WHEN Bri Hourigan's family told him his car was missing from the family's South Grafton backyard on February 28 he was in disbelief, and initially thought they were playing a joke on him.
But when he climbed out of bed to see his beloved Nissan 720 tray-back ute missing, the reality of having his freedom, work tools, wallet and more than $1000 of cricket gear stolen set in for the 20-year-old.
One of the items of special significance in Bri's cricket kit was a custom-made finger guard the Wanderers opening batsmen uses in every match since losing a third of his finger to a tumour in September 2011.
The third-year apprentice carpenter said when he realised his ute had been stolen he "expected to find it burned out down the street".
Bri said his family had lived at their McFarlane St address for the past 15 years and had never experienced any previous problems.
When the family reported the theft to Grafton police on Tuesday morning they said they were "very disappointed with the police reaction".
"Police said normally they would find it burned out some- where after whoever who had stolen it had taken it for a joy ride," he said.
Bri said that the ute that he had owned for five years was insured, but all of the valuable items in the vehicle were not covered under insurance.
Through word of mouth the family soon found out a group of youths had stolen the vehicle and driven it to where they lived north of Baryulgil.
What followed was what Bri and his mother Romayne described as wonderful co-operation from the local Aboriginal community to find the ute.
"My sister-in-law works for the Aboriginal legal service and one of her friends contacted her and said they had found it up there," Bri said.
"Within 24 hours of the car being gone we knew who took it and we knew where it was," Romayne said.
"Without their wonderful help we wouldn't have found it."
When Bri's brother drove to collect the ute last Friday the family informed police, who told them to be careful not to touch many surfaces so they could fingerprint the vehicle.
While he is stoked to have his ute back with his wallet and all of his cricket gear, Bri said about $1000 worth of tools were stolen and his vehicle is a little worse for wear.
"It looks like they had been four-wheel driving in it.
"They ran into a tree or a kangaroo or something cause the bumper bar was pretty smashed."
The culprits also scratched the paint, bent the windscreen wipers, stole the steering-wheel cover, smashed a side mirror and stole the ashtray and cigarette lighter.
Romayne said police came to their home on the day they got the ute back but didn't fingerprint the vehicle.
"We were very lucky we got the ute back in the state it was in."