Kenneth Walter HANES
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
On 22nd of September 2020, Kenneth HANES took a few belongings from his
Quakers Hill NSW home and headed towards the city. He was last seen
travelling on a ferry between Circular Quay and Manly, NSW. Kenneth has
not been seen or heard from since and there are grave concerns for his
Anyone with information which may assist in locating the whereabouts of
Kenneth is urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Renewed police push to find missing elderly Sydney man Kenneth Hanes
A 73-year-old man who hasn’t been seen in more than five days was
spotted in Manly after vanishing from his western Sydney home.
Family of Kenneth Hanes who vanished in Sydney Harbour furious after
crucial evidence overlooked
Erin Lyons NCA Newswire Sep 28 2020
he distraught family of a missing Sydney pensioner have been left
devastated and frustrated as they come to terms with why it took
police days to review critical CCTV footage.
Kenneth Hanes, 73, vanished after boarding a ferry from Manly to
Circular Quay on Tuesday night.
He left his home on Chase Dr, Acacia Gardens, just after noon on Tuesday
before catching a bus to Blacktown and train to Central Station, where
security footage caught him pacing up and down the platform.
Police told Mr Hanes’s devastated daughters that their dad then made his
way to Circular Quay about 2.30pm where he was seen walking back and
forth towards the Opera House and The Rocks before boarding a ferry to
He is then captured walking down the main street before cameras lost
him, his daughters told NCA NewsWire.
The last known sighting of Mr Hanes was at 8.05pm on Tuesday when he got
on a return ferry at Manly Wharf but failed to disembark when it docked
at Circular Quay.
His distraught daughters have now been left wondering why it took police
five days to review crucial CCTV footage that would have prompted an
immediate search of the harbour.
“How is it possible that a 73-year-old man is reported missing – with
his transport card – and then takes a bus, two trains, two ferries all
under NSW Transport – and it took five days to track those movements?”
Kathryn Hanes said.
Police told Kathryn and her sister Fiona Crawford that water police were
deployed to the harbour on Sunday, almost a week after Mr Hanes went
Kathryn said several police errors had cost the family vital days.
“A 73-year-old man has fallen off a ferry on a cold, dark night. It’s a
disgrace that six days later I’m sitting here in a police quarantine
hotel, overlooking the Circular Quay ferry pier, watching a pointless
search of the harbour,” she said.
“That could have been done on Tuesday night. There will be no body. We
will never ever find our father again because police left it too late.”
On Thursday Kenneth’s wife Nola managed to log into his Opal card
history that revealed he had travelled from Acacia Gardens to Blacktown.
The sisters said they then urged police to track his movements on the
city’s public transport.
A later police investigation determined that he caught the ferry but did
not touch off at Circular Quay, and they would need to contact Sydney
Ferries to access footage from the vessel.
But by Friday, detectives still hadn’t viewed this crucial piece of
evidence, Fiona told NCA NewsWire.
Police also scanned Kenneth’s internet history that revealed her dad had
searched for directions about how to get Manly.
But she said authorities were still persistent on searching a 1.6km
radius around his Acacia home because his phone pinged there at 10pm on
This piece of evidence later turned out to be untrue, Fiona said. Police
told her Kenneth’s phone had actually pinged hours earlier between noon
and 1pm when he would have been on the way to the closest bus stop.
“We asked why police didn’t do an immediate search of his travel card
and his internet history, and police didn’t have an answer to that,”
It took police until Friday night to contact Fiona and tell her that he
dad had likely gone missing in the harbour after viewing the footage
from Manly Wharf and Circular Quay.
The sisters said detectives had finally viewed the on-board footage that
showed Kenneth walking up and down the ferry before moving into a black
spot and never being seen again.
“On Sunday morning we asked if police had contacted the other passengers
and they hadn’t,” Kathryn said.
The family spent days searching for Kenneth in the harbour, even along
cliff faces at North Head and Shelly Beach.
“Manly to Circular Quay is the busiest route on one of the busiest
harbours in the world. How does a 73 year-old-man, who had already been
reported missing, fall from the Manly ferry and it takes this long for
authorities to even notice?” Kathryn questioned.
“If a child or a commuter or anyone other than an old man slipped from
the Manly ferry, would this be the response we’d accept?”
Kathryn said Kenneth was loved in the Acacia Gardens community and would
be deeply missed by many.
Kids living on Kenneth’s street have launched a campaign “Bring Back
Ken” by scrawling messages of love and adoration in chalk along the
“He was so loved and adored. He deserves so much more than this,”
A NSW Police spokesperson said authorities launched a two-day land
search on Wednesday involving local police, Operations Support Group,
Police Rescue, Public Order and Riot Squad, the Dog Unit and the State
Dad gave no signs of despair before he took his life
This is the story of the loss of a father, shared by a daughter who loved
him dearly and wishes she knew then what she knows now about suicide among
older Australian men.
On September 22
this year, 73-year-old Ken Hanes died by suicide. This is the story of his loss,
shared by a daughter who loved her father dearly and wishes she knew then what
she knows now about suicide among older Australian men. It is a story of isolation
and loneliness wrought by COVID-19, and the purpose and meaning it stole
from a good man’s life. It is a cautionary story of the
invisible pain of countless men.
When Dad went missing, the neighbourhood kids knew what to do. They took to the
cul-de-sac outside his house and wrote messages in chalk on the road. “We all
love you Ken. Please come home,” said one.
“Hope you come home soon Ken,” said another, the letters formed with the
rounded precision of a primary school blackboard. A third, from a child with
a practical mindset: “Please come home. The grass needs cutting.”
Dad was known to everyone in his local
community of Acacia Gardens in Sydney’s west. Short and stocky but
big-voiced, with a shock of white hair and great power of personality, he
was the sort of man who wouldn’t dream of letting a stranger go by without
wishing them good morning, or who made sure he was on hand to guide some
unsuspecting soul as they reverse-parked their car.
In retirement after a working life spent as a branch manager for the Rural
Bank of New South Wales and its various successors within the empire of the
Commonwealth Bank, he had filled the time by throwing himself into community
work and becoming a mower of lawns: a task he performed with the exactitude
and the attention to detail of a surgeon. His lawns were renowned; you could
run golf tournaments on them.
Nothing brought him greater pride than his family: his wife of almost 50
years, his three daughters, and his six grandchildren who adored him and in
whose lives he was a central, defining example of what a "good man" should
Tuesday, September 22, was a glorious Sydney spring day. The kind of day
that lifts the spirits of many but accentuates the despair of others. The
kind of piercing sunshine that obliterates pain for some and exacerbates the
agony of others.
On this day, Dad left the family home, and vanished.
You might think, in these days of intense surveillance, of security over
privacy, of CCTV and GPS and contact tracing, that you can’t vanish, not in
a city like Sydney. You might think, with the technology available, that the
police would be able to track a missing person very swiftly, to direct
family where to look and perhaps to save them from harm.
You would be wrong.
Dad left a short scribbled note, but an unclear one. It was addressed to
nobody and it was six words long. He was going out, but it was not an
obvious goodbye. He left his wallet and keys behind, but took his Opal card,
some cash and his phone, which was switched off.
My mother, Nola, came home late afternoon and found the note. Shocked as she
was, Dad had no signs of depression and she did not believe it necessarily
suggested self-harm, so she waited for him to come back. As the hours
dragged, she called police, then my sister, Narelle, who lives around the
corner; my sister Fiona, 10 minutes away in Castle Hill; and me in
Narelle was with her when the police arrived. They were unfazed by the
disappearance. Go to bed and leave a light on and the front door open for him,
they said. There’s a reason police say there’s nothing to do here.
As 2GB’s Ben Fordham observed when discussing the case several days later, the
norm is for police to wait 24 hours before doing much with a missing person
case, because people, particularly the elderly, do sometimes go wandering and
come back again. But the lack of rigour and urgency set a worrying tone, which
would get louder as the days went by.
On Wednesday, as
word spread, searches focused locally around the Acacia Gardens and Quakers
Hill area. Family, friends and strangers took to the bushland, drove the
streets, knocked on doors.
That same day, we received information that fuelled our hopes. Dad’s phone had
pinged the telecommunications towers surrounding his home at 10pm the previous
night, identifying his location as the vicinity of the local bus stop. This was
extraordinary: he must have thought better of whatever he was going to do, and
And then we worried again: had he seen all the cars parked outside the front of
the house, realised the chaos he had caused, and felt that he could not come
home after all? Were we, in some way, driving him away again?
Local search efforts, with hundreds now involved, were redoubled to a 1.6km
radius of the house. But all of this searching would be wasted because, five
days later, we learned the time had been incorrectly recorded. The phone had
pinged just after midday, lunchtime, when Dad was leaving the area. He hadn’t
come back at all. The hope, and the self-recrimination – because everybody
blames themselves when somebody goes missing – had been based on a logging
Eventually, when my 71-year-old mother, routinely mocked by her family for her
modest technological flair, did the most basic thing and logged on to the Opal
website to check Dad’s card 48 hours after he disappeared, we learnt he had
taken a bus from the stop at the end of the road, from which police were
eventually able to trace his movements to Blacktown station, then Circular Quay,
For 14 days I watched the ferry from which my father had disappeared, coming
and going, and the futile search for my father in the water.
After waiting in agony for Sydney Ferries and the police to coordinate on the
viewing of CCTV footage, we learnt that he had boarded the 8.05pm ferry back
from Manly wharf at 8pm. Twenty-six Opal card holders tapped on to that ferry.
Only 25 tapped off. Dad was not among them.
When police arrived before midnight on Saturday, they told us what we already
knew: Dad – who could not swim – had likely gone into the water. On Sunday
morning, five days after Dad went missing, a harbour search was underway.
My Dad has never been found.
While all of this was happening, a separate story was unfolding about the
reality of desperate family members trying to get to loved ones in the middle of
a pandemic. The dislocation of families caused by COVID-19 is, ironically, both
a side story to and central to Dad’s loss.
I live in Singapore. When I got the call from my sister on the Tuesday night, I
was at home. Of course I was: I had been working from home since February, as
few countries in the world have taken the pandemic as seriously as Singapore.
Because of it, leaving Singapore and entering Australia amid COVID-19 was
exceptionally difficult, but with much assistance I was able to leave within
three days of my father’s disappearance.
Then started two of the loneliest weeks of my life, during which I endured the
same sense of isolation and desolation that has driven so many people to
despair. New South Wales requires people to serve two weeks of isolation upon
arrival in state-selected quarantine hotels. But there is a quarantine exemption
process through which you can apply, on compassionate grounds, to serve
self-isolation elsewhere. I applied immediately
A licensed builder had separated my mum’s house into two units with no common
areas, just a sealed Perspex panel in the wall that would have allowed me to
communicate with my Mum, even if I couldn’t hug her. My application for
exemption was rejected. So were four appeals, even after two negative COVID-19
So, I endured quarantine completely alone, in a room with a view of one thing
only: the pier for the Manly ferry to Circular Quay. For 14 days I watched the
ferry from which my father had disappeared, coming and going, and the futile
search for my father in the water.
Desperate, sad, defeated, lonely, unseen, and untouched – it was the closest I
came to understanding how so many others have felt in 2020. It was the closest I
came to some understanding of my father’s despair.
Among the many questions my family had about the search for Dad, loomed one
overarching question we would ask ourselves over and over again – why? Why had
any of this happened?
missing, their life is forensically picked over. A private online footprint
becomes a public thoroughfare, immediate family and close friends are
interviewed, and so too are peripheral people. Those interviews have allowed us
to piece together a tragedy none of us saw unfolding. They have allowed us to
move from crushing disbelief to the heartbreaking acceptance that Dad likely
chose to end his life.
Dad didn't match the portrait of a suicidal man. Indeed, he was the exact
opposite. No history of depression, no genetic disposition to mental illness, no
major health concerns, no divorce, no financial troubles. He was the kind of man
who spends life on the robust side of the emotional spectrum, fearless and
always in control.
With a voice that could penetrate cement, he was confident, charismatic, a man
of intent and clarity of purpose. He wasn't fragile. In fact, he was
indestructible. Or so we thought.
But over the weeks following his disappearance, and through numerous lines of
inquiry, a desperately sad pattern emerged. It was a pattern that spoke to
multiple little losses – a loss of control over external forces in his life, a
loss of meaning, of relevance, of connection, of belongingness, that culminated
in a crushing loss of self. It is the same pattern that has wallpapered so many
of our lives during COVID-19.
It is a pattern that is not just discolouring and diminishing lives, it is
devastating lives, especially those of men over the age of 65, contributing to
Australia having one of the highest rates in the world of elderly male suicide.
Our understanding of suicide is crummy at best, and for suicide by elderly men
it is wretchedly inadequate. We all know the headlines: more than twice as many
Australians die each day by suicide than in road accidents; every year more
Australians kill themselves than in the previous year. These figures don’t even
account for the number of people debilitated by suicidal thoughts.
The rise in suicide has always been a slow drip in this country. Maybe we’ve
become immune to the headlines. But 2020 should wake us all up. We know
intuitively that this year’s figures will be especially bad. There is widespread
trauma in the population at large and, let’s face it, 2020 has sucked for most
The idea that we will all snap back at the first sign of a post-pandemic
economic boom is deluded. The
scars created by COVID-19 run deep. The scourge of elderly suicide doesn’t
go away with a COVID-19 vaccine, the return of lavish overseas holidays and a
rebound in employment. The elderly will be still be those most left behind by
the return of social freedoms, job creation and new technological innovation.
The irony of our time is that as our overall economic wealth and life expectancy
rises, so too does our rate of suicide. The years we think should be the
ultimate reward for a life of hard toil are, ironically, the years we are most
likely to end our lives.
Even before COVID-19, age-adjusted figures spoke to unprecedented levels of
sadness and despair among our older male population. Men aged 85 and older have
the highest age-specific rate of suicide in Australia, according to Lifeline.
Even in the economic boom days of 2018, this segment recorded 32.8 deaths per
100,000 persons through suicide.
But it is Boomers,
the generation born post-World War II, who have contributed more than any
other age groups to the rise in deaths by suicide. Men in my dad’s age bracket –
70-74 years – record 17.4 per 100,000 suicides, compared to just six per 100,000
for women. With an aging population, the numbers of deaths by suicide by older
people was already predicted to up. And that was before COVID-19.
Some of the contributing factors for suicide in this age bracket are obvious:
age-related health deterioration, death of spouses and friends, a rise in people
living alone, low help-seeking behaviours for mental health concerns. Men in
this bracket are also believed to be more at risk because of the script by which
society tells men to live their life. It is a script in which the dominant norms
of masculinity are still stoicism, independence and invulnerability.
But these explanations alone do not account for an acute new pain – a pain
wrought by COVID-19 and borne of isolation, a lack of control, a loss of meaning
and, ultimately, the decimation of a feeling that we are part of something
bigger than ourselves.
This was the new pain that I believe entered my father’s life six months before
his disappearance. There was no one cataclysmic event, but a series of blows,
innumerable little kicks in the head that gradually diminished him, reduced his
will, and eroded his spirit to oblivion.
n hindsight, the crumbling of Dad began with the crumbling of his communities, a
stymied need for connection and inclusion, and a well-guarded feeling – probably
for the first time in his life – of deep loneliness. It began with the pandemic.
As 2020 dawned and then quickly unraveled, Dad lost his part-time work at a
local school and the contributions it made to his retirement fund; he lost his
grounds maintenance role at yet another school; his lawnmowing services in the
local neighbourhood were no longer allowed.
He had to wave the white flag in his one-man war against graffiti, ending his
volunteer work in the local council area. A man driven by productivity, who had
lived a life grounded in busyness, who worked two jobs my whole childhood and
for most of his life, was rendered idle.
He was a man of sports. He devoted much of his life to supporting my sister
Fiona’s softball career, which would take her on to two Olympic Games,
travelling the world as her biggest cheerleader to watch her compete
He played softball, baseball, soccer, squash, bowls, tennis, golf – and believed
it was enormously important to give back to those sports, either by involving
himself in their administration or by serving as a coach, referee or umpire.
COVID-19 not only ended sporting competition, but for Dad, to whom physicality
was an essential part of his identity, a dark lockdown fatigue set in. Solitaire
and sudoku replaced the activities that for a lifetime had energised and
The community work that gave him such purpose and drive was no longer possible.
At the local nursing home, where my grandmother had been a resident, Dad ran the
dominoes competition, the bingo, he drove the mini-bus, he volunteered in the
gardens and – critically – he accompanied the male residents to The Shed, where
he formed deep bonds with frail old men. Dad had long understood the
life-sustaining power of belonging, and he organised everything and everyone
into gatherings and reunions and memories.
All of this ended with COVID-19.
So did his routine of chatting and sitting with my irrepressible, spirited
grandmother – whom Dad called ‘Mum’, despite her being his mother-in-law.
COVID-19 meant Dad could not enter the nursing home, so the nurses would wheel
her to a sealed window and Dad would talk to her through it in his inimitable
booming voice. He never tired of it, but it wasn’t the same. During lockdown, in
isolation, my grandmother died; 25 days later, my father disappeared from the
His email footprint from his last six months shows a man endlessly trying to
reach out to people from his past – a futile, thwarted attempt to be included
and seek connection. Alone at home, Dad spent more time online. At the time, we
were delighted to see him more interactive on Facebook. Now, I suspect this was
not an exercise in gregariousness, but a search for connection and aliveness; an
act of loneliness that, ironically, quite probably exacerbated his loneliness.
I think what Dad really wanted more than connection, was help – help to soothe a
pain so large and foreign he couldn’t even articulate it, let alone manage it. A
man who had dedicated so much of his life to the care of others, ironically
never felt the warmth of reciprocal care.
This is nobody’s fault. He gave no signs of his despair. His shoulders
had been leant on by so many people, perhaps he never learnt how to lean
on theirs. Perhaps he was too scared to admit vulnerability, or just
didn’t have the words to describe to anyone that unexpected,
inarticulable deadening of pleasure and vitality?
The life-saving ties that have traditionally lashed us together have
been frayed during COVID-19. So too have the identities we form through
work, leaving us rudderless when the jobs that define us vanish. We all
need to see ourselves as effective – as providers, resources,
contributors to the world.
Maybe Dad lost sight of that view of himself as a pillar of the family
and his communities. When that emboldening view of ourselves is replaced
by a view of ourselves as burdensome, a perilous feeling of uselessness
can creep in. We cease to flourish, our self-esteem fades, and our will
curdles. Dad had no compass for managing this maelstrom.
In the face of helplessness and vulnerability, perhaps death becomes an
act of defiance; as if suddenly we are unwilling to settle any more for
a life that is being half-lived.
Suicide is never the answer. It is a permanent solution to an often
temporary problem. But there is a dark alley of the soul, a danger zone
where three critical suicide markers overlap: thwarted belongingness,
perceived burdensomeness and an ability to die. The pandemic gave Dad
the first two and, critically, the ferry gave Dad the third, the
capability for suicide. And this was the final factor in a perfect,
Where was my family in all of this? Right beside Dad, but oblivious.
My mother, who began dating my Dad when she was 18 and had been happily
married to him for almost 50 years, had been less impacted by COVID-19.
At 70, she still works and was still able to leave home and do her job
throughout. Her income actually went up during COVID-19. She was a
breadwinner. Dad was reduced to his pension and super.
The cancellation of group gatherings didn’t bother Mum: she caught up
with her girlfriends for one-on-one coffees and lunch and she talked on
the phone. Dad didn’t do that. Her charity work with a non-profit
organisation for girls ramped up during lockdown. She maintained a home,
shopped, cooked, cleaned. She was busy. She had intent and purpose, and
she was not socially dislocated.
My two sisters and their families live nearby. But the long, dark months
of lockdown and the closure of schools robbed Dad of what probably most
sustained him – daily touchpoints with his daughters and grandchildren.
For years, Dad provided before- and after-school care for his
grandchildren, walking them to school, ferrying them around. I do not
know two adult women more involved in their parents’ lives than my
sisters. They saw my parents most days, they holidayed together,
travelled overseas together, played all manner of sports together, and
socialised together. COVID-19 stopped those daily interactions. It
disrupted routines, traditions, customs and family dynamics in ways
For myself, I left Australia 25 years ago. I live in Singapore with my
husband and two children. The last communication Dad received from me
was a storm of exasperation. Dad had received my overdue Australian
credit card bill, a scan of which he posted, along with a sermon about
paying my bills on time, to my Facebook page. (Poor Dad never did figure
out the Messenger function.)
Gradually during COVID-19, Dad started dropping off from the family Zoom
gatherings. He couldn’t understand the boxes, he couldn’t follow the
conversation, he disliked that we all talked over each other. A man
accustomed to commanding the dinner table, he couldn’t get a word in.
Eventually he stopped trying.
Our recovery as a society from the pandemic requires not only a
fundamental shift in the way we live, but the way we look after each
other. Our response to COVID-19 cannot be managed simply as a matter of
law and order. It cannot be managed as just a virus. It is a
multi-layered public health crisis with catastrophic consequences for
the mental wellbeing of many, especially the elderly.
While we are fighting one disease, there is broader trauma in our
communities that we must fight simultaneously. We understand the
epidemiology of COVID-19 and its higher risk to the elderly. We need to
understand the epidemiology of suicide and that that same group of older
Australians is again most at risk. In 2020, the combination of COVID-19
and self-harm has rendered humankind its own greatest threat. It has
exposed our fragility as a species, and as individuals.
It is easy to go down a sinkhole of remorse in the case of suicide. I
wish many things had been done differently in the response to my
father’s disappearance. I wish the ensuing
search had been handled differently.
But if I could have done one thing differently, I would not just have
checked in on Dad, I’d have taken the time to listen; to really listen
to his story, his pain, and to all he’d been robbed of in 2020.
I’d have asked him not just R U OK, but are you really okay,