Police showed us a photo of Samantha, the one that would soon be featured on media alerts and articles across Australia, and while I didn’t know her personally, I knew that the odds were someone I knew in Ballarat did.
But this didn’t matter. What mattered was that a local woman was missing and after seeing her smiling face, clearly portraying a proud and happy mum, it ignited both a concern and a drive within me to do what I could to help.
This has been the feeling among thousands of Ballarat locals, both women and men, who have dedicated countless hours to join in the search for Murphy, in a community effort so dedicated and overwhelming that despite living here for the majority of my life, it is like nothing I have ever witnessed before.
Every morning, as I drive past the Buninyong Police Station, there seems to be more SES, emergency vehicles and cars of Ballarat residents parked in front of it and trying to help than the day before. And each day the roads nearby and the sky above my home are a hive of activity, all driven by one goal: to bring Sam home.
This goal is also behind a Facebook page dedicated to the search, Find Samantha Murphy, which now has over 7,900 members who are regularly posting updates, asking questions and seeking fellow locals to search with.
This community effort has been noticed by Murphy’s family who shared with the Find Samantha Murphy Facebook group: “The searching everyone has done has made a positive difference in the investigation as a whole. Without you guys, we’d easily be another couple of days back.”
The situation is also one that inherently brings with it some concern, anxieties and questions – where is Sam? What has happened to her?
These questions are asked between locals and also between the running and walking community and for some of them, especially women, there is an underlying concern for their safety when walking or running alone.
For some, it stems from the concern of not knowing what has happened to Sam, for others, it is the awareness of dangers such as mineshafts or snakes in the area and the knowledge that being with another person would be beneficial if an accident were to occur.
There are also questions about the search among the children, especially those attending the primary school only a street away from the police station which is the central point for the search.
These kids are aware of the increased police presence and media attention, know varying amounts about what is occurring, and it is an event that is the main topic of their conversations and for them, it can naturally cause some concern.
As a local mum, this is challenging, knowing what to say and how to respond, but I also know that it is nothing in comparison to how the family of Samantha must be feeling, especially her own children who are no doubt feeling a multitude of competing emotions.
“We are holding up as strong as we can emotionally and physically. We pray that Samantha comes home soon safe and sound. We all miss her dearly,” an unnamed family member of Samantha Murphy’s shared with the Find Samantha Murphy Facebook group.
As day five of the search is underway and I sit here writing this, hundreds have already began their day, seeking instructions and advice from police and SES and doing everything in their power to find Samantha Murphy, with a resolve that is far from losing power.
Ms Murphy is described as caucasian, about 173cm tall with a slim build and shoulder-length blonde hair.
She was last seen wearing black half-length leggings and a maroon/brown-coloured singlet.
Anyone who sights Ms Murphy is urged to contact Ballarat East Police Station on (03) 5336 6000.
Shona Hendley is a freelance writer based in Ballarat.
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