28 September 2022

'I wish I was more like him': Matthew McLuckie's step-mum reveals her heartbreak

| Claire Fenwicke
Start the conversation

Sarah Payne married Tom McLuckie and became Matthew (left) and Joe’s stepmother in 2014. Photo: Supplied.

“Hey guys, this is Sarah, Tom’s wife here. I’d like to share some thoughts with you this morning.”

That’s how Sarah Payne opened a post dedicated to her stepson Matthew McLuckie.

Matthew was killed on Hindmarsh Drive on 19 May as he drove home from his job as a baggage handler at Canberra Airport.

In the post, she detailed a young man who will never get the chance to reach his full potential, a man she described as the most “diligent, goal-driven and tenacious” person she knew.

“Matt put me to shame in so many ways with his no-fuss and pragmatic approach to his commitments,” Sarah said.

“Once he set his mind to something he would do everything necessary to make it turn into a reality.

“I wish I was more like him.”

This was the first time Sarah had made a public statement about the young man who was “cruelly taken” from her family.

“It’s such a waste that such a good life was taken … I’d like people to know what a wonderful guy Matthew was growing into,” she told Region.

“I also wanted to let people know just how hard Tom has been working in his ‘spare time’ on making change.”

Matthew’s father Tom was the front face and driving force of the ACTnowforsaferroads campaign, which has three petitions before the Legislative Assembly.

READ ALSO Government defends high rate of sentencing appeals as ‘proof of justice system at work’

In the post, Sarah described her fears on her wedding day in 2014 about how Matt was feeling.

“Was he OK that his dad was remarrying? Was he worried his boy-only camping trips were going to be less frequent?” she wrote.

“Matt never really gave much away.”

Matt was tasked with taking instant photos of every guest, an idea he “probably didn’t love” but went ahead with it anyway.

“His photo compilation is now one of our greatest treasures,” Sarah said.

You can feel Sarah’s pride in Matt as he knuckled down for his Year 12 exams and threw himself into his university course, all while working about 30 hours a week.

“Most of his university experience was from his bedroom – his feet marks are still on the wall and there are still pencil shavings and flecks of eraser all over his desk,” she said.

“We would hear him getting ready [for work] at 4:30 am for his shifts, or he’d get home past midnight when a plane came in late. As I lay in the comfort of my bed, I’d think to myself how incredible it was that he’d head off into the dark, into minus degrees, fog and sleet in winter, or into the sweltering heat in summer without complaint.

“No way could I do a job as physically demanding as that.”

Man putting on a bandana

Matthew McLuckie on a family holiday. Photo: Supplied, Tom McLuckie.

Heartbreakingly, Sarah also wrote about the ‘what-ifs’ and regrets, the questions that can plague you in the early hours of the morning as you grieve.

“I wish I’d told Matt what an impressive young man he had become. I will forever regret that so many of our interactions were about the banalities of coexistence. ‘Could you put the bins out please?’, ‘Could you empty the dishwasher?'” she said.

“The last thing I ever told him was that his hamburger pattie would be in the fridge waiting for him when he got home from work. He thanked me, as he always did, and then off he went.

“I shouldn’t be surprised that Matthew McLuckie was such an impressive young man. He had Tom McLuckie as his life-long role model.”

READ ALSO New police taskforce targets Canberra’s repeat offenders

Sarah has watched Tom battle with his grief and launch a campaign advocating for stricter laws and tougher sentencing for serious motor vehicle crimes.

“He’s never had to do anything like this before, he’s both surprised and impressed me with how good he is, how well-spoken and passionate,” she said.

“We don’t know when this will end, which is a bit of a worry, and how we will then put it aside and get on with life, but I’ll do anything to help Tom.”

One thing the couple hoped to achieve was what would be called ‘Matthew’s Law’.

“It would be for when people deliberately cross onto the wrong side of the road to evade police … they’re given a harsher sentence,” Sarah said.

“It should be considered a more serious offence because it’s so deadly and so dangerous.

“I find it hard to say the words ‘if anything good can come from this’ because nothing good can … but if any change can come about to stop just one other person suffering this, that’s what we want.”

READ ALSO ACT records worst road toll since 2015 after death of 19-year-old e-scooter rider

Sarah said she did feel awkward about how much attention her post had received and wanted everyone to know the “amazing” man Matthew was becoming was also down to his biological mother, Amanda.

While Amanda fully supported the campaign, she has chosen not to be a public part of it as she grieved.

Tom said his former wife had tried to put her feelings into words, but it was still too raw.

“I think it’s gotten harder for both of us in terms of grief, it becomes harder over time as the world moves on,” he said.

“Matthew got his mum’s hard-working nature, her steadfastness.

“He was the best bits of both of us.”

The three ACTnowforsaferroads petitions for legislative review of motor vehicle crimes and oversight of the judiciary close on 30 September 2022.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.