JACK sits nonchalantly on a couch casually strumming his guitar. Without even realising it, he’s playing Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water.
In the blink of an eye, the 10-year-old changes tunes, from one to another and another.
The repertoire of songs for Jack (not his real name) would astound even the most accomplished guitarist.
Jack then turns to a set of djembe drums sitting on the floor and begins belting out a rhythmic beat.
For this brave young lad, music is not only his passion, it has also been his saving grace over the last few months.
Jack and his six-year-old sister Hannah (not her real name) have witnessed some heinous acts of violence in their short lives ... visions that no person should ever see or experience.
Most of the violent acts against their mother Sarah (not her real name) by her former partner cannot be published; they are just too horrible.
Jack refused to play his guitar throughout the six years his mother endured emotional, verbal and physical abuse at the hands of this man.
It was almost as if the retreat of playing the guitar was somehow taking his attention away from supporting his traumatised mother.
But since Sarah found the strength to leave the violent relationship and seek solace and counselling for herself and her children, Jack has allowed himself to feel comfortable enough to return to the instrument he loves and has mastered at such a young age.
Much of the credit for Jack picking up the guitar again can go to the counsellors at Ballarat support agency WRISC.
Music and art play a big part in the therapy offered by WRISC in its children’s program.
Through the specialised therapy, child victims of family violence situations can become comfortable enough with the counsellors to open up and talk about their feelings and their experiences.
Although it was a struggle for Sarah to convince her children to attend counselling, she believed the WRISC program had again “switched on the light” in her son.
“For me, the kids’ therapy is like Christmas. My children come out of each session with a new lease on life, new vibrancy and new ideas. Each time they come out, it’s like unwrapping a Christmas present, one layer at a time,” Sarah said.
“For such a long time, (Jack) lost his smile, but after such a short time in counselling, he has again found his laugh and his and (Hannah’s) laughter is the best sound any mother can hear.”
Now Sarah and Jack want to share their story to encourage other parents and children in similar situations to seek support and counselling from such organisations as WRISC.
Jack doesn’t say much during the interview with The Courier, preferring to sit beside his mother while nodding at her words.
He did, however, want to encourage other children living in abusive homes to seek counselling.
“At first I didn’t want to come here (to WRISC), but after only seven weeks I want to keep coming back,” Jack said.
The 10-year-old admitted he felt “tight and cramped up” when his mother’s former partner became physically abusive towards her.
“I wanted to help mum but I couldn’t, because I was a kid. I also wanted to protect my little sister and myself too.”
After only seven weeks at counselling, Jack says he now feels “brighter inside”.
Sarah said her children initially put her former partner on a pedestal, constantly trying to win his approval by “acting appropriately” around him. “They tried to live up to his expectations and they wanted him to love them unconditionally,” she said.
While her former partner was not physically abusive towards the children, he did verbally and emotionally traumatise them.
“My kids are very close, so if you hurt one you hurt the other. So when my partner was abusive, they sought comfort in each other,” Sarah said.
She said it broke her heart that Jack and Hannah witnessed the constant barrage of abuse against her. “Unfortunately, my kids saw and heard everything,” she said.
It was a motherly instinct to keep her children safe which drove Sarah to finally leave her abusive and narcissistic partner.
The main catalyst for Sarah and her children fleeing the family home came when one night she was forced to hide herself and her children in the foot well of the locked family car.
Cowering under a blanket and singing loudly so the children could not hear her former partner bashing on the car, Sarah tried to keep Jack and Hannah calm.
“They were traumatised,” she said.
When they eventually fled, Sarah and her children first sought refuge at two safe houses before going into hiding for a year.
“We moved town, no-one knew where we were for about a year,” she said.
While she was left with nothing after leaving her partner, she was grateful she still had her kids.
“We’ve still got each other and that’s the best part,” she said.
Sarah’s own counselling has made her realise she wasn’t the only one going through family violence.
“(For some reason) I had attracted violent boyfriends for what seemed forever.
“I thought I was the problem and couldn’t work out what I was doing wrong.
“But counselling has made me realise that sort of situation is quite common,” Sarah said.
“Counselling had made me see things much clearer, so much so that I now know how to change the pattern my life kept following. I now take a deep breath of fresh air rather than the stale air I was living in.”
The Courier campaign, It’s Up To Us, is helping to highlight the issues of family violence in the Ballarat region.
Together with the support of the White Ribbon Foundation, police and local welfare organisations, the campaign is also encouraging readers to go online to make a pledge to stop violence against women.
Go to www.thecourier.com.au to make that pledge and to read stories which make part of the campaign, which finishes on November 25 – White Ribbon Day.