Imagine you are driving on a country road and it’s early evening. You have been travelling for just over 5 hours – as you left Sydney sometime after lunch to make your way out to see family in rural NSW. The kids have traveled well but you are looking forward to getting to your destination.
You are just over 7kms from the outskirts of your final destination: a small country town with a population of just over 3,000. Coming up over a rise you see two cars parked awkwardly on the opposite side of the road. Your first thought is that it must be a “flat tire” or “breakdown” so you slow down to see if you can help only to realise you have, in fact, become the first person on the scene of a car accident. There is smoke and debris everywhere. A woman is crying uncontrollably and a man is standing, almost dumbfounded alongside his car – which is pushed slightly out to the front of the other.
This is exactly the scenario I faced recently and it was amazing to see how quickly my natural instincts kicked in. Growing up in the bush, basic road safety had been drummed into me from a very early age and it all just seemed to be clear.
Thankfully I was on the opposite side of the ride so I pulled well off the verge and turned my hazard lights on. Miraculously I was also then able to find my St John First Aid Kit for the car among the baggage in the back.
Armed with this then, I checked for oncoming traffic in both directions, before crossing the road and bringing both of the dazed passengers back away from the site of the accident to a location which was on the inside of my car – well out of the line of oncoming traffic. They were both very capable of walking and, aside from some nasty gashes which I tended with the First Aid Kit, each just seemed shocked by what had happened.
I called 000 explained what had happened and we all sat and waited … and waited …. and waited.
It took nearly 20 minutes for a police officer to make it to the scene and then it was a single officer that showed up with no back up. Not surprisingly, given the state of the accident, she then called back to the station for additional support. Whilst doing that however she proceeded to ask me whether I thought the cars were at risk of exploding! Seriously! I know I am a mechanics daughter but I was really shocked that the officer didn’t just assume the site could be dangerous and keep us all well away.
The second officer did arrive relatively quickly (they were probably on the scene within 15 minutes) but the ridiculousness of the situation than really began to play out.
You see the driver that seemed to have run up the back of the other party appeared to be intoxicated. She was still quite hysterical and it was taking both officers to control her. As a consequence, the officers asked if I would take the other driver into town while they waited for the Fire Brigade (I think) to come and secure the site. It seemed like such a strange request at the time. I had been expecting an ambulance perhaps to come and check on those involved.
Regardless I did as they asked and brought the man back into town. At that time then I also let him use my phone to call his loved ones to tell them what had happened. I didn’t want to leave him alone as I was worried that he might be in shock so we then sat at the local police station for another 30 minutes. We couldn’t raise anyone at the station. No-one came to ask him questions or check in on him. We had no idea where anyone was. It was like waiting in a ghost town. Then, all of a sudden, the first officer reappears and tells us that we will need to leave the station as she has to go back out to the site to assist her partner. With that we were unceremoniously pushed out the front door which was swiftly locked behind us and that was that!
At that point I tried to help the guy find somewhere to spend the night in town and then, perhaps nearly two hours after the whole saga began, I completed my journey and made it to my folks home.
Disturbingly, I then got a call from the NSW Ambulance Service some 40 minutes later to check to see if I was still at the site and whether an ambulance was needed!
I’m not sure of the legal requirements around me sharing much more of the story here but ultimately that poor man didn’t see a police officer again until after 1:30am (which must have literally been almost 5 hours after the accident).
So my question – with all of that said – is what have we done to our small towns to leave them so bereft of services! I remember a time when my home town had one of the best emergency hospitals in the country. As a central point on the road between Melbourne and Brisbane literally thousands of people pass through my home town ever year. Yet even with that sort of traffic flow, on this particular night, there seemed to be very little police presence and no ambulance service.
I get that tax dollars only go so far, and that everyone had bad nights: maybe this was on of those – but surely these towns, who do not have the benefit of major hospitals or medical centers, need these services close at hand even more so.
Ultimately, it may be selfish, but I can’t help but think I would have been devastated if it had been me or my family who had actually involved in the accident as, to have had to wait 5 hours for someone official to check on your welfare is just so unacceptable.
Here’s to investing back into the bush,