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Our premier event of the year, Ladybird Care Foundation’s Gala Dinner 2023
was held at 6pm on Saturday 26th August, 2023

At Brisbane City Hall, King George Square with MC Duncan Armstrong, live auction, guest speaker Jay McNeill, online raffle and live entertainment.

Say Their Name

by Belinda Williams
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THE STRING QUARTET in King George Square is drenched in a Ladybirdcochineal light which blazes from the facade of City Hall. Inside the Grand Ballroom photographers roam, tables are laid, and Virtuosity smashes out a stream of pop classics in a blue haze.

Across the stage, three luminous words:



550 attendees will say cherished names tonight. Some are rarely spoken aloud, but we ache to say them. And when we say them, it aches.

"Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you currently have is not permanent",
quotes Wendy Collins, Ladybird's General Manager.

If your child has passed away, you know the nightmare of that 'feeling you currently have'. It is not sustainable. Merely to grope about blindly for a shred of light in the darkness is an achievement by itself.

The Ladybird Care Foundation exists to send hope through the dark. It arrives to take your outstretched hand in the form of another parent who:

  • also knows that feeling,

  • is proof that it is not permanent, and

  • will stay with you until light dawns again.

All funds raised by tonight's event go directly to the Peer Mentor Programme.

MC Duncan Armstrong urges us to 'Say Their Name' in our hearts, and leads us in a moment of silence. We quietly remember them in all their belovedness, as dozens of names of the children who have irradiated our souls appear on the big screen.

Although they are no longer with us, we are inseparable.

By saying their names, we are linked together for the greatest effect of our collective good. Names are not only descriptive. They are also prescriptive.

Ladybird Care was brought to light by another name.

From a very early age, Emma Louise Pascoe was affectionately nicknamed Lily Ladybird. The love she inspired has evolved to light the way, time and time again, for parents plunged into inconceivable darkness.

During the course of the evening, I introduce a friend to her daughter's school chaplain. When he says the child's name, something indescribable passes across her face.

"You knew her?"

"Yes. She was beautiful. And bright, and had great friends. She was a beautiful girl, mum."

Again, he says her name.

Gratitude and pain and longing combine to undo her composure.

Mother and chaplain go off to talk before she reappears. "Well," she says, sitting down next to me with tears in her eyes, "that was the highlight of my night."

On my left, a new friend. She is searching, and generous. "Something came up for me recently," she says.

"My little sister died when I was young. Mum was distraught and we weren't allowed to talk about it. It was never discussed; we didn't mention her name. I've only just realised that I've been carrying this around inside, like rocks, for decades."

I ask what 'Say Their Name' means for her, then?

"Oh my gosh, it's crucial," she says. "I've started talking to a therapist about it and it's like a burden lifted. Painful, but a huge relief. You know?"

Yes. Too many do know. Women in generations past were often advised to "sweep it under the carpet."

My third son was born early, with complications predicted to make his survival impossible. 18 years later I still know the names of the midwives who, with exquisite tenderness, helped me deliver him. He looked like his daddy and his eldest brother. His first day was also his last.

I grieved. But I hoped the others didn't have to.

"Perhaps it is easier for the rest of the family if we put this behind us swiftly, and move on," I said with stupendous lack of wisdom. "The boys will forget. We can tell them their little brother isn't coming yet after all..."

"No," said the midwives gently. "Bring them to hospital to meet him. Stay here with him for a day or two.

Name him.

"Name your son."

And oh, thank God, I named him.

His name is now on his photo album, on the plaque hanging on my bedroom wall which bears the imprints of his hands and feet, and on his birthday cake each year.

And it remains aflame in my heart.

When your Sunshine is extinguished, the darkness is unimaginable. Guest speaker Jay McNeill's story begins on the streets of Chicago at night and plays out like a box office hit. We feel a father's profound love for the vulnerable light in his life, the unremitting work to provide for her needs, and his yearning for the reassurance Sunshine is unable to give. McNeill's superb narrative matches our multitude of hidden flames with his own and draws them out, stringing them together to illuminate a path forward, visible to us all.

Sunshine's irrepressibly joyous expression is framed along with that of Emma Louise and many other sweet faces, on a dedicated table. It's a display that in previous years has been lovingly prepared by Helen Balmer, a steadfast supporter of the Foundation along with her husband Pat. They can reliably be found decorating tables and helping set up an event like this, hours before the other guests arrive.

This year, their daughter Ashleigh's picture joins the others on the table.

Yet, when the loading dock doors opened at 3.30 this afternoon, Pat and Helen Balmer were here.

Auctioneer Christian Hamilton has his work cut out tonight; luxury holidays and experiences all go under the hammer, thrill by thrill. A
veritable cornucopia of high-end prizes is also distributed via raffle: accommodation, jewellery, spa treatments, photography,
restaurant vouchers and hampers. And around the auditorium, orders for the utterly sumptuous Lys Coccinelle products (French
for 'Lily Ladybird') are flying in.

Caleb Jones has finished his labour of love for the evening, and his canvas is still drying on the easel as its auction begins. Jones surveys the bidding somewhat apprehensively from a vantage point against the wall.

Hamilton is playing the crowd like an orchestra. "Do I have two thousand dollars?" An arpeggio of bids.

This year's freshly painted ladybird clings to the very tip of her stalk, which has lowered her in a graceful arc to face her own perfect reflection in still water.

Cool greens in the unfocussed background throw the glossy beetle into vivid, scarlet clarity.

Oh look, she seems to say, in a photorealistic moment of happy recognition. That's Me!

It is unselfconscious, pure, and beautiful.

"Yes, I'm pretty happy with this one," Caleb admits. "I think this is my best painting for Ladybird Care yet."


Is it hard to paint on the spot? Does he feel the pressure?

"I zone out while I'm painting. It's afterwards I feel the pressure - hoping it sells!"

At this point, he needn't worry. Four thousand. Five thousand. Five and a half.

"It's such a good cause. I'm a counsellor, so I speak with enough people to know this kind of service is really missing in the community."

Wait - he's a counsellor? This is just a hobby?

"Yeah, the art is a hobby," he grins. "But I suppose one thing affects the other. I work with bereaved people, and I like that I can contribute this to Ladybird Care.

They're doing a much-needed job."

Hamilton flicks and jabs at the air and the bidding crescendo gathers. Six thousand. Seven thousand... Nine.


"Can I have ten? Who will give me ten?"

And now, a pause. The bidding is delicately suspended. It seems to have surprised itself. Like the ladybird above the water.

"Ten thousand dollars for this stunning work of art?"

Boom, a hand. There is a roar from the crowd. Wayne Pascoe's tall figure is forging a spontaneous path between tables until the unsuspecting bidder is enveloped in a fervent embrace.

"Ten thousand dollars!" continues Hamilton. "Do I have eleven? Eleven thousand dollars... eleven.

"...are we all done at ten?

"Ten thousand dollars.

"Going once, going twice..."

Boom. Another hand. It's Pat and Helen Balmer.

Jones' best ladybird yet was sold for $11,000. But for the parent with a hand extended in the dark, she is priceless.

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