Staunch, generous and quick to crack a joke, the wife of missing
prospector Michael Graham is privately riding waves of anger and
When police told her they had found signs her husband was still alive,
the only emotion she felt was blissful relief.
Mrs Graham and her husband's sister Lisa Dodson had spent the past 12
days hoping for news.
Early each morning they have left the Menzies Hotel and taken the dirt
road 70km to the police camp where they have waited for some sign that Mr
Graham was still alive.
Each morning they have watched emergency services patrols set out.
Through the day reports came in over the radio of dry creeks and
They had been told Wednesday would be the last day. The search could
not go on for ever. The cherry-red search helicopter had already been sent
That morning, on schedule, they drove out to the police camp. "We had
faced the fact the search was going to be called off," Mrs Dodson said. Mrs
Graham had been steeling herself for the lunchtime phone call to her son and
daughter at home in Lake Macquarie, NSW.
As the two women arrived at the camp, they were met by three police
vehicles leaving. A window rolled down and Acting Insp. Ricky Chadwick
"Ricky said: 'We've found something. Follow us.' There was a
realisation that this was it," Mrs Graham said.
After they were briefed about the discovery, she called her daughter
on a satellite phone.
The 15-year-old was "stunned" by the good news. "It was the first sign
of hope," Mrs Graham said.
"We were elated."
Mrs Graham and Mrs Dodson had been planning to drive back across the
Nullarbor today in the Nissan X-Trail Mr Graham had driven in the opposite
direction weeks earlier.
Now they will stay, "until we get resolution", Mrs Graham said. She
said the pair felt immense gratitude to the volunteers, police, shire
officers and others who had contributed to the search.
"These people are willing to just drop everything," she said. "They
give their time, they leave their families, they leave their jobs for
someone they don't know."
The pair plan to join emergency services volunteers when they return
Alongside this gratitude are feelings of helplessness. Mrs Graham and
Mrs Dodson are unable to help in the ground or aerial searches for their
They make sandwiches for police and volunteers, and fetch supplies
Mrs Dodson left her two-year-old daughter with her husband in Taupo
and took leave to support her sister-in-law.
"If nothing was found, I would have to come back," she said. "There
would be no closure."
Mrs Graham, a paralegal for a multinational company with offices in
North Sydney, said if her husband of 21 years was found, she would never let
him go prospecting again.
"Then he'll get a good slap on the head," she said. "But whatever the
conclusion, I don't think I could bring myself to come back here. I still
feel like it's a nightmare."
SOS notes found
James Purtill, The West Australian
January 25, 2013, 4:51 am
Bush trackers are on the trail of missing prospector Michael Graham
after a Goldfields station owner stumbled on makeshift camps and SOS notes
left by the 46-year-old who has been missing, feared dead, for 12 days.
Police were about to scale down the search for the NSW tourist when
they were contacted by Riverina station owner Don North, who found an SOS
hacked in the dirt. He made the find outside a trough shed at the Five Mile
windmill, 15km from where Mr Graham was last seen, 140km north of Menzies.
Search volunteers yesterday dropped 20 survival packs containing
water, matches, food and vitamins at strategic sites in the hope that Mr
Graham would find one and light a fire to alert them.
Police said the trail left by Mr Graham suggested he was still alive
on Monday. Four elite trackers have been airlifted to join the search.
The items found on Tuesday afternoon included a small magnifying glass
on a lanyard hung in a tree and a pair of underpants.
In the shadow of the remote windmill, SOS had been scraped in the
dirt. Police found more messages in the dirt 5km down a road to the east.
They read "walking" and "very weak". Another 5km east, police found a line
drawn across the road, a second SOS message and an arrow pointing west.
Acting Insp. Ricky Chadwick said police believed Mr Graham was at the
mill in recent days. "He walked 10km east and then began walking back," he
When police visited the mill the previous Thursday, there had been no
sign of the missing man.
Mr North and his nephew had been making a mill-run when they noticed
wire mesh had been pulled across the shed doorway.
"We presumed this was to keep the animals out," he said. "The trough
was very clean and there was evidence he had been lying there. We
immediately took photos and brought them to the police."
At an abandoned sandalwooders' camp 500m north, the cattlemen found a
shelter made from an old swing-set and empty cement bags.
Five Mile is about 15km south-east of where Mr Graham and a friend,
Peter Hollaway, had been camping and panning for gold when Mr Graham was
last seen on January 13.
Acting Insp. Chadwick said Mr Graham may have sought respite in the
trough shed during 40C heat. If he had heard the search helicopter, he may
have been unable to get out in time to alert the pilot.
Police had been using dozens of SES volunteers and a stock-mustering
helicopter to search 640 sqkm.
But the search is now being carried out by the tactical response
group, the helicopter and a spotter plane from the police air wing.
A downpour on Wednesday night obliterated ground markings, but may
help trackers find fresh prints, one tracker said.