A family's legacy

Missing Person Tony Jones QLD

In 1988, six years after 20-year-old Anthony (Tony) Jones went missing while hitchhiking around Australia, his family wanted to do something that would give hope to all families waiting for a loved one to come home. His brother, Brian Jones, after consulting heavily with other family members came to the determination that a week of action was required to commemorate those missing across Australia.

As an initial act, a memorial service was held in Townsville where a tree was planted in commemoration of Tony by the Mayor of Townsville and with this the first ever National Missing Persons Week (NMPW) was born.

The inaugural NMPW, which saw remembrance church services take place around the country, was just one of the initiatives Brian undertook to help find his brother and support others dealing with a missing love one.

He wrote a book titled ‘Searching for Tony’, formed the NSW Family and Friends of Missing Persons Committee and, in 1988, founded the National Missing Persons Committee Inc. Countless ideas and opportunities were explored.

In later years NMPW provided the basis for the creation of a hotline allowing those missing to call into police without giving their location. The ‘Phone Home’ initiative allowed a non-threatening way for people to contact relatives and friends.

In part, he was driven by the fear that without ongoing publicity and community awareness, Tony’s case would quickly become a forgotten page in history.

NMPW would be an annual event to help the Joneses and other families create publicity long after the initial interest in their loved one’s disappearance subsided. It would keep their hopes of a breakthrough alive.

Brian’s vision was not misguided; a 1988 front-page story for the inaugural NMPW featured 20 of NSWs most puzzling missing persons cases. The story helped give answers to the families of 11 of those cases profiled.

This year, in recognising the 30th anniversary of NMPW, Mark Jones – another of Tony’s brothers – spoke of his larrikin younger brother and the legacy he has created.

“As the youngest of seven kids Tony was the chilled one, opting out of the often intense bids for attention that come with being one of many,” Mark said.

“He didn’t sweat the small stuff, didn’t sweat the big stuff – in fact, he happily avoided anything that might cause sweat. He left the competitive sports and sibling rivalries to his crazy older brothers and sisters.

“Growing up, Tony was hilarious to be around. He loved his beer, loved his mates and, more than anything, loved a laugh. Friends and family idolised Tony and his easy way of living. He liked shooting, sky diving and going bush.

“Wanderlust set in when he was old enough to drive and he set off on several trips ‘east’ with mates. The last and most epic was a trip around Australia which began in Perth and was cut short when he vanished in Townsville, Queensland.”

Since Tony’s disappearance, Mark has met numerous people from around Australia who came across their fun-loving brother during his road tripping adventures. An inquest discovered photographs and stories of his brother, such as when his old kombi van caught fire while driving through the foothills of Adelaide and melted his car keys into the ignition.

“It’s interesting to look into the faces of strangers sharing memories of Tony,” Mark said.

“There’s even a photo of a Tony that we never knew existed – the last one taken during his life. He’s standing around with a couple of fellas in Townsville, wearing a Coolabah Wine cask with eye holes cut out to make him look like Ned Kelly – it’s poignant and shows him for who he was: a true larrikin and adventurer. It is amazing and bitter sweet at the same time.”

The fondness that everyone spoke of Tony and his wild nature was in line with what the Joneses knew so well – from getting locked in a disused fridge in the family shed to exploring a labyrinth of tunnels underneath the local police club.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of NMPW, Mark spoke of the complex and difficult aspects of having a loved one go missing.

“How each person deals with the disappearance of a missing loved one is truly unique,” Mark said. “We are a large family of seven siblings and we have all dealt with the loss of Tony in different ways.

“For me, every NMPW evokes a mix of emotions. The occasion is a source of great pride for my family and a silver lining after everything we’ve gone through with Tony. At the same time, it is heart wrenching to see a family at the early stages of having a loved one simply vanish. Their horror and despair is too real to us.

“There is a mind-numbing ‘unreality’ about having a missing loved one that somehow pushes the grief to one side. But decades on it is all too easy to see the pain that lurks beneath the surface of bewildered people trying to make sense of a family or friend simply vanishing in a country seemingly as safe as Australia. Our family is beyond this now – we’ve been through so much. But every day there’s a family at the outset of this nightmare, whose lives are being thrown into turmoil. Sometimes our family has to look away, other times we wish we could be there to put an arm around those shattered people. In a way, that’s what we are doing each year with NMPW, and we want it to continue growing and helping more people.

“After all, in missing persons cases, where there’s community awareness and publicity, there’s hope.”

Anthony (Tony) was last seen in Townsville in November 1982. It is suspected by police that Tony was murdered while backpacking through North Queensland.

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