Bega schoolgirl murders: Brother opens up on love and loss 20 years on

As he reflects at this time each year, his eyes express almost every emotion possible, all at once.

It was a crime that shocked not just the Bega Valley, but the entire nation.

Nathan Barry was just 17 when his sister Lauren and her best friend Nichole Collins disappeared.

Over the 20 years since the murders Nathan has dealt with his grief by blocking thoughts and memories of his sister, and the tragedy has affected many of his relationships.

“My earliest memory of Lauren would be playing together on our property in the town of Orange as very young children. There was a pine forest, and along with the neighbourhood kids there we used to play hide and seek. I would always grab my sister to help her out, by finding a really good place. We were a great team,” Nathan reflects. 

EMOTIONAL TIME: Lauren's brother Nathan has found comfort in sharing his grief.

EMOTIONAL TIME: Lauren's brother Nathan has found comfort in sharing his grief.

“We were so alike in features that everyone knew we were brother and sister. We shared a special bond, like twins.

“I was little bossy with her at times or jealous, but that's just natural I guess. Mostly I was very protective and always looked out for Lauren.”

Fourteen-year-old Lauren and 16-year-old Nichole’s lives were horrifically cut short on October 6, 1997, in what has been described as one of Australia’s most vicious crimes.

The two Bega High School students were abducted by Leslie Camilleri and Lindsay Beckett while walking from their campsite at White Rock near Tathra to a nearby party, their bodies found five weeks later at Fiddler’s Green Creek after Beckett confessed to investigators.

Camilleri is currently serving two life sentences with no chance of parole, while Beckett is serving a life sentence, and could be paroled in 2033.

‘I'd rather stay and confront my demons’

Now with his own family, Nathan spends as much time as possible with his sons Reace and Aroha, and wife of two years, taking the family’s four-wheel drive out into nature, a place that has helped the healing process.

“Looking back I'm glad I waited until I was 35 to have kids, because I needed to bring love back into my life first,” Nathan said.

“Having a family and the responsibilities that come with it gives a feeling of purpose and belonging. I want my sons to grow up knowing about Lauren, and how wonderful she was. I want them to grow up to be good men, and walk softly on this earth with love in their hearts.”

Nathan has returned to Bega, after many years of travel and self discovery, but it’s not without its challenges.

“I was very lost. I find coming home healing and confronting at the same time. Bega is such a small town, so beautiful in its nature and way of things. I love the stillness of the bush, and serenity down here,” he said.

“Small towns can be challenging, because everybody knows one another's business, especially something like the tragedy that my family has experienced, which impacted on the whole town, and affected everybody.

“In some ways I feel this is in the eyes of everybody I see on a daily basis, but at this stage of life I'd rather stay and confront my demons than run from them.”

Now 37, and with a family of his own, Nathan remembers the overwhelming response the families received from the community in the days and weeks after their disappearance.

LOVING: Lauren Barry (right) with school friend Ranelle Adams before Valentines Day in Bega in 1997. Picture: Supplied

LOVING: Lauren Barry (right) with school friend Ranelle Adams before Valentines Day in Bega in 1997. Picture: Supplied

“It was and still is the most horrific tragedy to hit this area. It's still being felt by those who were here, and has sadly been passed down to others,” Nathan said this week.

“There was and still is so much generosity and support from the whole community.  Today I see it  in the smiles and caring eyes of everyone around me.”

Nathan has returned to the Bega Valley after much soul searching, reconnecting with the natural landscape and serenity he and his sister once loved to enjoy together.

“I believe one of the biggest challenges we face as human beings is that we have lost community within society,” Nathan said. 

“Small towns still seem to hold on to this way of life. 

“Perhaps that's why I'm still here, although I know I can hide in a big city, and no-one knows or really cares.

“You can be anonymous.”

‘They attracted many beautiful friends’

Lauren and Nichole were always close, sharing an inseparable passion for life and a love of horses.

“They attracted many beautiful friends from years above and below at school, and out of school,” Nathan said. 

“They both were beautiful kind and gentle young girls, with so much love for life. They had unconditional love, caring, and support coming from their families that taught them to be kind with all living things. 

“We all used to hang out together. Age was irrelevant back then. We all lived closely connected, like one big family, spending time on the beach and exploring the bush.”

Twenty years on from the horrible events of that night, many things have changed, Nathan is now a 37-year-old arborist, also working with the disabled - he is a wise soul, well beyond his years.

Lauren and Nichole share a couch together in Kalaru. Picture: Supplied

Lauren and Nichole share a couch together in Kalaru. Picture: Supplied

“Time intrudes. Most days, more often than not, I'm happy, and always positive and oped minded. Helping those who are less fortunate than you tends keep your mind and body very occupied, and in a way it distracts me from negative thoughts,” he said.

“There are days, where she comes into my mind, and it brings me and those around me down. Especially on the anniversaries, birthdays, or if I'm hanging out with some mates and their sisters who may be of similar age.

“I find it emotionally challenging and try not to let it show. I do feel a deep special connection to my sister, and I've studied and continue to practise meditation, which brings me closer to her. Sometimes when I need extra strength for something in my life I summon her energy, it's like she's within me, giving me superhuman strength to achieve my goals.”

Lauren and Nichole. Picture: Supplied

Lauren and Nichole. Picture: Supplied

In recent years Nathan says he has found comfort in sharing his grief with others.

“I've been down in the darkest, saddest of places, and I wouldn't wish this on anyone. But I have broken  through the darkness. I know there still is warmth love and light in the world. We are all in this together. Together we are strong. We must never give up on each other and our innate ability to care, love and support,” he said.

“Talking helps me release my anger, pain and frustration at the world in a safe way. I have found this form of sharing, also helps those around me to deal with their pain. I've done a lot of work on myself over the years. I have been open to many healers from all walks of life, yet the most impacting on my life are those closest to me, my family and friends. If not for them I most certainly would not be here talking to you now.

“To be able to move forward and begin the healing process you first need to understand and even accept what is. Then you can start really living again.”