Who is Jessica Pearce?

A year ago, four days before Christmas, I was sitting in the NSW Coroner’s Court with Mum and our dear friend Liz Davies who we met through the Families and Friends of Missing Persons. Mum and I had painted our nails pink to match the colour from some recent photos we’d found of Ursula’s nails painted in the same colour.

December 21, 2018 was the day Ursula got her name back, and it was the day I realised I couldn’t avoid the truth any longer – Ursula was really gone. I wouldn’t ever see her smiling face and bright blue eyes, hear her big loud belly laugh or hug her ever again.

There was torrential rain and hail in Sydney the night before the inquest, icy cold tears that had been building for thirty-two years on the eve of my final goodbye. It was a sad time, but also a happy time. I ate ‘frogs eyes’ pudding covered in yellow for breakfast. Frogs eyes was my favourite pudding made by Aunty Cheree and as you know yellow was Ursula’s favourite colour. We shared lots of stories and laughs with Liz and the amazing detective Amy Scott who was determined she was going to solve what many people told her was an unsolvable case. And she did!

I wrote about it on the plane ride home for my upcoming true crime novel “Who is Jessica Pearce?”

My lovely friend Christine Kaine also wrote some words on that day which I carry with me everywhere: “Your love for Ursula shines; it cast the light needed to reveal the truth.”

Chapter 86

‘Inquest: Inquest into the death of a person believed to be Jessica Pearce

Hearing dates: 21 December 2018

Date of findings: 21 December 2018

Place of findings: NSW State Coroner’s Court, Glebe

Findings of: Magistrate Derek Lee, Deputy State Coroner

File number: 98/1987, 2018/339259

Representation: Mr A Casselden SC, Counsel Assisting, instructed by Mr J Loosley (Crown Solicitor’s Office)

Mr R Coffey and Ms E Trovato (Office of the General Counsel) for the NSW Commissioner of Police

Having regard to the entirety of the evidence now available, the conclusion that must be reached, on the balance of probabilities, is that Jessica Pearce, is in fact, Ursula Barwick.’

Mum and I grip each other’s hand tightly as Magistrate Derek Lee reads his findings. Liz Davies grips Mum’s other hand. His voice is strong and kind, and he carries a tone that indicates a genuine and heartfelt understanding of how every word he speaks is like a smack across the cheek.

‘I find that the person previously believed to be Jessica Pearce is, in fact, Ursula Barwick. Ursula died on 27 October 1987 (at 7am) at Keajura NSW 2652. The cause of Ursula’s death was cerebral contusions and lacerations due to head injury, with a ruptured aorta, ruptured liver and multiple injuries all being significant conditions which contributed to death. Ursula sustained these fatal injuries when a vehicle that she was travelling in was involved in a collision with another vehicle.’

He looks at us many times in the ten minutes it takes him to formally sum up thirty-two years of ambiguous loss and I wonder how he feels to see the tears roll unchecked down our cheeks. He is looking right into my eyes when my efforts to quieten my sobs and stop my chest from heaving its grief start to fail. The culmination of missing Ursula for almost thirty years without knowing where she was, then two years of knowing she is found but living in limbo land until someone releases this official finding, is out there for all to see.

‘These findings are being delivered four days before Christmas 2018. It will be the thirty-second Christmas Day since Ursula was reported missing. It will also be the fourteenth Christmas Day since Ursula’s mother, Cheree, passed away. For many, this time of year is one when family members comes together to share in the joy and comfort of simply being in each other’s company. Therefore, it is most distressing to know that Ursula’s family have, undoubtably for so many years, been left with an absence that cannot be filled, and a sense of uncertainty that could not be eased. It is even more painful to know that for Cheree, that devastating sense of uncertainty about what happened to her daughter was never able to be lessened.

‘Whilst it is simplistic to speak of closure when confronted with overwhelming loss and unbearable uncertainty, it is sincerely hoped that the coronial investigation and this inquest has brought some measure of solace to Ursula’s family.’

Detective Sergeant Kurt Hayward and Sergeant Amy Scott (her change in title from Plain Clothes Senior Constable to Detective Senior Constable to Sergeant reflective of the time that has passed) have solved what many said was an unsolvable case. Their dogged determination, particularly Amy’s, to not give up on Ursula no matter which path Ursula took her along, should be an example to all others. I hug them tight but I cannot speak. I hug them tighter so they can feel my love for what they have done.

I am heartbroken, yet having this officially confirmed at long last is still a heavy weight lifted from my shoulders. This is not over yet, and we have another inquest to face, but finally, Ursula has her name back.

*

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

Khalil Gibran

Mamamia: Finally Found

A special shoutout to JESSICA STAVELEY from Mamamia for her thought and care in  researching this story for Ursula. To put such a complex tangled tale into words is not easy and Jess went to great lengths to make sure she had everything correct. It means so much for families like ours who have experienced our fair share of careless reporting focused on sensationalism and not on facts. Thankyou Mamamia for setting such a wonderful example #ursulabarwick #found

Here is their article, published November 25, 2019

 

Missing Ursula

Melissa Pouliot Ursula Barwick

Missing Ursula

By Melissa Pouliot

For twenty-five years I took a passive role in Ursula’s missingness. Silently, and feeling I had nobody to turn to, I obsessed over her being one of Ivan Milat’s victims, along with a multitude of other scenarios which swung me from hope to helplessness. 

After seeing her profiled on TV when the Australian Federal Police introduced age-progression technology for the first time, I embarked on a very public mission to find her. 

Ursula Barwick

This involved many things including publishing crime fiction novels inspired by her ‘missingness’. When my first novel went to number one on Amazon, people started coming forward with new information and the media interest resulted in a new investigation by Kings Cross Detectives.

My quest was to publish a book a year until we found her; it was the best way I knew how to maintain public interest in her case. These books were presented at international missing persons conferences and more than 100,000 copies downloaded on Amazon. I would leave copies in cafes, doctors surgeries, park benches, on trains and planes and in street libraries in the hope that someone would read through to my author’s note and realise my fictional characters were inspired by a real person who we were desperately searching for. And most importantly, that they would come forward with that vital clue to solve her case.

In 2017, thirty years after she went missing and five years after I published my first novel inspired by her, Ursula was found. Tragically she died in a car accident less than two weeks after she went missing and was buried in an unmarked destitute grave under the fictitious name of Jessica Pearce. 

Since ‘Found’, I have remained relatively silent – a stark contrast to putting myself out on a limb time and time again to speak publicly during those five frantic years. My silence is partly caused by bureaucracy, but I am also trying to pick up the pieces of the complicated grief caused by this ambiguous loss. Behind the scenes is a tangled tale of trauma. Trauma from what we went through, and are still going through, in our search for Ursula.

With the support of Australian Story (which aired a story on Ursula on November 25, 2019) and their dedication to Ursula through the eyes of her family and friends and those who helped find her, it is time for me to start speaking out for the missing again.

Sharing Ursula’s story gives other families hope and is a meaningful contribution to the very important conversations we need to have about missing people – the impact is far more devastating than many realise.

There are currently around 2600 long-term missing people in Australia, and more recognition and support are needed for those left to wonder and agonise if they’re ever going to see their missing person again. Ambiguous loss is like no other form of grief and it needs specialised support services that currently don’t exist.

Changes also need to happen in our coronial and police system at the highest levels of bureaucracy which seem so out of touch with what it’s like to live through this experience.

Sharing Ursula’s story is my way of keeping these conversations vibrant and alive, while at the same time honouring the precious seventeen years that she filled with the richness and joy of her adventurous, brave and vivacious enthusiasm for life.

….

A bit about me and my new true crime book

Described by one of my children as a book writing machine, I am a rural journalist, media company owner and bestselling crime fiction author of the Missing Series. Through my twenty-five year writing career, I have written stories on just about every topic. My stories about people are widely recognised as my true heart and I have published several non-fiction books.

I am the only Australian author who is the family member of a missing person that tackles the complexities of missing through fiction. I am also an ambassador for Day for Daniel, founder of Picnic for Missing and an advocate for missing people.

I am working on a true crime book about Ursula titled ‘Who is Jessica Pearce?’ Here is an extract:

Who is Jessica Pearce?

1987

I am backstage amongst noise, chatter and chaos, getting ready for the curtains to open for the first time at our annual high school play, Guys and Dolls. The beauty of theatre is that you can be anyone you want to be, so I am both a gangster and a dancing girl.

I am not a natural on stage and although my confidence is building as I approach my fifteenth birthday, I’ll never play a lead role. My singing voice is okay, but slightly off-key. My dancing is passable, I am enthusiastic and can follow the steps, but my style is best described as ‘gangly’ and I can’t perfect the grace needed for the tummy roll.

However, I am still good enough to be the first person the crowd sees. The curtains move, the lights come on, and I walk from stage left to stage right dressed as a gangster in one of Dad’s old suits, ten sizes too big. I’m also wearing a gangster hat, pulled down low, that someone else’s father had lurking in the back of his wardrobe.

My prop is a newspaper, quite apt given that years later my writing career would start as an eager young journalist with permanently ink-stained fingers at a rural newspaper. I have practiced ad nauseam my casual-stroll-with-extreme-animation-while-completely-absorbed-in-the-news-of-the-day. It is quite an achievement to reach stage right without tripping on my oversized pants.

Backstage, the thrill of opening night and the terror of being first on stage I attempt to apply thick layers of stage makeup with one shaking hand while holding a tiny hand mirror in front of my face with the other, also shaking. When I get out of my gangster suit it’s a quick change into a dancing-girl outfit and I don’t have time for makeup between scenes, which makes me the prettiest gangster you will ever see.

‘Hey, Lissy.’

My stomach drops. It’s Ursula. Her ‘shit happens’ T-shirt peeks out underneath her denim jacket so all I can see is ‘it hap’. Her blonde wavy hair tumbles casually around her face and her smiling dimples are on full show.

I’ve been ignoring her for weeks. She’s more like a sister than my cousin, and as only sisters can, I hate her as passionately as I love her. I feel betrayed and confused as the two-year age gap yawns between us. I don’t know how to get my Ursh back, so instead I push her further away. She has tried everything to get me to speak to her lately but I’m being a stubborn, painful, bitchy teenage girl.

‘Here, let me help,’ she offers.

It takes more energy than I possess to hate her, so I concede. I hand over my makeup bag and close my eyes. Until the day I die, I will still feel those soft, gentle strokes as she carefully applies my eyeshadow. It’s bright blue, to match my dancing girl dress with its long strip of Velcro down one side which I will skillfully rip in just the right way, at just the right moment, to reveal black fishnet stockings and sparkly leotard.

The mascara is tricky, but Ursh knows exactly what to do. We’ve done this many times before, on our long, lazy weekends of dress-up days and makeup practice on the lush green backyard lawns that our Mums, close sisters, have nurtured from shared kikuyu cuttings.

I still have my eyes closed and her familiar, warm breath of Wrigley’s P.K gum masking the cigarette she smoked on her way here is ever so light on my face, melting away the ice I’ve built around the piece of my heart that belongs to her.

When it’s time for the eyeliner I look directly into her bright blue searching eyes. Searching for forgiveness, searching for a return to our shared solidarity. The eyes I know so well. The eyes that have been watching over me since I was a tiny baby. I try hard to prevent my head from shaking while she deftly glides the blue pencil underneath my bottom eyelashes in a neat, straight line.

She smiles at me calmly. ‘Hold still, Lissy.’

The magic of the moment doesn’t last, broken by the loud, clapping hands of a stressed-out teacher trying to herd cats. Backstage chatter goes up a notch as everyone races to be where they need to be. It’s time for me to get into position. It’s time for us to say our goodbyes.

Ursula is determined to get her words out before I rush away. She pulls me into a tight, squishy hug that feels like home so that I can feel them too.

‘I love you Lissy.’

*

It’s late at night and the house is quiet. Sitting at the kitchen bench with my iPad and phone, I madly swap from one to the other, googling in the hope that different searches on different devices on different browsers will yield different results. Google search Ursula. Google search Ursula Barwick. U Barwick. Ursula Quirindi. Ursula Kings Cross. Barwick Kings Cross. Ursula Barwick disappears 1987. Ursula Dianne Barwick. Ursula missing. Missing Ursula. Ursula I miss you.

We know so little, but surely someone, somewhere knows something more. Who is hiding what they know? How can I find them? How can I find her?

I reach into my childhood memory bank, grasping and clawing back through the movie-reel of this backstage scene for specific details. Was she really wearing her ‘shit happens’ T-shirt? Or was it the one with pink writing ‘NOW’ or grey silver sideways writing ‘BOTTOMS UP’? I had the same shirts; we’d buy our matching outfits from Big W when Mum and Aunty Cheree did their ‘big shopping’ in Tamworth.

Other details flit just out of reach, like a butterfly eager to pack everything into the three short days of its life. Did she have her shirt tucked into her high-waisted acid washed denim jeans with a belt, or was it a crop top that hovered over her waist-line, letting in cool air and occasionally giving a glimpse of her stomach? Was she wearing sneakers or white sand shoes with socks? Why do these details matter so much to me? They bog me down and make me feel heavy and bloated, as though I’ve eaten a giant bowl of creamy pasta just before bed.

Mum remembers my distress when I came home from the play that night. Distress that I have buried underneath a twenty-five-year trauma mountain because I didn’t say what I should have: ‘I love you, I love you, I love you too!’

I didn’t know it was my last chance to say these words to her. My last chance to let Ursula know I loved her at that moment, as I had loved her my whole life, and as I would love her for the rest of my days.

 

Photo memories of Ursula

I have a different kind of thank you to send out today. This one is to the people who have shared photos from their old albums and their memories of Ursula this week after seeing ‘Forever Young’ on Australian Story.

One of the hardest things for me during my very public quest that started in 2013 to find Ursula was finding photos of her. The morning of the first Picnic for Ursula in Bell Park, Quirindi, our Nanna Elle presented me with a package of photos found in an old cottage where Ursula used to live of photos including the one you’ve seen everywhere of her wearing a yellow T-shirt, her favourite colour. Plus the precious photos of her with her school friends that you saw on Australian Story.

But now I have so many more, and I am so so grateful to the people who have contacted me to share them!

Here is a photo of Ursula on an old car from one of her neighbours Lee Hartigan that she loved to drive (like all farm kids she could drive as soon as her feet reached the pedals). It was taken in 1983.

The second is another photo from Lee, at a girl’s sleepover, when Ursula was much younger. This photo was taken in 1979. Sadly Lee’s sister Sharon, back left in this photo, passed away unexpectedly a year after this photo was taken. I was quite young at the time so I don’t remember but I know that Ursula would have been absolutely devastated. My memories with Lee and Ursula are on our motorbikes as we raced our way through the mountains, at pace!

The third photo is from a complete stranger named Renae who watched Australian Story and thought she recognised Ursula from when her family billeted Ursh in 1980 during a school exchange. Ursula was at Manilla Primary School at the time. Renae says “I can still remember her liking to talk a lot and a loud belly laugh!”

I have received more precious photos of Ursula  that I will share with you at some stage, but for now I’d just like to let everyone know how grateful and appreciative I am that they have taken the time to get in touch and share their memories of our bright and bubbly Ursh.

#ursulabarwick #foreveryoung #photooftheday #photoalbums #childhoodmemories #wallabadah #farmkids #australianstory #memories

The Kings Cross Detectives who never gave up

Continuing the #cupoftea theme for Ursula, and the thankyous, someone sent me this photo from her memorial of drinking cups of tea with Kings Cross Detective Sergeant Kurt Hayward. This was a very emotional time and felt quite surreal, and at the time it was still difficult for me to accept that Ursula had been found. Kurt made these cups of tea, or what I like to call cups of kindness, just as so many others have done over the years as a gesture of support when I needed it most.

The day Mum and I first met Kurt in August 2014, me with my spreadsheet of dates, times, names and other pieces of information that I was hoping would reinvigorate her case, is one we will never forget. It was the first time Mum had ever been interviewed by police about Ursula’s disappearance 26 years earlier.

Thankyou Kurt for all that you have done for us, we will be forever grateful.

Thankyou thankyou

Thankyou to everyone for the most incredible messages and support in the search for Ursula. I will respond personally to you all over the next few days, my heart is full 💛 I would like to make an extra special mention of my friend Chantal Scarlett who turned up on the doorstep to hold my hand and pour me a heartwarming drink (love your guts! ⭕️) She is one of many who have been by my side through this incredibly difficult quest for the truth … I have so many people to thank! But for now I would like to thank Ursula for teaching me what unconditional love and being brave truly mean 💛💛💛💛💛

Fire recovery film on how books make a home

How books make a house a home is the focus of a film about recovering from the trauma of Reedy Swamp, Vimy Ridge and Tathra fire through new books.

The Book Love for Tathra film, partly funded by a Bega Valley Fire and Resilience Grant, tells the story of how more than 3000 new book donations have created positive and long-lasting impacts in the fire-affected community.

Authors, publishers and individuals from across Australia donated more than $100,000 of new books to Book Love for Tathra after fire burnt more than 70 homes and damaged many more on March 18, 2018.

Local author Melissa Pouliot, who started the collection, presented the books at a community event in February 2018.

The Creary family, who were among the first Tathra residents to move into their new home just before the one-year anniversary, are among those who feature in the film.

“To be able to move into the house and straight away have new books to put on the shelf makes the house feel like a home,” Alexis Creary says.

Esteemed Australian author Jackie French, AM, who donated over 200 books to the collection and instigated significant donations from Australian Women’s Weekly and several major Australian publishers, also features.

“Every single book in this room has been given with the most enormous love and joy and incredible admiration for the community of Tathra, who is determined to survive,” French says. “You actually need joy as much as recovery…and this is joy! And this is more important because hopefully in a year, five years or 10 years, something like this is going to be the much more powerful memory than the hard things. You will look back and you will smile because you will remember the things done with friendship, love and community.”

Bega Valley Mayor Cr Kristy McBain says Book Love is a wonderful example of the humanity and generosity Australians have for each other.

“Seeing these books and seeing people excited to restock a library, no matter how small or large it may have been, is really heartwarming. From my point of view it’s one of the great reasons we live in the Bega Valley Shire is because of these amazing people that come together to help out their friends, their families, their neighbours,” Cr McBain says.

Sapphire Coast-based film maker Brent Occleshaw produced the film. Brent, who is also a volunteer fire fighter and was part of the fire-fighting effort at Tathra, said it was a privilege to bring the Book Love story to life on film.

“As firefighters, we defend life, defend property, and importantly, restore normality. ‘Restore normality’ involves helping this community become strong again and replacing books, the heart of people’s homes, plays a central role in doing that,” Brent says.

Melissa said the generosity from the Book Love donations continued, with leftover books still circulating in the community.

Books have gone to the Tathra Public School library, Tathra P&C Association for fundraising events and Bega Rotary Club. Proceeds from books sold at Rotary’s Winter Book Fair have purchased garden vouchers for a Garden Recovery and Open Gardens weekend in Tathra on the weekend of August 24 and 25. Book Love books will also be available on the Saturday at Tathra Surf Club and organisers will screen the Book Love film.

“Any funds donated for books at the garden event will go back to the community for garden projects, truly making ‘Book Love for Tathra’ a gift that keeps on giving,” Melissa said.

WATCH

Books & Bikes

For me, a bestselling crime writer based on the stunning Sapphire Coast, where you’ll find some of the best mountain bike tracks in the world, they are intrinsically linked. As part of the launch of my fifth crime novel FOUND, I shared with Sapphire Coast Tourism how the bike trails I ride inspire my writing. I also shared some excerpts from my new book, which the Australian Federal Police launched in Canberra on July 27, 2017.

BUTTERFLY

The morning is warmer than usual and it won’t be long before I won’t need my gloves or beanie beneath my bike helmet. I look to my right and admire the swans gliding gracefully on Wallagoot Lake.

The water is so still it looks like glass. To my left I hear a rustle in the thick bush and wonder if it’s the lyre birds I see from time to time, building their nest, or something more sinister.

I shift gears as I reach a slight incline and look down at my handlebars. Something flashes past my face and my heart skips several beats as wildly look around to see what it is.

It appears again, then multiplies. Butterflies. One, five, ten, twenty. They dance around my head then disappear into the bush. A few moments later they return, then they’re gone again.

They follow me like this as I ride past the boat ramp, along the corrugated dirt road and to the entrance to Bournda National Park. I stop for a drink and admire their quiet presence, wondering if I will be quick enough to capture them on my camera. I’m not.

I keep riding. There’s a steep section and I’m so distracted that I forget to change gears and nearly don’t make it up. The butterflies are still with me when I reach Wine Glass Bay, and they follow me to the steps leading down to Turingal Head beach.

My thoughts flutter to the fifth book I’m writing and by the time I’m back home, I have a new chapter already written in my head.

Ant was ahead of her, gesturing and pointing out things while Andy quizzed him. Occasionally Andy would crouch down, Ant standing awkwardly by his side. Rhiannon walked silently, also in front, and Christine watched a butterfly land on her shoulder. It was bright yellow with small dark spots on its wings. It was a Eurema smilax or small grass yellow butterfly. Quite common, but something Christine had never noticed in the city.

She watched it cling onto Rhiannon’s white cotton shirt with its tiny sticky feet, a slight breeze making its wings move ever so gently. Christine focused on the butterfly to calm her mind. She became transfixed, wondering in her foggy drug-induced mind, if it was a sign from Annabelle.

Annabelle loved yellow. The butterfly was yellow.

Annabelle was here!

She was trying to tell her something. A strong gust of wind dislodged the butterfly and Christine watched with panic as it flew away. She raced after it, convinced it would lead them to Annabelle.

Nobody noticed at first, until Andy called Rhiannon over to show him something and Ant looked back to see Christine running in the opposite direction.

‘Hey, Christine! Where you going?’ Ant called.

Christine didn’t answer, it was taking all her energy to not lose sight of the butterfly which was leading her deeper and deeper into the bush. She pushed through shrubs, she was off the path now, panting heavily from the exertion. She rolled her ankle as she scrambled through the dense undergrowth and pain shot up her leg, but she kept running.

Ant tore after her. ‘Christine, what is it?’

Rhiannon and Andy started jogging after Ant, while Christine dashed and darted after the speeding yellow butterfly, pushing through branches and around trees.

‘Show me Annabelle, show me where you are,’ she whispered hoarsely.

Finally the butterfly stopped. It settled on the flower of a Christmas Bush, its yellow standing out strongly against the white. Christine hunched over, trying to catch her breath.

Within minutes Ant was behind her. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’

‘Shhh,’ she said. ‘Don’t move.’

Rhiannon arrived next; a few minutes later Andy crashed through the forest.

‘Shhh,’ Christine hushed him. ‘ Quiet! Don’t come any closer.’

Her eyes remained firmly fixed on the butterfly.

Ant leant in close, clearly annoyed. ‘What. Are. We. Doing. Here?’

Once Andy stopped the loud puffing of a detective who was unfit, overweight and spent far too much time at his desk, Christine spoke. ‘See that yellow butterfly there?’

They all peered amongst the mass of flowers on the bush, eventually making out the tiny yellow shape. ‘Yes,’ they said in unison.

‘It’s a sign from Annabelle! It landed on your shirt when we first arrived, and now it’s brought me here. To this spot.’

Silence.

Well? Don’t you get it? Yellow is her favourite colour. The butterfly is yellow. The butterfly has led us to Annabelle. The butterfly is Annabelle! This is where you need to look. Don’t you understand, this is the spot. She’s here, somewhere! Start looking!’

She was crying and shaking, clearly distressed. ‘She’s here, I know she’s here. Have a look, you’ll find her. I’m sure of it.’

Ant stepped in close and wrapped his arms around her.

Andy walked away first, then Rhiannon. Ant stayed and hugged Christine tightly. Through her tears, she stared at the tiny yellow butterfly, before it lifted gracefully off its flower and disappeared deep into the forest, never to be seen again.

BONES IN THE BUSH

It’s the first time I’ve ridden this track on my own; it’s always made me feel slightly uneasy but with a riding companion, there’s nothing to worry about. Right? Right.

I duck to avoid a low hanging branch then quickly swerve to avoid a large stick hidden underneath the thick mat of crunchy leaves.

I’m getting deeper and deeper into the bush and start to feel disoriented as I come to a fork in the track and wonder if I should go left or right. It’s a common theme in my book; my runaway teens including Annabelle Brown and Keely Johnson never know whether to turn left or right, and more often than not, take the wrong track.

I stick left. I nearly fall off my bike when something hits the back of my helmet at full force. I’m terrified. The track narrows and the bush closes in around me. I hear a buzz over the loud crunching my wheels make. It gets louder and louder, then something hits my helmet again, and again. I scream, and get off my bike, flailing my arms about, fighting with the giant buzzing creature that is swarming around my head. I can’t get away from it.

I jump back on my bike and pedal as fast as I can to escape, but it keeps up with me. It won’t leave me alone. My legs are burning and I can hardly breathe. I feel it land on my back and I writhe and wriggle to free myself from its dangerous grip. There is no sun in here, and I am completely spooked.

I keep pedalling, searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. I know it can’t be far away. Something catches my eye on the ground, tangled in the leaves and undergrowth. It’s a black jumper. My imagination is going wild. What is the jumper doing here? Who does it belong to?

I’m not sure if I’ll ever escape the ‘the spooky forest’, and it becomes a recurring theme in all my books. It’s where terrible things happen, deep in the Australian bush.

teph’s daughter Sara, Annabelle’s best friend, was home for a school friend’s engagement party, so first stop was her room.

‘Hey, Sairs, got any plans tonight?’

Sara looked up from the book she was reading, leaning over her bed at full stretch to turn down the volume on her cassette player. ‘Not really. Why, what’s on?’

‘Want to come out to Lee’s with me?’

Something in her Mum’s tone scared Sara. ‘Don’t tell me,’ she said, snapping her book shut and getting off the bed to move closer.

‘No, not that. But Lee’s in a fret. The news tonight, more bones in the forest.’

Annabelle,’ Sara said quietly.

‘Maybe,’ Steph wrapped her arms around her daughter. ‘Best place for us is with Lee, on the couch, with chocolate.’ ‘And cups of tea,’

Sara tried not to go into a panic. They’d been here before. Waiting, watching, wondering. Watching every news bulletin for that glimpse of information that might connect bones to Annabelle. Daring the phone to ring, wondering how long it would take for detectives Andy Cassettari and Rhiannon McVee, and the seemingly slow-turning wheels of the police system, to match bones in the forest with Annabelle’ s.

Within half an hour Lee and Steph were on the couch, Sara in the kitchen making tea and preparing a platter of sweet treats.

‘I hate this Steph.’

‘Me too, Lee. The not knowing, it’s so hard.’

‘Should I call Rhiannon and ask?’ Lee posed this question every time. She and Steph went around in circles, like they had many times before, and eventually talked themselves out of it.

‘You’re right,’ Lee said, after they’d been over it from all directions. ‘They’ll have it in hand. Of course they’ll be checking against her file. Rhiannon will let us know.’

Sara handed them their steaming cups of tea, slipping easily into her role of chief carer. She never contributed much to the conversation, letting their words wash over her while she did everything she could to cheer up Lee and look after her every need. Sara kept her thoughts for her diary, the one she was planning to give Annabelle when she came home.

Sara stubbornly refused to entertain the possibility these bones could be Annabelle’s. She refused to let conversations like these filter through to her inner belief that Annabelle was still alive and well. That didn’t mean she didn’t feel paralysed right now. With so many bones being discovered, and all this talk of a serial killer on the loose, her hope of seeing her best friend again was at risk of shattering, piece by tiny piece.  

National Missing Persons Week: The search for Ursula Barwick

AFP book launch Muse Canberra

Article first published Canberra Times, July 31, 2017

“It’s never too late to find your missing person.”

That’s the message Melissa Pouliot has for suffering families after her missing cousin, Ursula Barwick, was recently found following a 30-year search.

Ursula, aged 17, had died in a car accident on the Hume Highway, near Tarcutta, in 1987, only weeks after she went missing.

Ursula had been living in Sydney under a new name, Jessica Pearce, and it was that name her new friends provided to investigators after the crash.

Author Melissa Pouliot, left, with her cousin Ursula Barwick, who went missing in 1987, aged 17. Photo: Supplied

The authorities failed to track down her family and Ursula was buried in Emu Plains cemetery under the name of Jessica, where she lay undiscovered until Ms Pouliot re-sparked the search.

The Merimbula-based author wrote the crime fiction novel, Write About Me , as a way to honour Ursula’s memory, but it created the momentum that saw the case reopened by police  and Ursula found.

Ms Pouliot chronicled this journey through a series of novels and last week unveiled her fifth, Found , which was launched in Canberra.
Ms Pouliot will launch Missing Persons Week 2017 – the annual national campaign to raise awareness of the issues and impacts surrounding missing persons – in the Bega Valley this week.

The theme of this year’s campaign is “Still waiting for you to come home”.

Like Ursula, 25,000 of the 38,000 people reported missing in Australia each year are under the age of 18.

Teens aged between 13 and 17 are six times more likely to go missing than the rest of the Australian population.

Young women are the most susceptible.

While the majority of missing people are found within a short period of time, there are more than 2000 listed as long-term missing, which means they have been missing for more than three months.

Australian Federal Police national coordinator missing persons and exploited children Marina Simoncini said for every missing person there were family, friends and colleagues left behind, still waiting for them to come home.

She said, in some circumstances, disappearing might be viewed as the only option to escape a bad situation, but in some extreme cases, a young person might have become a victim of crime.

Ms Simoncini said young people went missing for a range of reasons, including miscommunication, misadventure, or because of a misunderstanding.

While Ursula has been found, the police case finally closed, and a memorial held at the Emu Plains Cemetery earlier this month, Ms Pouliot said the family’s quest continued.

“The long journey of her death is not over yet,” she said.

“We are still trying to join dots that connect Ursula and the fictional character of Jessica Pearce, who she created for her new friends in Sydney.”

The details and circumstances of Ursula’s death are now with the NSW Coroner.

Ms Pouliot said she hoped for clear answers to the many unanswered questions.

But she said Ursula had left a clear legacy for the families and friends of missing persons.

“[Ursula’s] legacy, the thing that will inspire others for many years to come, is that it is never too late to find your missing person.”

To view Australia’s national register of missing persons, visit the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre website at www.missingpersons.gov.au , where information about support services across Australia can also be found.

Anyone with information relating to a missing person is urged to contact their local police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

MP Book News for July

WORKSHOP: How to get buzz for your book launch

Saturday July 15, Club Sapphire Merimbula

A book launch is a fantastic way to celebrate. It is also an essential part of getting your new book noticed, generating sales, building your author profile and putting your book into the hands of the people who matter most – your readers!

Writers of the Far South Coast have invited me to run a workshop with practical, simple tips on organising your book launch. To register for the workshop visit HERE .

FIND ME in Collins Merimbula’s Top 10 for June
It’s so exciting to walk into one of my favourite bookshops and see one of my books on the Top 10 stand. The previous month it was You’ll Never Find Me in the #7 position and now FIND ME has snuck in at #10. Happy days!

What do you do when you walk into a bar and spot someone reading your book by the fire with a glass of red?
Join them of course! I was thrilled to talk books with Ginelle from Ballarat one Friday night at Dulcie’s Merimbula, but I’m afraid I cut into her Mum time and she didn’t get much reading done!  I shared this special moment on my Facebook and Instagram pages if you’d like to check it out.