Australian Story: Nov 25

Monday’s Australian Story’s ‘Forever Young’ profiles the stalled missing persons case of teenager Ursula Barwick, who went missing in 1987.

This episode is introduced by Loren O’Keeffe, founder of Missing Persons Advocacy Network.

Ursula Barwick was 17 years old when she vanished without a trace.

Her family dropped her to the train station on the NSW Central Coast in Spring 1987. She was headed to Sydney to start a new job and was to call when she got there. But that phone call never came.

“When Ursula was leaving there was no bitterness,” says her father Peter Barwick. “She was in a joyful mood. It was just a big adventure.”

Desperate and worried, Peter Barwick reported his daughter missing but police at the time failed to prioritise the case. Friends and family were not interviewed and potential leads were missed.

“I actually felt like there was a lack of interest from the police… that she was just another runaway and that she’d come home soon,” says her Aunt Dianne Panov.

For the next three decades, those closest to Ursula lived with an enduring heartache, not knowing if she was dead or alive.

“Had she been taken by Ivan Milat?” says school friend Heidi Williams. “Maybe she’s been murdered.”

In 2014, two new detectives took on the case as part of a statewide operation to follow up on stalled missing persons cases.

The Barwicks were impressed by their dedication, as they chased up the smallest details in their search for answers.

When the detectives finally discovered Ursula’s fate, it raised uncomfortable questions for NSW Police as to why her disappearance had gone unsolved for so long.

“I don’t think Ursula’s case is unique,” says former police inspector Victoria Beresford. “I think there’s a failing all the way through. I think every family should be ringing up the NSW Police saying, ‘please explain’.”

Producer: Winsome Denyer.

Monday November 25 on ABC

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