After 24 years, the phone call that changed my life
BEFORE Charlee McDonald turned 16 she sent off six letters to different addresses hoping her dad would reply, but on her birthday they all arrived back at her door labelled return to sender.
Left devastated she gave up the search to find her dad, until four months ago the Yandina 24-year-old received a phone call that would change her life.
"It was 3am in the morning, I saw Chuck Harkins come up and I just hung up," Charlee said.
"I received another call in the morning at 7am as I was driving to work and it was my dad."
Charlee, who works for Australian Regional Media at Yandina, has just returned home after 10 days in Hawaii meeting her father for the first time.
She said she feels "complete" and has sent away her birth certificate to finally have his name printed.
"It's a strange, weird feeling, and it sounds cliche but I feel like a part of me isn't missing any more," she said.
Growing up in Tin Can Bay with her mum, Charlee said she always had an "empty void that no one could fill".
She said her mother was on a working visa in Hawaii from 1990-1991 where she met her father, became pregnant, and flew back to Australia to have her before setting up a business and raising Charlee as a single parent.
Having known her father's name since she was born, she made a few attempts to make contact, but over time they all fell flat.
She knew he lived in Hawaii, but couldn't track him down.
"I received a phone call soon after my 18th birthday from my younger sister, 'Charlee I've found your dad on Facebook," she said.
Ecstatic, she contacted him to learn he had suffered a major heart attack and they made plans to finally meet.
Nervous to fly overseas at a young age, Charlee decided not to go and the contact stopped.
"From the age of 18 to 24 there was no contact," she said.
"I'd given up hope of finding him again."
But when her dad called her this year, she booked flights to Hawaii and her "life-long wait was over".
"I had never left the country before... (after) nine hours of flying and I was there at the baggage claim every nerve in my body was tingling, I walked outside with my bags and there he was, my father - it was an instant euphoria," she said.
On the second day in Hawaii DNA swabs confirmed the results and they spent 10 days getting to know each other and exploring the Island.
She said when she returned to Australia she thanked her step dad, Mark Tracey, who had raised her and taught her all the life lessons that shaped her personality and morals.
She said she was glad to finally meet her biological father and had plans to develop a relationship and keep in contact.
"Home is really where the heart is, and I've grown up with a fantastic stepfather, whom I also call my dad," she said.
"He spent 15 years of his life being a dad, teaching me to swim, ride a bike and teaching me the morals I know today," she said.
"I lived a life knowing my (biological) father's name ... but now it's nice to finally know him."