14 October 2022

Calls for memorial bench for Brontë sparks emotional response from Government

| Lottie Twyford
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Brontë Haskins

Brontë Haskins’ parents have called for her to be memorialised by way of a park bench at her favourite place – Shepherd’s Lookout. Photo: Instagram.

The bereaved parents of Brontë Haskins, who died by suicide in 2020 at 23, will never get their beloved daughter back.

They are just asking for “Poppy”, as she was affectionately known, to be remembered with a memorial bench to be installed at Shepherd’s Lookout in Belconnen – “her favourite place to just be”.

These days, her family goes there to talk to her and feel her presence as they spot her favourite animal – an eagle.

“She’s soaring high and free,” her mother Janine said.

More than 600 people signed various petitions, adding their support to the cause.

Sponsoring member Peter Cain said only 234 of these were taken in order and could be officially lodged, but he told the Assembly on Wednesday morning (12 October) he wanted it to be noted more people were in support.

Janine Haskins

Janine Haskins has been advocating for changes to the Territory’s mental health and drug and alcohol support system since her daughter’s death. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Mr Cain said it was an honour to speak on behalf of Brontë’s mother Janine Haskins and father Peter McLaren.

Brontë’s death came at a time when she was experiencing substance abuse issues and significant mental health challenges while on bail.

“Shepherd’s Lookout was the one place that provided her with a sense of peace and respite to escape the struggle of her life,” Mr Cain said.

“Today, her family finds the same as they reflect on the beauty of nature and her memory.”

READ ALSO Bereaved mum calls for better integration of mental health and drug and alcohol support services

Mr Cain reflected on Brontë’s legacy – a lover of animals and someone who had donated her organs after her death and saved the lives of four others.

The calls from her family for a memorial bench have also sparked a broader conversation across the Government about its policy on memorialisation.

Currently, the policy states memorial benches are for “notable” Canberrans, and therefore the family’s requests had to date been rejected – even after proposing to pay for the bench themselves.

Mr Cain said he did not accept the premise for this rejection.

“Brontë represents hundreds of young Australians gone too soon and in tragic circumstances,” he said.

“A memorial for her would also be one for them.”

READ ALSO ‘We’re listening to you’: Rattenbury responds to grieving parents but wholesale sentencing, bail review a no-go

Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry today cried in the chamber as she apologised to the family for not having responded to their inquiries about a bench for Brontë.

She said she had been working with Planning Minister Mick Gentleman’s office so a memorial could be installed at Shepherd’s Lookout.

“It is a great place of comfort. I go there myself when I need some quiet reflection,” she said.

Ms Berry said she and Ms Cheyne would ensure any hurdles were overcome so Brontë’s bench could become a reality.

READ ALSO ACTCOSS wants reform to address ‘shameful’ child poverty rates in ACT

Member for Ginninderra Tara Cheyne also spoke in support of the petition, noting there was “perhaps” an error in the approach of the current small memorial policy.

She acknowledged the presence of Brontë’s parents in the chamber and thanked them for their hard work in this space.

“Whether people knew Brontë personally or not, everyone deserves to understand her legacy,” she said.

“A memorial bench … is a small way we can do that.”

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Janine Haskins said it had been humbling to see such an emotional response and was pleased to see the bench would be on the way.

“It’s been such a battle for something which is not hugely significant for a lot of people but hugely significant for us as a family,” she said.

“I think Brontë was cheering me on as we were on the way home.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you are concerned about someone’s immediate safety or wellbeing, call triple zero (000).

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Christine Hamilton6:52 am 16 Oct 22

Janice I hope Bronte gets her bench. Bronte was a someone. Young and beautiful. The system failed your beautiful girl and they continue to do so.

I do not see the connection between a privately-funded bench which is discreetly dedicated to a particular person and the need for the person to be notable before getting approval. I see such benches everywhere in Australia. When I rest a while on such a bench I am grateful for the bench and respectful of the person for which it is inscribed (sometimes only initials).

The ACT government need only be concerned that the bench is in a suitable position, will be used and is fully paid for. They should drop the word ‘memorialised’ — it is a bench, donated to the urban environment and is distinguished by being inscribed to a deceased person.

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