Salwa Haydar never finished her university degree. But yesterday her daughters watched proudly as Western Sydney University honoured the beloved mother-of-four and community worker with a posthumous bachelor of community welfare.
Nour Haydar, 24, said her mother knew a tertiary education really mattered and made a difference. “She encouraged me so much.”
Salwa never got to see her own daughter graduate. She was just 45 when her husband Haydar murdered her in front of their youngest child, Ola, then 18. For those of you who don’t remember the stories, Ola stood between her mother and father, sobbing, “What are you doing? Oh my god, you’re going to kill her.”
Nour is not the crying kind but there’s a break in her voice when she tells me: “She wasn’t able to make my graduation after having been such a big part of my life.”
This year in March, almost two years to the day, Nour’s father, Haydar Haydar, 60, was found guilty in the NSW Supreme Court of the murder of Salwa. The murder was reported widely.
As usual, as with all these murders, the Counting Dead Women project of Destroy The Joint published her name and the manner of her death. She was number 27 that March, the 27th woman killed as a result of violence in 2015.
But I didn’t know how connected I was to Salwa until a few days later. I got an email, or maybe a Facebook message, from a student I had bossed into doing an honours degree. She was smart, you could see she would be a good journalist. I thought another year at university would do her the world of good, prepare her for life as a journalist, make her more ready.
The message told me she was planning to defer honours. Damn, I thought. But then I read in my message from Nour Haydar. “My dad killed my mum. I just don’t think I can ever finish honours.”
You know how people say domestic violence affects everyone. And sure, I know it does, but this was close for me. A young woman who I now feared would be lost forever because her father killed her mother.
This year, there are 11 women on that list of those killed by violence. In 2015, the year Salwa was killed, it was 27. No matter the number, it’s always too many. And every year, those deaths spread out to the families, to the friends, to the workplaces and schools.
Whatever you may think about teaching and teachers, know this: teachers don’t just turn up at nine and finish at five. We take our students’ lives home with us, we have dreams for them. We worry. And I was worrying about Nour even in first year. She’d planned to do another degree and suddenly, out of the blue, turned up in journalism class. And year by year, she got the hang of it. Every year, you see students finally get it. You see their future ribbon out before them.
And then her father murdered her mother.
Over the next two years, I kept in touch. She got a job at Sky but really her heart and soul were occupied. I sent a few messages, not wanting to be weird but not wanting to lose sight of Nour. She said she was applying for a job at the ABC.
Then the trial started. I decided not to go. But then I heard Nour was giving evidence. I just wanted to be in the same room to send love beams (weird, but what I’ve always called it). She was so composed – 24, giving evidence that would eventually send her father to jail – but so composed.
God, it was awful. Lawyers asking whether she remembered what she said the day her mother died. Lawyers asking why she said her father and mother didn’t fight. Imagine being a 22-year-old on the day your father killed your mother and making any sense. Imagine being anyone on that day and making sense. But she didn’t cry.
On Wednesday, when Western Sydney University conferred Salwa’s degree, Nour still didn’t cry. Ola had to leave the hall straight after. And their elder sister Amani strode on to the stage, in new boots, to accept the testamur.
Amani is 29, a lawyer and mother-of-two, now doing a masters degree with a research component. Hers is about how Muslim victims of crime deal with trauma.
She’s stepped into her mother’s shoes, really, she’s the organiser, the motivator. “In some ways I feel I have to take charge. In a way, I do the things my mum would want done. I try to make that happen.”
The three sisters have made it happen. Western Sydney Uni was so generous, organising Salwa’s degree. Amani is on the way to her master’s degree. Ola is in the second year of an architecture degree at UTS.
And Nour? She started as an ABC cadet in February this year.