Baby change rooms in toilets next to Twin Towns the family used recently.
Baby change rooms in toilets next to Twin Towns the family used recently.

How baby lived from toilet block to toilet block

HER last resting space really is under the Norfolk pine in a park south of Surfers Paradise. A favourite place. Barbecues so close you could smell the steaks, children's swings tempting within a crawl.

"She was right here," a Labrador friend to the homeless says, pointing to the green blanket of grass and trying to comprehend why the gorgeous nine-month-old girl will never return there.

A Broadbeach park where the family would often sleep.
A Broadbeach park where the family would often sleep.

The conversation stunningly turns to the surf, how her body was washed up. The shocking discovery during Schoolies celebrations this week in the city's tourism heart has most people asking questions about responsibility. But what was this baby's daily life really like?

Behind her was orange fence netting surrounding a soccer field. This is the most gentle part of bustling Broadbeach, only months ago a main stage for the Commonwealth Games.

Her mum, dad and older brother were frequent visitors, leaving the Jack Evans Boat Harbour, a regular haunt for the Tweed homeless. Close down there to family at Kingscliff.

But this was like the Gold Coast should be, her summer holiday.

"They would run around in the grass. She was beautiful, just so beautiful," the friend says.

So bubbly and bright, like babies are, that on sunny days under the shade of that tree it is impossible not imagine her cackling with delight as her older brother plays with her.

A Tweed toilet block where the family would shelter from the rain.
A Tweed toilet block where the family would shelter from the rain.

"Oh God yeah, they (those two) were close. When I was tickling her and the little fella, he would come up for a hug. I was rubbing (tickling) the little bub," the friend says, before her speech halts.

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Her right hand is limp and twisted. Scarring and lines of red scratches stretch across the white inside flesh of the arm where she was gripped during a fight among the group.

"I would be polite and say hello to keep the peace," she says, looking away, far away.

A lifeguard tower the father of the nine-month-old would sleep under.
A lifeguard tower the father of the nine-month-old would sleep under.

Try to paint this place bright, this grey concrete toilet block in the park full of pines; there are just patches of sunlight. Here there is the dark during the day and night.

Among the handful of regulars there are men with two decades experience of living in the rough. The smell of alcohol on the breath of those who continue to sleep just after lunch.

Hostile middle-aged women living in cars, getting out to see who intrudes on their space. The same women who offered to take this child in their arms and refused by those more sensible in the group.

A shelter the family used to sleep in at Broadbeach.
A shelter the family used to sleep in at Broadbeach.

Men unable to carry a conversation let alone a child. Lost to the liquor long ago. A scruffy faithful dog warning and protecting them from outsiders.

Yet others in the group are known on a first-name basis by businesses, welcomed and polite customers who retailers say are too proud to accept charity.

So many questions. How did she survive the winter chill? She was tough. What did everyone do during the day, the handful of regulars around here? Was it just alcohol?

"Drugs. They do drugs. They'd stab needles in their arms," the friend says, nodding towards two men asleep on tables.

Why didn't the family seek shelter? "They live on the streets. They like to move around," she replies, her voice flat.

Did the police visit? What about Child Safety Services? They only saw the coppers. Didn't anyone reach out?

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"He wouldn't allow it. He would go right off," she says.

The childrens' clothes torn by a council lawnmower in a park at Broadbeach.
The childrens' clothes torn by a council lawnmower in a park at Broadbeach.

Around here, the retailers and business people, the residents, they're all grounded older folk who have walked through their own tough times. They care for others.

Two older ladies offer money to the homeless group. Businessmen check on them. Workers call the police when they hear babies cry.

One of the homeless was a chef. He cooks up the best steaks on those barbecues. "They eat well. They buy good steaks. They won't take a penny. They've chosen homelessness," a retailer said.

Every day you could cross the busy Gold Coast Highway, push the pram, eat free meals provided by St John's Crisis centre.

The father recently would leave at night and sleep under the lifeguard tower. In the dunes they had two mattresses. There are several tents nearby. Sheets for swags hang from she-oaks.

A young man is pacing, screaming at his partner. "We're not doing anything all day. I (expletive) give up!"

The baby's most recent bed was the table outside the toilet block. "They were on a dirty blanket. She didn't cry much. The little fella. He's got a new home now," the friend says.

Next to the bench, on the dirt, are the ripped remains of the baby's jumper, her brother's shirt and some socks. The council mower had cut them to shreds. Their friend kneels down and looks. The last trace of brother and sister.

paul.weston@news.com.au



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