Most mothers who have lost a son can visit their resting place and attribute the circumstances of their loss, but four years after her son went missing, Hughenden’s Ailsa Morton still lives in a vacuum of uncertainty and concern.
All she knows is that her son, Charlie Morton, then 46, disappeared from the 40,000ha Strathtay Station, 120km north of Hughenden sometime in the late afternoon or evening of August 14, 2014.
The sprinklers were still running on the lawn when neighbours went over the following morning, alerted by a phone call from Charlie’s wife Kathleen, visiting family in Germany at the time.
The back gate was open and chooks were scratching in the garden, and Charlie’s leather coat was still on its peg, despite the coolness of the late winter’s nights.
Police were called in on the morning of August 15, beginning 10 days of extensive air and ground searches involving SES volunteers, council workers, rangers, police and landholders searching bush tracks, fence lines, dry creek beds, rocky outcrops and timber plantations.
Infra-red technology used by the AusSAR (Australian Search and Rescue) fixed-wing aircraft also failed to find any signs of campfires or body heat.
Charters Towers police concluded, in a report prepared for the coroner, that Charlie walked off to a remote part of the property and took his own life, based on the fact that a bolt action .22 rifle was missing from the gun safe.
Related: Queensland Police missing person
Today, Ailsa continues to rack her brain for answers.
She doesn’t accept that he would have committed suicide, saying that it wasn’t in his character.
Nor does she feel that he somehow got lost, saying that he had mustered so much of the basalt country from Robin Hood Station through Clark Hills and all the area surrounding Strathtay.
“Like his father, he was an exceptional bushman,” she said this week to Fairfax Media, in a message she hoped would reach Charlie.
“Everything goes through your mind,” she said, commenting that a shower of rain early on the morning of the discovery that Charlie was missing had made it difficult to conclude anything from tracks.
“If someone had come in – they could have come in on a helicopter – and you'd have no way of seeing, if someone did have intent,” she added.
“Helicopters are common in that area, they're coming around all the time.
“You get to a stage of thinking. As far as I can see, he just disappeared.”
One of the theories surrounding Charlie’s disappearance is that underworld figures “took him out” following his 1991 reporting of a marijuana crop on the property to police.
As he could only show police a location, not any names associated with the crop, this wasn’t taken seriously.
Ailsa’s voice broke as she acknowledged unresolved tension between herself and her daughter-in-law, Kathleen.
“I abided by her request not to visit,” Ailsa said. “Now I think...he needed some quiet time and he'd walked out.”
In that vein, not going to Strathtay as soon as she heard Charlie was missing is something else she now regrets.
“I'd already rung my other son, Jamie,” she recalled. “He was there by half past four in the afternoon. It probably wouldn't have made any difference if I'd gone but you just might have picked up something that others might not have.”
She described her older son as quiet until you got to know him.
“He was a larrikin underneath, very sincere, considerate, a caring person,” she said. “He didn't want conflict, he wanted to keep things on an even keel.”
Ailsa said in her message to Charlie that if he’d found it too hard on his own, cut off from family and friends, and just walked away to find another life for himself, somebody may have seen something that would trigger an answer to what may have happened.
“If this is you, please contact the Townsville police with your information,” she said.
“Charlie, Jamie and I miss you every waking minute. We love you and just want to help you.
“As time goes by, it is only getting harder for us wondering where you are and not knowing what happened.
“If this is the same for you, we are always there for you.”