Irish in Sydney shaken by Ashling Murphy murder 4 months ago

Irish in Sydney shaken by Ashling Murphy murder

The sky is purple at first, then magenta and marshmallow pink. Next, it’s gold with streaks of tangerine.   

At exactly 6am, the sun begins to creep over the horizon.

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The dozens of people who have gathered on the hill above Bronte Beach fall quiet and turn to look out at the sea. In front of the crowd on the grass, a row of candles illuminates a framed photo of smiling young woman.

Sunrise-watching at beaches across the city is a staple social activity for lots of Sydney’s Irish expats. It became more popular than ever during last year’s lockdown, when outdoor meet-ups were the only opportunity for many of us, living thousands of miles from our families, to see friends.

But Saturday’s clifftop gathering is by far the biggest I’ve ever seen at Bronte.

Members of the local Irish community, mostly but not exclusively girls and women, have come together for a sunrise vigil in memory of Ashling Murphy.

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The primary school teacher’s murder has deeply shaken many of us in Sydney.

The mood among those gathered with their candles on the hill this morning is of sadness – and utter disbelief.

“Out for a run,” I hear, over and over; each of us repeating the details of the tragedy as we chat, processing. 

“Middle of the afternoon.”

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“Such a quiet town.”

“So young.”

These details jar with our ideas of home, now probably distorted and rose-tinted after years living abroad. Ireland is safe, we think. Quiet, maybe even boring, and safe. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen.

On social media, there is fear, anger and frustration. Ever since the news broke here on Thursday evening, my Instagram feed has been flooded with reactions. Female friends have been sharing their concerns for themselves and their friends and sisters. Meanwhile many guys I know have posted about taking their safety for granted and how men can start conversations with each other and take responsibility.

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Our international friends and Aussie colleagues seem saddened but less shocked as we fill them in on what’s happened. They see the grim parallels between this case and ones that have happened in the UK, Europe and here in Australia. They understand the inherent risk of simply being a woman.

Women all over the world know well what we’re supposed to do to protect ourselves against harm; not least those of us who move to big, unfamiliar cities. 

Even though the backdrops may be different – Dubai’s dazzling skyscraper skyline, Toronto’s snow-ploughed roads, Dublin’s grey puddled streets, Sydney’s humid beachfronts – the precautions, the steps we take, are the same. 

But this week, when a woman can be murdered in daylight in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, the idea of walking home with our keys sticking out of our fists in self-defence seems almost laughable. If she’s not safe there, why would I be here, or anywhere?

On Saturday night, four of us go to the cinema. We step out onto the street at 10pm and the other three girls organise a taxi to bring them back towards Bondi. My apartment, in Coogee, is a ten minute walk away. 

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“Wait, what are you going to do?” one of them asks me. I assure them that I’ll probably be home before they will, that the road is well-lit the entire way and that I’ll text as soon as I get in. I make the point that a week ago, I wouldn’t think twice about walking home.

“I’m not going to change what I do,” I say, and I quickly squeeze each of them goodbye. The air is warm but the hairs on my arms are standing on end as I head off into the night.

Feature image by Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie.