POLICE have issued a missing person’s report for well-known Fremantle
milliner and businessman Matt Bale (pictured).
The manager of the MANY business incubator in the old Myer building and
co-owner of its Kate and Abel cafe, hat and ephemera pop-up shop, was last
seen near Georgie Bay on Rottnest Island just before dusk on March 21.
Police spokesperson Susan Usher told the Herald Mr
Bale had a return ticket but the ferry company was unable to check if he had
Ms Usher said friends and family he’d normally be expected to contact since
then had not heard from him, and police enquiries hadn’t turned up any
“We need to know if we need to expand the search on Rottnest,” she said.
Mr Bale and his wife, Kate Hulett, started the St. Saviours hat brand as a
weekend hobby in 2009 back in the UK. They sold them at London markets and
festivals, and within a year had been picked up by hip fashion outlet
Topshop for its flagship store on Oxford Circus. The hats were also carried
by Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge and Anthropologie on Regent Street.
Mr Bale is about 185cm with a full beard and distinctive tattoos, including
a kookaburra on his lower right arm, an abstract pattern on his upper right
arm and a star on his lower back. He usually sports a hoop earring in each
He was last seen wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt, black and white shorts and
HELP SEARCH FOR MATTHEW BALE ON ROTTNEST
On the afternoon of March 21 this year the delightful Matthew Bale
went missing on Rottnest Island and has not been seen since, so his
wife Kate Hulett wants to do her own search for him on Rottnest. Police
have searched the populated parts of the island but Kate now wants to
see if Matt is in one of the more remote parts.
Matthew and Kate have been very active at Fremantle’s Many 6100 at Kings
Square and well-known to many shoppers for their the Kate & Able hat
Kate wrote on Facebook:
For my own peace of mind – and for
my best friend, and husband, Matt – I am asking for help from friends of
ours, to search the rest of Rottnest, so we can rule-out him being on
the land. This is the uninhabited, rough, shrubby parts of Rotto. Its
not a fun task, and it will be hard work walking through scrub and
looking under trees and through dense foliage. Of course, it’s not an
activity suitable for everyone, and it’s absolutely not a measure of
your friendship if you do or don’t come! Honestly, I can’t articulate
how well supported and loved I’ve felt over the past six weeks!
But – if you are fairly fit
and can offer a day’s help searching an allocated area – that would be
search will start on the afternoon of Saturday 21 May, and hopefully be
done by Tuesday 24 May in the afternoon. So the full search days will be
Sunday 22, Monday 23, and Tuesday 24 May. Rottnest Express have very
generously offered free ferry tickets to volunteers, but I need to know
names and dates –
so if you are able to join us, please send me your email address and
availability, so I can arrange things and provide you with more
If you have time to help with the search please do contact Kate! It is
very heart breaking that this good man has been missing for so long and
there is no trace of him.
THE worried partner of missing Fremantle businessman Matt Bale will lead
a team to Rottnest Island in two weeks to search for him in its remote,
Kate Hulett recently made an emotional plea on Facebook for volunteers
to help in the search: so many locals responded it’s threatened to get
out of control.
Mr Bale, the manager of the MANY business incubator in the old Myer
building and co-owner of its Kate and Abel cafe, hat and ephemera pop-up
shop, was last seen near Geordie Bay on Rottnest just before dusk on
Three weeks later, no clues to his whereabouts have been found.
Ms Hulett told the Herald police
had focused their search on the populated third of the island so her
group will search the rest. She says it will be through fragile scrub so
she didn’t want to send an army of people who’d do too much
“The case is soon to be handed over to the missing persons department, which
manage the long-term missing,” Ms Hulett had posted on Facebook.
WA Police media adviser Susan Usher says police searched all areas on the
island and Mr Bale may not be on it.
“To clarify – police have not said they believe Mr Bale did not leave the
island,” she says. “It is unknown if he left the island and as it is
unknown, we will not limit our inquiries to the assumption that he is on the
island. Police continue to make inquiries and will follow up on any
information received regarding the whereabouts of Mr Bale.”
Rottnest Express will give the volunteers a free trip to the island.
Mr Bale is about 185cm and when last seen wore a full beard. He has
distinctive tattoos, including a kookaburra on his lower right arm, an
abstract pattern on his upper right arm and a star on his lower back. He
usually sports a hoop earring in each ear. He was last seen wearing a yellow
Hawaiian shirt, black and white shorts and black thongs.
Mr Bale and Ms Hulett started the St Saviours hat brand as a weekend hobby
in 2009 back in the UK. They sold them at London markets and festivals, and
within a year had been picked up by hip fashion outlet Topshop for its
flagship store on Oxford Circus. The hats were also carried by Harvey
Nichols in Knightsbridge and Anthropologie on Regent Street.
A popular Fremantle businessman told two Rottnest Island workers he would
swim back to the mainland just before he disappeared on the popular tourist
destination more than two years ago.
An investigation into the unexplained disappearance of Matthew Bale,
co-owner of Fremantle pop-up shop Kate + Abel, was ordered after an
extensive land and marine search failed to find the 38-year-old following
reports he had gone missing in 2016.
Mr Bale had been holidaying on the island with his parents visiting from
the UK and his wife Kate Hulett on March 21, 2016.
After arriving at the island, having lunch and picking up groceries, the
family went to their accommodation in Geordie Bay, which they had booked
for the week.
However, Ms Hulett confronted Mr Bale over the fact he had been
drinking and appeared to be intoxicated.
In a statement, Detective Senior Constable Chris Hitchen said Mr
Bale appeared to have become agitated and “self-deprecating” after
the minor confrontation, and made remarks about his own self-worth.
It's understood he said he was “screwed up”, and “couldn’t do this
He asked his wife for his mobile phone and money, but she refused.
She instead gave him his return ferry ticket, and he left their
Geordie Bay accommodation.
Mr Bale returned to the chalet once more before leaving without
telling his family his intended whereabouts.
Later in the evening, his father had gone on a walk around the island
when he happened to see Mr Bale sitting on a beach with two young women.
His father said he watched from afar as Mr Bale followed them from the
beach but when he spotted his father, he told him to “piss off” and
gestured at him to leave him alone.
He was last seen walking towards the Longreach Bay area.
When he failed to return, his family stayed on the island as they
believed he had caught one of the early ferries home to Fremantle.
Ms Hulett later raised the alarm when the family returned to the
mainland on March 29 and realised Mr Bale was still missing.
She contacted the Fremantle Police station, which along with Rottnest
Police station launched a large-scale search to find Mr Bale.
Water Police, emergency services, Rottnest rangers, local businesses and
volunteers all joined the search, but no trace of the missing man was
After months passed with no bank activity, missing person’s posters were
distributed and Mr Bale was formally added to the national missing
Two years after his disappearance, a young woman phoned Crime Stoppers
claiming she had been one of the women on the beach Mr Bale was last
seen speaking to.
She said her friend in Queensland had seen the missing persons poster in
a police station and recognised Mr Bale from their time as a live-in
housekeeper and island worker two years prior.
The woman said on the night of Mr Bale’s disappearance, she and her
friend had walked down to the beach to watch the sunset.
She saw Mr Bale leave a liquor store with a box of wine and he asked if
he could join them on their walk and drink wine on the beach.
They agreed and the group went to Little Bay.
“He told her he had used heroin for 20 years and he had many problems,”
Senior Constable Hitchen said.
They encouraged him to stop using drugs, but Mr Bale said he wanted to
go back to Fremantle. They told him the last ferry of the evening had
already left and he said: “Then I will go swimming.”
The women thought he was joking and carried on their evening.
At one point Mr Bale took off his clothes so he was completely naked and
said he was going to go for a swim and asked if they would like to join
The women said they were uncomfortable and declined, but they later took
a photo of Mr Bale with one of them before sunset, which they emailed to
WA Police as proof they met him.
Senior Constable Hitchen said the women's information suggested it was
likely Mr Bale had tried to swim to the mainland, although his body has
never been found.
“Undertaking a 19km swim in darkness ... would have been a huge task,
even for the strongest of swimmers,” he said.
The inquest also heard Mr Bale had struggled with substance abuse for
some time, seeking help for his addictions and spending time at Cyrenian
House for meth and alcohol use.
Coroner Barry King heard while Mr Bale was not suicidal, he had
experienced drug-induced psychosis in the past and had left for Bali on
one occasion to deal with his issues.
From 2011 onwards, Mr Bale had been sober and planned to begin a
certificate IV in mental health studies at TAFE the month after he
Coroner King heard both Mr Bale and Ms Hulett were well-respected and
liked, and had contributed extensively to the Fremantle community.
“He was described as funny, smart, interested, excited, and always
willing and able,” Senior Constable Hitchen said.
Mr Bale had a love for fashion and physics, and was extremely active. He
had participated in triathlons, the City to Surf run and the London
Marathon, and had plans to take on the Rottnest Channel Swim.
Coroner King said while there were signs Mr Bale had been struggling
mentally in the lead-up to his suspected death, it was more likely he
had died of misadventure or accident.
“I can tell you in the fact of the information presented today, that it
is likely he has in fact died,” he said.
“At the face of it, I can’t see any other outcome.”
Coroner King is expected to hand down his findings later this year.
1. Matthew James Bale (the deceased) disappeared on the
evening of 21 March 2016 while holidaying at Rottnest Island with his wife
and parents. Searches uncovered no sign of him, and he had no further
contact with banks, phone companies or government agencies.
2. On 22 August 2018, Detective Acting Inspector Gorton of
the Major Crime Division of the Western Australia Police submitted to the
State Coroner a report by Detective Senior Constable Christopher Hitchen
pertaining to the deceased’s disappearance.
3. On 18 September 2018 Sergeant Housiaux spoke to the
deceased’s wife, Kate Hulett, by telephone. Ms Hulett informed him that she
believed that the deceased was dead, and she requested that an inquest be
held into his disappearance.
4. Under section 23 of the Coroners Act 1996, where a person
is missing and the State Coroner has reasonable cause to suspect that the
person has died and that the death was a reportable death, the State Coroner
may direct that the suspected death of the person be investigated. Where the
State Coroner has given such a direction, a coroner must hold an inquest
into the circumstances of the suspected death of the person and, if the
coroner finds that the death of the person has been established beyond all
reasonable doubt, into how the death occurred and the cause of the death.
5. On 29 October 2018, the State Coroner directed that the
circumstances of the suspected death of the deceased be investigated.
6. On 19 June 2019, I held an inquest at the Perth
Coroner’s Court into the deceased’s suspected death. The documentary
evidence comprised a brief of evidence, which included the report by
Detective Senior Constable Hitchen, together with relevant material.1
Detective Senior Constable Hitchen also provided oral evidence.
7. I have found that the death of the deceased has been
established beyond all reasonable doubt, but I have not been able to find
how death occurred or the cause of death.
8. The deceased was born on 17 September 1977 in Greenwich, a
borough of London, England, so he was 38 years old when he disappeared. He
grew up with his parents and an older brother, a younger sister and a
younger brother. His younger brother died of colon cancer at the age of 27,
and his death affected the deceased deeply.
9. From his late teens, the deceased worked in the film
and TV industry in London. In 2008 he met Ms Hulett, who was living in the
United Kingdom during her 20’s and early 30’s. They started dating and then
began living together in 2009. The deceased managed pubs and bars in between
working as an editor on TV shows and movies.
10. The deceased and Ms Hulett started a business
making and selling hats, which they did on weekends while keeping their
regular jobs. By about 2010, their business was sufficiently successful to
enable them to quit their other jobs.
11. In early 2013 the deceased and Ms Hulett moved to
Australia, and on New Year’s Eve that year they were married. They bought a
unit in Fremantle and opened a shop at which they sold their hats and other
goods. They also managed a project which organised the activation of vacant
building space for temporary businesses. The deceased was particularly
involved with that project.
12. The deceased was physically fit. He had run
marathons, had competed in triathlons and was determined to swim the
Rottnest Channel swim.
13. However, the deceased had psychological problems.
Though he had a passionate enthusiasm for life, he had experienced
depression for which he had been prescribed citalopram, and he became an
alcoholic in his 20’s. He made use of rehabilitation providers and
psychologists, and for the most part he was able to overcome the alcoholism
from 2011 onwards.
14. Towards the end of 2014, the deceased used
methylamphetamine, which in 2015 resulted in his admission to a residential
drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Cullacabardee and follow-up at a
mental health/rehabilitation clinic in Nannup.
15. The deceased’s experience in rehabilitation left
him feeling mentally strong and positive. On 21 March 2016, the day he went
missing, he had booked and paid for the Certificate IV Mental Health course
with view to working in the mental health area, especially with young men.
16. However, a psychiatrist who saw the deceased five
times from 26 June 2015 to 11 March 2016 noted that, on the last time he saw
the deceased he was continuing to use methylamphetamine and had developed a
drug-induced psychosis for which the psychiatrist prescribed lurasidone. The
deceased had insight into the psychosis and was not suicidal.
EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE DECEASED’S DISAPPEARANCE
17. On 17 March 2016 the deceased’s parents, Alan and Brenda
Bale, came to Perth to visit the deceased and Ms Hulett. On 21 March 2016,
the four of them took the ferry to Rottnest Island to stay for three nights
at a unit on the beach in Geordie Bay.12 One reason for the holiday at
Rottnest Island was that the deceased was finding sobriety difficult.
18. They arrived on Rottnest Island around lunchtime,
so they went to the pub for a meal. The deceased had only water to drink.14
After lunch, they went to the shops and Ms Hulett went to the Rottnest
Island Authority office to pick up the keys for their unit. The deceased
left his parents at a shop after telling them that he wanted to look at
magazines in the general store. He asked Ms Hulett for some money for a
magazine, but she refused to give him any.
19. At about 1.45 pm the four of them met at a bus stop and
boarded a bus that took them to their unit. They unpacked their bags and
went for a swim at the beach at the front of the unit. At about 3.00 pm,
they went back to the unit, had showers and drank cups of tea on the front
balcony of the unit.
20. At about 3.30, the deceased and Ms Hulett went to
the Geordie Bay shop to get some things for dinner. While they were back in
the unit, she smelled alcohol on his breath and confronted him about it. In
his bag she found a one litre bottle of vodka that was two thirds empty. She
poured the remaining vodka down the sink drain and he became upset and
agitated. He stormed off through the back door that led to the roadway.
21. Ms Hulett went to the balcony and told the deceased’s
parents about what had happened. The deceased returned to the unit after
about 15 minutes. He was obviously heavily affected by alcohol. He went onto
the balcony in an upset state, crying and angry. He said things apparently
calculated to isolate himself. He told Ms Hulett that she should leave him
because he was screwed up. He also said things like ‘I can’t do this
anymore’ and ‘You’re not my friends; alcohol is my friend.’
22. The deceased asked Ms Hulett for his telephone, his ferry
ticket and some money. She gave him the ferry ticket since the ferries had
stopped running for the day, but she did not give him his phone or any
money.17 He left through the back door after punching the screen door.
23. The deceased then went to the Geordie Bay shop
where he bought a cask of wine. As he was walking out of the store, he met
two women who were on their way to watch the sunset. The women were working
as housekeepers on Rottnest Island. He asked if he could join them for a
walk on the beach and to drink some wine together. They agreed, so the three
of them walked to a small bay nearby, possibly Fays Bay, where they sat
24. The deceased told the two women that he was on a holiday
with his wife and parents but that he had left them and gone to the liquor
store after an argument. He said that he had used heroin for 20 years and
that his life was a big mess and that he had troubles he could not fix any
more. They tried to encourage him to get his life together, to stop using
drugs, to think about his wife and family and to take care of them and
25. The deceased showed the women the ferry ticket and
said that he wanted to go back to Perth that night by himself. When they
explained that no other ferries were leaving that day, he said that he would
then swim back to Perth. They thought he was kidding.
26. At about 4.30 pm, the deceased’s father went out to
look for the deceased. By chance he saw the deceased talking with the two
women at what he understood to be Fays Bay. He kept a distance and then went
back to the unit to pick up his phone and to tell Ms Hulett that he knew
where the deceased was.
27. The deceased’s father then returned to a spot on
high ground behind the beach at Fays Bay where he could see the deceased and
the two women. The deceased went for a swim and encouraged the women to join
him but they declined and walked up the hill from the beach. The deceased
started to follow them.
28. The two women went towards Geordie Bay. As the
deceased crested the hill, he saw his father and told him, ‘Piss off, Dad’.
He then headed towards the next bay along towards Thompson Bay, presumably
Longreach Bay. The deceased’s father did not see him again.
29. The deceased did not return to the unit. Ms Hulett
and the deceased parents were worried about him and stayed up late, but they
were aware that the deceased had done similar things in the past. He had
once gone away to Bali on his own for drugs, though in that case he was in
daily contact with Ms Hulett after he got there. He had also been absent for
a day or two due to alcohol abuse.
30. When the deceased had not returned to the unit by
the next morning, Ms Hulett and the deceased’s parents assumed that he had
caught the ferry back to Fremantle. They decided to stay on Rottnest Island
for the remainder of their booked holiday.
31. When they returned to Fremantle on 24 March 2016,
it became apparent that something was wrong. There was no sign of the
deceased at home or work, and his bank account had not been used. On 29
March 2016 Ms Hulett and the deceased’s mother went to the Fremantle police
station to report that he was missing.
SEARCH FOR THE DECEASED
32. CCTV records of the Rottnest ferry did not capture the
deceased leaving the island on the ferry.27 Due to the short duration of the
voyage between Rottnest Island and the mainland, no register of passenger
names was kept.
33. On 7 and 8 April 2016, police and Rottnest rangers
conducted a land search on Rottnest Island without finding any sign of the
deceased. High probability areas were initially searched, and then searchers
concentrated on less accessible and out of view areas with foot and vehicle
34. A sea search was not conducted since a lack of the last
known location, together with wind and tidal movements, would have made the
search fruitless. A request was made for volunteers from the Department of
Fire and Emergency Services, but the request was denied due to the long
passage of time since the disappearance.
35. After the police had conducted the land search, Ms
Hulett arranged for her own search from 22 May 2016 to 24 May 2016 with the
assistance of 19 volunteers. The searchers found some little-known caves and
other rarely-accessed areas, but found no sign of the deceased. Ms Hulett
came to believe that if the deceased had died on Rottnest Island, someone
would have come across his body.
36. As part of the investigation into the deceased’s
disappearance, police investigators conducted proof of life checks which
established that, since he disappeared: a. the deceased had made no claims
under Medicare or the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme;31 b. the Registry of
Births, Deaths and Marriages had received no certificates to show the
deceased’s death or a change of his name;32 c. the deceased had not
registered any mobile phone numbers; d. the deceased’s last contact with
Centrelink was on 26 February 2016; 33 e. the Department of Immigration and
Border Protection’s records indicated that the deceased had not left
Australia; 34 f. records of the deceased’s bank accounts showed no
transactions other than overdraft and interest fees after 11 March 2016; 35
g. the Australian Federal Police and missing persons units in all States
have had no contact with the deceased;36 h. there were no unidentified
bodies or remains at the State Mortuary which could be the deceased;37 and i.
the Department of Corrective Services had no records of the deceased being
37. Public awareness strategies were implemented by police
by: a. disseminating a state-wide broadcast on 2 April 2016, b. issuing a
media release on 7 April 2016, with the deceased’s disappearance featuring
on several news and police media outlets; c. adding the deceased’s image and
profile to the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre and Crime
Stoppers websites on 10 May 2016; and d. disseminating a National Missing
Persons poster in October 2016, with the deceased featuring on it.
38. In March 2018 the two women who had spoken to the
deceased at Fays Bay saw the National Missing Persons poster and contacted
Crime Stoppers. They provided evidence to investigators, including a
photograph of the deceased taken shortly before he was last seen.
39. Detective Senior Constable Hitchen noted that all
possible avenues of investigation had been exhausted. He stated that, if the
deceased had attempted to swim to the mainland as he indicated to the two
women, predicting his movements and determining how far he would have swum
before succumbing to fatigue, hypothermia or his state of mind would be
40. Detective Senior Constable Hitchen concluded that
the evidence suggested that it was unlikely that the deceased was still
alive.40 41. Ms Hulett noted that she has the deceased’s phone, laptop,
passport, drivers licence and SmartRider in her possession, and his bank
account, email, Facebook and other connections with the community have not
been accessed since he went missing. She stated that the deceased was
married and had a business, a new apartment and exciting plans for the
future, so she did not believe that he had walked away from his life and was
41 CONCLUSION AS TO WHETHER DEATH HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED
42. I am satisfied that the deceased’s death has been
established beyond all reasonable doubt, having regard to the following
circumstances a. the deceased has made no contact with family or friends; b.
searches found no sign of the deceased; c. the deceased had been struggling
with drug and alcohol addiction and had developed druginduced psychosis; d.
the strongest likelihood is that the deceased entered the ocean in darkness,
with the inherent dangers; and e. the deceased has had no interaction with
authorities, financial institutions or phone providers.
THE CAUSE OF THE DEATH AND HOW DEATH OCCURRED
43. There were several possible causes of the deceased’s
death. Ms Hulett hypothesised that he could have been swimming at night and
was caught in a current which took him away from the island, he could have
been overcome with cold, he may have been taken by sharks or he may have
passed out from exhaustion while trying to swim to land. She noted that he
may have also slipped and fallen into the ocean, where he drowned. I agree
that any of those events was possible.
44. I am satisfied that the deceased entered the waters of
the Indian Ocean off Rottnest after which he died from an unknown cause.
45. There is some evidence which is consistent with the
possibility that the deceased may have been considering suicide; for
example, his ambiguous statements to the effect that he ‘could not do this
anymore’ and that he ‘had problems that he could not fix’.
46. But other evidence, notably the psychiatrist’s assessment
that the deceased was not suicidal when seen earlier in March 2016 and the
women’s description of his interaction with them, suggests otherwise. The
photograph taken by one of the two women shows the deceased embracing the
other woman in a friendly gesture that appears inconsistent, in my view,
with a person contemplating suicide.
47. While it is not possible to determine the deceased’s
state of mind as time passed after he was last seen, particularly
given his intoxication and possible psychosis, on balance I am satisfied
that, when he entered the water, he had not intended to end his life.
48. I find that death occurred by way of misadventure.
49. While, on the basis of the limited evidence available to
me, I am unable to form any considered view as to the deceased’s character,
the impression I have is that he was a personable, vibrant man with a
passionate approach to aspects of life which interested or challenged him,
of which there were many.
50. Unfortunately, the deceased was afflicted with depression
and alcohol and drug addiction. Despite the opportunity afforded by extended
rehabilitation and the ongoing support of his wife and family, he was unable
to beat that addiction entirely and, as a result, made apparently impulsive
choices which cost him his life.
B P King Deputy State Coroner
1 August 2019