Diane Brown was born in Kogarah Bay,
a suburb of Sydney,
in 1944. She attended Carlton Primary School and completed her high school education
as a boarder at St Catherine’s College, Waverley.
Diane worked as a secretary for a
company until 1974, when she moved to Wodonga with her husband and baby son.
Twins were born in 1975 and the family moved to Melbourne in 1977, where Diane again worked as
a secretary until the family returned to Wodonga in 1986.
Diane worked in the transport industry before re-marrying
in 1990, when she joined a prominent Albury law firm, working up to a senior
paralegal position, where she remained for 16 years before retiring in 2006.
Diane and her husband moved to Melbourne in 2001, where she continued to work
for the Albury law firm from her home office.
Diane was a convenor of the Mental Illness Fellowship
Wodonga Support Group for five years and is currently Vice President of the
Board of the Mental Illness Fellowship of Victoria, a position she has held for
11 years. Diane is also a past member of the Melbourne Health Research and
My Dearest David,
It has been such a long time since I last saw you and not a
day goes by when you are not in my thoughts. My journey has been such a long and
tedious one since our final conversation, so I thought I would write you this
letter to let you know how things have gone. I am writing this from memory,
Dave, and at times I was not thinking clearly, so forgive me if I make the odd
mistake here and there.
It started like any other Saturday, a cold morning, 7th
July 2007. Norm and I were driving to Wodonga to visit the grandchildren for
their birthdays. Norm was organising one of his special weekend breakfasts when
the phone rang.
“Hi, Dave,” I heard Norm say. “No, you didn’t waken us; we
have been up for a while and are heading off to Wodonga shortly. What time is it
over there? Oh, 11.00 pm, it is 8.00 am here.”
After a few minutes of light chatter, Norm handed the phone
to me with a smile, saying, “It’s Dave.”
Grabbing the phone, I happily spoke into it, “Hi, Dave,
how’s sunny England?”
“G’day, Mum,” you answered with your usual quiet reply that
I loved so much. However, as you continued to speak, I sensed something was
wrong. Your words were slurred and you paused between sentences.
“How are you, darling?” I queried.
“Things are not going too well, Mum, I have all these
debts,” you replied. “No matter how hard I work and even if I worked seven days
a week, I will not have the money to pay them. Serena will not pay her share.”
Your words seemed so strange to me. You had always been so
proud of your achievements, the purchase of your home in Bodmin, the house
renovations you were undertaking and a well-paid job with Specsavers as Store
Manager. You had travelled extensively in your young life and had never
mentioned being in debt before.
The back of my neck
started to prickle. I had never heard you speak with such emotion and so slowly.
“How much debt are you in, darling?” I queried.
“I can’t tell you, Mum,” was your reply.
“How did you get into such a mess?” I asked. I tried to
lighten the situation and joked, “You haven’t been gambling, have you?”
The phone went quiet. After a few seconds, seconds that
seemed almost endless to me, you spoke again.
“No one will help me, Mum.” You slurred the words as you
“We will help you, Dave, we will help you. You can come
home and get a loan to pay off your debts.” I responded.
“I would not be able to get a loan to cover it all, Mum.”
Again you remained quiet for a short time. Your voice
quivered as you asked, “I can’t just walk away, can I?”
Memories flooded back of a previous conversation we shared
a few weeks ago when I suggested you should walk away from a problem.
Remembering how you became quite angry with me, I did not want to stir up your
anger again, so I quietly responded, “No, darling, you can’t just walk away.
When you sell the house things will be better. Have you managed to finish the
We continued to chat for almost half an hour, discussing
the house renovations, your plans to come home to Australia the following April
and how you had been offered a job in Perth as Store Manager for a new
Specsavers store. You sounded so proud as you told me you planned to make it the
best store in Australia.
We discussed our recent birthdays, the same birthday that
you, your twin sister and I share. You and Catherine were my very special
present when you arrived on my birthday. You were due in the September, but
obviously could not wait to be born, arriving two and a half months premature,
such tiny little babies only weighing one kilo each.
During our conversation it became increasingly obvious that
you had been drinking. You were slurring your words and kept pausing between
sentences. A couple of times I actually thought you had nodded off. At the same
time I was also aware of Norm standing in the background, waiting to cook
breakfast, and I worried that he was anxious to head off to Wodonga. Oh, Dave.
Why does one let such small things worry us? Maybe if I had said, “Bugger
breakfast, it can wait,” and kept talking to you, maybe you would have given me
some insight into what was to follow.
As we spoke, you sounded so desperately in need of sleep,
still continuing to repeat your words. In an effort to finish the conversation,
I eventually said, “Dave, I want you to go to bed and sleep on your problems.
They will not seem so bad in the morning. I will ring you Sunday night your
“You will ring me, Mum, won’t you?” You sounded so lost, so
“Yes, darling, I promise I will ring you on Sunday night
your time, which is Monday morning our time. Now please try and get some sleep
as you have to work tomorrow.”
You hung up the phone. In a way, I was relieved that our
conversation had finished. It was difficult talking to you when you had
obviously been drinking heavily. We had spoken at other times when you’d had a
few drinks, but this was different. You seemed to be nodding off during the
conversation and I felt that a good night’s sleep was what you really needed.
Our weekend passed uneventfully. We enjoyed our visit to
Wodonga; however, I had an uneasy feeling deep inside all weekend. I was worried
about you and anxiously wanted the weekend to pass so I could ring you Monday
That whole weekend my mind raced with thoughts of you and I
could not understand the financial problems you had obviously incurred. I tried
to work out how much money I could send to you and even thought of asking your
brother, Matthew and Catherine to help out.
Night came, but I was unable to sleep. My mind drifted back
over the past two months and how this had all started. I recalled your
excitement when you surprised us with an unannounced visit in June last year,
bringing your fiancée, Serena with you. You planned to spend your 30th
birthday with Catherine and then travel around Australia for three months. You
were so excited about travelling again and anxious to show Serena our beautiful
country. As well, you had both decided to hold your wedding in Australia and to
move back to Australia after your wedding and the whole family was so excited.
During that time you were home we spent many happy times
together, looking at display homes and visiting different areas in Melbourne
where you may live. You had been away for eight long years and the thought of
having you living near us again filled me with elation.
As you drifted in and out of our house, using it as a base
between your travels, it became obvious to me that Serena was very spoilt. It
was always you who did the cooking, washing and shopping. Serena made a point of
sleeping in every day until at least 11.00 am, even though she knew you were
keen to be out and about. She spent most of her time organising wedding plans,
ringing reception venues, hire car firms, visiting florists and I did sense how
you became a bit annoyed with it all. You even commented that you were here for
a holiday, not just to organise a wedding. It was during your visit that I
discovered Serena had been married before and had already been a bride, with the
big white wedding and all the trimmings. I wondered why she wanted such a big
wedding the second time. But then, it was not for me to comment as I know how
young women often get carried away at the thought of being a bride.
After three months in Australia you both returned to the
UK, Catherine leaving with you for a three-week holiday. That was wonderful for
Catherine as it was her first overseas trip and I was thrilled to see my twins
sharing special time together again. I made you promise to look after her and in
your usual generous way you funded her trip to Paris, knowing how limited her
A few weeks following Catherine’s return, I received an
email. Serena had decided she could not live in Australia and therefore you
would not be coming home after all. Your email was quite short and blunt and
Dave, I was shattered. We all were. It was one of the lowest points in my life.
You still planned to marry, but the wedding would now be in the UK.
A few months following Serena’s decision, you rang to tell
me you had purchased a house in Bodmin, a small town in the Cornwall area. Your
first home, how exciting! Of course I was happy for you, but it made me realise
that now you would never come home.
The months went by and each time we spoke you always
sounded happy and positive. Your wedding was set for 16th December
2007, with Norm and I planning to travel to the UK for the wedding and then stay
on for Christmas. The two of you had such lavish wedding plans and I did wonder
how you would afford it, but you never mentioned any financial difficulties so I
assumed you had worked out a budget.