When you first meet Mary Knowles she comes across as the headstrong mayor of the Northern Midlands Council, but not too long ago she thought her former partner was going to kill her.
Ms Knowles is a survivor of horrific and persistent sexual abuse and family violence.
While her life now, living in the foothills of Ben Lomond, has afforded her the sort of anonymity one might expect from a writer hoping to pen their next best-seller, or a painter looking for a spark of inspiration from the Tasmanian wilderness.
Ms Knowles' story is completely different. Ms Knowles is not an artist or an author, and she is more than a mayor with an Order of Australia Medal.
After her father was killed in a car accident when she was five, her mum moved her and 3 younger brothers to Adelaide to be with their family.
What seemed like the perfect opportunity to overcome the hardship of her father's passing turned out to be the start of a perpetuating cycle of family violence and abuse.
"We were in Adelaide for four years and in that four years between seven and 11 I suffered quite serious child sexual abuse," Ms Knowles said.
Ms Knowles said it was multiple male family members that perpetrated the "horrific" abuse, and that it laid a platform for decades of a sort of acceptance of abuse and a feeling that she was "special". As a good catholic child she told in confession and it was explained to her by the priest that it must have been her fault, she must have 'lead them on'. Hence more abuse that keeps a child quiet.
After moving on from Adelaide and the abuse that transpired there, she was further "groomed" from the age of 16 by a man 43 years older than her. She fell in love and had two children with him. Then he died when she was 24.
Ms Knowles said he was never abusive but it is clear that in retrospect she can see how a relationship between a 16-year-old girl and 59-year-old man is a different example of manipulation.
She met another man, who she also fell in love with, married and had two more children. Physical abuse started in this relationship before the marriage, but her abuser would always apologise and promise it would never happen again. Ms Knowles' perspective on what was, or was not, acceptable treatment of her was skewed.
"He was a violent bastard. And I didn't quite know how to deal with that," she said.
Ms Knowles said he separated her from much of her already distanced family and drove a wedge wherever he could between her and her friends.
"If he didn't like my friends, he'd just be so totally rude and the friends wouldn't come back," she said.
What started out as isolation and control - in many cases things so small that Ms Knowles hardly noticed - spread so much until it pervaded all of Ms Knowles' life.
Ms Knowles said the emotional and psychological abuse happened so insidiously that, despite feeling that she could 'make things right', she never really had no way of stopping it from getting out of control.
"If you're groomed well enough, you don't see what you're in," she said.
If you're groomed well enough, you don't see what you're in.- Mary Knowles OAM, abuse survivor.
"You see that as a normal way of living, which is not right. But it's so difficult when you don't see that it's an issue."
Emotional abuse had become a part of Ms Knowles' everyday life, and the physical abuse was escalating. She knew that she needed to do something. However, she said a fear of reprisal and his threats to find and kill her made leaving a seriously scary option.
"When the violence got really bad I left him and took my children," she said.
"Then the court gave me the house that we lived in, and I moved back into the house."
But it is never that simple. For many women in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, control is never ceded, even after leaving. The case was the same for Ms Knowles.
Despite being separated, and having proceeded through the courts to take back some of the control Ms Knowles had lost, her former partner began reminding her that she did not really have control. And that regardless of what the courts had said, he was nearby, and watching.
"I was stalked, every single night," she said.
"If I'd left my front gate open, he would shut it. And if I left it shut, he would open it.
"And I would often see his car parked in an laneway nearby."
The ongoing reminder showed Ms Knowles that her abuser would not allow her to get away so easily.
And when he made contact with her and started acting repentant, and kind, she let him back into her and her children's' lives.
"He started to be nice, and I was conned. Stupid me. But I thought 'better the devil you know, than the one you don't know', So I went back to him," she said.
The tone in Ms Knowles voice as she explains her inability to see her abuser for what he was is one of frustration. She knows now, in retrospect and with education, that the story was never going to change and despite his manipulation she was walking back into the same situation she had left.
But an ember of the love she once had for him still burned somewhere within her. And she felt an obligation to him because of the children they had together. It may appear that Ms Knowles gave him a second chance, but did she really have a choice?
Her abuser was a master manipulator that had controlled her for a number of years. Both he, and her lifetime of abuse, had reduced her feeling of self-worth so low that she saw no other option.
"I was scared stiff of him. I was too scared not to do what he wanted and to go back to him, so I went back," she said.
"It didn't last very long and the violence actually got worse. Much, much worse. And he tried to kill me.
"And I think he thought he had but when I came to it wasn't a good story."
Ms Knowles recount of the moment she survived her attempted murder is graphic. Had any moment of the attack gone a different way, she could have easily been killed.
"He wanted me out of the house. He'd locked me out before," she said.
In the past when her abuser had locked her out, Ms Knowles would climb back in through an upstairs window, but this time was different. Ms Knowles' defiance represented a loss of control for her abuser.
"It was in the night and he wanted me out but I refused to leave," she said.
"He put his hands on my throat and strangled me. I obviously went unconscious because I didn't know that he'd actually stepped on my foot and broken it. I didn't know that until later.
When I came to, and I still wouldn't leave, he kicked me in the ribs and busted my ribs.- Mary Knowles OAM, abuse survivor.
"In the fight that ensued I went through a window. There was blood everywhere and it wasn't good. But finally I crawled out of the house."
After that she again re-lived her and her children's trauma through the court. She was granted joint custody of her children, and had to relinquish them to her abuser every second weekend.
On one of the occasions her abuser came to pick up the children, a partner of a friend of Ms Knowles was staying with her for the handover because she was so petrified of her former partner. It caused her abuser to snap.
"He came in and punched him up and broke his jaw," she said.
The violence had spread beyond Ms Knowles family, and the reality of what was clearly happening behind her closed doors was out on the street. Her friend told her enough was enough.
In reality, Ms Knowles knew enough was enough long ago. But it was the support this friend offered - the most support she had realistically received in decades - that enabled her to break away from the relationship once and for all.
Mr Knowles' friend organised for her and her children to go into a women's refuge shelter, where she was given legal assistance and support in the court system. And she never looked back.
In the shelter, for the first time in a long time, Ms Knowles said she felt safe.
"The refuge made me feel so safe, absolutely safe," she said.
"They took us and supported me incredibly well. I cannot speak more highly of them."
She said her time in the shelter woke her up to how extensive the abuse in her life had been, and why she had found it so difficult to walk away. She learnt that the abuse in her childhood took away her perspective on what was the right way to be treated by men.
Like so many women before her, and the many that have come, and continue to come after her, the trauma of her childhood left her emotionally shattered and desensitised to the abuse she would end up suffering for decades.
"It was enough to hit me in the face and think 'oh, my goodness, that does have something to do with the way you think'. You think in a completely different way," she said.
When you're a child and you have three different men abusing you in horrific ways. You just think that's a normal part of life and what's happening to everybody.- Mary Knowles OAM, abuse survivor.
"You haven't got the perspective of someone who's grown up in a loving family where you have lots of fun. Normal people think in a straightforward way. If you're brought up in perversive violence, you think in a different way about what's okay and what's not okay, and you've got no idea of what's actually respectful and what's not."
In the shelter Ms Knowles met dozens of other women in a similar situation, with a similar story.
Ms Knowles moved into a rented property near the shelter and helped other women find places to stay, many of them starting off in a room at her house. She also acted as a support person for other women in court, while her very own court proceedings were still going ahead.
Though her case was in the court, Ms Knowles believes the emotional abuse had still not stopped. She said she would regularly receive anonymous calls where the caller would hang up or would breathe heavily down the line before disconnecting. While she said she was not 100 per cent sure who it was, she was confident it was her abuser.
She said she keep moving house and they moved three times in 18 months.
"We lived on adrenaline. We were so scared," she said.
"The threats were still certainly there and I just totally believed he was going to kill me."
When her case against her abuser was finally closed, he was again granted access to the children.
When her case against her abuser was finally closed, he was again granted access to the children. Shortly before her case closed another female victim of abuse that had joint custody of her children was shot in her car as she picked her children up from her former partner.
From that Ms Knowles knew she had to disappear from the clutches of her abuser.
"When the court cases were over, I clearly knew I had to disappear. I needed some water and some space between us.
"There's no way he would have left it alone.
"If I had stayed in Melbourne, I wouldn't be here today. And I firmly, firmly believe that."
If I had stayed in Melbourne, I wouldn't be here today. And I firmly, firmly believe that.- Mary Knowles OAM, abuse survivor.
After being pushed to the point of contemplating suicide, and only stopping because of the reminder that she had to stay alive for her children, Ms Knowles made the most brave choice of her life. With the aid of the women's shelter, she packed her belongings and covertly fled to Rossarden with her children.
She said it was fear, and fear alone that pushed her to restart a new life.
When she arrived she was so scared that her former partner would find her that she changed her name, her date of birth and her children's names. Ms Knowles did not even claim a government benefit because she feared that if she applied it would open a channel for her former abuser to track her down.
She also cut off all contact with her family and friends.
Still, for the next several years she lived in fear that her former abuser would find her.
"It took me at least two years to get off what I call the wheel of the wheel of adrenaline," she said.
"And for me to realise that I actually was safe, that I could start a life.
After meeting a new man who she is currently married to and she said is "magical", she began to put the horrors of her past behind her.
Still, every April she would suffer panic attacks.
One April she returned to her house, deep in the bush near Rossarden, and she said she felt her former abuser's presence.
"I felt physically sick," she said.
Ms Knowles said she never found him there, but some years later her son had some contact with him and in his house in Victoria there were pictures of inside and outside of her Tasmanian home.
"He had been inside my house," she said.
In other news:
For the next five years, according to Ms Knowles and accounts from her neighbours, her former abuser continued to stalk her.
"We had some friends come over here one day to visit and they said, 'we saw this strange guy in a bush with binoculars on your place'. And I knew, I knew it was him. But I could never prove it, and that went on for about five years. And I don't know why it stopped but it seems to have stopped," she said.
Through her time at the women's shelter, and through the perspective it granted her, she was able to heal the open wounds that had festered in her psyche for decades. Despite her former abuser continuing to try and traumatise her and her family for a number of years after she managed to escape, she has taken an oath within herself that she was no longer scared. She had overcome abuse, and she is a survivor.
Undoubtedly a scar still remains - but through the defiance that once almost saw her murdered she stands as a symbol of resilience and a reminder that there is always hope for women in abusive relationships.
Since coming to Tasmania she has given back to the community that sheltered her and extended support when she needed it most.
Her contributions to her local community and the Fingal Valley earnt her an Order of Australia medal. Then as a councillor and now as Mayor she continues to fight for victims of Family Violence.
"I think probably the hardest thing I had to learn was you can achieve what you want to achieve," she said.
I think probably the hardest thing I had to learn was you can achieve what you want to achieve.- Mary Knowles OAM, abuse survivor.
"It's amazing what you can achieve if you think something is worthwhile lobbying for.
"I'm willing to stand up and I'll bloody say anything."
This story is part of The Examiner's series in an effort to not only raise awareness on issues associated with reducing family violence, but also to help remove barriers.
Want to join the effort? See the petition to remove legal fees for lodging an interim family violence order here.
For those seeking help, Family Violence Counselling and Support Service is available on1800 608 122 from 9am to midnight weekdays, and 4pm to midnight on weekends and public holidays.
Telephone and online counselling is available at 1800 RESPECT or by calling 1800 737 732.
Lifeline is also available 24/7 on 13 11 14.
To access crisis accommodation through Magnolia Place, contact Housing Connect Launceston on 1800 800 588.
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