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In tough times, love and support from the community helps ease despair

Tragedy: Hannah Clarke’s parents Lloyd and Suzanne Clark are flanked by Queensland Premier Annastasia Palaszczuk (left) and Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll (right) during a vigil for Hannah and her three children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3, at Bill Hewitt Reserve in Brisbane. Photo: AAP

THEIR work is relentless – the police officers and first responders who arrive in the aftermath of disasters and violent crimes, trying to cope with the immediate trauma, and then spend months, sometimes years on the case. 

They are exposed to horrors that rip apart families and cause a ripple of grief across the community – as witnessed in Camp Hill last week with the murder of young mother Hannah Clarke and her three children.

“Police do an extraordinary job and its hard to comprehend what they see in their daily work,” former police chaplain Fr Paul Kelly.

He clearly remembers answering a call three and a half years ago to offer support and solace to Queensland police responding to the Dreamworld tragedy, and the long investigation that followed.

It took until last week for the coroner to deliver his findings – condemning Dreamworld over its failures leading up to the deaths of four passengers on the Thunder River Rapids fun ride.

“To bring it home, there were police who were working in the midst of the Dreamworld tragedy back then who I also saw very much in the midst of responding to the recent horrifying tragedy in Brisbane when Hannah Clarke and her children were killed,” Fr Kelly, now associate pastor in Surfers Paradise parish, said.  

“It reminded me of the things the police and first responders go through to help in times of disaster and how any one of these events would be more than one person should ever witness.  

“My respect and regard for them is so high, as they then continue to go on to the next areas of need.”  

In the case of the Dreamworld tragedy, the immediate grief felt by devastated families rippled across an entire community. 

“The gravity, scope and complexity of the tragedy at Australia’s largest theme park is unparalleled in Queensland’s history and was carried out … with the eyes of the world watching,” Coroner James McDougall wrote in his 300-page inquest report released on February 22.

The ride fatally malfunctioned, killing four passengers on a raft that flipped – Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett and Roozi Araghi.

Mr McDougall was scathing in describing a “total failure” and “significant risk to the safety of patrons” due to the hazards identified on the ride which included the wide spacing of slats on the conveyor belt, steel support railing, the impact of pump failure and the absence of an emergency stop button.

The coroner said it was “very fortunate” no other lives were lost prior to the 2016 incident, and “clearly risk associated with rafts colliding was known to Dreamworld”.

In a heartbreaking statement read before the coroner, Shayne Goodchild, father of Kate and Luke Dorsett, said: “Their deaths have left a gaping hole in our hearts.”

“Kate was the lifeblood of the family unit. She had a wonderful sense of humour that was enjoyed by the whole family.

“Kate was taken so dramatically, so publicly. Not a day goes by that she is not spoken about and missed dearly.”

A lawyer for Cindy Low’s mother, Donna Cook, expressed the immediate shock of the tragedy.

Mrs Cook was in New Zealand when she heard the news: “I collapsed. She was dead.”

The grief felt by immediate families quickly turned to collective grief as the story spread through the media. 

There were candlelight vigils, while the grassed slope that fronts Dreamworld soon filled into a sea of flower bouquets.

“This event has more of an impact on the community because it’s happened at a place quite synonymous with the Gold Coast.  The community has all gone to Dreamworld; it’s a fun family place,” Fr Kelly said soon after the tragedy. 

“What happened to those people could have been anybody. So in that sense it has had a bigger impact on everybody.”

The murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children on a street in Camp Hill has also touched a collective nerve – even though this was tragedy of a very different nature.

Hundreds walked silently from Camp Hill’s Samuel Street to Bill Hewitt Reserve for a memorial to mark the tragic murder of a young family.

Lloyd Clarke, father of Hannah, thanked the swelling crowd, including police, ambulance workers, school friends and hundreds of young families.

“I am just lost at the number of people Hannah’s life has touched,” Mr Clarke said.

And Hannah’s brother Nat told the crowd community support had eased his despair: “It made me realise the world is not so cold and dark.”

Fr Kelly said “in times like this … the love and support of the wider community… gives a lot of heart”.

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