OUR SAY: Give... don't grieve this Christmas
THROUGH my work as a photojournalist, I'm often at the scene of many road fatalities and, no matter how many I see, they never get any easier to attend.
I was a 17-year-old apprentice when I attended my first, tasked to take some "forensic" photos as the official people were unable to be there. I carefully followed instructions and recorded every detail of the accident that I was directed to.
A man had died in a single vehicle collision. He had no seatbelt on and was stuck in the windscreen after being thrown forward from the impact. I haven't seen a worse sight in the 21 years that followed.
I asked an SES volunteer at the time how they dealt with seeing that image day in, day out.
He looked down and said, "I have to think that it's not a person, just metal".
It's a line I've often said to others who ask me the same question. I don't really believe it any more than I think they did.
It's just a coping mechanism; trying not to think of the vision that is in front of you.
But that experience doesn't come close to the horror of having it happen to someone you know or love.
We routinely walk out the door each day, give a wave or a hug, say "see you later", and go about our daily business.
Imagine getting a phone call a few hours later from an unfamiliar number, a knock at the door, or an unexpected visitor, face sombre, voice serious...
I don't think a single person spared of being in that situation could understand what that must be like. It doesn't even bear thinking about.
I've stood on the highway beside emergency services all night long, watching in silent reverence as they perform the most awful of their duties in the most professional and respectful way, and every time it eats away at you, as it must do them.
The most I've ever been affected by a scene was sitting next to the man pictured on the front page, hammering a cross into the road at Ulmarra, a year after his son was killed in a collision with a truck that had crossed the highway.
I sat no more than a metre away from him, and less than a metre from the side of the highway - the wind so strong from the traffic hurtling past, you could barely hold yourself still.
I had been invited to record the moment, but we spoke no words. His eyes, holding back tears, fixed on the ground where his son had been taken, spoke volumes.
I took two frames, held out a hand of thanks, and left. Every time I drive past there, I can remember that feeling of such sadness.
And yet for me, life goes on. For that man, his son tragically taken away, the grief will go on forever.
All the moments that will never happen. I can't even possibly begin to understand.
As we approach Christmas, a time of year traditionally reserved for family get-togethers and reunions, think about how it feels to look across the table where loved ones have sat for years, and see no one.
Today, The Daily Examiner and its fellow Australian Regional Media newspapers launch a road safety awareness campaign - Give, Don't Grieve - hoping that this Christmas we celebrate with our friends and family in safety this Christmas, not grieve the loss of a loved one in a road accident.
We'll tell stories of the people who attend the accidents, highlight the dangers of our area, dispel the myths around driver behaviour, and bring awareness to what is happening on our roads, especially at this time of year.
While words can't stop a car from crashing, hopefully the reminder will.
And if one person learns one thing that means their family doesn't get that call, it's worth more than words can ever say.