'I lived two streets away from Rhianna Barreau when she vanished. It changed my childhood.'

I grew up in South Australia, in a suburb about 30 minutes south of the CBD called Morphett Vale. 

In the 1990s it was your typical Aussie neighbourhood, with low to middle income, mostly English and Irish immigrant families driving Holden Commodores and watching Hey Hey It’s Saturday around the fat back tele.

But in October 1992, our young lives would shift from carefree to lock down when a young girl was abducted never to be seen again. 

Twelve-year-old Rhianna Barreau lived just two streets away from my house. That Wednesday we were all on school holidays. Her mum, like mine, had to go to work but she wanted to buy her overseas pen pal a Christmas card. She would have caught the bus to the shops up the road but the drivers were on strike. I would have been on that same street that same day but my best friend and I had decided to catch the train into the city instead. We never thought to consider that there may have been a predator in our neighbourhood. 

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We know that Rhianna made it to the shops, the card she bought was sitting on the table when her Mum returned home just after 4pm. We know what time she left her house, roughly when she returned home and witnesses say they saw her at the end of her street just ten minutes before her Mum arrived where, as police put it, suspicious activities occurred but despite thousands of man hours, extensive investigations by police and a one million dollar reward, Rhianna hasn’t been seen since. 

For some reason, the fact that she was wearing a hypercolour t-shirt when she disappeared is something that cuts me every time I think about it. It was the same one my best friend had, it’s so quintessentially 90s, a marker of a time in my life that shouldn’t have included discussions about close calls when men had driven up to us in the street and asked if we wanted a lift. 

From the moment of the suspicious activity near her house, there are no witnesses, no leads, not a single piece of evidence that has led investigators to the real story of what happened to Rhianna on that day nearly 27 years ago. 

Her disappearance affected my childhood in ways I didn’t fully appreciate until I grew up. 

Until that day we’d been pretty carefree, it was still a time when our parents allowed us to leave the house at sun up and return when the street lights were turned on but Rhianna’s disappearance changed all that. 

missing persons australia
"12 year old Rhianna Barreau lived just two streets away from my house." Image: Supplied.

It was the first time I realised that my parents could be scared. Scared that the same predator who took Rhianna could take one of us. 

Thirteen-year-old me didn’t realise it at the time and simply thought it was Mum and Dad being totally unfair, making me tell them where I was at all times, teenage scowling when they yelled at me for not being where I was supposed to be. Grown up me is astounded they didn’t lock us in our rooms until we turned 25. 

When I think about Rhianna’s family, so similar to mine just two streets away, aching for news on her whereabouts, it breaks my heart. I hope her Mum knows that I think about her and Rhianna every time I drive past her street when I’m back visiting Mum and Dad, that her daughter hasn’t been forgotten. I hope she knows that her disappearance may have saved many other young girls from a similar fate as the parents of suburban Adelaide started to realise that stranger danger was more than just a concept. 

I hope this Missing Persons Week, someone, somewhere finally has the conscience to tell police what happened to Rhianna. They not only took the life of a little girl, they stole the heart of a family who loved her and the carefree innocence of the children of 1992.

August 4-10 is National Missing Persons Week.