AUTHOR Melissa-Jane Pouliot launched a Picnic Day for Missing People in her home town of Quirindi to raise awareness of National Missing Persons Week.
Ms Pouliot, who now calls the Far South Coast home, is touring with her debut fiction novel, Write About Me, partly based on her family’s real-life experiences.
Her cousin Ursula Barwick went missing 27 years ago, aged 17.
The last time Ursula’s family saw her was when she boarded a train on the NSW Central Coast bound for Sydney.
Ms Pouliot said Ursula's family and friends had learnt to accept they might never see Ursula again, but the long-term effects of not knowing what happened to her were still obvious today.
"When a close family member goes missing without a trace, you have to live with so much unresolved guilt and grief,” Ms Pouliot said.
“I was nearly 15 when she went missing and at the time I found it very difficult to accept that she was not coming home.
“Now as an adult with children of my own, I have a deeper understanding of what the adults in Ursula's life went through after she disappeared.
“A lot of time has passed, but we will never stop looking for her, and we will never stop missing her.”
Picnic Day, which Ms Pouliot is planning to make an annual event as a fundraiser to support missing persons work, was the day before Australia’s National Missing Persons Week, from August 3-10.
Australia’s National Missing Persons Week is an initiative of the Jones family whose son and brother, Tony, went missing in Queensland in 1982.
A few years later, they called for the first week of August to be dedicated to highlighting missing Australians and it has become a vital opportunity for families to gain some much-needed attention.
The Picnic Day for Missing People was inspired by Ursula’s love of family picnics while the cousins were growing up.
“Every weekend Ursula’s mum Cheree and my mum Dianne would gather a group of friends and family for a picnic somewhere,” Ms Pouliot said.
“Sometimes it would be by a creek, other times in our backyards, up the paddock, in a park or in the mountains.
“There were always lots of kids, lots of adults and of course, lots of great food.
“It seemed fitting to launch a picnic day in memory of Ursula, but also for all the other friends and families who are missing someone.”
Ms Pouliot, who released her debut fiction novel Write About Me during National Missing Persons Week last year, said she had worked hard for the past 12 months to raise awareness for missing people through her book and associated publicity.
She said the book had resulted in links with Australian and international missing persons networks and an invitation to be a global ambassador for an award-winning phone safety app developed in the UK to help find missing people.
She said people had also come forward with new information about the 27-year mystery of Ursula’s disappearance.
“I am proud to have not only honoured the memory of Ursula, but to have played a strong role in raising awareness for the often under-appreciated and under-publicised issue of missing persons,” she said.