Opinion

Dhanya Mani
Remembering my lost friend Kate

It was a Saturday when I found out Kate was gone. I was about to pick up the phone to call her, because I had not heard from her during the week.

Chelsey had texted to tell me we needed to talk. The first half of the conversation was a blur. Earlier that week, I told my story of sexual harassment by High Court judge Dyson Heydon. I had expected to hear from Kate that morning, but the call never came.

I knew something was wrong, but my mind tried to minimise the weight of any worry. Kate was and will always be the strongest woman I know. She had boundless compassion for any person whose mental health was suffering. She was always the first to remind me to look after myself. She took care of her own mental health with more insight and proactivity than anyone else. She never gave up.

When Chelsey and I began to speak, trapped feelings tumbled out of my mouth. How I felt about the story – the response. Suddenly, she interrupted to say she had something to tell me. I can remember the words she used distinctly. I can see them – I can see the sounds that lend them shape – but I never want to hear them again. Kate was dead.

It was evening. I was sitting in my bed. It was dark outside. I cried for a week. Two weeks. A month. I cry still. No amount of crying will ever be enough. I feel guilty on every day I do not cry.

That Saturday – and on every day since, including today – I hear a knock on my door. Bewildered, clueless, I walk to the door.

I hear Kate speaking. Dhanya, I can’t believe you. Her full, rich, clever, cherished voice rings out with laughter. I can hear it exactly. A lilt at the end of each beat, almost an extension of her handprint.

Did you ever really think I would be gone? That I’d let anything stop me? Come on. It’s me.

A short pause.

Come on. Please, she says with a playful, accusatory tone. I reach out to hug her with relief. I bury my face in her shoulder.

Kate, I’m sorry. I can’t believe I let myself believe it. Of course. No fucking man will ever be any match for you. One day, you’re going to be attorney-general. How could I ever let myself doubt your presence for a moment?

Kate hugs me. She smiles. I can feel – almost feel – the shirt I imagine she is wearing.

I smile as I write this. I’m so sure of every word, every sound, every motion. After all, Kate was – is – an exacting woman. Our genius historian.

 

My mind spins to the Sydney March 4 Justice. I can barely breathe from crying as I started to see the signs for Kate. Once again, she is right there.

I feel myself texting her. Kate, where are you?? You’re running late! Jo is here. Don’t forget we have to make fun of James!

She is running slightly behind because her bus is late. But she is going to be there. She would never miss it. This is her moment, too.

I am inconsolable, feeling I can almost see her walking towards me, with a glint of humour and conviction in her eyes. She would have her list of the most hilarious politician callouts we could both make. They’d be inspired and witty. I’d smile and tell her that as usual she’d showed me up as the better millennial.

In the warmth of the morning, as we stand wearing black, it feels as if I am at Kate’s funeral even though I know I am waiting for her to arrive. I receive a call from a reporter who I know is ringing to discuss Kate. I throw my phone in my bag, irritated at it for dispelling the illusion she is still coming.

Jenny Leong, a woman I’m grateful to have met through this work, is standing beside me. We are both set down to speak at the rally. She asks what I need, if I need someone to stand next to me, to signal to in case I can’t speak after all. She understands what is going on.

When I speak, my first words are for Kate. All of them are. She helped me find my voice.

To this day, I prefer to be outdoors at night. The dark feels like an extension of that same evening when Kate was still certainly a living, breathing woman.

 

To most of Australia, Kate is a woman with one name. She is the woman who accused Christian Porter of rape – and who died by suicide before her story could be investigated. She is the woman whose diary has been published by major news outlets, whose mental health has been questioned and posthumously analysed.

Christian Porter strenuously denies her account. He sued the ABC for publishing part of it, but discontinued proceedings before they were concluded. He is now working to ensure the ABC’s defence cannot be published by other media outlets.

Recently, Porter was appointed acting leader of the house of representatives. It is clear Scott Morrison has taken a side. The prime minister maintains he has never read Kate’s statement: allegations of sexual crime, he says, are a “matter for the police”. Later, Morrison declared Porter an “innocent man under our law”. He has refused to establish an independent inquiry and his party has frustrated attempts by others to begin one.

Morrison’s actions only serve to underscore why an independent inquiry is the right mechanism to determine whether a politician is a “fit and proper person” to hold high office. Independent inquiries are customarily run by former members of the judiciary, who assess whether there is sufficient evidence to prove an executive officer-holder has perpetrated misbehaviour that violates the test.

Independent inquiries have been established by federal parliament and state parliaments into claims of misbehaviour perpetrated by former judges such as Lionel Murphy and Angelo Vasta. In the latter case, Queensland parliament honoured the inquiry’s findings, which resulted in the governor removing Vasta from office. The findings of the 1988 inquiry into Vasta demonstrate why Morrison’s references to the rule of law are so misguided. They conclude that misbehaviour includes “such misconduct, whether criminal or not … [that] demonstrates unfitness for office” and that it is for parliament to “adopt such method of proof as it sees fit”.

 

Kate lives in my memory and in the memories of her loved ones. Her claims are serious and warrant investigation. Much of the country has moved on. Kate’s story has no satisfying end and so eventually it will stop being told. But she is still here, vivid to those of us who knew her. The prime minister can no longer ignore the need for an independent inquiry. It is the least that she deserves.

My first conversation with Kate was more than three hours long. We cherished the strength of will and mind in the other, recognised it as a prerequisite for openly fighting to heal from complex trauma. We found chosen family in one another.

The most excruciating pain in grieving Kate has been witnessing the public and press defile her. When I grapple with the pain of this, I close my eyes and often see us lying on cold marble. Above us is a fresco – rich pigments on lime plaster. But instead of biblical scenes, the scenes are of her life: the dreams she shared, the woman she was, her fight for justice. I reach over to hold Kate’s hand and feel chipped paint in my palm. The priority thrown at the feet of Kate’s loved ones – by the media and by politicians – is the task of restoring her.

On the one-year anniversary of Kate’s passing, I renamed the campaign I launched in 2019 “Kate’s List”. The campaign works with survivors to end sexual misconduct. I have spent hours talking with politicians and their staffers about how to build support for an independent inquiry in New South Wales parliament, if we fail federally.

Kate was a meticulous historian who believed in the power of revealing truth. To know Kate was to have your life enriched. I believe in the power of revealing her as the force of nature she was and is. I find purpose and energy in trying to build her the legacy she deserves – the legacy she would have created for herself, if only she were here to do so.

National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732

Lifeline 13 11 14

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 28, 2021 as "Remembering Kate".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Dhanya Mani is a lawyer and the founder of Changing Our Headline