Her father would call her a “whore” at age 11 and beat her to the point of unconsciousness. Random people still private message her on Instagram to comment on her weight. Diagnosed with depression, she was once on the verge of jumping off a building’s 26th floor.
“Nothing is off limits,” I was told when asked to interview tennis icon Jelena Dokic at Griffith City Library on Thursday.
On several occasions, a collective gasp from the audience was followed by deathly silence as she detailed the most intimate and darkest moments of an extraordinary life.
Sharmaine Delgado, Chris Robson and other library staff began the night by pulling off some magic: moving bookshelves to somehow fit 350 people (95 per cent women) into a space that looked as if it should only accommodate 200.
I told Ms Dokic she’d attracted a bigger crowd than Anthony Albanese did when he became the first prime minister to visit Griffith in 2022.
“Are you saying I should go into politics?” she asked, a question that was answered by applause.
After the event, Ms Delgado pulled off her second miracle by securing the guest of honour a table at a booked-out La Scala Restaurant.
“I’m in Griffith, so I really want to try some authentic Italian food,” Ms Dokic told us.
She’d earned the right to go wherever she wanted after enthralling the audience over the previous two hours.
Many Griffith tennis legends were in attendance – Cheryl Rawle, Lorraine Maxwell and Robyn Meehan – so I started by reflecting on her on-court career highlights.
In 1999, she annihilated then world No. 1 Martina Hingis 6-2, 6-0 at Wimbledon before she was old enough to hold a driver’s licence.
“I was a qualifier, I was just 16 and thought it was a joke when they told me I had to play Martina Hingis first up,” she said.
But it was clear Ms Dokic wasn’t keen to bask in the glory of a tennis career that took her to world No. 4. She prefers to use her platform to prevent others from experiencing the child abuse and bullying she has endured.
Her debut book, Unbreakable, released in 2017, shocked with world with the full story of how her father Damir would frequently beat her up and embarrass her with his drunken antics in public.
“It was really hard for me that nobody stopped for a second to ask, ‘Is everything OK that two kids are going home with this unstable, aggressive, drunk person?’ My father’s outbursts were treated like a joke and punchline when they were in fact something concerning,” she said.
Her new book, Fearless, converts her tough life lessons into a blueprint for how to overcome adversity.
She guided the audience through the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father; the racism she copped after migrating to Australia; fighting off social media trolls; and her attempted suicide and depression diagnosis – explaining how she has come out of each of her battles stronger.
“If I can help or save just one person, I will have done my job,” she said.
Her key message was for people to call out abuse when they see it.
“In silence, darkness thrives” is one of her mantras. She also urged people to just be kind to each other.
The trickiest question she received was the last of the night when an audience member asked about the current status of her relationship with her father.
“We don’t talk, I haven’t spoken to him in almost 10 years,” she responded, with trademark honesty. “I did try to reconcile that relationship … but there was no remorse, no sorry, he even said he’d do it all over again.
“You have to get rid of toxic people in your life … family or not … I get a million times more love from [my closest friends] than I do from my father.”
She also got plenty of love from Griffith during an unforgettable evening.
Copies of Jelena Dokic’s Unbreakable and Fearless can be bought at Collins Booksellers stores in Griffith (Griffin Plaza) and Wagga (75 Baylis St).