Bruce and Denise Morcombe have accepted the challenge of trying to keep kids safe.
Bruce and Denise Morcombe have accepted the challenge of trying to keep kids safe. Cade Mooney

What makes a community advocate?

STRONG community advocates, it seems, are made not born.

They often have advocacy thrust upon them and, as a result of their personal circumstances, they actually become most effective and powerful campaigners.

The Sunshine Coast is home to a number of well-known advocates who have, through their personal and family tragedy, risen to become valued and powerful proponents of specific community needs.

Their lives have changed direction as a result of tragedy, and we in the wider community stand to benefit from their loss, their sacrifices and their efforts.



Denise and Bruce Morecombe are working flat out for a cause. They have no intention of stopping.

The child safety advocates recently returned from a trip to Mt Isa where they spoke to some 2000 school children. They headed off again soon after, starting with Child Safety Week, on a gruelling work schedule that includes 45 days of work, punctuated only by a two-day break in the middle.

The effort may not seem out of the ordinary today, given the Morcombes' massive public profile locally and throughout Australia, but before the abduction and murder of their son Daniel in December 2003, they were virtual unknowns.

Instead of becoming "angry people" as a result of their loss, they decided to use "a unique perspective that nobody else has" to benefit others.

"I'd say it could have been easier to walk away and do nothing," Mr Morcombe said, "but we've accepted the challenge.

"We've been fortunate to get publicity and get a profile, and the best way of repaying the community's support is to use our profile for good."

The couple is painfully aware that their tragic loss has helped put them in a position to speak both with authority and emotion at the various schools, community groups and conferences they attend.

Their loss has given them expertise and insight that could not be learned otherwise, to be effective community campaigners.

They are, in particular, able to connect strongly with children who may otherwise disregard the need to be aware and vigilant to the potential dangers in society.

That said, the Morcombes have never been truly comfortable with their public role.

"That still doesn't sit easily with us, we're not politicians, we're not gifted speakers, we just have a role to play," Mr Morcombe said.

In the past year alone, the couple have spread their important child safety message at some 123 schools in Queensland and at 80 community events.

They are approaching one of their busiest seasons in the countdown to Day for Daniel on October 26.

"We're recognised along the width and breadth of Australia and our work is getting some good results, and the feedback we're getting from police and teachers and the public is certainly very encouraging."

After holding the first meeting of the Daniel Morcombe Foundation in May 2005, they have grown into an important community institution that has influenced the community, embraced family and impressed friends and relatives.

"They're very proud. Probably a bit bemused by the amount of work we've taken on and perhaps concerned about the loss of privacy, but we're happy doing what we're doing, absolutely," Mr Morcombe said.

"We are just ordinary people, we are not superheroes, we are just Daniel's mum and dad."


When the youngest son of Donna and Craig Ferguson bought a house and moved out of home, Donna began to ponder her "purpose" in life.

She and her husband would have more time to do whatever they chose - she could indulge her interest in turtle protection, or they could possibly start their dream business, Ferg's Fish Cafe, in partnership with their chef son Angus, as they had discussed.

But when the 18-year-old was killed in a motorbike crash, after qualifying for his licence after just five hours of training, a "purpose" virtually fell into her lap.

"I can even remember now thinking that the word 'purpose' was stupid, as I wasn't a public figure or a celebrity or anyone in any position of power and I tried at the time to think of another word to best describe what I was meaning," Mrs Ferguson said.

With her youngest losing his life in a scenario she believed was avoidable, she could now not tear herself away from the issue of motorbike licensing.

In her view, it is too easy for anyone to qualify for a motorbike licence and, as a result, young people with little life experience are climbing aboard powerful motorbikes, putting lives at risk.

"I don't like the realisation that I will be forever linked to this issue because it, to me, is so sad and senseless as commonsense to me says this should never have been the status quo in the first place," Mrs Ferguson said.

"In some way I see this is honouring him, his legacy, because it is saying 'enough is enough'.

"These riders, who are dying on our roads, particularly the novice inexperienced young ones like Angus, should not be seen as a statistic for researchers.

"Their lives meant more than that and we have to put a stop to this senseless idiocy now."

After Angus' death in March 2006, Mrs Ferguson was joined by her husband and her son's friends, who collected the necessary 3000 signatures to petition the State Government for a review.

In fact, the efforts prompted a pre-election commitment by the LNP to review the licensing processes.

Thanks to their efforts, that inquiry is being conducted by the Queensland Parliament's Transport, Housing and Local Government Committee.

Mrs Ferguson and her friend Lorraine Connolly, who lost her eldest son Jason in a motorbike crash in January 2011, are among those who have made submissions.

The Committee's report is due to be tabled in the Queensland Parliament in late October.

"I don't enjoy it," Mrs Ferguson said of her reluctant advocacy.

"I would much rather not have to be doing something like this.

"I am at a loss to know that a lay individual has to do something like this.

"I, like others, would have just presumed that the 'experts' would see and know and understand all that we are saying in relation to licensing and training for motorbike riding in Queensland.

"While I understand it is human nature that passion comes from personal experience and impact, I come back to what I fear makes me sound older than what I am, but I believe it to be true: where has our old-fashioned sense of right and wrong gone?

"Why does it take a personal stake in something before we as citizens take notice of what is happening around us in our own society and country?"

With the support of her husband, her sons and Angus's friends, she is determined to never give up her mission until she sees more appropriate laws introduced.

"While life goes on and the various stages of our lives occupy our time and energy, this will always be something I am actively interested in, communicating to anyone who will listen and trying at every turn to make sense of how my son's wonderful gift of living can mean something more than just 18 years on this Earth," Mrs Ferguson said.

"He can be the legacy for sense for others to ensure they have a better chance than he had to survive their tickets to ride by having a better training and licensing system for novice riders."


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