The last thing on earth Vanessa Fowler wants to do is recount the awful domestic abuse that her sister, Allison Baden-Clay, suffered in the final years of her marriage – the final years of her life.
But if it will save other families from the grief that hers has suffered, Vanessa is prepared to go there.
Seven years since her sister was murdered, Vanessa says, in a powerful, exclusive interview with The Weekly, “we still grieve every day, but we understand what Allison was going through.
We want to make sure other families get to see the signs and get to intervene.”
In her last days, Allison knew her husband was having an affair and it was agony. It made her feel sick.
She would have given anything for him to love her again, and make love to her. For a “proper” hug.
She was lonely and cried at night when he wouldn’t sleep in the same bed. When she’d tried to resume a sexual relationship, he had laughed at her underwear and told her she smelled.
“Why so mean?” Allison asked in her journal. She felt as if she wasn’t good enough. She blamed herself for “just” being a mother and “forgetting” to be a wife.
Two days before she died, she wrote: “really hurt, had so many opportunities to tell me – let me believe it was all my fault and therefore I was at your mercy.”
Only Gerard Baden-Clay knows what happened on the night of 19 April 2012.
But it seems that, as far as he was concerned, Allison had become an inconvenient woman.
He was drowning in debt, couldn’t afford a divorce and his girlfriend was increasingly demanding.
“Leave it to me now,” he told his mistress Toni McHugh in an email. He is now serving a life sentence for Allison’s murder.
In 2014, Allison’s family launched the Allison Baden-Clay Foundation, in her honour and in the hope that through sharing Allison’s story, she would help others – that would be her legacy.
Now they have partnered with Griffith University’s MATE Bystander Program to educate people about family and domestic violence, and about how to help friends or loved ones in abusive relationships.
The program, launching this month, will be implemented in workplaces throughout Australia.
There had only been 21 months between Allison and her older sister.
“We were very close, we did dancing lessons together, there was always the two of us.”
And they remained close throughout Allison’s life.
Even so, Vanessa only learned that Allison had been in an abusive relationship when it all came out in court and the media.
“She walked out every day, dressed, make-up, hair done,” says Vanessa.
Until it happens to you, you can’t know the signs. But Allison had withdrawn, confiding only in her journal.
When she was angry, she wrote, “I still go into my cave and don’t open my mouth to say what I want.”
“Having the journal was probably her way of dealing with it,” Vanessa realises now. “She was very hesitant to talk about it around us. That was probably pride.”
And possibly shame.
Alison’s husband Gerard had always been “aloof” at family events, but how could they have known that there was a killer in their midst?
Her mother had been told to “butt out” when she raised concerns with Gerard but they had been worried that he would take it out on Allison and the girls if they interfered.
“He was a born controller,” Allison’s mother has said.
“We felt that Allison was strong enough to handle what went on behind closed doors,” Vanessa says.
“She was very strong and very determined – very determined to raise her three children in the way that she wanted. We never dreamed that he would have it in him to actually murder her.”
Now they know differently. The family were aware that she was becoming increasingly isolated from them but couldn’t have guessed at the danger she was in.
“Withdrawing is a red flag in itself. If we had known what the signs were, we may have been more determined to intervene, rather than letting her tell us that everything was OK.
“There are lots of should have, could have, would have scenarios that go around in our heads.”
To read more of our interview with Vanessa Fowler and to learn more about The Bystander Program, pick up a copy of the February 2019 issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, on sale now.