We’ve all searched for words to adequately express how remarkable Laura was and how very much we loved and admired her, and we still can’t comprehend she is gone from this earth and our lives for now, but we know she has life for eternity and we will see her again.
Our family was so enriched in 1983 when Laura was born in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, when her big sister Karli was almost 2. Not wanting to be defined by her thatch of dark hair and a strawberry birthmark on her lip, she soon outgrew them both!
Her passion for making friends showed up as soon as she could toddle – sneaking off through the broken fence one day with Karli to meet our elderly neighbours, so she introduced us to them! Laura loved getting her way into your lap to read books together – the beginning of her life-long love of books and learning. We only had an old TV for a few weeks in her childhood, that someone gave us, and we much preferred our time with the girls, reading and playing games. So we took the TV to the tip and never had another one in the house since!
Laura’s first big journey at four, was moving back to WA where the girls got to know all their grandparents, aunts and uncles and masses of cousins on both the Blyth and Florisson sides – and Laura met cousin Jess – a kindred spirit. She loved the huge family get togethers and loved giving really thoughtful gifts – In the last weeks of her life she was grasping for time when she was comfortable, searching online for gifts to get ready for Christmas…
Laura loved Coolgardie and the huge friendships made at CAPS school, and her little sister Bethany – who tried so hard to come on her 6th birthday but made it the next day. She took to school eagerly – loving Miss Smith who had a rabbit she could cuddle in class, and another staff member’s huge pet python she and a friend Francie (who’s watching in Victoria) tried to cuddle.
We moved to Esperance when Laura was 7, and though she she cried leaving her Coolgardie friends, she soon loved those most beautiful beaches – and brought many school friends home and dragged them along to her big, crazy, fun, church youth group. She was one of the most fun, energetic helpers in the Sand Dunes kids club, where many disadvantaged kids could ride a four-wheeler, play commando games under the stars and hear about God’s love for them around a campfire. All the kids loved her! Laura loved sharing her room, hosting visitors on weekends from Teen Challenge, and having the Mansell girls and Heidi boarding with us in highschool. What a string of events and relationships that started!
When Laura was seventeen, she came with the family on our first overseas holiday, to visit Karli who was volunteering in Kazakhstan, then on to meet the Dutch relies in Holland, then on to Greece. Three years later, Laura was keen to come again, this time to Bangladesh volunteering in an orphanage.
Laura was game to try everything on offer – jet-skis and motorbikes at the beach, even driving a 35 year-old Ford station wagon (not a 4wd!) for 2,000 outback kilometres with Karli in the first Cranky Jack outback challenge to raise funds for supporting disadvantaged kids overseas to get to Uni…
Laura had a strong faith in Jesus and believed firmly that God is a God of justice and faith is demonstrated by actions – living this kind of faith all her life. She never looked for the easy road and searched out jobs to support people in the toughest situations. She loved finding practical ways to empower young people: working as a Case worker for DCP, a Youth Worker in Halls Creek (she was a finalist in the Social Worker awards during this time), and Burmese refugees in Melbourne with Urban Neighbours of Hope. During this volunteer year, she chose to live below the poverty line to relate to those around her.
Her toughest time was working on Nauru with young refugees being held in offshore detention – seeing people so desperate and without hope they would starve themselves – it was challenging and horrific, and she had to leave when she got Dengue fever. Later she was so incredibly stoked when some of the boys she worked with were resettled in the US, and she kept in touch with them, and inspired us all to care about Asylum Seekers in a more practical way.
Laura was also a care worker for young people in residential care in Perth, (keeping in touch with them after she left that job as well), and this experience led her to work with CREATE foundation, supporting Foster kids and carers and empowering young adults to feed back and influence agencies about the foster care system.
Laura then ran a new pilot program with the Shire of Gosnells for a multinational group of boys aimed at preventing domestic violence, by teaching healthy masculinity and respectful relationships. All these incredibly varied and caring roles enabled her to be the right person to set up and begin to roll-out the Homestretch initiative for supporting young people leaving Foster care, with Anglicare – her dream job! Even during her time of illness, she was mentoring a young lady and really struggled when she couldn’t keep catching up with her. All her life Laura worked her heart out for so many young people who didn’t get a fair go in this world. She loved not just in words but in deeds! We are so utterly proud of her huge heart and her effect on this world in her 36 years.
Micah – Laura made everything an adventure, and taught me that anything could be fun. She showed me what it meant to love people, stand up for others, and fight for justice. She listened, cared, and gave me wise advice in the hardest times of my life, then showed me how to see the positive in everything. She treated me as a friend as well as a brother.
Laura was always great at keeping in touch with cousins and extended family and getting up to mischief at a good family shindig.
Laura loved her friends, and really valued time with them. In high school, Laura and Kia became close friends, and Heidi (who Murphy now calls Heido) came to board with us, and another close friendship was born. Laura had some great friends at school as well, including Jade Menzies, who has remained a close friend over the years.
In Laura’s last year of high school, mum and dad met the Yapp family visiting our church, and invited them home for lunch, and this chance meeting led to housesharing during Uni with Kirstine and Shaeron , a trip to India and a generous return of support during Laura’s illness.
She also travelled to London to meet Kia when Kia was living there, and they went to Spain together, with Angie from UNOH as well.
On one of our family overseas trips, Laura’s Burmese refugee friends in Melbourne invited us to their refugee camp on the border of Thailand/Burma, and we ended up spending two days with their family there -an incredibley generous welcome.
Laura made small things an adventure- when I visited her in Halls Creek one year, we made Christmas stockings for our family, and a mixed CD for everyone. I can remember getting stuck in between flood waters on the way back from Halls Creek and having to sleep on the side of the road in the car.
When I was about 11, I was in Perth for one of my ear checkups, which was usually a horrible experience for me, but Laura woke me up that morning with ice cream and waffles for breakfast. We drove around in her crappy Fun Top car singing Hey Ya by Outcast at the top of our lungs, which made what should have been a bad day into one of my fondest memories. Laura was always up for doing fun, spontaneous things, and she made life such a great adventure.
Another one of Laura’s great adventures was her relationship with Justin. Laura and Justin had known each other through Kia – Justin’s cousin – from when Laura was quite young, as Justin would come down to Esperance on Christmas holidays. According to her friends, Laura always had a crush on Justin. They both went to a Planet Shakers conference when Laura was about sixteen, Laura with hot pink hair, and Justin with peroxided hair with blue spots.
One summer that Justin was in Esperance, Kia did some scheming to get the two of them together. Kia invited both Justin and Laura out to Warton Beach to go camping. After that, they started to hang out in Esperance, and romance was born. From that time on, Warton Beach was always special, and they’d often spend New Years there, camping under the stars, Justin even getting his Skyline down on to the beach a few times, much to Laura’s horror.
Justin proposed to Laura on one of their trips down south, on Dunsborough beach, and they were married in Dunsborough on the 12th of January 2019. Justin had been telling Laura that he was going to get a Tesla as a wedding car, which she was not overly enthusiastic about. On the day, he actually surprised her with a blue and white vintage combi van, which she absolutely loved. As Laura was walking down the beach to where the crowd was waiting at the wedding, her veil blew off, right over the crowd. It looked like it was going in the ocean for sure, but at the last minute, Heidi reached up caught it. Laura and Justin had carefully checked out quite a few wineries (and wines) for the reception – a fairytale evening of amazing food, wine, dancing and laughter with all their favourite people.
Justin and Laura had so much fun together. Laura was very fun and playful, and Justin brought that out in her. Justin always had crazy projects on the go, like building a sauna, or restoring a vintage fridge, which Laura was always very amused (and impressed!) by. She really loved Justin’s dog Bussa and walking through the Joondalup bush with Bussa chasing kangaroos. Laura always found a way to personalise her living space, with lots of bright colours, photos, and special things that reminded her of people she loved. When she moved in with Justin, she had a fairly blank canvas, and together, they filled the space with beautiful and unique furniture, photos, books, and lots of indoor plants. It was a space that reflected her personality: beautiful, unique, welcoming, and warm.
In Laura’s own words to Justin, ‘There’s never a dull moment being married to you. If anything breaks, you find a way to fix it. You constantly make me laugh, and I love the life we’ve made together. I didn’t quite expect we’d be testing ‘in sickness and health’ quite so soon, but everything we’ve been through has only made us closer and stronger. Thank you for being so constant, loving, and practical.’
Laura loved her family deeply – when I (Bethany) was pregnant with Murphy, Denby and I were living in Port Headland. Laura helped to organise a ‘long distance’ baby shower for me at a time when I felt a long way away from family and friends. After Murphy was born, she came up to visit, and was totally besotted with him. She sat on the couch for hours at a time with Murphy sleeping peacefully on her chest.
When Karli was pregnant with Tully, Laura insisted on throwing a ‘Baby Blessing’ for her, even though she was going through chemo at the time. She spontaneously flew down to Esperance after Tully was born, for some baby cuddles, getting in just before the COVID lockdown. She loved her two nephews so much, and even when she was in hospital, she wanted to hold them, and make them giggle. She and Justin are Tully’s godparents, and we know that both boys will grow up hearing all about their beloved Aunty Laura who held them as close as if they were her own.
I was so honoured to help nurse Laura through her sickness and be with her right at the end.
(Heidi) I’ve really struggled to find words to illustrate the depth and meaning of our friendship, but in Laura’s last few weeks, she said it so perfectly: That our friendship was indescribable. We were soulmates. 20 bright years of crafting colourful, soulful, nourishing memories with Laurie has been the hugest honour.
Some of our favourite times was the golden time when Laura and I lived together in Leederville. We shared a big fat dress-up box (which we still have today), filled to the brim with all sorts of ridiculous costumes. We would dress-up in crazy, rawkus outfits, and go for late night bike rides to Kings Park, with the Mansell girls and other ring-ins, hooning along in a colourful flash on our hipster Indi 500 bikes that we had been collecting.
Laura and I shared a love for travelling and we indulged in many adventures together. One of our favourite times travelling together was when I spontaneously flew over to Paris to meet Laura. On our first night in Paris, we realised one of our favourite bands called Iron and Wine were playing! Undeterred by it being sold out, we ponced on over to the venue anyway. Laura, dressed so colourfully against the wintery ‘Parizzians’, took the lead in hounding and heckling every ticket holder, hoping they would sell their tickets to us. We must have been completely charming with our aussie twang, or looking completely desperate as a couple relented and gave us their tickets for a quarter of the price. Laura’s heckling had paid off! After all of that effort, my deliriously jetlagged self fell asleep at the back of the theatre, and Laura ended up watching the band with her new friends from the ticket line. This was just so typical of Laura – always up for a spontaneous adventure, and able to make new friends wherever she went.
Laura was always so adventurous and gutsy. She instigated swimming in the south of France in the freezing winter seas, sliding and tumbling down the snowy slopes in the French Alps, climbing broccoli trees in Madrid, and more often than not, engaging in conversations with strangers. Probably the most impressive thing about Laurie on this trip, was her ability to get robbed twice, in 2 days, in 2 different countries.
Back in Australia, we worked in a café called Bella for six months, and saved up enough money to buy a camper van that we called Pamela Vanderson, because she had two great assets, Laura and I. We left from Esperance, travelling for 3 months making our way up to coral bay, Exmouth, Karajini and Broome. While we were in Broome, Laura was even an extra in a TV show being filmed called The Circuit. There was never a dull moment travelling with Laurie.
Dress-ups featured a lot in Laura’s life. She and Justin always rose to the occasion and always rocked amazingly creative fancy dress outfits. Laura also loved op-shopping, and she was always good at finding bargains. Even when she was going through chemo, she’d suggest stopping off at an op shop on the way to or from her hospital appointments.
Laura never went through a bad fashion phase, but there were definitely some colourful, out-there ensembles. She didn’t really follow trends but had a great sense of style.
Laura and Justin did many trips down south, and sometimes Kia, Stew, and I were lucky enough to tag along, exploring the wineries, restaurants and indulging in sunsets at the beach.
They would play a game called 500, which tested their marital bliss. They were all very competitive, and would really rile each other up. Ash and Holly’s present to Justin and Laura was the addictive card game called Dutch Blitz which they loved. Justin enjoyed trying to give Laura a thrashing, and she always looked quite smug on the rare occasion that she pipped him at the post. This game entertained Laura for so many hours during her hospital stays. Laura was never beaten playing another card game called ‘up and down the river’. Laura also loved playing boardgames and some of her favourite times were playing cards with friends or family, or trying to beat her mum at Take-Two.
Thank you to Justin, the Florisson’s and Arnold’s for allowing me to continue journeying alongside Laura this year. It’s been the most generous privilege you could have ever given me.
And to you Laura, my darling best friend…..more rawkus adventures await, for when we are next reunited. What an extraordinary day that will be!
Karli – I consider myself so lucky to have a sister like Laura, someone who was a friend as well as a sister. Laura was always quick with a cheeky comeback, and always curious and willing to learn. She did well at school, despite her busy social life, and she studied Social Work at Uni, as she could see that would be a good way to make a difference. She continued learning and reading all of her life, whether that was going to social justice conferences, doing a freelance writing course, learning how to draw – she did a few live drawing classes – and all the many other opportunities she took to grow & learn. One of those opportunities was going to a Barefaced stories storytelling workshop. After that she stood up at a storytelling event and told a really raw, heartfelt story about her time at Nauru in front of a crowd at The Bird.
Laura was interested in learning about other cultures, and she loved meeting people from different backgrounds to hers. I think one of the things Laura was most curious about was how faith could intersect with the real-world issues that she saw in the world around her. She wasn’t interested in pointless theology, she was interested in people who would feed the hungry, welcome the strangers (and the refugees) and love those who were on the fringes of society. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that she influenced many, many people with her beliefs and her politics – even joining a political party at one point. We’d have lots of big, passionate family discussions, and Laura really impacted all of our beliefs. She acted on what she believed with her beautiful gentle heart for justice – giving her time to nurture a youth committee for TEAR Foundation loving their vision to build a more just and compassionate world.
Laura was always up for being involved in new things. She loved the performing arts event held during the summer called the Fringe Festival. She became a judge for a few years, even roping Shaeron in to be a judge as well. They went to lots of weird and wonderful shows, and Laura was always far too generous with her scores. Even the terrible acts got good scores from her. She took Justin along to lots of memorable Fringe shows, and probably some that he’d rather forget.
Laura was studying towards her Masters in Social Work before she died. She was so determined to finish, but in her last weeks, she just didn’t have the energy to do the last assignment for the unit that she was doing, called Advanced Trauma Perspectives. She contacted her lecturer, who told her that on the strength of her first two assignments, she would be able to pass the unit and achieve 85%.
Laura was also in a book club, with some wonderfully supportive ladies. She was due to choose the next book for the group, and the book she had chosen was called ‘The Tall Man’, which is a true story about an Indigenous death in custody on Palm Island, and it was just so much what Laura was like that she didn’t shy away from these difficult stories, but she wanted to learn from them, and bring them to light.
She loved reading, usually books that taught her something new or challenged her in some way, and she was a real podcast fiend as well.
Laura had such a generous heart. She believed there was room for everyone at the table, as the quote says, ‘If you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a taller fence’ and she wouldn’t stand for people being left out or excluded. She found a way to draw people in, and many people here would have experienced that with Laura. She loved to give gifts, and she gave beautiful, thoughtful gifts to family and friends for birthdays and Christmas. She was usually the one who would remind us that someone’s birthday was coming up, and I’m not sure how we’re going to cope without that.
When Laura was diagnosed with cancer, she had every excuse to feel sorry for herself, or rage about how unfair it was, but she didn’t do that. She faced her cancer diagnosis with the courage and grace that she faced everything else with in her life. Her fight with cancer really brought to light just how many people Laura had impacted in her life – she was flooded with beautiful messages, letters, gifts, flowers, and so much kindness from people who loved her.
In those times of pain and discomfort, Justin was absolutely her rock. He fought so hard and tried everything to beat the cancer. Laura was also grateful to Tannis and Andy, Callum, Kyle and Evan, who spent a long hours researching treatment options for her. Laura also had some beautiful times, such as the small miracle of her trip to Broome where she was relatively free of symptoms for a last adventure with people that she loved. She spent time in the sun, she went on a helicopter ride, a catamaran, and she spent time with some of her favourite people.
Laura lived so well, right up to the end of her life with grace and dignity, thinking of others and how she could comfort them, and with so much courage and strength. One of the best things about Laura was that even while she was this sparkling, brilliant, incredible person, she was also deeply human. She felt everything. She had moments of fear and grief and all the tough bits and pieces that make us beautiful because they are in combination with the wonderful bits. She was true to what she believed, and she made the most of her one wild and precious life. She was the first one that I wanted to tell when something good happened, she believed the best of me, and she loved Tully, and all of us, so much. As Emily Dickinson said, “unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality”. And she was so, so loved. Our lives are all so much richer for having had the immense privilege of loving Laura.