Don Govan sat on his step-daughter’s couch on Thursday, hands trembling and eyes distant as six news outlets asked their questions throughout the morning, one after the other.
He shifted uncomfortably as other family members detailed the traumatic year they had just had – the year without their brother and son, Donny.
Don knew why the media was there, he knew the importance of highlighting tomorrow as the first anniversary of his son’s mystery disappearance – but that didn’t make it any less painful.
As dads across Australia celebrate tomorrow as Father’s Day, Don Govan won’t be joining them. He will maintain a silent vigil for his missing son, praying for the phone to ring with some news.
“I’ve stopped going out to the pub, stopped socialising,” Don told The Courier.
“I pull up to the bar, have a pot and want to start crying ... that’s no good in a bar full of blokes.
“Now I just go to the bottle shop, crawl back into my cave and hide from the world basically.”
There was raw emotion on Don’s face when he spoke, his eyes welling as he battled a mixture of feelings evident in his expression.
Frustration, exhaustion and overwhelming sadness.
The Ballarat man is not a stranger to pain. He’s already lost a step-son, but the disappearance of Donny is a new type of anguish and torment as questions on the teen’s whereabouts remain unanswered.
“There’s no closure with this ... we just don’t know what happened.”
This heart-wrenching story began on Friday, August 31, 2012.
Donny had been waiting all day for his big sister Rachael to arrive at their mother’s Linton home so they could leave for his first-ever camping trip.
The pair set off and arrived at an Echuca campsite at 11pm. There they met four friends from Ballarat and began setting up camp. But after a couple of drinks, something wasn’t quite right with the 16-year-old.
“He started acting all paranoid ... he was having these freak-out attacks,” Rachael said. “He thought the boys were out to get him.”
The next morning, Donny was back to his normal, happy self and enjoyed the first day of spring on the river.
He was paddling in an inflatable dinghy, went fishing, collected firewood and kicked the footy around in perfect sunshine.
That night, he resumed drinking and became paranoid once again about his fellow campers.
“He kept on saying to me ‘pack up the stuff, we’ve got to get out of here’,” she said.
“I told him I had been drinking and couldn’t drive home, but he just wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
That was when Donny took off down a dirt track.
One of his camp mates followed Donny for 100 metres in the dark before the 16-year-old turned into thick bush land towards a nearby billabong.
After waiting a little while to see if her brother would return, Rachael called triple-zero and a massive search was launched.
By 6am that Sunday, helicopters, sniffer dogs and scuba divers combed bush land and waterways in a huge co-ordinated search, but no trace of the teenager was found.
Days later, an elderly woman who lives 10 kilmometres from the campsite, said a boy matching Donny’s description appeared out of the bush and asked her for some breakfast.
She said the boy, a “well-mannered young man”, said he had been in the bush all night and indicated he would head to Bendigo.
Police believe the woman’s sighting was credible, but it marks the last time anybody has seen the Linton teen.
“We’ve got no idea if our brother is alive or dead,” Rachael said.
Donny’s mother’s birthday is today. Tomorrow, his father is supposed to be enjoying Father’s Day.
Until some news of Donny surfaces soon, this family will continue to dread anniversaries, special events and normally ‘happy’ occasions. Occasions they should be enjoying with Donny Govan.
Anyone with information on the disappearance of Donny Govan can call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.