IT WAS an emotion-charged day today, at the end of a harrowing week for Phillip Island.
But the family and friends of Samantha Fraser and their supporters came together in a way that was at once defiant and introspective but also calm and caring.
A feature of the day was the production of hundreds and hundreds of white ribbons, the symbol of Australia’s campaign to prevent men’s violence against women, by a team of local women.
They had set up their sewing machines and overlockers on two tables in the Phillip Island Community and Learning Centre (PICAL), and as boxes of the ribbons were completed, they were taken outside by others keen to stand up against family violence and honour the memory of Samantha by tying their ribbons on trees, poles, posts, seats and other vantage points around the town.
By late afternoon, the town, its avenue of Golden Cypress and the entrances to Cowes had been claimed by the moving and highly visible tribute.
The strong community response extended to covering the Phillip Island Bridge, from one end to the other, with white ribbons – the message clear – don’t cross if you have violent or abusive intentions.
Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Natalie Hutchins, was one of those to tie a white ribbon on a tree outside the Cowes Cultural Centre, in sight of the community’s floral memorial to Samantha .
Prior to that Minister Hutchins had a sit-down meeting with Samantha’s friends and work colleagues at which all manner of issues were discussed including a single contact point for women with support services, better communication with local police, more refuges and emergency housing; friends, family members and colleagues calling out inappropriate and abusive behaviour, the prevalence of family violence and the steps that need to be taken, not only to respond to the fallout but also the root causes.
Among those involved was Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Pamela Rothfield, an Island resident.
Clearly moved by the outpouring, Ms Hutchins provided what assurances she could.
“This is my area. I’m responsible for this,” said the Ms Hutchins.
“In government we have two ministers responsible for family violence, me and the Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings. But it’s a whole of government approach because housing, the Attorney General, policing, health and community services; it’s all part of it.
“Everyone knows what the situation is. We’re committed to implementing the 227 recommendations from the Family Violence Royal Commission.
“People have said today that the fears and needs of women need to be listened to in this and other situations. It’s a complex and difficult area but we are working on an assessment tool that police can apply to the risks and the appropriate action can be taken.”
Minister Hutchins said the government would also take note of the Coroner’s Report to come after the death of Samantha Fraser which would not only identify what happened to her on Monday, July 23 but also how the system responded in the lead up to the incident.
Last Thursday, the State Coroner, Judge Sara Hinchey, called on Victoria Police to review all family violence-related homicides where there was a known history of domestic violence.
In response to Judge Hinchey’s recommendations, a Victoria Police spokeswoman said the force had come a long way in developing responses to family violence and would now “carefully consider the findings”.
Minister Hutchins promised this would also be done for Samantha Fraser.
“Absolutely. It will come out of the Coroner’s Report. It will go through the system to see what has occurred,” she said, noting that like the Coroner’s Report into the death of Luke Batty, there would be things to learn and a response from government.
Minister Hutchins shared a soup and sandwich lunch at the PICAL centre with supporters, left a message of condolence for inclusion on several quilts being made at the centre and also placed flowers at the front of the Community Centre, joining hundreds of other floral tributes.
Earlier Samantha’s father Trevor, who was a quiet, encouraging presence at the centre while the work was going on, shared a brief moment with the Minister.
Samantha Fraser, the mother of three primary school age children, was found dead in the garage of her Seagrove Way home on Monday, July 23, 2018 and last Thursday her estranged husband, Adrian Basham was charged with her murder.