My Father's Runners

Annette Ruzicka

2017 - Ongoing

15 August 1989.

It was late, a knock at the door, a policewoman’s voice. She was there to inform my mum that my father had taken his own life. Had they not divorced it would've been their 13th wedding anniversary.

He had called her earlier that afternoon barely lucid. She knew something was horribly wrong. Even with his history of violence, instability and alcohol abuse, my mother could never have imagined what he had just done, or what he was about to do.

I was ten when my father attacked his then-partner and then took his own life. A day later, she died from the injuries he had inflicted. I did not hear the full story until 2017, almost 30 years after his death. Not just the inquest version of the murder-suicide, but the full, uncensored story of my mum’s six-year marriage to him. Mum paced up and down like a caged tiger as she spoke.

On that day I finally understood the trauma of her marriage to him – the fight to keep the house, the fear, the endless debt, the police visits.

One of the detectives who attended the scene found a new pair of runners there. He sold them and gave the cash to my mum: he saw how hard her life had become. This story of kindness couldn’t have come at a more poignant time in my life. My husband was in his first few months of policing and this new life wasn’t working for me. I was worried about the kind of person he had become.

With a story that ended so simply with the sale of my father’s runners, it was then I decided to embark on a long-term project centred on this tragic event.

This initially explored my fear of loss and paid a silent tribute to my mum, as well as discussing the extent of burying trauma on the generations that follow.

It had taken thirty years for mum to share her story, it was shame and a mentality steeped in Australian culture that what happened behind closed doors was “no one’s business”.

And in 2018 there is much work to be done. One in six women still experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of a current or former partner. To see change and healing occur, policy makers need knowledge and the experiences of those who have lived it.

And so with this project, I wish to tell my story to encourage others to speak up.

It is the first chapter in my family’s story with many themes still to be explored.

It begins with my father’s runners.

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  • My mum and dad’s wedding day and the only photo I own of my father and I (archive photos).

  • The family home and my mum, sister and I circa 1984 (archive photos).

  • The window of our loungeroom. A symbol of the attitude towards domestic violence in the 1980s. That is, what happens behind these walls is "no one's business".

  • The decaying of domesticity.

  • Where it all began. A rented apartment on holiday with mum where she told me the full story.

  • Self-portrait wearing mum’s necklace, I hold onto her belongings like priceless ornaments. This represents my fear of losing her.

  • Turmoil after visiting my father’s unmarked grave.

  • Fallen candlestick, representing my mum's heritage.

  • Stitched portrait of my mum and I – this represents our polar-opposite approach to discussing trauma.

  • Mum’s geraniums.

  • Portrait of my mum, Agota Ruzicka.

  • Self-portrait and reflection. Realising a fear of loss.

  • Mum’s eyes, they say it all.

  • Where you can find my father today. His unmarked grave is shared with three others and is hard to find. I didn't leave anything so the cemetery can keep their vases.

  • Past silences the present stitched with archive photo of mum and I.

  • Mum’s mantle – a shrine to her girls, what kept her going.

  • My favourite tree that sits in my front yard, it is reminiscent of the family garden. Something I realised only during this process.