‘I decided to kill her and myself’
THE first time Brendan hit his wife was the hardest.
After that, it became easier each day.
From his first shocking punch, it took Brendan five years of inflicting torture, numerous DVO breaches and two stints in jail until he decided it was time to kill both his wife and himself.
He didn't succeed in either, but was arrested in the midst of his rage and sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for the attempted murder of his wife in their Gold Coast home.
He served 10 years, a time in which he was stabbed twice, witnessed rapes, and was exposed to more violence and blood than he ever thought possible.
And he is grateful for every single day.
Because Brendan says if he had been released early, he knows he would have gone back to his wife and finished the job.
Instead, over that decade he came to accept not just his guilt but the factors that lead him to that very first punch.
He was enrolled in the Domestic Violence Prevention Centre's Men's Domestic Violence Education and Intervention Program, one of the longest-running DV rehabilitation programs in Australia which is delivered in partnership with Probation and Parole, and has come out the other side.
"I live with the shame and I will die with the shame … maybe I will die from the shame," he says.
"I never hit a woman before I hit my wife. But once I had, that was it. The switch was flicked.
"I wasn't even in a rage when I abused her. It was just cold-blooded revenge. I couldn't walk away.
"I had lost the plot … I'd been losing it for years. I got it into my head that it would be better for our kids if they didn't have either of us. I'm not one of these people who kill their children too, I'm not like that.
"I just decided it was a good idea to kill her and myself. As it turned out, I couldn't kill her, but I had a go at myself.
"Before that, I was given DVOs, they meant nothing. I was sent to jail for 14 weeks, for 10 weeks, I came right back and started again.
"Even when this happened, if I'd plead guilty at the start and been given three or four years, I would have gone back and killed her. I needed to be locked away, she needed protection - and I needed protection from myself."
Brendan, now in his 60s and father to two children with his then-wife, is begging for the justice system to be overhauled when it comes to domestic violence offenders.
He argues if we can legislate "one-punch laws" with mandatory sentencing, why can't the same be done against offenders like himself, whose crimes are at epidemic levels across the country?
"Once you hit a woman, that's it. You've crossed the line and you just don't come back," he says.
"DVOs aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Don't hand that out, hand out a one-year sentence. You do it again, you're in for five years.
"Men who commit domestic violence, something is broken inside. It takes time to mend. And the safest place to recover - for everybody - is in jail.
"We need to take the sentencing decision away from the judges and magistrates. The more money you have, the easier it is to avoid jail - but domestic violence is just as likely to happen in a rich family as a poor one. That's why any DV offence should be automatic and mandatory prison time."
Brendan says while he never hit a woman before his wife, he realises now that he was engaging in an abusive pattern, one of intimidation, coercion and control.
It was behaviour learned from his own father.
Describing himself as a "big, tall bloke who barged his way through life", Brendan says he didn't recognise the fear he sparked in others.
"My dad never hit my mum, but he ruled that house with an iron fist. Mum was subservient and meek, she had to be," he says.
"She did what she was told … and it wasn't comforting for me to see her like that.
"When my dad died, she became a different person. It's heartbreaking in retrospect."
Brendan says after serving five years in prison, stewing over how the system had failed him, burning with a need for revenge, plotting his payback, he woke up one morning and decided it was time to move on.
He says he felt the need to be human again, after so many years behaving like a monster.
"It took time for that anger to evaporate. Nothing would have 'fixed' me except time.
"I was so lucky that my children stuck by me, I needed to become a better man for them.
"But I didn't just wake up rehabilitated. It took work.
"Luckily for me, there was a violence course in jail that I could take.
"Mind you, at first I didn't want to do it. You know, 'look at me, I'm fine, so bloody clever that I'm in jail'.
"But if I didn't do it, I wouldn't get parole - so I did it.
"It was amazing. About three or four months into the course I started to recognise what triggered my anger. I learned how people could push my buttons and how I could walk away.
"It was an eye-opener for me. A couple of the facilitators, they got under my skin good. They really got to me and I was surprised because I didn't think anyone could get to me - not if I didn't care about them. I learned I am a complete control freak.
"Later, in the Domestic Violence Prevention Centre program, I learned all the ways that abuse happens, beyond the violence.
"That course taught me all things I should have already known. And I wanted to learn.
"I could see some of the other blokes in the course, they didn't get it. A week later, they'd be back in jail again for abusing their partner."
Brendan says once he was released from jail, he saw his ex-wife a few times - and the anger and need for revenge was gone.
He says he hopes that when he dies, his ashes can be spread on her grave.
"I don't know if she'd like that or not, she might tell me off in the afterlife. But she was my true love. And I wish more than anything that I could have been different."
Brendan says he has been in a relationship with a woman for four years now, who knows all the details of his past.
He says while he doesn't want his identity known for the sake of his children, he wants to share his story to help others.
"The laws need changing and men need changing," he says.
"If my story helps one bloke turn around and walk in the other direction, that's all I care about.
"I have a good life now - even though I don't deserve it.
"But how much better would it have been, how much better would we all have been, if I had never taken that first punch? Or, at the very least, been locked away for a long time, the first time."