LILY and Ben Barlow play on the hill overlooking the water. Grey skies and ominous clouds darken the cold winters day, but their laughter is filled with warmth. Ahead of them, dad Laurence is looking beyond the edge, staring into the distance past Port Macquarie's North Shore.
As we arrive, mum Samantha comes climbing out of the car with 16-month-old smiling Zac in her arms. The troops line-up for the Barlow family photo, all cheesy grins and giggles, unfazed by the rain and tucked in close. And in that moment, it's hard to believe that just five years ago, this family would be forced to endure an inexplicable horror at the hands of stranger.
In 2009, Mrs Barlow was violently bashed and left for dead by a drug addict in Sydney's Kings Cross. The former policewoman was on her way to work when he crushed her skull with a house brick, in a random attack that would leave her fighting for her life. It would ultimately cost her a promising-career with the police force, and leave her with scars both physical and mental. It's been a long road to recovery, but through the hardship, Mrs Barlow and her husband feel they have finally been given a chance to start again.
In December, the family moved to Port Macquarie, a few months after Mrs Barlow was medically discharged after eight months back in the force. Seven-year-old Lily and five-year-old Ben have found a home at St Columba Anglican College. And the Barlows are based here as they tour the country as motivational speakers.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about your younger years. What was life like growing up, and why did a blue-eyed girl from Maroubra decide she would want to dedicate her life to the police force? Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to do something where I helped people which is why I became involved in Surf Life Saving and joined South Maroubra Surf club when I was only 15 years old. There were a number of Police Officers at the club including the club captain, my dad had always wanted to join the police and I had a cousin who had joined. When I left high school my year 12 year book mentions how I wanted to join the police.
Where did your journey with NSW Police begin and what was it like putting on your blue uniform for the first time? I joined the NSWPF in 1994 and it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I turned 19 while I was in Goulburn at the Academy and following my attestation my first station was Maroubra in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
Fast forward to May 13, 2009. Some would argue you cheated death that day. But how do you view your survival. Was it chance? Was it your determination to stay alive for your children? What kept you fighting? The short answer is I wasn’t ready to go. I had too much to live for. I had some of the best doctors in Australia taking care of me and I just refused to give up. My parents brought me up to believe that the only way to succeed in life was to get stuck in work you hardest and never take no for an answer. I’m sure I drove all the medical people nuts, but I would not accept no for an answer and I just wanted it all – my life back, my career, my family, everything.
At the sentencing of your ruthless attacker, Roderick Holohan, you told the court the 15 months following your bashing had been a living hell and nightmare. Just how hard was it to try and regain any sense of normality? Where do I begin? There has been nothing normal about my life since that fateful day when I was attacked by a filthy junkie and left for dead in McArthur Park Darlinghurst, while I was walking to work. Laurence and I often smile at each other when we are asked questions like this and refer to our life as the “new normal”. There is nothing normal about walking down the street and being recognised by random people, being interviewed on TV over a dozen times, appearing in newspapers and magazines.
Today, what helps keep the demons of the past at bay? How have you managed to stay positive? I have three beautiful children, the best husband in the world and great parents. Ever since I can remember I have exercised two to three hours per day, 7 days per week. I have exercised hard my whole life, and since moving to Port Macquarie I have bought a bike and would like to compete in the Ironman one day.
After your extensive 22-month rehabilitation, you could finally wear your badge again. But after 8 months back at work, you realised you could no longer pursue your life’s passion and was medically discharged. What has been the hardest part of your decision to leave the police force? I miss being a police officer everyday. It was my passion ever since I was a teenager and I did not think it would end so soon or under these circumstances.
Has there been a silver-lining in all of this? After all the tragedy, heartache and irreversible damage, have you been able to move on - will you ever be able to? No. My life is a work in progress. Among the lessons I have learnt from this experience is the importance of family and living in “now time”. Most people are so busy with their lives and planning for the future that they lose sight of the things that really matter the most.
At your farewell from the force, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the vicious attack had robbed you of your destiny. But from what it seems, you’ve managed to somehow, rise above your circumstance. What do you hope life and the future still has in store for you and your family? I am not so sure I have risen above anything. What I have done is find a way of accepting my circumstance and learn to get on with the rest of my life.