Remembering Polly

By Joanna Tovia

Remembering Polly
Too many women in Australia are dying at the hands of current or former partners through domestic violence. Joanna Tovia never considered her fearless best friend Polly would become one of them.

Polly and I became instant friends at two years old. My family had just built a house in the country, so on moving day I went to Polly’s house at a nearby farm – our dads were both scientists who worked at the same university and our mums and older brothers were friends.

People thought we were twins when we were little. Polly was the sister I never had – two blonde tomboys who got a kick out of dressing the same – green swimmers, blue terry towelling shorts and a white YMCA T-shirt. On the first day of kindergarten, we walked hand in hand into the classroom in our matching checked uniforms. Then – and ever after – we had each other’s backs.

Polly was courageous, kind and just wild enough to make my mum a little nervous every time I went for a sleepover at her house. A friend recently described her as a real-life Pippi Longstocking. She had a big heart, an imagination that knew no bounds, zero fear and sometimes not much foresight. As far as she was concerned, if she could dream up an idea, there was nothing stopping it from taking flight. Literally, in some cases. When we were about five we made nests in washing baskets then climbed onto a high brick wall – she’d convinced me it was time for us to fly. “Jump!” she yelled from the wet grass below, having leaped and landed safely.

It didn’t always end well, of course. There were falls off horses, out of trees, off bikes (“Look, no hands!”) and even from hay bales stacked to the rafters – she hit her head on a beam on the way down and it was my job to try to keep her from swallowing her tongue as she drifted in and out of consciousness on the way to hospital.

Although she could outrun, outswim, outperform and out-think most of her contemporaries, her confidence and willingness to stick up for others (no matter what) won her some enemies. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was tall poppy syndrome in action.

She wrote poetry, played the guitar, loved animals and could cook up a storm. She was a giver, not a taker, not of the “gimme-gimme” tribe – we coined that one ourselves in a long conversation, one of many as we grew from kids to teens to women of strength and integrity.

Her spirit lives on in me, her indelible imprint more pronounced than ever. She made me kinder, more generous and far braver than I otherwise would have been. She knew that, and for that I’m grateful. Nothing was left unsaid. As adults we spoke our deepest truths, each honouring the other for what we’d given, each celebrating the other’s wins and commiserating when things went wrong.

Her boundless energy and adventurous spirit would prove both a blessing and a curse until the day a man she’d been seeing for just a few months plunged a knife into her chest and killed her. She was 46 years old.

Although she was fearless, Polly carried the burden of being sensitive, was easily wounded and questioned her own self-worth – a flipside that made her vulnerable to predators of the worst kind.

And now. What now? How do those who loved her go on? It’s been but a few weeks since she died, and denial trades places with despair hour by hour. I often wake up with relief, thinking it was all just a bad dream. The reality is hard to bear.

When she was murdered, three children lost their mother. That’s almost too painful to write. I won’t waste time, anger or energy on the man who killed her; he’s simply not worth my attention.

The world is not as bright without her, though – it lacks that Polly spark. She’d never believe it, of course. “Ah, no Jo,” she’d say, shaking her head and looking away – but her spirit is already rippling outwards, empowering the children of those closest to her to stand up for what’s right, to wear their hearts on their sleeves, to see the funny side of life even in the darkest of times.

All we can do now is live how she’d want us to live – with our whole hearts, with joy and even with a little reckless abandon. The silver lining
of her memorial was connecting and reconnecting with those closest to her – she chose these friends well and her sister is my sister now. We all know she’ll be grinning madly, that old glint in her eye, each time we talk, write or meet up with one another in the years to come, sharing stories with her children, watching their backs.

I heard her snort in hilarity behind me the other night at the dinner table and then break into familiar laughter as my eight-year-old son happily chanted “death, death, death!” My 14-year-old daughter tried to shush him out of respect for the gut-wrenching grief she knows I feel at losing my sister-friend. But I smiled when I heard Polly, then laughed right out loud along with her.

She’s still there causing havoc, right by my side.


In Australia, one woman is killed weekly by a current or ex-partner.

One in four Australian children is exposed to violence in the home.

Domestic violence is the number- one cause of death, disability, and ill-health for Australian women aged 15-44.

One in five Australian women have been stalked during their lifetime. And one in three have endured physical or sexual violence by someone known to them.



A protection order (AVO) may be obtained through a solicitor or the police.

Centrelink crisis payments can help with immediate financial concerns.

Free counselling is available through the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732.

Free legal services are available through local Community Legal Centres.


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