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  • Writer's pictureValentine Smith APM

‘The Lost Boy’ – Tragedy in the Outback…

The lost boy - missing child

Everything in life is a ‘Maybe, even where we think we have a considerable degree of control of direction and choice.  Many things we do are decided upon by a process of options, choice and decision, often with a somewhat calculated outcome.  However, the final or twisted path of many other things are frequently influenced by the unforeseen. Such is the case in the tragic story of ‘The Lost Boy’ by Robert Wainwright.[i]


The back story enters the stage with the causes and influences of a hundred years, just far enough to set the seeds, the plan in action to create the characters; the events for the tragedy of what ifs and maybes to play out.


In his book Wainwright has masterfully managed to weave in the complex back story, and later the tragedy finales’; the life journeys of the two main familial arms, that of Adele Stokes a 1950’s migrant girl from the English Midlands and that of her beau, Steve Liebelt, a strong raw boned lad from Adelaide.


The roads of life meander and jolt in a thousand directions and impact on a thousand souls and one major highway bolts to end in a mega-tragedy, the sad loss of a son, Clinton just 8 years young, who perishes whilst lost in the bush in October 1993, at Dunmara, a tiny wayside stop 630 kilometres South of Darwin.  This is that story.


Dunmara, this little speck on the map, famous for the ‘Clint Liebelt’ tragedy and for the contrasting marvel of ‘thousands of fish falling from the sky’ in the middle of a desert, as depicted by Wainwright in his introduction.  Beyond these points probably nothing.  However, what about the wonder of 1200 people from all across ‘The Outback’, ‘Territorians’ and others, coming together in the search.  The great plusses of human and community strength and bonding.  Those supporting ‘the rock’, that very foundation of empathy of all who are touched and impacted by a child missing.


Was there collateral heartache beyond the loss of little Clint?  Of course there was, some was obvious; family grief, families broken, and others, searchers, close and remote, suffering in silence in believing they could have done more.  Justified thinking, most probably not, nevertheless it lingers, with no manner of counter argument unconvincingly able to send it away.


There is something almost surreal for us all when a child is missing, more so when that child is lost in the bush, the wilderness.  Wainwright brings forth the gradients of ambiguous grief of those drifting in the thoughts and fears of such a terrified young soul lost in the wilderness, hoping for rescue, alone, conscious of every rustle and breath moving about in the dark.


As adults, we can only sympathise with family and those that took part in the search.  As outsiders we cannot empathise, we will never have that particular experience.  It is a very personal thing, unique to those that have suffered and lived it.  However, we can think of Clint and every so often as we negotiate our way in life we can spare a moment to share an experience or two with him, to take him on our journey.  His life started a long time ago, however there is nothing to say that it should have ended in the bush at Dunmara in October 1993.  Not while others can remember him and carry his memory along with them.


Well done to Robert Wainwright for a book well written, and for a life narrative of a little boy’s adventure. Well done to those hundreds of searchers and supporters who rallied together in October 1993 for little Clinton.

Finally, our hearts go out to Adele and Steve and to Clinton’s siblings and family.   Your little son, and brother is not forgotten. 


[i] The Lost Boy © Robert Wainwright 2004 (published by Allen &Unwin 2004)


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