‘It brings home to you how far away you are’
The murder of Jill Meagher has made Irish women in Melbourne more conscious of their safety, though they know it is one of the safest cities to live in
Pádraig Collins, in Australia
The rape and murder of Drogheda woman Jill Meagher in Melbourne last year has made other Irish women in Australia more cautious, even if they are keen to stress that overall the country is a very safe place to live.
Eve Neylon (30), from Midleton, Co Cork, works as a television producer in Melbourne – a fact that worried her friends at home when they heard the news last September that an Irish woman who worked in the media had gone missing in Australia. “I had friends calling me saying ‘God I thought it was you’,” Neylon says.
She spoke with Jill Meagher’s husband Tom in the desperate days before her body was found. “I was a news producer for a breakfast programme at the time . . . and working in news, you never want to intrude in people’s lives, but I did have to call her husband a couple of times to arrange interviews, because he was appealing for any information at the time.
“He was really gentle and shaken on the phone. It was the first time I’d ever made a call like that,” she says.
The case made Neylon realise just how far she is from Ireland. “For me, the main thing that brought it home to me . . . was that she was Irish, and it could have been any of my school friends that I was watching a report about. But it also brings home to you how far away you are from your loved ones.
“Melbourne is one of the safest cities in the world. I get the train home late and I don’t feel unsafe, but it brings home to you that it can happen to any woman. It wouldn’t affect me because I was Irish, because she wasn’t targeted because she was Irish; she was targeted as a woman.”
Neylon says she has always been conscious of people around her, but is even more careful since Jill Meagher’s murder. “It would be the same if I was in Ireland right now,” she says. “It’s not worth it. All it takes is to meet one weirdo.”
However, Neylon says that the case has not changed her views of her adopted country. “The opportunities here are fantastic, it’s a fantastic place to live and it’s so safe. I’ve never come across any incidents on public transport late at night. I feel as safe here as I would walking down Cork city or Dublin city at night. I’d say to anyone thinking of coming out that it was a real tragedy, it was absolutely awful, but I would hate to think it would put women off coming to live here.”
The view from Sydney
Most Irish people who move to Australia live in Sydney, often in share houses and flats around Bondi beach. Joanne Murphy from Cork is one of them, and she works as a traffic controller – an occupation dominated in Sydney by young Irish women.
“We were just speaking about it at work today and the girls were saying that we can all relate to it because we’ve all done it. We’ve all decided that just because the house is only five minutes away that we’ll walk home alone instead of getting a taxi.
“I think that was probably the most chilling part about it; the fact that you can think ‘I’m only a couple of minutes away, I’ll be fine’, and that’s what can happen,” she says.
Murphy (28) says that while it may have made Australia seem more threatening, “realistically it could happen anywhere. I don’t know that it changes my view of Australia, but it definitely changes my view that when you’re not in your own surroundings you become a bit more wary of what you’re doing.
“When you go out at home [in Ireland], a lot of times you don’t even know how you’re going to get back, but you always know that you’re going to know somebody or meet somebody that knows you. But when you’re over here [in Australia] you’re kind of on your own in that sense, and you need to be more careful of where you’re going.”
She says she is now more cautious when out at night. “It really affected me when they showed the video of her and just the fact she was so near home and she probably didn’t even think she was taking a chance. She probably just thought she had to walk a couple of minutes up the road. It does make you more wary of what you’re doing.
“[However] public transport is so good here compared to home, you can just get into a taxi and I think you just have to get it into your head that you have to, rather than just walk on your own.
“We can all say that you hear things and you just leave it go over your head, but the fact that she is Irish makes you think it can happen to anybody. It’s not just a story that you read about in the paper of another girl, it’s an Irish girl who left home, and it’s easier to put yourself in that position and think it could be anybody,” she says.
Marion O’Hagan from the Australian Irish Welfare Bureau in Melbourne regularly helps family members of Irish victims of crime. “I had a text from Ireland that they had seen the result of the case, and it just opened old wounds for people that had somebody who was hurt here,” she says.
“In speaking to families that have had things happen to them, one particular woman said to me ‘We’re not blaming Australia. This is not about Australia, this could happen anywhere’. I think that was probably spot on. It does happen all over the world.”
O’Hagan says people in Ireland should not be concerned about their daughters going to Australia. “Everybody needs to be aware nowadays wherever they are . . . I don’t think people need to fear [coming to Australia]. They don’t need to be worried.”
This article appears in the Life pages of The Irish Times today.
To read more about how the Irish community in Australia was affected by Jill Meagher’s death, and about the support systems available for the Irish community in times of need, see When things go wrong far from home.