Mother’s fate still a heavy burden
VICTORIA Cross hero Mark Donaldson has opened up about the private pain he has carried for 15 years — that his mother was presumed murdered and her body has never been found.
The elite soldier admits her death has stained his life with sadness but also driven him to ‘‘put the universe back in balance’’ by trying to protect others.
It was an early morning phone call in April 1998 when a 19-year-old Donaldson’s ‘‘heart was thumping in my throat’’ after a friend told him his mum, Bernadette, was missing.
Donaldson, who was in Sydney working as a kitchen hand, made his way back to Dorrigo in northern NSW and went to the family home with his uncle and auntie, where police told them it was a murder investigation.
The suspect was Chris Watt, who had befriended Bernadette when her husband, the father of Mark and his older brother Brent, had died of a heart attack three years earlier.
A manhunt began but a couple of days later Watt was found dead in the car park of an RSL club in southeast Queensland. He’d overdosed on pills and left two suicide notes, neither about Bernadette.
For weeks the police, Mark, Brent, and members of the local community searched for Bernadette but her body has never been found.
There were two coronial inquests. The last one in 2009 concluded that Watt had probably murdered Bernadette.
But the formal findings have never healed Mark’s wounds.
‘‘(The 2009) inquest was closure in one aspect in that everything pointed to Watt as the person who did it,’’ he said. ‘‘We always suspected it but at least this was an official decision. But that’s half closing a book. Where is she? She hasn’t got a resting place.’’