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I Came To Say Goodbye - Caroline Overington

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Who is left behind when a family falls apart?

It was four o'clock in the morning.

A young woman pushed through the hospital doors.

Staff would later say they thought the woman was a new mother, returning to her child - and in a way, she was.

She walked into the nursery, where a baby girl lay sleeping. The infant didn't wake when the woman placed her gently in the shopping bag she had brought with her. There is CCTV footage of what happened next, and most Australians would have seen it, either on the internet or the news.

The woman walked out to the car park, towards an old Corolla. For a moment, she held the child gently against her breast and, with her eyes closed, she smelled her.

She then clipped the infant into the car, got in and drove off.

That is where the footage ends.

It isn't where the story ends, however.

It's not even where the story starts.

PRAISE FOR I CAME TO SAY GOODBYE

"Brilliant, original, heart-breaking. I couldn't put it down." - Mia Freedman

About The Author

Caroline Overington is a two-time Walkley Award-winning journalist who is currently a senior writer and columnist with The Australian. She is the author of two non-fiction books, Only in New York and Kickback which is about the UN oil-for-food scandal in Iraq. Since then she has had her first novel Ghost Child published in October 2009 to great acclaim.

Prologue

It was four o’clock in the morning. The car park outside

Sydney Children’s Hospital was quiet. A 27-year-old woman,

dressed only in a dressing-gown and slippers, pushed through

the front revolving door.

Security staff would later say they thought she was a new

mother, returning to her child’s bedside – and in a way, she was.

The woman walked past the nurses’ station, where a lone

matron sat in dim light, playing laptop Solitaire. She walked

past Joeys – the room where pink and puckered babies lay

row by row in perspex tubs – and into Pandas, where six

infants – not newborns but babies under the age of one – lay

sleeping in hospital cots.

The woman paused at the door for a moment, as though Caroline Overington

x

scanning the children. She then walked directly across the

room, where a gorgeous baby girl had kicked herself free

of her blankets. She was laying face down, the way babies

sometimes do, her right cheek flat to the white sheet, her

knees up under her chest. The white towelling of her nappy

was brilliant against her dark skin.

The woman took a green, nylon shopping bag from the

pocket of her nightie. It was one of those ones that had

Woolworths, the Fresh Food People written across the side.

She put the bag on the floor and lifted the baby girl from

the cot.

The infant stirred, but she did not wake. The woman placed

her gently in the bottom of the shopping bag, under a clown

blanket she had taken from the cot. She stood, and looked

around. There was a toy giraffe on the windowsill. The woman

put that in the bag with the baby, too. Then she walked back

down the corridor, past the matron at her laptop, through the

front door and back into the hospital car park.

There is CCTV footage of what happened next, and most

Australians would have seen it, either on the internet or the

evening news.

The woman walked across the car park towards an old

Corolla. She put the shopping bag on the ground, and opened

the car’s rear door. She lifted the giraffe and the blanket out

of the bag and dropped both by the wheels of the car.

For one long moment, she held the child gently against

her breast. She put her nose against the rusty curls on the I Came to Say Goodbye

xi

top of the girl’s head, and with her eyes closed, she smelled

her.

She clipped the infant into the baby capsule, and got

behind the wheel of the Corolla. She drove towards the exit

barrier and put her ticket in the box. The barrier opened and

the woman drove forward, turning left at the lights, towards

Parramatta Road.

That is where the CCTV footage ends. It isn’t where the

story ends, however. It’s not even where the story starts.

PART ONE

Chapter 1

Med Atley

I was out on the tractor when a woman phoned to say I’d

have to go into the cop shop and make a formal statement.

I’d turned off the engine to take the call on the mobile and

straight away wished I hadn’t.

I told her. I said, ‘I’m not sure I can do that.’

She told me, ‘You don’t really have a choice, Mr Atley.

The case is coming up. The judge wants statements from

witnesses. We also need your signature.’

I told her, ‘I didn’t witness anything.’

The woman, she said, ‘We’re not suggesting that you did.

It’s more that the judge has got to make a decision. It’s your

grandchild we’re talking about.’

I said, ‘I know what it’s about.’Caroline Overington

4

The woman said, ‘Mr Atley, if you don’t make a statement,

the judge will call you in, and you’ll have to do it on the

stand. It’s not something you’ve really got a choice about.’

I said, ‘It was still a free country last time I checked.’

I put the phone back in my pocket. The next day, a bloke

from the local police station, a fellow I knew, put his head

through the open flyscreen, into my kitchen. He said, ‘Med,

you there?’

I’d been making coffee. I held up the cup, meaning, ‘Can

I get you one?’ He nodded.

I said, ‘Mate, I appreciate you making the house call, but

I know what this is about. I already had a girl on the blower

yesterday.’

He said, ‘Well, are you going to make the statement,

Med? Because if you don’t, they’ll only subpoena you, which

means you’ll have to go in, and take the stand.’

I said, ‘I realise that. I’m just not sure what I’m going to

say.’

He said, ‘Get yourself a lawyer then.’

I said, ‘You don’t think lawyers have got quite enough of

the Atley money?’

He said, ‘Then do it yourself, but make sure you do it,

Med. You’ve got a grandchild out there. Decisions are being

made.’

I said, ‘I’m grateful for the reminder.’

Later that night, I went out onto the porch. It was dark

all around. I flicked the switch on the outdoor light. Not for

the first time, I thought, ‘How do the moths get inside the

lightshade?’I Came to Say Goodbye

5

There’s an old table on the porch. I bought it for my wife

back in 1974. It was the thing to have in those days. It had

a formica surface, so cups didn’t leave a ring. I pulled up

a chair, the only one left now from the set of four. Those

chairs, that marriage, it’s all gone.

I sat for a while, doing nothing.

The dog saw me come out. She got up off her hessian

bed, wandered over, wagged her tail. I bent down, gave her a

bit of a rub along the spine with my knuckles. Her back leg

kicked.

I said, ‘Alright, old girl?’

Kick, kick, kick.

I said, ‘Okay, old girl. Let’s see what we can do.’

I had before me a pad of white paper. It wasn’t anything

fancy. I bought it from the newsagent. It was one of those

lined pads with the pink gum across the top to hold the

pages together. I had my old man’s Parker pen with me. I

twisted the barrel and the nib came down.

The first words I wrote were, ‘Well, let me warn you now,

Your Honour, this isn’t going to be Shakespeare.’

I wrote, ‘I can see you’ve got a problem here that you need

to solve. You’ve got a grandchild of mine and you’re trying to

figure out what to do.’

I wrote, ‘Police here have explained to me that you need a

little background.’

I wrote, ‘It occurs to me that there’s a half-dozen experts

out there, maybe more, who will be giving you their version Caroline Overington

6

of my family history. They’ll tell you what they think we are

– kidnappers, child abusers, you name it. I’ve got no problem

with that. Every man is entitled to his opinion.’

I wrote, ‘What I’m going to put down, it’s not going to be

a theory, and it’s not just my point of view. It’s more going

to be the nuts and bolts of what’s gone on over the past four

years.’

I wrote, ‘My mate in the police force here, he says I ought

to get a lawyer to help me get it right, but bugger that, I’m

perfectly capable of putting down what I think.’

I wrote, ‘There’s been plenty of lawyers caught up in this

mess already, and mostly what they’ve done is lighten our

wallets.’

I wrote, ‘Much of what I’m going to tell you I haven’t said

out loud to anyone before. It’s not going to be easy for me.

Parts of it, I might even have to get my oldest daughter, Kat,

to write down for me.’

I can promise you this, though, Your Honour. Everything

I put down here – every word of it – is going to be true.

Caroline Overington

Caroline Overington is a two-time Walkley Award-winning journalist who is currently a senior writer and columnist with The Australian. She is the author of two non-fiction books, Only in New York and Kickback which is about the UN oil-for-food scandal in Iraq. Since then she has had her first novel Ghost Child published in October 2009 to great acclaim.

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ISBN: 9781863256810
ISBN-10: 1863256814
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Published: 1st October 2010
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.3 x 15.6  x 2.4
Weight (kg): 0.42