On a sunny Saturday five years ago, Vanessa Fowler made a promise to achieve justice for her murdered little sister.
It was Allison Baden-Clay’s funeral and hundreds were gathered to pay their respects including Allison’s three young daughters and her husband Gerard Baden-Clay, whom a month later would be charged with her murder leading him to a life behind bars.
Vanessa told mourners that day there were still many questions unanswered about her sister’s death, adding: “We, your family, pledge to you that we will have these questions answered. We will bring you justice because you deserve nothing less.”
And this they did…and more, launching the Allison Baden-Clay Foundation in honour of Allison and dedicated to providing a proactive response to domestic and family violence in Queensland and to the broader community in relation to emotional, physical and sexual abuse and to promote harmonious and violence-free relationships throughout the community.
Today, the Foundation is one of ongoing success bringing the discussion around domestic and family violence to the forefront more than ever before while keeping Allison’s spirit and legacy alive.
Last Friday the Foundation launched its annual Strive to be Kind campaign with the goal of spreading kindness to the general public throughout July, culminating in Strive to be Kind Day on Friday July 28.
Strive to be Kind was introduced in 2012, two years before Gerard Baden-Clay’s trial, to educate people about respectful relationships and how to recognise and deal with unhealthy relationships.
Supporters are being encouraged to wear yellow, Allison’s favourite colour (Vanessa, who was a bridesmaid at Allison’s lavish 1997 wedding wore a butter yellow dress). Throughout July and on July 28 public buildings, including the Story Bridge will be lit up with yellow lighting.
At the helm of the Foundation is Vanessa, a primary school teacher, mother of two boys and co-carer and supporter of Allison’s three girls who live with Allison’s parents, a couple of minutes from where she lives “helping out whenever possible with transport of the girls, business paperwork and co-ordinating schedules”.
For Vanessa, the many hours she spends on the Foundation is a labour of profound and deep love for the younger sister taken away so cruelly.
“We were very close and Mum used to dress us in similar clothes which made us look like twins,“ said Vanessa.
“Allison was very caring and enjoyed playing with her dolls, being mother and nurse and teacher to them. I wasn’t really into dolls but rather played outside and rode my bike.”
She said their childhood was like any other middle class family, growing up in the suburbs, attending a state school and enjoying many extra-curricular activities such as ballet, drama and piano lessons.
“Growing up we did everything together, however in our teenage years, we continued pursuing our own interests, for example, Allison continued with ballet and I chose drama and music”.
While Allison’s murder continues to be the source of a “dark void” in all of their lives, the family are committed to the preservation of her memory and the success of the Foundation. “We, as a family through the Foundation are turning anger and sadness into something positive by starting a conversation around moving toward a cultural shift in society,” she said.
“In life and now in death, my sister will continue to help others by promoting, advocating and educating people around violence-free relationships throughout the community. Through educational and age appropriate awareness programs, we can teach young people essential life skills such as respect and instil a sense of empowerment.”
Vanessa said the family remembered Allison’s smile, her laughter, her friendship and her love “for this is how she lived her life”.
“Allison inspired me to be a better person, a better mother. She loved life, loved her daughters and was loved by all,” adding her sister was strong, resilient, compassionate and fun.”
Vanessa said her sister’s positive attitude and always striving to be the best that she could be, had been instilled as traits in her children.
“I know that the three girls miss their mother terribly as we all do, however they continue to thrive and excel in all that they do, showing us that their mother lives on through them. She would be so proud,” she said.
“Allison’s gift to the world was her kindness, generosity, strength and determination. She was determined to make her marriage work, she was determined that her children would have all opportunities to achieve and she was determined that she would make a difference in the lives of others. She was determined to make a change hoping for the better!”
Vanessa speaks with pride about the changes that have already been made as a result of Allison’s death.
“We are now shining a light on what, in the past, has been hidden behind closed doors. However we have the ability to make even more change,” she said.
Vanessa said Allison was taken from them too soon but “we want her legacy to last forever”.
“Our Foundation will offer hope, support and empowerment. We need to be bold enough to find the gaps – the failings – in the system, and close them or at least narrow them,” she said.
“We need to be bold enough to educate the community, unlocking the mystery around family and domestic violence and we need to be bold enough to use our voice to speak out for change.”
To support the Strive to be Kind Campaign, register your school or business here!