The Day After: Heartbreak (5 February)

Thursday 5/2/87

8 died. Monique has gone. Erica too, Mark F, Mandy G, Judy F, Jody & Lee-anne & Liz. 7 of them were sitting up the back [but notably, all 8 were sitting on the left hand side of the bus; that which would have borne the weight of bodies & debris thrown from the right-side side at the first moment the ground fell away beneath us]. I can’t believe Monique is gone. It’s unbelievable. I know she is, but I can’t comprehend it. Today was very busy. Heaps of people came. I have a big “hunk” out of my left knee, a small crack in my left femur and a huge gash in the back of my right thigh, where the bus was on me. […almost correct…] Mark is in intensive care. I hope he’s alright. I got a letter tonight – note he wrote before the camp. [privacy omission] I cried a fair bit today. Esp. when dad told me about monique. No one knew about her [in that, whenever I asked after her they all answered that they didn’t know, or hadn’t heard. I can’t imagine how hard that would have been for them: to lie to the face of someone to whom they knew the truth would cause so much pain].. didn’t tell me so I was kind of guessing.A Life in Words Rather late night. Food is disgusting. My head and arms are badly bruised. Cameron, Jason P, and Yru are next door [there was an adjoining ward to ours]. Fi (broken collarbone) Kay & Ms Bowles were released at different times today.

[There are 6 pages dedicated to this day in the scrapbook but they are mostly filled with clippings from a variety of newspapers; mostly from the local ‘Cairns Post’.]

Woken quite early to have blood pressure and temperature taken, then no one (except Fiona, of course) could get back to sleep, so we talked. I was quite determined to find out as much as I could…so asked lots of questions. I remember only Jacque, Ms. Bowles and Kay being interested in the conversation…however not seeming (Ms. Bowles, anyway) too happy to recall the events she remembered.  Jacque said she knew 3 of the dead, but refused to tell me when I asked at first. Eventually she told me Mark, Mandy and…Erica. A Life in WordsI said I knew Erica died (but I hadn’t really, had I?) When the papers arrived we realised exactly how major the event had been (we’d all missed the TV news the night before and had been wondering if it was ‘national’) The headlines greeted us:

“Cairns High camp ends in tragedy: 8 Die in Smash”

The Cairns Post reports virtually dominated the complete paper: front page headlines, continuing on pages 3 and 7.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s reports were very similar to some of the articles printed in the Cairns Post. [I knew nothing of media ownership (eg, Murdoch) back then.]A Life in Words

After breakfast, bedpans and bed washes, people began arriving: lots of people, mostly school friends, came throughout the day. The Brewers were one of the first to visit.  Mum had come, but left Julia [with me] when she had to do some business calls. Dad came.

I remember having asked Mrs Brewer about Monique, and she replied, “we haven’t heard” or “we don’t know”.

Strange: everyone seemed to have been saying that. I thought she was either so okay that she’d gone home straight away, or…but I didn’t think it was that.

I remember the nurses drawing the curtains around me, but, talking to Jemima (Mrs B, Polly & Julia standing nearby) I didn’t take much notice, or wonder why. [assuming more blood pressure tests or something of the like…] Apparently the whole ward was cleared of other visitors. [People have since confirmed this: all visitors were ushered out of the wards into the corridor, and it was jam-packed] I’ll never forget when my Dad came through the curtain: his eyes were quite moist. He said (and an eerie silence fell over the place) “They’ve released the names of the dead…”

I knew it…I had to accept what I had subconsciously known all along….what I hadn’t wanted to have to believe…

“Monique..”

I said it at the same time, my eyes brimming…

“was one of them.”

A Life in Words
Ink portraits of Monique traced from photos, in my scrapbook

The suspense was too much for Jemima, who broke out in (those, oh, so familiar) sobs, and I could sense every other person silently crying. I took a deep breath and wailed for the world to hear –

“MONIQUE, NOOOOOO, MONIQUE, MONIQUE…”

I don’t recall how long I cried for, but apparently, I was sedated and slept for quite some time…

[I have to admit I’m disappointed that my father assumed the role of informer before my mother had returned from her business calls. Knowing my mum, I’m certain she would have desperately wished to be by my side in that moment of need. It feels unfair to me, that the news was broken in her absence. In his defence however, he said he had consulted with the medical staff and it was jointly agreed that I needed to be informed sooner rather than later because of the sheer number of visitors: they expected someone would ‘let slip’ and they clearly wanted to ‘control’ the situation for everyone’s ‘psychological’ sake… the question is, can anyone ‘control’ anything??]

The rest of the day, after I woke, was a blur of people (SO many!) tears (over Monique) and flowers (the first of many I was to receive).

I had not yet a clear understanding of the injuries I’d sustained, thinking I had “a big hunk out of my left knee, a small crack in my left femur, and a huge gash in the back of my right thigh (where the bus was on me)” [clearly I pulled this directly from my diary] It was clear however, that my head and arms were badly bruised, and chest, hips and legs. [I have always bruised easily so this came as no surprise. I ended up with numerous contusions, the largest of which were in the soft flesh above my elbows. The haematoma on my left arm actually left a scar (another physical affliction to which I’m naturally pre-disposed) in the form of stretched and slight ‘greying’ of the skin.]

Fiona, Kay and Ms. Bowles were released at different times during the day…Fiona still oblivious to anything going on around her (still in shock).

In fact, I would have been in a deeper shock over Monique. The tears flowed nearly the whole day…and to any visitors I kept repeating and stressing how I needed friends now, because Monique was gone. They all nodded, eyes watery, in sympathy. [I had just lost the only real best friend I’d ever had. My very own best friend, who’d considered me hers too. It’s all I’d ever wanted, what I felt I’d lacked in my life to date. I was keenly aware that I was the ‘third wheel’ in the friendship trio with Jemima & Fiona, so Monique’s departure not only ripped open a gaping hole but infused it with past feelings of loneliness and alienation.]

Again, most visitors left after the close of visitors hours, including my mother and sister, who then went to visit Mr & Mrs P. [Monique’s parents] for an hour or so afterwards.

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