Notes and toys have been left for the little girl who was found dead on a Surfers Paradise beach. Picture: AAP/John Gass
Notes and toys have been left for the little girl who was found dead on a Surfers Paradise beach. Picture: AAP/John Gass

This is no way for an Australian baby to die

It was, quite simply, an evening full of life.

Last Saturday our family decided to spend the night in a hotel in Staghorn Avenue at the northern end of Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.

We had relatives to catch up with the following day so we bunked down in one of the precinct's many towering hotels, ours a retrofitted phantasmagoria of funky furniture and huge murals of 1950s beachgoers frolicking at the beach. The whole theme harked back to simpler times.

We drifted out into Staghorn Avenue in the early evening in search of a meal to find the hotel foyer busy with high school students dressed up for their end-of-year formal.

The young women were multi-coloured silk blooms in their fine dresses and the young men hovered anxiously, all pinched and buttoned up and awkward in suits that they may have been wearing for the first time.

It was a beautiful scene, the milling and murmuring and excitement of young people on the verge of entering life proper. It exuded hope and it carried the fragrance of the future.

We walked down the avenue to the beachfront then south for a the few blocks towards the heart of Surfers, past the night markets with their baubles and spruikers.

It was a warm evening and the beach was serene at dusk.

Toys and other mementos have been left at Surfers Paradise beach after a nine-month-old baby was found dead on the shoreline. Picture: AAP/John Gass
Toys and other mementos have been left at Surfers Paradise beach after a nine-month-old baby was found dead on the shoreline. Picture: AAP/John Gass

The following day we went about our business. We joined our family for a barbecue lunch on the Broadwater. We went home to Brisbane and packed the children into bed.

And we woke to the news of the discovery of the body of a baby girl on that stretch of sand we had so quietly admired just hours earlier.

In all of this life - the graduates, the families strolling along The Esplanade, the wide-eyed schoolies in Orchid Avenue, the hordes attracted to the glittering trinkets at the markets, the relentless surge of the waves down on the beach - had come news of a child's death, quietly delivered, but its message a deafening roar.

How was this possible? That a naked nine-month-old girl could be discovered by a passer-by in the frilled water at the edge of the surf down from Staghorn Avenue, like some ocean flotsam?

It was reported yesterday that the baby, her parents and another sibling had, for a time, lived in the small grassed wedge that is the Sydney Hamilton Family Park on Garfield Terrace, south of Staghorn Avenue, with its public barbecues, children's swings and Pandanus trees. All of this shadowed by high-rise residences.

The Gold Coast Bulletin reported: "(A) distraught resident wrote to the Gold Coast City Council on May 18 fearing the worst: 'I'm very concerned about the welfare of a young couple with a baby that have been sleeping on the wooden platform (in Sydney Hamilton Family Park) … They've been there the past three nights. Can you link them with some support please?'"

Queensland Police officers attended the scene after the baby was discovered by a passer-by. Picture: Channel 7
Queensland Police officers attended the scene after the baby was discovered by a passer-by. Picture: Channel 7

The Queensland Department of Child Safety has denied it had knowledge or prior contact with the family of the dead child. Sources have reportedly indicated otherwise.

The minutiae of this tragedy will over time be sifted through and examined by police, the coroner and numerous government bodies. Blame will be flung back and forth. Inevitably, political pointscoring will come into play, if it hasn't already.

Reverend Jon Brooks from the St John's Crisis Centre on the Gold Coast reportedly said yesterday he believed the centre had previously tried to help the family.

"Judging from what I've been told, we have helped them. I believe we've even helped the young lady get accommodation about a year ago. That obviously didn't work out," he told ABC Radio Gold Coast, adding that the tragedy had put a spotlight on "an inability to cope and care for kids properly in our society".

Rev. Brooks further said: "We're failing children, we're failing people a lot across the board … we're seeing families break down and we're seeing the result of it now more and more."

Not far from Staghorn Avenue and the shoreline where the child's body was found, is a huge building site fronting The Esplanade for a new 73-storey high-rise called Ocean.

A tribute has been erected to the baby girl near Staghorn Avenue. Picture: Tertius Pickard
A tribute has been erected to the baby girl near Staghorn Avenue. Picture: Tertius Pickard

The site is surrounded by hoardings advertising this new "lifestyle precinct", which will include an up-market supermarket, restaurants, 722 apartments and a "pool bar" on the fifth level.

When finished, it will be the Gold Coast's fourth tallest building.

The advertising features a picture of a beautiful apartment with billowing white curtains and a well-heeled young man with a hand in the pocket of his Bermuda shorts and wearing fashionable sunglasses, taking in a world class view.

Perhaps we all need to stop looking perennially to the horizon, and all that it promises, and spend some time turning our attention to terra firma. Perhaps we need to flick off our shoes and go and walk barefoot on the sand and reconnect with what matters, and understanding who's doing it tough and falling through the cracks of this society we've constructed for ourselves, and seeing what we might be able to do to help.

We're failing children. We're failing people across the board.

Perhaps we need to ask of ourselves - what does it mean to be a genuine, productive member of a community?

Matthew Condon is a columnist for The Courier-Mail.



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