KASAMA Vol. 14 No. 2 / April-May-June 2000 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Domestic Violence Prevention Week

On Saturday, May 13, 2000 at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Mortimer Road, Acacia Ridge a Memorial Mass was celebrated by the families and friends of 32 Filipino women and their children - victims of violence in Australia.

So many people came to the Mass - about 300. It was as though we had all been waiting for this moment when at last, after 20 years, we could come together to share our grief for the loss of these 32 women and children whose fate it was to become victims of violence in this country. Most of these 32 victims are dead, one survived, some are still missing.

We grieved too for all the others: the ones we do not know about, the women who supposedly 'took their own lives', and the women who retaliated, perhaps killing their attackers in self-defence or defending the children. We grieved too, not just for Filipinas, but also for our Indigenous sisters and all the women and children of the world who are victims of violence.

We came together not just as Christians, Jews, Islamics, Hindus, or Buddhists. We were of many faiths or belief systems; some 'heathens', 'pagans', pantheists, animists, agnostics, atheists, whatever labels others might care to put on us. We were of many nations and cultures, though mostly Filipinos. We came together not just as women; our husbands, boyfriends, uncles, fathers, brothers, sons, men-friends came too. And we were so happy for that - so glad that some men have enough courage to stand up publicly and confront the violence perpetrated by men against women and children.

The church in which the Mass was held, albeit Roman Catholic, accommodated this varied gathering and the celebrants, Fr. Dom Flores, the Filipino chaplain, and Fr. Wally Dethlefs helped us to mould and shape the occasion. And we were so happy to be allowed to participate so that it could be a ritual to suit our needs and soothe the pain in our hearts.

At first we worried about not having an organised choir until singers from three different groups, a guitarist and a choir-mistress offered their talents, pulled the rehearsals into shape and made music like angels. They called this ad-hoc heavenly choir the Silahis Music Group.

After the Mass, we threw open the door of the church hall and spent a few hours eating yummy Filipino food, cakes and sweets, drinking coffee, and having a good yarn with new friends and some old ones we'd not seen for years. About 150 people stayed on - thank goodness the hall was big enough.

We'd like to thank the Domestic Violence Resource Centre and the Immigrant Women's Support Service for their generous support and financial contribution to this activity. Our special thanks go to all who helped to make this a significant and meaningful occasion - you are so many that to name everyone would take more than this page. May we all find our way to stop violence in our communities and make a lasting peace based on justice.

By: Cora Gatbonton and Dee Dicen Hunt

Deaths and Disappearances

Updated summary of the Violent Deaths and Disappearances of Filipina Migrants and Their Children in Australia. 

Someone has been killed in West End - maybe murdered,

So the news said.

Who was it?

Was it someone I knew?

The next morning the phone rang:

"Nenita is dead" the voice said,

"Amanda is missing as well".

The Police are searching for a man and a white car.

Nenita may have been dead for several days!

Oh God!

What a tragedy!

This beautiful, outgoing, happy, vivacious young woman


Gone to God.

Peace at last.

What of Amanda, her daughter,

whom she loved so dearly?

Where is she?

Is she safe?

Please God look after her.

And her grieving friends and family

And just so many others

whom she loved and

whose lives were energized by her presence?

God comfort them.

Be with them.

And the wounded people of our tragic suburb?

Show them what they can do.

Help them to lift their quality of life.

Help them to realize they can do lots more for one another

By looking out for each other.

by Fr. Wally Dethlefs

In 1987, Fr. Wally Dethlefs was the parish priest in the West End suburb of Brisbane and Nenita Westhof was an active member of the parish, including in helping other newly arrived migrants settle into life in Australia. She gave freely of her hospitality and always looked out for the well being of others. Fr Wally wrote this poem when he heard of Nenita's murder. He read the poem during the Memorial Mass on May 13 and kindly gave permission for it to be reprinted here.

Thomas Keir was convicted on September 17, 1999 on the strength of DNA evidence and sentenced in the NSW Supreme Court to 24 years imprisonment, of which he will serve a minimum of 18, for the murder in 1988 of his first wife Jean Strachan.

Keir's second wife, Rosalina Canonizado, also died violently. In April 1991, she was found in her bedroom strangled and her body set alight. Quite coincidentally, both women were second cousins. Keir was tried for the murder of Rosalina but acquitted and, unless there is fresh evidence, the case will not be re-opened. Under Australia's criminal justice law, the accused who receives an acquittal can not be tried again for the same crime. (See the Oct/Dec 1999 & Jan/March 2000 issues of Kasama for reports on Keir's trial.)

Rosalina's family has never given up the pursuit of justice. Ester Canonizado, Rosalina's mother, is currently visiting in Sydney and sent this message:

"I've been busy trying to seek help from different people and solicitors to re-open the case of my daughter's tragic death. But the results are too disappointing. Well, I'll just leave it to the Lord then. I still have faith in Him and I know He won't fail me. Please pray for me, so that I may have the strength to go on."

* * * * *

I will never forget you my people,
I have carved you on the palm of my hand.
I will never forget you, I will not leave you orphaned,
I will never forget my own.
Does a mother forget her baby?
Or a woman, the child within her womb?
Yet even if these forget, yes, even if these forget,
I will never forget my own.

Isaiah 49

White is for the dignity of women down the ages, for women who know themselves to be people of courage, freedom and truth, for women who stand tall and look life in the face.

Purple is for the suffering of women in every age, for women who are exploited, who are raped, who live in fear and bear pain beyond their due.

Green is for the hope of women, for our determination in the face of discrimination, for our capacity to heal each other in the struggle and for the energy and strength that we find together to create a new world.

From: A Remembering Ritual: grieving for the women and children who have died because of domestic violence, St. Mary's church Brisbane, May 29, 1996