Candle and flowersYesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the disappearance of the Beaumont children from South Australia. It remains one of Australia’s most enduring mysteries, and it looks more and more unlikely that the crime will be solved before the deaths of Jane, Arnna and Grant’s elderly parents, if ever.

I picked three humble chive blossoms to remember the children by, but the candle I lit for Nancy Beaumont, the children’s mother.

The Beaumont children

It was an intrigue with how it is possible to live ones life amidst such unresolved grief that eventually seeded the idea of my novel in progress, She Sells Sunshine, which is about the disappearance of a three year old child and what her mother does in order to be able to make it through the rest of her life. It is about what might happen when imagining the worst becomes untenable.

On Tuesday I watched archival footage of interviews with the Beaumont parents from 1966. Nancy Beaumont’s face was clearly haunted with a thousand terrible imaginings, and her hands danced a wringing anguish  that spoke louder than any words could. I wonder if her hands have ever found stillness.

While researching missing children in Australia as part of my writing process, I came across a relatively contemporary piece on the mother of missing Melbourne girl Eloise Worledge who, like my character Lucy Ra Brown, vanished from her bed without trace in the 1970s. The mother, Patsy Worledge, creates vibrant artworks now and wears bright colours in a ohoenix-like defiance of the past. She refuses to dwell on her daughter’s disappearance or the subsequent death of another of her children, saying that she didn’t often think about it anymore, that she had come to a point where she no longer needed to know “what happened that night”

The colours of Patsy Worledge

In the 1930s Australian poet Kenneth Slessor wrote in his poem Five Bells
‘If I could find an answer, could only find
Your meaning, or could say why you were here
Who now are gone, what purpose gave you breath
Or seized it back, might I not hear your voice?’

It is a question that many people in the depths of grief might have pondered, and especially in the case of these missing children, and all of the other terrible mysteries of lost children, where a mother or a father might wonder what kind of peace might be found in the knowledge of a grave, something to lay flowers upon, and be close again to the child instead of the child sized holes in their lives.

If we remember, even 50 years on, if we don’t let the hard contemplation of those fresher gaps, like William Tyrell slip to the backs of our minds, we give the children the continuance of their names, granting them one more breath in our collective consciousness. Who could forget?


Poem by Erin Hansen