Finding lost 'little lamb' best day of life

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 05:00 05/01/2013
janice murphy
NICOLE GOURLEY

MEMORIES: Janice Murphy looks through old newspaper clippings with Derek White, who found her after she went missing in the Awarua bush in 1971.

janice murphy
NICOLE GOURLEY
MEMORIES: Janice Murphy looks through old newspaper clippings with Derek White, who found her after she went missing in the Awarua bush in 1971.

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Janice Murphy remembers little about sparking one of the biggest searches in Invercargill's history 42 years ago. But the man who found her calling for her father in the Awarua area clearly recalls the journey home with the 4-year-old in his arms as "the happiest walk of my life."

Theodore "Derek" White contacted The Southland Times when he saw the "150 Stories in 150 days" piece in the paper last week that outlined the event in 1971.

The 43-hour search for Ms Murphy after she had disappeared from her father's car while he was fighting a fire in the area, was one of the biggest searches in Invercargill's history.

Mr White - who described himself as a Bluff wharfie, and was a distant relative to Ms Murphy - said it was emotional to see the event in print again.

"It was the best day of my life," Mr White said this week while looking through the newspaper clippings he had saved about the search for the missing "little lamb".

Now a Peacehaven resident, Mr White remembered the way he had split away from the main group of volunteers and went off searching in the scrub with a companion.

He heard a sound that was like a lamb bleating, he said. He also had seen what looked like small footprints in the moss, which led to Ms Murphy. She was in high scrub, and was calling for her daddy, he said.

Ms Murphy, now 45, lives just down the road from Mr White - and has her own scrapbook that friends and family put together for her.

It contained pages of lists of volunteers who took part in the search, telegrams from around the country and a carefully folded copy of a Southland Times newspaper in which the search was covered.

She said she still wasn't sure which details were her own memories and which ones were just descriptions she had heard or read since then.

"I remember leaving the car; I remember locking it [her 2-year-old brother was asleep in the car] and I remember dropping the keys in a puddle."

After wandering away to find her father, she didn't have a sense of time that had passed.

"I remember a plane flying over," she said. "I remember thinking that Mum would be mad at me for getting muddy . . . and I remember [Mr White] giving me something to eat when he found me."

She didn't remember being frightened. "I wasn't scared," she said. "I was a farm girl."

Yesterday, the two sat at Mr White's table and looked through the scrapbooks each had kept of the search.

Ms Murphy said normally the scrapbook was kept in the bookshelf, but she had pulled it out this week so she could answer questions from friends who had seen the search featured in the history column last week.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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