Hemi Goodwin-Burke was bashed to death by Matthew James Ireland. The court heard Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi over a two-hour period while babysitting him in March 2015.
Hemi Goodwin-Burke was bashed to death by Matthew James Ireland. The court heard Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi over a two-hour period while babysitting him in March 2015.

Remembering Hemi: The club no family wants to join

Lyn Burke answers the phone and quickly excuses herself - she has something more important to do right in that present moment than pleasantries.

She tells her eight and a half year old grandson that yes, she got his swimming lesson on video and he did a fantastic job.

"I look after him in Kingaroy but I live in Proserpine," she says.

"We don't trust anyone to look after them (the kids). I'm only home on school holidays (now)."

Mrs Burke is the grandmother of Hemi Goodwin-Burke, the never-to-be-forgotten 18-month-old boy who suffered a cruel and brutal death at the hands of a man his family only refers to as "The Perpetrator".

Never Matthew Ireland, the once-trusted friend of Hemi's parents and man still in Wacol prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter over the little boy's death.

"We don't give him the air - he shouldn't get air," Mrs Burke says.

"You can't call him murderer because he got manslaughter. So he is the perpetrator.

"(Hemi's parents) don't utter his name.

"The perpetrator is not out on parole yet, and that is something everyone is pleased about.

"We sit back waiting and when that happens, it will be very tough."

 

Attorney general’s appeal hearing against Matthew James Ireland, Hemi Burke's grandmother Lyn Burke, Brisbane Supreme Court. Photographer: Liam Kidston.
Attorney general’s appeal hearing against Matthew James Ireland, Hemi Burke's grandmother Lyn Burke, Brisbane Supreme Court. Photographer: Liam Kidston.

 

 

Matthew Ireland inflicted horrific injuries to little Hemi's fragile frame and tried to pin it on the toddler's older sister, just three at the time.

The family wanted their day in court, to know what happened to Hemi and his sister in his final tortured hours before his bright future was snuffed out - but the perpetrator exploited a gaping hole in the justice system.

The facts were never disputed, and the perpetrator - from the outset - said he wanted to plead guilty to manslaughter, a charge Mrs Burke maintains is heartbreakingly too lenient for what Ireland did.

Today marks six years since Hemi's life support was turned off in Townsville and his family went from parents to become crusaders for law reform.

And Mrs Burke - or "just nana" - stood alongside Hemi's parents Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin as they fought and won that reform.

"I get to come home this Sunday," Mrs Burke says, explaining that it's school holidays and her grandchildren will be cared for by their parents.

"I'll visit Hemi, he's at Mount Bassett cemetery. His grandparents and other relatives are in Mackay and they will visit him (Friday)."

The timeline of that call six years ago is stamped in Mrs Burke's mind.

It was the evening of March 24 when she and her family got the call that Hemi was being flown to Townsville from Moranbah.

 

Townsville man Matthew James Ireland, 31, will face trial over the murder of 18-month-old Moranbah boy Hemi Burke. Contributed
Townsville man Matthew James Ireland, 31, will face trial over the murder of 18-month-old Moranbah boy Hemi Burke. Contributed

 

 

It was March 25 six years ago that her darling grandson was on life support, the family frantically trying to get to him.

She drove from Gladstone; Hemi's mum rushed from the hospital in Brisbane, still in her pyjamas, straight to the airport, not even stopping to change, leaving the keys in the car.

Mrs Burke says Hemi's older sister, who turned nine last week, was "growing into a lovely young lady".

"She had just turned three (when Hemi died). She was going to Brisbane as we fought for laws to change," she said.

There, two years ago in a room filled with politicians during the parliamentary inquiry into Criminal Code changes, Hemi's older sister grabbed the microphone and held power to account in the most pure way.

"She was seven and everyone in that room of politicians and lawyers and everyone you could think of, she asked them to please protect the kids," Mrs Burke said.

The spontaneous moment was over too quick for video but that call for action sums up what Mrs Burke has done for the past six years - crusading for change in honour of her grandson, supporting his family as they rebuild.

Today, Hemi's sister will visit his grave, sit by his side and play cars with him. Or dinosaurs. Or maybe a ball.

She is tough, Mrs Burke says.

"She's a testament to her parents; she is their world of course.

 

Kerri-Ann Goodwin and Shane Burke parents of Hemi Goodwin-Burke
Kerri-Ann Goodwin and Shane Burke parents of Hemi Goodwin-Burke

 

 

"It's not just my mission, it is his parents' mission. They really worked hard to raise awareness of all this, but also for the laws to be tougher.

"It doesn't make sense that a whole bunch of child killers get eight to 10 years (jail) but are paroled in four to five years.

"We jumped up and down because you don't want any other family to go through this."

Mrs Burke has found a club of sorts, but wants as few members as possible. Through her own lived experience of court proceedings, plea deals, investigations and healing, she now supports families of other child victims.

"Through different things and Justice for Hemi, I have met a lot of other families and grandparents - it seems to be a club, but we rally around each other," she says.

"It's a club no-one wants to join."

Along with every newspaper clipping and article of Hemi's death, the perpetrator's sentencing, subsequent appeal and long fight for law reform, Mrs Burke also has a folder on child deaths - and 2020 was a horrific year.

"It was a terrible year, at least 10 deaths of family violence," she said.

It is through her Justice for Hemi work Mrs Burke has come to support the family of Beau Bradshaw, the East Mackay toddler who died after a day at the beach.

His father Ayden Bradshaw has faced Mackay Magistrates Court charged with Beau's murder but no plea has been entered.

It is something she's watching closely as the case navigates the judicial system, and she is supporting Beau's family who she said struggled at each court appearance.

Should Mr Bradshaw be found guilty, Mrs Burke wants to "see that things are working" and the new laws are being applied in court.

 

Hemi Goodwin-Burke
Hemi Goodwin-Burke

 

 

"Hemi's parents worked really hard to get the laws changed so we want to see that things are working, that something has been done," she said.

"We worked hard for … different things to happen. It's not a perfect system and I don't think it ever will be."

It is a crusade Mrs Burke won't let go any time soon, a continuation of how her life changed six years ago when she drove through the night to get to Townsville.

"I stay in the house with my son and my grandson (Hemi's cousin)," the grandmother of six said.

"It changed all these kids' lives. (They) were only little when it happened but they know, we all light candles, try not to have him forgotten.

"I really want to talk for these other kids, for the Hemis, for all these kids."

 

Hemi Goodwin-Burke was bashed to death by Matthew James Ireland he court heard Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi over a two-hour period while babysitting him in March 2015.
Hemi Goodwin-Burke was bashed to death by Matthew James Ireland he court heard Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi over a two-hour period while babysitting him in March 2015.

Hemi's parents have recently left Moranbah and started over somewhere else in Queensland in a place they can finally breathe, Mrs Burke said.

And March - the hardest month of the year - is nearing its end. It is when Hemi died, his killer's charge downgraded from murder to manslaughter, and when the family's work changing laws was at its height.

Long days for a longer fight but one Mrs Burke is proud to have done.

"You want it out there, you want people to know the damage done so easily."



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