Isabelle doesn’t see herself as brave, but many people do. When she travels, she loves bushwalking, often alone. “I feel safe walking alone in the bush. I feel there’s less danger of being attacked than in the city. Ever since I was young, people have always warned me to be aware of the danger.”
Safety for women in public spaces continues to be a real issue. “I won’t go walking alone at night or from a train station or bus stop,” says Isabelle. “As a child I would call Mum when I arrived at the bus stop right near home. Then I’d sprint along the dark, scary path through a park until I got home safe. It was only a few hundred metres from my home, but a woman had been raped there, so my mum would always tell me to be careful.”
“It’s wrong that women should have to be afraid so close to their home or anywhere,” she says. Later on this led her to advocate to her local councillor to get lights installed in the park. It took about a year to happen, but the lights were finally installed.
She felt some particular tension as a Queer woman during the gay marriage plebiscite as she witnessed a number of homophobic attacks on houses where gay people lived. “I felt more anxious and became afraid to go to the shops by myself. That tension has mostly passed now, but I stopped walking as much and became more reliant on my car.”
Covid made that even worse, with the use of public transport becoming unsafe. “I used to walk and catch public transport everywhere. Walking was so much a part of my life that I didn’t need to make time to exercise and it is so good for your mental health.”
Fear is not the only barrier to walking safely, rather our built environment plays a part in helping or hindering our ability to move about our communities. “I live on a main road and our footpaths are truly terrible. They’re narrow and you have to step onto the road for people to pass. Nothing is level and there are lots of cracks.”
As a disability support worker, Isabelle has become acutely aware of some of these unnecessary barriers. She works with a young girl in a wheelchair and has to deal with parked cars blocking footpaths in driveways, scooters left on pathways, ramps that don’t go anywhere and disability parking that doesn’t connect to paths. It is very limiting and it shouldn’t be that way.”
“In my dream life, I could walk and cycle everywhere,” she says. She wants to see safe, wide and walkable footpaths that connect, are well lit and accessible to all.