Opinion

OPINION: Why we need to give Tiahleigh's mum a break

I'VE never met Cyndi Palmer so I haven't been able to give her a warm hug and tell her how sorry I am that her beautiful 12-year-old daughter Tiahleigh's life ended long before it should have.

I haven't walked a mile in Cyndi's shoes so I can't profess to know what she is going through right now.

But it's not hard to imagine. I imagine she spends most nights lying awake in her Brisbane home, her little girl's angelic face smiling at her from a small picture frame by her bed as tears flood her face - tears of anger, tears of distress, tears of loss and so very many tears of guilt.

From the moment her daughter disappeared in October last year, Cyndi Palmer has not hidden her troubled past.

While she hasn't gone into explicit detail she has not shied away from the fact that Tiahleigh was in foster care because her own bad choices landed her in a prison cell.

During the search for Tiahleigh, the discovery of the child's body, the long and arduous police investigation into her daughter's murder and now - as the country's media spotlight falls sharply on her again in light of this week's arrests - Cyndi has kept her focus on one thing. Getting justice for Tiah.

On Tuesday, Queensland detectives charged Tiah's foster father Rick Thorburn with murder and interfering with a corpse. 

Officers also charged Mr Thorburn's son Trent with incest, attempting to pervert the course of justice and perjury and Trent's brother Josh and their mother Julene with perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The death of a child is not something that anyone takes lightly. And when a child dies in circumstances such as Tiah's, we all have countless questions because we just cannot fathom why an innocent little human is denied their right to live a full and happy life.

Since Tuesday afternoon's arrests, one particular question has reverberated across social media and online news media feeds - "Why wasn't Tiah living with her mother?"

I'll admit I even asked myself this, despite being the first person to point out to everyone else that:

A: It's no-one's business but Cyndi's; and

B: Fathers are as much responsible for their children as mothers.

We ask ourselves this type of question because from the moment we enter the world, our psyche is ingrained with the idea that women are the primary carers of children.

Therefore, every move mothers make must only be about the betterment and protection of the little people who come from their wombs.

Here are just a few of the responses I saw as media across Australia lit up with news about the arrests over Tiah's death.

"Why was she taken away (from her mum)?"

"Can I ask why she was a foster child? What were the reasons behind her being taken from her family?"

"Why was she in foster care in the first place? Just curious."

In some cases it's simple human curiosity, but in others the askers frame the discussion in such a way that they imply Cyndi's choices led to Tiah's death.

"So why is she in foster care to start with? I find it strange that her biological mother is criticising the foster care system and yet she was not caring for her own daughter," one woman wrote on my own Facebook feed last night.

When we ask this particular "Why?", we automatically imply that by being an imperfect mum, Cyndi loses the right to mourn her baby and to fight for justice to be served.

From where I stand, as both a journalist and a person devoted to ending violence against women and children, it is plain to see Cyndi Palmer loves her daughter.

Despite almost a year of relentless trolling by social media fiends, Cyndi has kept a level head.

When people said Tiah was just another indigenous kid from the wrong side of the tracks who had run away, Cyndi went into fight mode, imploring the community, media outlets and authorities to do everything they could before something bad happened to her little girl.

"I felt like I was the only person apart from the police who really knew she wasn't a runaway at that stage," Cyndi told journalists earlier this year.

A few weeks ago she expressed her anger at how slowly the investigation wheels were turning.

"I sit back and watch these other horrible murders solved and think, what about Tiahleigh?" she wrote on the Facebook page she set up to honour her daughter.

"Why is no one coming forward or speaking up about her?

"Does her life not matter?

"How can one little girl go so unnoticed?"

And now. Well, Cyndi Palmer has a lot to reflect on following the arrests of Tiah's foster family.

Cyndi will no doubt be examining every move she herself made in the lead-up to Tiah's death.

She will likely be asking "what if?" over and over again as she carries a massive load of guilt on her shoulders.

It's a guilt that she shouldn't have to bear because she did not kill her daughter. Nothing she did caused Tiah's death.

But there will be moments - birthdays, Christmas, graduations, weddings, births - when this burden of guilt will be so heavy it will almost wipe her out.

And that is why every one of us needs to stop wasting our energy on asking "Why was Tiah in foster care?".

Instead we must turn our focus to asking "How?". How can we ensure Cyndi Palmer makes it through the tough times. How can we let her know Tiah's death was not her fault?

We need to do this for Cyndi Palmer but most of all we need to do it out of respect for Tiahleigh.

 

Sherele Moody is an ARM journalist and the founder of the domestic violence story sharing platform The RED HEART Campaign.
 

Topics:  editors picks, sherele moody, tialeigh palmer, why was tialeigh in foster care


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