ABC Far North / By Brendan Mounter
Born prematurely in a remote village on New Britain island, off mainland Papua New Guinea, Lydia Gah learnt to survive from her very first breath.
But it’s her story as the survivor of a 12-year abusive marriage that she’s determined to share with the world.
Ms Gah has just self-published a book titled Survive and Thrive, which documents her life and the violence she suffered at the hands of her former husband while living in PNG.
The violence she endured was during the 1980s, but Ms Gah said it was still a difficult process to write her book almost four decades on.
“It was like reliving those painful years and, consequently, it took me over two years to complete it,” she said.
“I would write maybe a paragraph or the idea that I wanted to bring forward for women to really take courage from or be inspired by, and then I would stop and shed tears.
“But the motivating factor for me to complete the book was, I’m not doing this for me. I’m on the other side.
“Now, I’m doing this for women who are stuck where they are right now.”
Helping others a consistent theme
Following her divorce, Ms Gah pursued her education and went on to become a counsellor and social worker. She also established a charity that supports domestic violence victims in PNG after she emigrated to Australia in 2004.
But she has since turned to writing in the hope her words will both inspire other women to take action and inform a larger, much-needed conversation.
“If the book transforms the mentality of people, how they view domestic violence, and [helps] lessen the incidence of domestic violence and changes the life of someone, I would have done justice,” she said.
“I want to be the voice of the voiceless — the women who, for far too long, have kept quiet about their own ordeal.
“This is my greatest hope that Papua New Guinean women, Melanesian women, Australian women start the conversation about domestic violence.
“It’s not something we should keep quiet about, because the more we keep quiet about it, the more it will happen.”
Calling out the monster
Ms Gah said while attitudes were changing in PNG, unfortunately her story of domestic violence was still all too common in her homeland.
“I know that it’s prevalent in Papua New Guinea, my birth country, [because] communities tend to look the other way when incidences of domestic violence happen,” she said.
“There is an element of not only fear, but shame and embarrassment.
“I want to call this monster out and say: ‘Don’t be embarrassed about it, talk about it’.
“I’m talking about it in the book to address what we have kept a secret for so long.”
Ms Gah is selling her book independently and is also raising funds through the sale of traditional PNG crafts, coconut oil and CDs of songs in her Nakani mother tongue and Tok Pisin to recoup her self-publishing costs.