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Aussie chippy takes a battering

Editorial Staff

When former policewoman and domestic violence sufferer Carolyn Kerr decided to take over an abandoned shack-like building formerly used as a butchers' shop, she did the thing that would remind her how far she'd come and named it "The Battered Wife." That's upset one of Australia's increasingly numerous and increasingly forceful self-appointed guardians of their own standpoint who began a brutal campaign against Kerr and her tiny business.

In a country where one horse towns are sometimes lucky to have a horse, Carolyn Kerr's faith in her ability to produce "a bloody good beer batter" led her to take the risk of starting a small business. A former police officer in rural Australia, she was no stranger to domestic violence and after she left the police, her own relationship deteriorated and she, too, became a victim. Her years in the police taught her something often overlooked: she pointedly says "Men, don't bash your wives; women, don't bash your husbands."

In a world where victims of domestic violence are told to stand up for themselves by getting out and rebuilding a life with out the abuser, to address the psychological harm in ways that work for you, a fundamentally decent, hard-working Australian did what fundamentally decent, hard working Australians do: she looked at her problem and took the piss out of it. Instead of wallowing in her bad experience, she stuck a reminder of her victory on the front of her business.She called it "The Battered Wife," saying "I cook things in batter and I'm married to this business" but also admitting that there was a political agenda - to raise awareness of domestic violence. It's a pun that uses humour to draw attention to a serious issue. The shop's tag-line is "The only battering anyone need know."

It's the name that has drawn the fire of activists who have been far more than simply vocal. The shop's facebook page (here: https://www.facebook.com/pages...) contains screen shots of the abuse that has been aimed at Kerr and her micro-business. It is vile, it is bullying and it is the actions of those who want their perspective to be the only perspective. Queensland politicians, seemingly too remote from the down-to-earth Aussies they are supposed to represent, have jumped on the bandwagon. Some media has been delighted to whoop up sentiment against the shop and to doorstep "pollies" to get an instant quote and those instant quotes, especially from senior politicians, have been damning.

The shop has been subjected to one form of inspection after another, apparently after anonymous "tip-offs." This disruption has come to a head with an audit ordered by Fair Work Australia which is, in effect, the Department of Employment and, within its remit, is to ensure that staff are being paid the minima to which they are entitled under Australia's complex employment system. Everything from work and conditions and pay are up for review. Kerr says that her audit insurance is for tax audits and she did not realise that other forms of audit were not included. The cost of that audit will exceed the ability of the shop to pay accountants to deal with it. She has, she says, no choice but to close this coming Friday.

In the tiny north Queensland town of Innisfail (population just over 1,000 according to the 2016 Census), more than 1500km north of Brisbane and almost 100 miles south of Cairns, there was a old shack, a former butcher's shop but empty for some time. Kerr took it over and renovated it, doing some of the work herself causing back and shoulder injuries that still trouble her more than 18 months later. She set about obtaining all the necessary licences and permissions needed to open .. what still looks like a shack outside, specialising in fish and chips. At least, that's the headline description. It's also far, far from the kind of chippy most people have ever been to. Oysters, with traceability from source to table are a seasonal speciality. Line caught "Spanish Mackerel" (a.k.a. Mahi Mahi and it's not like the mackerel one gets in Spain) and other species that are not heavily depleted. The Battered Wife is exactly what those interested in "sustainable" food and food safety say is needed. Even then, Kerr goes a bit further than might be expected. For an inexpensive squid dish, the menu says "Little Nippers calamari and chips $6 Deep fried chips, our house cut and crumbed calamari and a small dipping sauce perfect size for kids or a snack (no age limits). Truth in labelling disclaimer: Wild caught squid however have been dipped in sulphate preservatives therefore not recommended to be consumed by pregnant women or severe asthmatics."

Setting up such a venture requires dedication and investment. At night, the little shop's few coloured light bulbs around its canopy are all but lost against the bright white light pouring through its window. Even so, in a town where a handful of street lights would be outperformed by a couple of glow worms, it stands out. The shop's marketing makes much of the fact that there is plenty of free parking. That, one might surmise, is because the roads are empty even though the town is surrounded by spectacular nature and is promoted as a tourist area. Earlier this week, this newspaper published a cynical look at research in the UK that stated the blindingly obvious fact that urban retailers grow faster than rural retailers because there are more people in urban areas. The opposite side to that is that something like fish and chips, which doesn't travel well even for a 5km rush home, is the very definition of a business that is dependent on very local trade. It doesn't take a lot to turn such a business that can support its staff and owners into one that is costing instead of making money, especially when, as the census data shows, a significant slice of the population is going to find it difficult to find AUD15 - 25 dollars each for a full-sized feed.

The self-righteous groups who think that their approach to domestic violence is the only acceptable approach now say that it is not their actions that are forcing the shop to close. "All she had to do was change the name," is the attitude. And therein lies a part of the problem: why should she? Anonymous complaints have even led to an official review as to whether the business name should be banned (it wasn't, obviously). The attacks reached national attention last year and have remained in the news, on and off, for several months.

There is, however, a growing support from across Australia for Kerr and her little shop and staff: someone called Jade Olds has set up a Go-Fund Me page to raise AUD5,000 to help with the cost of the audit. It's reached more than AUD 4,200 in its first day. 125 people have committed: far more than the handful of pressure groups that have made all the noise.

In the meantime, the Red Heart Campaign, the vehicle through which some of the most vicious attacks have been made, has become the vehicle for protest against the action against Kerr. In two years prior to yesterday, a video it published on youtube had four comments, one of which was a reasoned explanation as to questionable data used in the page. In the past 20 hours, there have been about a dozen, all criticising the action against Kerr. Even now, it's only racked up 1250 odd views. Elsewhere, there are calls for its charitable status (if it has one) to be revoked. It is not the only group to go on the attack.

Meanwhile, the support, both vocal and financial, for Kerr's shop is both vocal and tangible.

Go Fund Me campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/6rdje...

Further reading:

Census: http://quickstats.censusdata.a...

Red Heart Foundation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

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