Two years on

Two years ago today (December 21) Mum and I were in Sydney for the first inquest for Ursula, where the coroner officially gave her name back.
Coincidentally (or not) my new book about Ursula was sitting in the email inbox of a literary agent when she got to work this morning, waiting for her to open its pages and decide if she wants to help me share my words for Ursula with the world.
For the past 10 days Ursula has been pushing me to finish this book which started as a personal diary in 2013 to keep track of everything that was happening behind the scenes after I published Write About Me and got fresh eyes on her case.
In amongst pre-Christmas deadlines and at a time when life couldn’t get any crazier, I’ve just finished another 53,000 words for her. This is her way – bold, adventurous and always up for a challenge. “Here for a good time, not a long time” was one of her favourite sayings. If only we knew.
I am sharing a very personal photo with this post. This is at Tarcutta, on the Hume Highway, where I pulled up to visit the site of Ursula’s accident.
I stepped out of the car and this greeted me. Yellow, her favourite colour and a can of Coke – the ‘cool’ drink of the 80s. The colours, the nearby creek lined by large eucalypts, thistles, long wavy grass – it was a scene right out of the picture book of our childhood.
Ursula, Ursula, Ursula. Always loved, never forgotten 💛

Write About Me becomes number 1 bestseller

Today is a pretty exciting day – this time seven years ago Write About Me reached #1 in the biggest bookstore in the world, Amazon. More than 43 people were downloading the Kindle version every minute, and my lovely author friend Carolyn Jourdan was giving me regular updates direct from the US and I was watching my boys play cricket in the rain.

I’ve also just discovered a new five-star review, which is incredibly exciting to read, thank you Nada!

💛 Books are forever 💛

Nada Kraguly, Far South Coast, NSW.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written and fast-paced, this eye-opening fiction mirrors life in a way you won’t expect!

I am amazed at how deftly Melissa Pouliot wove her stories around what could (and no doubt does) happen when someone goes missing. Centering around the intricate webs of daily life, a simple decision like whether to turn left or to turn right, a decision any one of us could make on any given day, makes all the difference in someone’s survival. I am also grateful that this story has opened my eyes to the plight of Missing Persons and that if I ever notice something ‘not quite right’ I know to reach out to a person and/or turn to the various resources in our community without hesitation. My heart goes out to all family and friends of Missing Persons ~ may your loved ones be found!

#bestseller #writeaboutme #crimefiction #missingpeople

Working from home series: Productivity

This week my conversations with clients getting used to working from home, many of them with children who are adjusting to schooling from home, have centred on productivity. Here are a few simple things I’ve learnt over the past 20 years that help keep me ‘productive’ in my home office:

  • Set a routine and accept that this might not be the same as what you’re used to. Do what works in your household, and don’t forget to take breaks!
  • Turn your phone over so you don’t see every single notification. Every time you look at your phone it interrupts your concentration and reduces productivity.
  • Turn your phone to silent and put it on vibrate for when it rings. You might miss a call or two but that’s what voicemail is for.
  • Make a list of 6 things to get done in your day, it’s more realistic to achieve 6 things than a long list of everything.
  • Consider altering the number of hours you work. When you’re in a workplace you have interruptions and distractions so even if you’re at work 8 hours a day that doesn’t mean you’re solidly working for 8 hours. At home, with less distractions, you are more productive so you can get more done in less time.
  • Be kind to yourself. If you can’t sit at your computer for 40 hours a week, that’s okay. Prioritise and do what you can.

Working from home series: simple tips

A lot of people think that I write books all day (actually most of you know by now that at the moment I’m NOT writing books all day given that I haven’t published a novel since 2017!) – what many don’t know is that I have owned my own media and marketing company for more than 20 years, mp|media solutions.

Here are some tips on working from home inspired by conversations with many of my clients who have shifted into their home offices and I’ve been helping them adjust to this ‘new normal abnormal’.

I’ve been working from home for 20 years, always with children underfoot, at my elbow, on my lap or calling out from the next room. Here are a few things I do to make it work:

  • Make the bed
  • Get dressed and brush your hair
  • Don’t forget to eat lunch, try and keep it healthy. Also work out in the morning what you’re having for dinner that night
  • Try and exercise every day
  • Take regular breaks and go outside when you can
  • Set your work hours. I’m better in the mornings so I start really early, I might take a couple of hours during the day for a walk or bike ride, and even when I am super busy I try and finish at 5 because I’m not producing valuable work after that time!

Okay, this is what it would be like in an ideal world, it doesn’t always turn out like this, but each new day is a fresh start.

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 💛💛💛💛💛