They are the faces of innocent children trapped in time.
Many of them were abducted while they walked home alone, while others left home after an argument or when they chased adventure with friends.
Some simply went shopping at suburban malls, others left for school on public transport, not thinking they would never return home.
All expected to be able to return safely.
Instead they are on the list no one would wish on their worst enemy – that of Australia’s long term missing children.
As the world marks International Missing Children’s Day today, these are the 63 Australian children that vanished without a trace.
Some, like William Tyrrell are household names, etched in the minds of Australians. Others are less well known, but for their parents and families, the wondering and hoping and searching never ends. Even many years since their child was last seen, many still cling to the hope they will one day walk through the front door.
Valerie Eastwell was eight when she went missing in 1945 and would be 85 years-old today. Eve was last seen after she went to a neighbours house in Gol Gol, NSW, to deliver a message. It was a home that was known to her and she often played in.
Valerie Eastwell (c) pictured with sister Elvie and brother Ernie only months before the eight year old disappeared.
News about the end of the war had just been received, so the town was celebrating – but Valerie was never seen again.
Suzie Ratcliffe’s sister Joanne Ratcliffe, 11, and four-year-old Kirste Gordon were abducted from the Adelaide Oval in 1973.
“You continue to hold on to hope. Because really once you lose that, you really don’t have much left,” Ms Ratcliffe said this week.
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Joanne Ratcliffe, 11.Kirste Gordon, 4.
“There are days where you can hit rock bottom, and times when you think you’ve got to rock bottom and then you go further”.
Ms Ratcliffe said her mother Kathleen died in 2019 without knowing what happened.
“All she wanted to do was to be able to bring the girls remains home and bury them … It gets to that point where you weigh up the options and think ‘it would be great to get justice’ but we’d much prefer to be able to locate the remains and bring them home,” she said.
Ms Ratcliffe said her mum was the inspiration behind Leave A Light On, an organisation that raises awareness of long term missing persons in Australia.
“We’re a voice for the missing – there are a lot of missing people in Australia that have not received the coverage they deserve.
“If you ask like you ask anyone in Australia to name five missing people, they might know one or two in the area round them or William Tyrrell or the Beaumont children … but a lot of the other cases they don’t and that’s where we come in to raise awareness of the smaller cases that are just as important to family, but unfortunately haven’t been embraced by the public,” she said.
Detective Inspector Ritchie Sim of the NSW Police Missing Persons Registry said historic or long term missing persons cases were frustrating for police wanted “answers for those families”.
“We can’t begin to understand the distraught and sadness they go through,” Det Insp Sims said.
The crucial time period to obtain evidence after a person vanished was the first 48 hours – and the nature of missing persons cases made that hard.
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“There’s witnesses we can’t find or people who have forgotten information, or don’t remember details. And the devil is in the detail,” he said.
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