Paying tribute…Rachel Barber

I have many books on my bookshelves.  Over the years I’ve accumulated reference books, fictions have been devoured, or discarded midway, but few have simply sat there untouched. There is one however. It’s a book that for years I felt unable to physically pick up and read. It was simply too painful.

This book is written by a mother about her daughter and I’m a father of two sons so you may be wondering why this has been difficult.

“Perfect Victim” tells the story of Rachel Barber, a young woman murdered at the age of 15.  Tonight, an Australian TV series, INSIDE STORY, is showcasing her story in light of the recent release of Rachel’s murderer.

The book tells the story of one mothers nightmare as her daughter went missing, the discovery of Rachel’s body and the unfolding investigation into the motivation and manipulation of someone who sought to literally take on Rachel’s identity.

Rachel was a part of my youth group and used to come on high school aged camps I ran. I knew her family. Rachel was a gentle soul with a spirit that danced. Behind her shy sheepish green eyes lay the depths of a young woman emerging from her childhood. She was carefree, friendly and beautiful.

It’s not hard for me to remember the way she’d often light up a room with her infectious smile, or the way she was always dancing and prancing when she walked.  For her, to dance was something she simply had to do, it was an extension of her soul. I chuckle to myself as I remember being the first “adult” she told about her first kiss with a young guy named “Macca” at one of those camps. And I smile warmly, recalling her excitement and delight.

There are so many things that don’t make sense in our world and there are times I find myself simply shaking my head as I try to comprehend the evil that lurks within us as humans. For me as a Christian, to come to terms with a concept called “theodicy” (which in my simple mind means something like this…how can a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?) has not been easy, especially with this.  Rachel’s body was discovered in March 1999.  Still today I shake my head and my heart rests heavy when I think of a beautiful life cut tragically short.

Rachel’s funeral, held at St Hilary’s in Kew, overflowed with an estimated attendance of more than 1000 mourners. I’d been asked to do a reading by Rachel’s mum and share a small tribute, but at the time felt I wasn’t up to it. Today I regret that.

I’m a man with mates with daughters and an uncle with nieces and I find it hard to fathom the pain Michael and Elizabeth have endured over the years. I’m now a father and my eldest is nearing the age Rachel was when she was murdered, I think it’s time I picked up that book.

I hate cliches and pop-psyche mantras…but friends, life is short. Embrace life, embrace those you love and care about. Make the most of opportunities that come your way, even those that seem difficult. And whatever losses you’ve experienced, ensure you continue to embrace the here and now.

So as I pay tribute to Rachel, I remember the many young people I’ve been blessed to work with over the years and am thankful for the way each of them, in big and small ways, has helped shape me to hopefully be a better me.

If you’d like to learn more about Rachel’s story you can check out: or