13 Dec 2018

Thousands turn out at nationwide vigils for Grace Millane

8:14 am on 13 December 2018

Grace Millane's father and uncle were among hundreds of people gathered at a vigil for the slain British backpacker and other victims of violence in Auckland last night.

Crowds gather in Auckland for the vigil of Grace Millane.

Thousands of people gathered at vigils across Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin. Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

Thousands of people gathered at vigils across Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin.

The English tourist went missing from central Auckland at the start of December, on the eve of her 22nd birthday.

Her body was found in dense bush 10 metres off Scenic Drive in the Waitakere Ranges on Sunday.

The names of 15 women killed in New Zealand this year were read at the start of the vigil in central Auckland.

Hundreds, including Ms Millane's father David and uncle Martin, gathered on Federal Street next to Sky City, one of the last places Grace was seen alive.

Kelly Carmichael, who was at the vigil, said joining the event was her way of highlighting rates of violence against women.

"The whole country is in quite a lot of shock because of the awful thing that happened to Grace but I think a lot of people have come because it's actually no surprise we have really high statistics of violence against women in New Zealand," Ms Carmichael said.

Portia Lawrence, who was also at the central Auckland vigil, said Ms Millane's death was gut-wrenching.

"I feel like for some inane reason that we feel like now she is one of ours and that's someone we should have been protecting and making sure had the most amazing time on her OE journey. [We feel] that we failed her, I suppose, as a nation," Ms Lawrence said.

A candlelit vigil was held in Nelson for slain backpacker Grace Millane.

A candlelit vigil was held in Nelson. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The father of Emily Longley - a New Zealander murdered in the UK in 2011 - was among the speakers at the Auckland vigil.

The 17-year-old was killed by her ex-boyfriend Elliot Turner, who was jailed for life for her murder.

Mr Longley's told a large crowd violence against women has to stop.

"When I heard that David Millane was flying over here I really felt for him. For that long flight over here you're sitting on the plane, you're not knowing what's going on.

"You're getting off and you're hoping there's a text message saying 'It's fine it's been a big misunderstanding'.

"To have the awful news, your worst fears confirmed, is just, you know, it's tragic. To have to go to the morgue and identify your daughter's body is for a father - and I don't want to detract from the sorrow that all of Grace's family feel - for a father that's hard.

"When you've raised your daughter in a loving and a caring environment and you've taught her to be free-spirited and think for herself and then that comes and kicks you in the arse because then she says she wants to go off travelling. You don't want them to go - but then you can't stop them.

"My heart went out for David. I really felt for him.

"We need to change this, we need to stop this. There's too many women dying at the hands of men," Mr Longley said.

An image of Grace Millane amid candles at a vigil in Wellington, 12 December 2018.

An image of Grace Millane amid candles at the Wellington vigil. Photo: RNZ / Emma Hatton

More than 1000 people crammed into Wellington's Civic Square to pay their respects.

Wellington mayor Justin Lester was visibly emotional as he described the sinking feeling when he heard that Ms Millane was no longer missing, telling the crowd how his thoughts immediately went to his own two daughters.

"On Saturday night it registered within me a primal fear, not for my own personal well-being, but for another role that I have - a father - a dad to two girls. Two beautiful girls that could have been in the same situation.

"I want those girls to go out and to explore the world. I want them to travel and to do so without fear of the men that they might meet.

"That fear for me as a father resonated deeply and that's why we need to change our conversations, New Zealand's been plagued for far too long by toxic masculinity."

The Wellington vigil for slain backpacker Grace Millane.

The crowd at the Wellington vigil Photo: RNZ / Emma Hatton

Other speakers from Victoria University, Women's Refuge and Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson addressed the crowd in the hour-long service.

Vigil organiser Nicole Skews-Poole said Ms Millane's murder had struck a chord.

"I think a lot of people can see themselves in Grace. I think anyone that's travelled by themselves, either in New Zealand or overseas a lot of us have had that fear of our own safety.

"Especially our loved ones - if you talk to people's parents when they're going off on their OE it's a time of anxiety and what happened to Grace is every family's worst nightmare."

She said the outpouring shows that the country is ready and willing to tackle violence once and for all.

"The amount of people that have showed up tonight shows that it's starting to sink in for people who didn't realise it and for those who always realised it they're at the point where they're fed up.

"So I think those two groups of people coming together can, I hope, forge some positive change."

At the end of the vigil, people placed candles, flowers and hand-written notes around a picture of Ms Millane taken on the day of her graduation.

Participants in the vigil for Grace Millane, Nelson, 12 December 2018

About 300 attended the vigil in Nelson. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

In Nelson, about 300 people packed into the 1903 Square in Trafalgar Street.

Amid the waiata and karakia, they sang 'You Are My Sunshine', the song Grace's brother Declan Millane posted on social media in honour of his sister.

Organiser Sarah Kerby said it was important smaller centres showed solidarity with events around the country.

The White Ribbon Riders for the South Island, which runs a campaign to stop violence against women, rolled up on motorbikes. Leader colin Agnew said change would come when men start talking.

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