Meet Mel O’Neill. She’s a 24-year-old from Hobart, Tasmania. Mel comes from a long line of women who have experienced gender-based violence, which is a devastating reality for many of us. In a passionate effort to break the cycle, she’s created a music event called A Space for Solidarity, a space to amplify the voices and diverse experiences of women, to learn from each other’s stories, and to re-energise and move forward together.
A Space for Solidarity is a night for people to come together for an all-female line-up of music, in an intimate and supportive space. It’s to remember those who are no longer with us and to celebrate the strength and resilience of women.
Laura Roscioli spoke to Mel about her views on the current gender-violence issues being covered in the media, the power of music, and about inTouch, the organisation that the funds made will go to.
Was there something you read or witnessed that inspired the idea for A Space for Solidarity?
Over the past 18 months, we've seen a societal shift in the conversation around sexism, including that of gender-based violence. Women are starting to be heard when they come forward about their experiences, and there's more outrage around publicised stories of assault. The death of Eurydice Dixon in June exemplified this, with 10,000 people attending her public vigil in Melbourne alone.
However, within the weeks on either side of Eurydice's death, we also lost both Qi Yu (in Sydney) and Laa Chol (in Melbourne) to gender-based violence. These deaths received minuscule social outrage in comparison. When I heard Laa Chol's story and noticed this disparity, I was so disappointed in our community. The same people who had been so vocal only a month previously were silent.
Compounding this were the remarks from our political officials using Laa's death to feed their narrative of hate and fear as they attempted to racially vilify the individuals involved in her death (statements which were later discredited by the Chief Commissioner). Amidst this I also felt your classic "white guilt" — I was disgusted by everything I was seeing but simultaneously safe from the real-life implications these events had because of the colour of my skin.
I was so disappointed in our community. The same people who had been so vocal only a month previously were silent.
The week of Laa Chol's death, while all of these thoughts were crowding my head, I was dog-sitting for my dear friend Jess. Like your typical sensitive artist, I took to her piano to try to process all the information. I wanted to do something to shed light on this unacceptable contradiction of events (other than a social media frenzy) without infringing upon and stealing space from the voices of people of colour (particularly women) that really needed to be getting through.
I realised as I was writing at the piano that I didn't know how to navigate all of this stuff publicly, but I do know how to organise a gig. At first, I felt uncomfortable about how to approach the topic of gendered violence intersecting with the racism with which our society had responded in the previous months. But I quickly slapped myself in the face, because my discomfort is nothing compared to the reality women of colour are faced with in this country. So, with that, I contacted Jess, who happens to work in gender and is an absolute powerhouse, and since then more and more people have offered their support as the event leads to its fruition this Friday night!
I quickly slapped myself in the face, because my discomfort is nothing compared to the reality women of colour are faced with in this country.
What does the power of music mean to you?
Music has the power to unlock parts of ourselves that we didn't even realise we were blocking. It changes our brain chemistry, our physiology, our emotional state. It transcends the intellectual and directly targets the experiential - that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you don't just know something, but you understand somehow. In that sense, it can be scary. But when you experience it in a safe, supportive, open space, you can explore those scary things knowing that you have a safety net, an army of people ready to catch you.
When you experience [music] in a safe, supportive, open space, you can explore those scary things knowing that you have a safety net, an army of people ready to catch you.
Can you tell us a little more about inTouch? What they do specifically and what it is about them that made you select them to give funds to?
inTouch provides services, programs and responses to issues of family violence in migrant and refugee communities. They have an incredibly holistic and inclusive approach to tackling gender-based violence, including prevention and early intervention, crisis intervention, post-crisis support, research and advocacy, and sector capacity building. It was important to us to support an organisation that has a direct impact on women affected by gender-based violence with a multi-cultural focus.