THOUSANDS of people joined a peace march in Melbourne today to honour the memory of murdered Drogheda woman Jill Meagher.
A year after 30,000 took to the streets in a spontaneous outpouring of grief another huge crowd turned out to show that Jill had not been forgotten by the community where she cruelly lost her life.
There were tears as the marchers silently filed past the spot on Sydney Road, Brunswick where Jill was dragged into an alley by parolee and serial rapist Adrian Ernest Bayley.
Some of the marchers carried banners calling for an end of violence against women and for tougher sentencing laws but most made their point by simply taking part. Mums pushed their kids in prams, teenagers walked alongside pensioners and all were united in their call for an end to violence.
As the marchers passed onlookers who lined the route removed their hats and bowed their heads in respect.
Victoria’s Premier Dr Denis Napthine, the Mayor of Moreland, Oscar Yildiz and other political figures joined the march, which stretched hundreds of metres down Sydney Road, halting traffic on the busy thoroughfare for more than an hour.
Dr Napthine, who donned a white peace ribbon, attended in a private capacity and he said the outpouring of grief and solidarity had not diminished a year on from the first peace march.
The Premier said he wanted Jill’s husband Tom and the other members of her family to know that the Victorian community supported them were determined to learn the lessons from her murder.
“There was a spontaneous feeling right across Melbourne and Victoria that we need to take a stand,” Dr Napthine said. “We need to say to people that women should feel safe in our streets and in our communities.
“We need to make sure we stand up against violence against women and violence in our society. Melburnians and Victorians are saying no to violence, no to violence against women.
“As a government we’ve certainly learned some lessons and taken some action. We now have the toughest parole laws in Australia and we’ve taken further action to make sure that parole is a privilege, not a right, and people who breach parole are dealt with immediately, and the community is safer for it.”
Bayley, 42, who had a shocking history of violence against women and was on parole when he raped and murdered Jill, is serving a life sentence with a minimum non-parole period of 35 years.
Last week the Victorian Court of Appeal took just 10 minutes to reject his appeal against the length of the non-parole period.
Drogheda friends Emer Devitt, Margo Brady and Barry Byrne who arrived in Melbourne two months ago, marched together to show their support for Jill and the community.
“We just wanted to represent Drogheda, to represent Jill, just to be part of the Irish that are here,” said Ms Devitt, who carried the Irish Tricolour.
“We weren’t here at the time (of the murder) but we wanted to give her family the knowledge we are all behind them.”
Ms Devitt said she was astounded so many people had turned out for the march.
“It just makes us love Australia even more to think this many people, even a year later, are coming to march. It’s amazing,” she said.
Mr Yaldiz said the number of marchers was a testament to the strength of feeling in the community.
He said the Mayor of Drogheda plans to travel to Melbourne in November and they will discuss the permanent memorial that is planned at the Northern Metropolitan Cemetery, a short distance from Brunswick.
“We need to respect the wishes of the family,” Mr Yaldiz said. “We will be liaising with Tom and Jill’s parents. We will certainly be listening to what they want us to do.”
Mr Yaldiz said the people of Drogheda were moved that he had gone to Ireland on a self-funded trip to share their grief.
“It was incredibly moving visiting Jill’s aunties and uncle and visiting and Tom’s parents,” he said.
“Arriving late at night in Drogheda it was quite a sad feeling that I had knowing she had been frequenting those streets, she was born and raised there and she lost her life in my city.
“I’ve got two young girls, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got a sister, it could have been one of my own family members. That’s how deeply we’ve been touched by what happened to Jill.”
Organiser of the march, Phillip Werner, said people wanted to express their faith in humanity and their belief in peace.
”People have come together to express their belief that the opposites of the things that led to Jill’s death are more powerful. That love is more powerful than hate and that hope is more powerful than fear,” Mr Werner said.