Months after being widowed, The Aunties’ Jackie Clark – daughter of privilege turned women’s charity founder – talks for the first time about her own abusive marriage. Donna Chisholm reports.
There’s a photo taken at their party in the home they shared in Mt Eden, Auckland that shows him slouching against the dated floral wallpaper, clutching a beer bottle in one hand, and most of Clark’s right breast in the other. He chats idly with a mate as his new fiancée sits next to him grimacing, her eyes closed and her body skewed awkwardly.
It’s a raw glimpse into the years of humiliation and psychological violence that marked the early years of her marriage. Of course, the then 26-year-old Clark didn’t see it that way. “I thought that was loving and wonderful. I was quite pleased at being possessed.” When she found the picture again in early January, though, she was shocked and repelled. “It was crass and vulgar… and really fucken hurtful.”
As anyone who reads her social media will know, Clark liberally seasons many of her comments and communications with the salty expletive. She is a verbal provocateur who relishes the F-word as an all-purpose descriptor. You don’t F with her. She doesn’t give a F. You’re a complete F-wit and you can F right off. This time, though, she chokes it out through a sob. The salt is in her wound.
And now, after her nearly 30-year marriage to a man she describes as a controlling and manipulative game-player, she’s finally ready to talk about that past to raise awareness of what she believes is an under-reported underbelly of domestic violence against women living in relative wealth and privilege.
When sorting Goodison’s things after his death, she found a letter she’d written him a few weeks before their engagement that provided the catalyst for the discussion. He’d kept little else from that time, making her think he’d come to terms with his own behaviour, and taken responsibility for it. She’s using it to show what domestic violence can look like “in the leafy suburbs”, how it feels, and why it’s so hidden.
Before Goodison died, of liver cirrhosis in Middlemore Hospital at the age of just 60, “I told him explicitly I would be talking [publicly] about our marriage when he died. He said, ‘I know, and it’s okay – do it.’” Goodison died just hours before the government announced Clark’s QSM in the New Year Honours list for services to the charity she founded five years ago, The Aunties, which helps women survivors of domestic abuse.
We’ve published an abridged version of Clark’s letter further below. It’s full of “red flags” she now realises are signals of abuse. “In this letter, I am giving him permission to shape me. Modify me. I am apologising for who I am. For who I have been. After just three months. I am constantly blaming myself and owning shit that probably wasn’t mine to own. When people think that in their minds, what they’re doing is victim-blaming. The red flags aren’t about the behaviour that led to the apologies – they’re about the apologies. You apologise for everything, all the time. I got into a relationship with this person deliberately, because I felt they were stronger than me.
“My entire life, I felt I was too assertive, too dominant, too domineering. When you are a really strong person, it’s hard being strong all the time for everybody and sometimes you want someone to carry that load and carry you. I thought he was that person. He didn’t take any shit and I thought that was a good thing. He called me out constantly. Things were my fault all the time.”
She says when Goodison asked her father, pioneering industrialist and yachting patron Sir Tom Clark, the founder of Crown Lynn (later Ceramco), for permission to marry, “Dad said, ‘Good. Maybe you can control her.’ I was devastated.” The late Sir Tom fathered nine children during three marriages; Jackie was the eldest of three children born to his third wife, Trish.
The letter shows how deep her insecurities ran. “At the very basic level of human need, it came from my mother not loving me in the way I needed to be loved and that wasn’t her fault. We can only love somebody the way we know how to love people. Sometimes it’s not enough for that person; it’s not our fault, it’s just how it is. For me, it comes from always feeling like an outsider in my own family.”
Clark and Goodison married at the Clark family deer farm at the South Kaipara Heads in November 1992. She wore navy trousers, a white blouse and a navy-and-white patterned jacket that a dressmaker made for her. Her mother told her it wasn’t how she expected her daughter to look on her wedding day. “I was a constant disappointment to my mother. I was 16 when she told me I was fat. And I came from a large family where you had to literally shout to get noticed.”
Goodison never raised a hand to her, she says, but the level of emotional manipulation and psychological cruelty was extreme. “What I remember is not what he said or even did sometimes, but how I felt. He worked in management for Telecom and had a pager. He would never call back when I paged him and would often stay out late drinking. The worst was when he stayed out overnight, ignored all my pages and came back at 3pm the next day. He did this twice and I forgave him because I was so relieved he was back.”
Failing to return her calls was deliberate, she says. “He didn’t like me ringing him too much. He thought I was trying to control him.” She says after one argument, she brought home flowers to apologise (“I always apologised”), but found a note on the table to say he’d gone up north and didn’t know when he’d be back. “This was my ultimate fear coming true – him leaving me. I was terrified of it. He said it a lot… ‘We’re getting a divorce’ or whatever.”
She says she was upstairs frantically phoning police and friends to find out where he was and if he was okay, only to find out later that he’d walked in at some point during her calls and “spent the entire time just listening”.
The first three years of their marriage was punctuated with drinking binges. “I’m not blaming the alcohol… but he was a mean and nasty piece of shit when he was drunk. He was always a game-player but he was much meaner verbally.” After one binge that went on for three days, Clark resolved to leave him, and rang her mother to ask if she could move into an apartment her parents owned in town. She waited until Goodison woke up to break the news. “I looked at him, and he looked at me, and he said, ‘I’m stopping drinking.’”
Lady Clark told North & South that when Jackie first brought Goodison home, she disliked him almost instantly. “I don’t think any of us liked him very much. He wasn’t stupid. He was actually quite smart, but he was a bit arrogant. He would come up with her for Christmas on the farm but quite quickly he’d want her to take him home, and in the end he never came at all.
“I just felt he really wasn’t very nice to her and I tried not to have anything to do with him. I simply didn’t like him and the way he looked.”
She says she’s surprised her daughter put up with him. “He would ring her if she was out and ask where the corkscrew was and she’d have to go home and find it for him.”
She says her daughter “has always been a puzzle to me. Always. I don’t quite know where she came from.” She points out that by the time Jackie was born, when she was 23, she was also raising Sir Tom’s three children (aged 10 and under) from his second marriage and she soon had six children to cope with. As Jackie was growing up, the older children were going through the turbulent teen years. Their relationship now is better than it’s ever been, she says, partly because of her pride at the work her daughter is doing for others, even if she still squirms at the extent to which Jackie shares her soul on social media.
After that, she says, “something shifted. He became a gentler man.”
Clark says in recent years, when Goodison was again in failing health, he finally apologised for the way he’d treated her. “He didn’t call it domestic violence; he would never use those words. He would just say, ‘I was a shit to you and I’m really sorry.’ He was embarrassed about it.”
She’d still tell her 30-year-old self to leave the relationship if she could. “I’d say, ‘Don’t put up with that shit. If someone is telling you really clearly who they are, get the fuck out.’ But I’m glad I stayed with him because I was 10 times more in love with him 15 years after we married than I was the day I married. I fell more and more in love with him. He was funny and he was very, very smart. We had a good laugh together. He was my mate. After all of that shit, he was my mate.”
So, isn’t she undermining her own advice? “No, because that’s me. I’m an extraordinarily loyal person. I don’t talk to women about their relationships unless they are at risk of physical harm. I don’t often give advice about staying or leaving. But I most definitely would say, and I’ve said to women in the recent past, ‘Do you want 25 more years of this shit?’ I think people need to know how complicated things are, and ours is a really good example of that. People assume these things are really simple, but no relationship is ever simple.”
She concedes she “would have been much better off” had she left her marriage 25 years ago. The misery of those early years have fundamentally shaped her. “It was Ian logic to think, ‘If I’m really shit to you when I’m alive, when I die you’ll be okay.’ And he was right.”
She says many of the women she’s met through her work with The Aunties have told her the emotional abuse is more harmful. “They say, ‘A broken leg... broken arms, mostly it’s just bruises and shit’. The psychological stuff is what steals your soul. And it takes longer to recover – a lifetime.
“Words have far more power than anything, and I know because I’ve lived it. The psychological games just wear you down; it’s drip, drip, drip… like water torture. I tried really hard to love Ian and for that to be enough for him. But he was almost a professionally dissatisfied person; a glass-is-half-empty person.”
By the time Goodison died, Clark could say, and mean it from her heart, that he was her greatest and only love. “Ian and I had a grand, long love story. He became one of my closest friends. I loved him truly.”
And yet, she says, after 28 years together, the shadows of the earlier abuse hung over her to the end. “In the last days, he expressed a wish to die at home and my response was to go into panic mode, to do what he asked and prepare everything, even though I knew it wouldn’t happen. It was my default setting. It felt just like it used to be, when he’d say ‘Jump’ and I’d ask ‘How high?’”
She hopes her story will help change the narrative around domestic violence in New Zealand and get women to look at the reality of their own relationships.
“We frame it as primarily physical, and occurring in Māori and Pasifika communities much more than anywhere else, and we know that’s rubbish. While that narrative exists, women over here [in higher socio-economic communities] believe they are alone, that it’s a source of shame, and they don’t do anything about it until it’s too late.”
Goodison’s death has freed her, she says. “The thing I feared for all of these years has happened. So fuck everything. I’m unfettered. I’m fearless. Watch out.”
Jackie Clark has highlighted the “red flag” passages in this abridged version of her “love letter” to her soon-to-be husband, written three months after they met.
5 May 1991
I’m feeling many things at the moment. Scared – because I have possibly alienated you recently with my erratic behaviour and I don’t want to lose you because of it.
Confused – because I’m not really who I’ve been making out to be all these years. Strong as an ox, able to carry both the worries of the world on my own without needing anyone to help. An assertive woman who doesn’t need a man to be fulfilled. A bubbly good-time girl. All these things are falsehoods that I have created because I have a fear of not being liked for myself, because I imagined that I needed nobody, because I have always been so defensive about that need we all have to be loved and made to feel special.
I am also confused because my relationships have always been with weaker men – who needed me more than I needed them. I have never known until now what it was like to feel protected, safe, and be happy in so feeling. I am used to being dominant, aggressive, over-assertive and suddenly I find myself happy not to be and feeling that I must kick out against that. But I realise that this is what I have always wanted in a man, and more what I actually needed to match such overwhelming behaviour. But most of all, I’m confused because I enjoy being “led”, if you like, being allowed to sit back and let someone else be strong when I don’t feel like it. Because you see, that’s something new in my world.
I have tried, unconsciously, I believe, to destroy what could be something extremely precious. I wouldn’t treat my long-term friends as I have recently been treating you – I love you, I love what we have – possibly, with any luck, if I don’t stuff it up – what we could have.
I just hope that you can accept me, flaws and all and continue to love me in spite of it. Even when you’re tired and I get pissed off because you sound, on the phone, not very pleased to hear my dulcet tones!
I realise I sometimes demand more of your attention than you can afford. I love you – but you already know that. I cherish you, I respect you, I admire you for your strength and tolerance. I even like your friends! But I think, darling, most of all I still get butterflies in my stomach before I see you.
I demand nothing of you, but that you trust me. All that flirtation is simply a scared person saying that what I feel for you is strong and it frightens me. Quite simply, no matter how much I bitch and nag and threaten and demand, I state here and now I want to change that unpleasant aspect of my personality, because I love you and for once in my life, I’m not afraid to say it, because I know I mean it this time. All I can say is, you must be one hell of a guy.
Stats of shame
Data from the same study, published in 2010, shows that Māori and Pasifika women are over-represented, and European and Asian groups are under-represented in intimate partner violence, and the incidence of violence increased as socio-economic status reduced. There is little data available as to whether women in the “leafy suburbs” are more likely to be exposed to psychological than physical violence.
However, a paper published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, based on research from the Youth 2000 series of surveys, showed more than 60% of high school students from the wealthiest families, who got on with their parents and had low exposure to physical violence, reported witnessing emotional violence. A similar proportion of teens from the poorest homes reported witnessing emotional violence, and were three times more likely to witness physical violence.
A regularly cited 2004 paper by Spanish researcher Maria Pico-Alfonso, from the University of Valencia, found the psychological component of intimate partner violence was the strongest predictor of post-traumatic stress disorder. Further data from the NZ Violence Against Women study shows that, amongst women who have experienced violence, the experience of recent emotional violence enhances the likelihood of suicidal thoughts.
This article was first published as part of a feature on domestic violence in the April 2019 issue of North & South.
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