Mother and son Lorraine Butler and Troy Conabeer meet at the airport after being separated for more than 30 years.
Mother and son Lorraine Butler and Troy Conabeer meet at the airport after being separated for more than 30 years. Mike Knott

Mum and son united after 30 years

A MOTHER and son had an emotional reunion at Bundaberg Airport yesterday, following 30 years of separation.

Kepnock woman Lorraine Butler had not seen her son, Troy Conabeer, 32, since his second birthday in South Africa, where she used to live with his father.

Mr Conabeer was kidnapped by his South African dad after the couple split when he was just six months old, and Mrs Butler was permitted only occasional visits.

“My husband at the time was a police officer and he pulled strings,” Mrs Butler said.

“I went to see him for his first birthday, but when I went to see him for his second birthday, the police were there and I was told that if I ever came back they would get welfare and take my other son, Shane, off me.

“I was told to walk away and keep one or lose both.”

It was not long before Mrs Butler returned to her home country of Australia, but she said it was incredibly difficult to get on the plane knowing she had left a son behind.

“It was a long time ago but I was very upset, but happy to be leaving the hurt and pain of Africa,” she said.

“I was torn between the two places.”

Mrs Butler never forgot about her absent son. She thought about him constantly and, on his birthday each year, she was reminded another year had passed.

The steady path to their reunion started last year when her other son, Shane, found Mr Conabeer on Facebook.

For Troy, it was a glimmer of hope he could finally get to know the family he had always wondered about.

“He sent me a message that he wasn’t sure it was a coincidence that I had the same last name,” Mr Conabeer said.

“I was relieved because I never knew if I would find them or not.”

The family has spent the past year building up to the meeting, with video chats on Skype and messaging on Facebook.

Mrs Butler made sure she arrived at the airport early yesterday, to ensure she would see her son’s feet hit the tarmac.

Mr Conabeer was the last one off the plane and, as soon as Mrs Butler saw him, she started jumping and pointing: “That’s him.”

Tears flowed as the mother and son were reunited after 30 years with a long embrace.

Mrs Butler said while she was always on the lookout for her son, she had no idea he was also searching.

Mr Conabeer said over the years he got bits of information about his family after he was placed in foster care.

“I always knew my mum had remarried but I never knew she was in Australia,” he said.

“It’s been a long time coming. I never knew the circumstances about whether my mum didn’t want me.”

“I always wanted you,” Mrs Butler replied in tears.

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