Waiting at Sydney airport, people were greeting loved ones with hugs. And I couldn’t wait for my own embrace with my dad, James Ricketson.
He’d only been gone a month but, as always, I’d missed him like mad.
He won’t be long, I thought, checking the time.
The flight from Cambodia had come in ages ago, but after waiting and waiting,
I realised he wasn’t on it.
Driving home I felt worried, but surely there wasn’t much that could have gone wrong.
Dad, 69, had been travelling to Cambodia for the past 22 years.
A journalist and filmmaker, he made documentaries.
On one of his early trips, he met a little girl called Chanti. Begging on the street, she lived in a rubbish dump and Dad started making a documentary about her life.
Hundreds of other families were living in the same terrible conditions.
‘I have to help them,’ he’d told me at the time.
And over the past two decades Dad had devoted himself to doing just that.
Fundraising, he provided Chanti and other kids with an education, as well as with proper homes and a future.
Now in her 20s, Chanti has her own family and calls my dad ‘Papa’.
Dad was my own angel, too. You see, James is not my biological father and we didn’t even meet until I was 19.
After a horrendous childhood, I’d been placed in a juvenile detention centre.
James, now my dad, was there filming a documentary and his five-year-old son often came along.
You and your son have what I’ve always wanted, I wrote to him in a letter.
I never expected anything to come of it but, in a meeting to discuss my future, I was shocked when James turned up.
‘I’m going to look after you,’ he explained.
It would never happen these days, but my care was handed to James.
It was the best decision ever! With James’ help I’ve grown into the woman I am today.
‘I wouldn’t be here without you,’ I’ve told him on so many occasions.
Back home and waiting for news of Dad,
I jumped when my phone rang. It was a reporter friend.
‘James has been arrested in Cambodia,’ he said.
Scrabbling for information, it seemed Dad had been caught flying a drone over a political rally.
Filmmakers used drones all the time but, without a permit to do so, Dad had been flung in jail.
Now they were accusing him of espionage – spying!
‘It’s ridiculous, he’s not a spy! What can we do?’ I asked the Australian foreign affairs department.
They didn’t even have any evidence of what he’d done wrong and it’s not clear who they thought he was spying for or why.
Jumping into action, myself and all our friends and family made calls. Some boarded planes to be with him, but there didn’t seem to be any way we could help.
We couldn’t speak with him on the phone and his first letter made my heart break.
It’s been pretty rough, he wrote. I’m worried about Chanti and how I can keep paying for the community.
It was so like Dad to put his own situation aside and worry about everyone else.
Stay strong, I love you, I told him.
As the months rolled by, I became more worried about him.
Photos showed he’d lost a lot of weight.
Health problems meant I couldn’t fly to be with him, but the stories friends returned with made me shudder.
He was sharing a cell with 146 other men and slept on a concrete floor.
Sewage flooded the room when it rained and no ventilation meant it was searingly hot.
Infections like scabies were rife and my poor father had to use a squalid squat toilet.
In a letter he wrote: Inmates are packed into the cell like sardines, if you can imagine three people sleeping in a single bed you will get some idea of what it is like. Men must sleep with their arms around each other like lovers, legs over torsos, heads within inches of each other.
‘It’s not something you’d wish on your worst enemy,’ I sobbed.
With no date for a trial and no end in sight, I’m worried my dad will die in jail.
I want to raise awareness that he, and journalists like him, are being held all over the world, often for no good reason.
Dad’s been locked up for 10 months now, but he could be held for up to 18 months without a trial.
In February, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop wrote a letter to her Cambodian government counterpart.
But I’m begging her to do more.
If Dad does go to trial and is found guilty, he could spend years in jail.
I just want somebody to listen and do something, and I’ll fight for him until they do.
Dad saved my life and gave me a voice and now it’s time for me to use that voice to stand up for him and help save him too.