world. Violence is not apart of our culture and I will continue to advocate for all women as violence does not discriminate. “

Patience Link

I was born into a mentally, physically, and verbally violent household. My perpetrator was my Father who abused everyone and anyone. I was also taken from my parents and became a State Ward for 18 years. I was in and out of foster care homes and detention centres. I was neglected, starved of food, and sexually violated at early age. I could never make sense in my mind of what the hell was going on in my life. I had seven siblings but we were all separated. I didn’t understand the family unit. I knew I had a big family but didn’t realise the importance of a relationship connection with them.
As a child I did not connect with my family because time and place was of the essence. In time I understood what family means especially in Aboriginal Culture. As I approached my twenties I made it an effort to reconnect with my family, cousins, etc. Family to me means everything. It was love, happiness, and joy in my mind but in reality it was dark, lonely, and scary. I am a loner now not that I wish to be. Most family members only connect with their own children and own grandchildren, after that there are barriers, walls, and lack of communication. To cope with my traumatic existence I heal with a variety of coping mechanisms and try anything to aid in my recovery. In order to survive in this cruel, racist, and greedy world I have been seeing counsellors at Lotus Place at Stones Corner Womens House at Woolongabba Nungeena in Glasshouse Mountains and Healing Rooms.
I only ever had suicidal thoughts once and that was the day my daughter became Queensland Young Lawyer of the Year 2005. I am now 55 years old, Nana, Mother, Aunty, Cousin, and Sister with two Adult children and six grandchildren. I understand now of the intergenerational trauma and pain and hope that what I have been through never happens to my grandchildren or any children or anyone who is in a vulnerable state. I will always continue to speak out speak up and speak truth. Don’t ever let pain, trauma, and suffering consume your health mentally, physically, or sexually. Please seek help. There will always be someone to talk to who will advocate, counsel you, understand you, and enlighten your misery, grief, and pain.

Charleen Inaua Marsters

Silence Is a small space

Silence is a very small space that gets smaller

Silence is incredibly loud, it screams ‘you are alone’

It is lonely

It is dark

It only ever shines light on your insecurities, your ugliness, your hopelessness

Silence has ripped the lips off my smiling face

Silence has me drowning

Silence has me drowning in a small space that fills with water and no way out

Silence has left my body broken and curled into a question mark asking ‘ how much more can I take?’ but silence holds the most power in isolation

My whispers, my thoughts are not alone

Our voices sit in a chorus of harmony, both in morning and rejoicing in finding our hope.

Knowing that I am not alone, I am Shook out  of that small room

 I tread water, hoping, knowing that together we will reach land.

Jacqui Jarrett

‘Silence is golden when your words and actions are strong enough to have a perpetrator speechless, lost for words and deemed to silence.’

Peta Link

“Breaking silent codes…
No more silence.
We are free.
You spoke the words of many women before
you, and that included me.
You are brave, you are strong.
A warrioress , who will not sing their song.
Together we walk strong and we are free.
My beautiful daughter, I now know, my body
belongs to me.
No more silence.
We are free.”

Marlene Cummins

“As Sistas, we have to get comfortable about feeling uncomfortable about what happened between us and our perpetrators as familiar as they may be within our families and communities.”

Prof. Megan Davis

Adi Vaciseua Ratu Nale

Breaking Silent Codes

  • Breaking Silent Codes

Apolonia Muldrock

Kia orana e te katoatoa,

Sexual and Family violence within Pacific communities is a socially and culturally conditioned phenomenon. As a Pacific clinician for 25 years in Aotearoa, New Zealand, twenty-two years of which has been as a New Zealand-qualified and registered nurse in the community, I have become exponentially aware of the machinery of such abuse and its social and cultural discourse within our communities that have evolved from within a shared commonality of `collectivism’. Breaking Silent Codes Across Australia and the Pacific has been an opportunity to de-colonise the neoliberal hegemonic western construct endured by First Nations Peoples globally, in an Indigenous collectivist women gathering of sharing time and space, just as our tupuna (ancestors) in the Pacific have done for millennia. I would like to acknowledge Caroline Herewini and Dixie Link Gordon as the visionaries behind this movement. Nga mihi aroha ki a korua.

Nga mihi,

Christine Robinson

Breaking Silent Codes

  • Breaking Silent Codes

Mary Lou Ronnayne

‘Silence is a perpetrators best friend, speak out it’s not your fault.’

‘I was honoured to be a participant standing against sexual assault at Breaking Silent Codes.’

Mary Ronayne has been the Manager of the Wilcannia Safe House since 2013 and is part of the DVSM Management Team, and is now working a cross-services role as a Community and Culture Manage. Mary was born in Brewarrina and comes from the Kamilaroi nation.

Gail Thorne

“My name is Gail Thorne. I am a proud Aboriginal woman from the Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri Tribes.

I have worked in Aboriginal Community for the past 15 years.

I have been working in the Indigenous Women’s Legal Program at Women’s Legal Service NSW for 4 years where I am the Aboriginal Community Access Officer.

In my role I assist Aboriginal women making their way through the justice system, especially through the family law system and in particular family courts. I work as part of a team that provides legal and social support.

My role can be challenging but also very rewarding. I have seen the injustices Aboriginal women face, but I have also seen them overcome barriers to accessing justice.

It gives me great strength to see how Aboriginal women are slowly overcoming the barriers placed in front of them and breaking the codes of silence by speaking out about domestic violence and sexual assault. I’m proud of the role I play in supporting Aboriginal women to access the justice system. “

Gail Thorne

Sharyn Malone

“My Name is Sharyn Malone and I’m proud descendant of Koa, Ku Ku Yalanji and Gubbi Gubbi Nation.
I was born and bred in Cherbourg on Wakka Wakka Country.
I suffered years of being sexual abused at the hands of very close family members.
I was disowned and threatened by family members for speaking the truth.
I carried my hidden scars, but my hidden scars are not who I am.
The court System failed me, but my truth will never.
I am no longer a victim.
I am a survivor.
Sexual Abuse is hidden within Our Families and Our Communities.
We need to make a stand to STOP those who continue to hide these issues and who supports these perpetrators in Our Families and Communities.
No longer will I feel threatened to speak out.
No longer will I be silenced.
No longer will I stand back and allow others to suffer in silence.
No longer will I stand back and allow this cycle to continue.
We need to make a stand for the truth to be heard, most importantly to make a stand for our next generation.
As we stand together our voices will be heard across every nation with
Breaking The silence Codes.
I would like to acknowledge all the Strong Women who are apart of Breaking Silent Codes. I send my love and prayers to you all is was such an honour to stand beside such strong and beautiful women.
Aunty Dixie Links Gordon you will forever be my strong role model.
A Strong Black Women, who has shown us younger generation to be proud of who we are, and to make stand against Domestic Family Violence and Sexual Abuse.
As we Stand together as one to break the silence
Of Abuse.”

Sono Leone

I am a proud descendant of the Garawa and Butchulla nations. My vision with Strong Women Talking is to educate, equip and empower. My heart is to see our communities free from the cycle of violence. To help create safe spaces for our women to open up about abuse without feeling condemned. To support women on their healing journeys and see true healing come.

Rozonda Sam

Yantungka Gordon

Since I could remember I always though there needed to be an answer, an explanation to whatever questions I had in my head even if it tormented me enough to push me to the edge. But as my life started to unfold and I realised there are the unspeakable things like child sexual assault that didn’t need an answer, it needed a voice. A voice that will be believed, heard, and validated. I have learnt if you’re looking for the answer to why someone would want to take your childhood away from you, you would be giving them and their supporters POWER to tell you what your future is going to be. So I took that POWER back and said to myself I am beautiful, strong, and resilient and I am not going to let others define who I am as a person and how bright my light us going to shine. You see my light has been shining since the beginning if time, my road was paved for me even before I entered this earth. And my light will continue to shine through my daughters and so forth the same way my mother and foremothers high shines through me.

Regan Fepuleai

‘I am a Wiradjuri/Ngunnawal woman born and raised in Cowra. Currently I am working as a  SHLV Caseworker at Weave Youth and Community services

It’s 2019, yet an Aboriginal woman is 32 times more likely to be hospitalised for domestic violence by their partner.

For too long, our abusive and violent experiences are not being validated and in many instances our women are being judged and disregarded by their own communities, families and social networks because they spoke out.

Domestic and sexual abuse is devastating.

We black women are warriors. Because of this, we are often expected to withstand anything and suffer in silence.

We feel shame about something that was imposed upon us.

We place blame on ourselves or each other when it doesn’t belong there- because it’s easier.

Violence and abuse within an intimate relationship can be perceived as private and personal. It makes us uncomfortable; so uncomfortable that it keeps us silent.

I am grateful to a part of this courageous and inspiring circle of women to break silent codes.’

Rowena Lawrie

“I know why the caged bird sings,
At least that is what Maya said,
She sings for freedom
Of roads untraveled
Of hopes that have been forgotten
She sings because she will go mad,
Like the oppressive beast that caged her
She sings so her voice is not silent
It is her fight
Her flight of freedom
I know why the caged bird sings.
She sings a song of sorrow
She watches and waits for her tomorrow
Her wings have been clipped and her toes have been tied Maya said
But it will not stop her call to be freed
A song that says her spirit will not always bleed
I know why the caged bird sings
Her song is her song
A song of resistance”

Chantay Link

For a long time under the colonial tyranny our silence to the colonial rape culture and violence to women’s was expected. The price of that silence has been a high price which we no longer will pay. The price has been broken women, broken families, suicides, addictive behaviours, loss of cultural ties, demonising of our spirituality, poverty, criminalisation of victims, slut shaming and other hateful misogynistic behaviours. I will amplify the voices of our foremothers and continue to resist. I will continue to find healing and decolonisation, in sisterhood, truth telling , recognising my resilience and reclaiming culture.

Shaquelle Robinson

Breaking Silent Codes

  • Breaking Silent Codes

Julia Yorkston


Teora Gordon-Carr

Alearah Link-Jones

“My name is Alearah, I’m now 17 years old
I am a proud Gooreng Gooreng and Dharumbal woman. I am a survivor. I come from a strong line of women who contributed in many different ways that has shaped me into who I am today. Speaking up, being safe and being strong was instilled in me from a very young age. Sometimes being strong is hard, but I refuse to be a victim to that. Breaking Silent Codes has been apart of my journey and I get strength from this special group of women in my life and all the other women that surround me with love and support. I was frightened to speak up and tell my story because of the judgements and bullying I knew I was going to face, but that did not silence me. I knew within myself that I had no choice but to speak up and tell my story. Tell my story so I could show younger generations who are to come know it’s okay to share there story.  All that mattered to me was was breaking the silence within my family showing the people before me and the ones after that you are not alone and it’s okay to speak up.  I would also like to thank my mum for believing me because after that I knew I was going to be okay. Thank you ma “

Rochelle Williams Taylor

‘I’m a proud Ngemba woman.
My mob are from south west Queensland
Breaking Silent codes of DV and sexual assault means – it’s time ! No more secrets!
It’s important we break the silence.
It’s time to heal.
It’s time to stand proud and share our stories.
Stories may be taboo by sharing we can help each other.
No more pain shame guilt.
For me I will keep sharing my story again and again
I have made the choice to END the cycle and break the intergenerational violence.
We as indigenous women connecting as a global community to make changes is very much needed.
The need is now!
How do we rise to the challenges?
How do we embrace these opportunities?
We can start by listening and hearing what has been said.
Offer community workshops throughout Australia and the pacific.
Offer support groups to connect with others.
Learn from each other.
Ask ‘what is working and what isn’t ‘
Share ideas thoughts and suggestions to begin the healing.
Offer art therapy food therapy meditation writing dance and more.
Strength comes through vulnerability.
A humbling experience to be able to make a difference to support indigenous women to live their best lives.’

Hazel Hape

I AM strong
I AM darkness
I AM courageous
I AM light
I AM fierce
I AM love
I AM angry
I AM gentle
I AM brave
I AM a victim
I AM a survivor
I AM personally affected
I AM indigenous
I AM a sister
I AM a mother
I AM aunty
I AM a niece
I AM a cousin
I AM a grand daughter
I AM a daughter
I AM Hazel Hape
I live in Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

Rebecca Jean Takiri Kena

In the embers of such chaos,
the silence rings aloud.
Who hears her cry, her heart?
or calms that rabid sound…
Of pain, of suffering,
of deep and dark resound.

Where is her voice,
where indeed is she found!
But coiled in that shame,
lying red, on silent ground.
In family, in faith
or community – often bound.
For her silence, only silence
rings through the mighty crowd.

So, rally all you sisters!
Love can make a sound.
Cry for her, scream for her,
Let us turn things around,
And hold in our palms
Clenched tight black and round
The fight for acceptance
where sisterhood abounds!

Make a place, make a way
For her voice to be found
In the safety of our shoulders
In the healing of hallowed ground.

Thank You

Associate Professor Jan Marian Breckenridge
University of New South Wales
Mailin Suchting
Manager, Gendered Violence Research Network
University of New South Wales
Helen Campbell OAM
Executive Officer Women’s Legal Service NSW
John Leha
Sustainability Lead
National Centre for Indigenous Excellence

Breaking Silent Codes

Breaking Silent Codes