A family's desperate search

ANXIETY is the call to say your brother didn't make it home from a motorbike ride.

Hope is what you hold on to when 48 hours later a police helicopter locates his crashed road bike.

Despair is what engulfs you when hours, days, weeks pass and you still haven't found him.

It is now a hellish 20 days since my brother, Paul Stevenson, disappeared without a trace from a road west of Bundaberg.

This is the story no journalist ever wants to write from first-hand experience.

The truth is you never expect to see someone you love on a missing poster.

Paul is a son, a father, a husband, an uncle and a bloke with strong ties to his community.

In background terms he is a Scots PGC College Warwick old boy and Longreach Pastoral College graduate, who grew up on properties along Queensland's border between Texas and Goondiwindi.

In Bundaberg, where he has lived for close to a decade, he's president of his local junior footy club, Western Suburbs, he's a senior first aid officer, an experienced diesel mechanic and a dedicated family man.

And the latter is why it is so hard to accept that he has been officially missing since Sunday, March 11, when he failed to return home after an early morning motorbike ride.

Two days later the 1978 Honda CB750 he spent a decade restoring was located by a police rescue helicopter down an embankment on the Gin Gin-Mt Perry Road about 100km inland from Bundaberg.

Witnesses later came forward to say they saw a man matching my brother's description walking east along the bitumen road about 600m from the crash site about 1pm on March 11.

No one has reported seeing him since.

He hasn't used his mobile phone or his bank accounts.

He hasn't called family or friends.

He has quite literally disappeared without a trace.

So how does someone just vanish in this age of global positioning systems, mobile phones and Facebook?

And where does a family, desperate to find someone they love, start to look?

When we first learnt Paul was missing, we were galvanised into anxious action.

We chartered a helicopter to join the police search and drove north to be with his distraught wife Julie and children Tom, 16, and Nikki, 19.

After police located his road bike we joined SES teams and with Paul's friends and workmates spent days crawling down embankments, up ridges and through lantana.

We will always be in debt to those who gave up their time to help us search and who offered a steady hand and a kind word when the terrain blurred through our tears.

Three days later when police wound up the ground search, a group of my brother's most loyal mates stayed on and, with footy club members and city friends, we kept looking.

In the long days which followed we sought out Aboriginal trackers, doorknocked houses, travelled dirt roads, phoned strangers and pinned up hundreds of missing posters.

When those actions failed to produce results, exhausted and despairing, we consulted clairvoyants, psychics and private investigators.

For what it is worth, those in touch with the spirit world advised us not to give up.

Not that there was ever any risk we would.

Now three weeks later we are struggling with two scenarios: did we leave him out theresomewhere?

Did we not search hard enough or thoroughly enough or in the right place in the rugged terrain and broken gullies of the Wonbah Range where he was last seen?

Or did he leave us?

These questions haunt us and the families of the 6000 people who go missing in Queensland each year.

Detective senior sergeant Damien Powell, officer in charge of the state's Missing Person Unit, said figures translate to 15 new cases a day.

"Annually we locate 99.7% of people who go missing," he said before encouraging us to hold on to hope.

Then he explained that for every one person who goes missing there are on average 12 close family or friends directly affected.

We know what he means by affected.

It means we rush to answer the phone.

It means our sleep is disturbed by nightmarish 'what ifs'.

And it means we replay over and over again everything we know about the day Paul disappeared.

"Someone somewhere has to know something about your brother's disappearance and be able to give you answers," Det Snr Sgt Powell said.

But what we want now, even more than information, is Paul home.

Bundaberg police district inspector Kev Guteridge tells us the investigation is ongoing.

So what do we, as a family, do next?

"You have the hardest job of all," he answered.

And he doesn't need to explain. We know.

Then my mum, Pat Stevenson, emotional but brave, explains why this search for her eldest son is so important.

"Paul means the world to us. We miss him and we want him home."

She fights back tears before adding: "We will search for him our whole lives, if that is what it takes."

And we will.

The truth is you never expect to see someone you love on a missing poster.

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