The Scene of the Crime, A Family Gathering & An Innocent Sleepover (13-19 April)

Monday 13/4/87

Almost missed the bus – my pants were wet [I’m thinkin’ perspiration…] & I forgot camp photos ‘n’ everything, but I did just get the bus! Boring day – walked round a lot (Lucy’s put on lotsa weight & smokes now) I tried on some formal dresses- some so gorgeous (my favourite a silver dress $499) [which was definitely mega-expensive for that era, and totally out of my reach] We went to the movies “TOP GUN” yet again. After, I finally bought some shoes – gorgeous white flats with a cut-out heel A Life in Words[and here I’d included an illustration for better clarity…see right] & punched holes [like the patterns in leather ‘brogues’ (see pic below) …which by the way were just coming into fashion in a big way.] only $30 from Sportsgirl (believe it or not!! Gorgeous! A Life in WordsLucy came to our place till her dad picked her up. Got the TV & video rental Gonna watch “About Last Night” tomorrow. Missing Mark terribly already. Wonder when he’ll ring? oooh! 10:30 I’m tired Ate so much chocolate tonight. I feel fat!! [Uh huh, you feel fat …but you are totally oblivious to the more serious damage that rubbish is doing to you inside…at the cellular level…] Another mouse this morning – sick – caught it & ‘fore throwing it down the back, Mike bashed it, to make sure it was dead. [Boys love that shit, huh? I know plenty of ‘fellas’ who’ve taken to toads like they were golf balls over the years. Not to generalise of course: I’m sure some girls may have had a turn or two as well…] Ooh! No more mices! I hope!

Tuesday 14/4/87

A Life in Words
A (marginally) better view of my scar, than in the full picture (below)

We went to the site today (after mum worked in the morning & I finished all the choc. out of my ‘show bags’) we drove to the site. I cried a bit to start with but went down & collected as many souvineers as possible. [Really, all that I gathered up was junk and ended up being binned at a later stage. I think the act of ‘collecting souvenirs’ was itself symbolic or a method of ‘processing’; an excuse to physically return (down in)to the very place where so much trauma had hid me all at once on that fateful day.] I couldn’t believe how different it was, to my thoughts[Memory. In other words, it wasn’t as I remembered it…] Then, stopped at Edmonton to see the bus- yeuch. It’s a bloody mess. [I have included photos of it at the end of this post.] Stopping at K-Mart, then once home, around 5:30 Mark rang – was cut off first & after 2nd time, didn’t ring back – but it was good to talk to him. Video tonight “Best Defense” was stupid. Is 9:40. Only just found out, on the answering machine, that Fi rang, so I’ll have to ring her tomorrow. Damn it! Rainy-Overcast weather set the scene perfectly at the site .. it was so much steeper than I thought .. & the bend less sharp, but also shorter than I imagined. Otherwise I recognised it all. Can’t wait till Mark gets back. Oh I’m tired. Boring day (strange, untalkative mood after the bus site revisit?) [Sounds like a rhetorical question to me: I’m fairly sure I knew deep down that visiting the site would bring ‘stuff’ up… even if I wasn’t exactly able to define what…]

A Life in Words
At the top of the drop (you can’t even see the bottom of the gully) my crouching pose deliberately emphasises the scar that was born in this place. Interestingly enough, this verge on the side of the road seems not to exist anymore: when I returned in 2012, the drop from the guardrail at the edge of the road is almost immediate. The road must have been widened since the accident….?

Wednesday 15/4/87

Boring, boring, boring. I rang Fi _ _ she said she’d rung to talk cos she hadn’t talked to me “for ages” ..said Jemima wanted everyone to go bowling tonite – GREAT! I thought. so I went to town & Earlville with cousins etc. At home, did very little ..sunbaked (lemon juice in hair) & started my camp/crash scrapbook. Then after ringing Fi (not home) & mima, found out they went to Green Island so I decided I wouldn’t go bowling [a reaction purely based on hurt, the thought processes behind being “all or nothing”: if I’m not invited to everything, I won’t attend anything… I won’t be missed…] ..went late nite at Kmart instead. Laughed a lot! Watched “North & South” at home. Saw Linda P & Steven- actually talked rather comfortably with him for a few minutes (shit this pen’s stuffed) [the biro I was using that night wasn’t working so well] cloudy & sunny day – Marks coming home tomorrow I CAN’T WAIT!! Want to see him so badly. Shit, so many late nights since Jo & Mike came (I can’t stand the mess & laziness they show.) Mark..!!! LOVE YOU!!

Thursday 16/4/87

Mark rang tonight – 10 minutes after he got home! (I thought that was so sweet – straight away, practically) we didn’t decide what to do tomorrow so I’ll ring him around 9:00 Woken by the phone ([our] mums were at the dump) I answered & it was for Julia. SHIT OFF TO THE MAX! [Ha! “ the max(imum)” was a great adverbial phrase.] Watched TOP SECRET, while doing my camp scrapbook ..sat in the sun browning myself & then to to work on my scrapbook again (altogether I didn’t do much at all on it today!) A Life in WordsWent to get the video on dusk… and it was soon after our getting back that Mark rang about 7:20 I think. (Watched TV & now the new chosen video – MONEY PIT) I hope we do decide on something to do- I badly want to see him again. Mrs B visited today – and Mr. G. also dropped in – I thought he’d rev me about my assignments; luckily no! warm day Brent finally brought the typewriter back!!

Friday 17/4/87

Well, I rang ‘im about 9:30 – & as I thought, he was still asleep… so I felt really terrible- talked abit & finally decided I go to his place (& take my photo albums too!) at 11:00. Well, we mucked around (& tickled- ouch!) Looked at photo albums- I went into his room (umah) – almost slammed the door on my fingers. Was good, but the time went so quickly ..only 2 little kisses, But some affectionate moments, when we just looked at each other. Ate cheese sandwich for lunch..mum came & was talking for awhile to Mr. & Mrs W (told me later we may be going to Josephine Falls with them on Sunday for a BBQ) HOPE SO!! So I told Mark to ring me, when he wasn’t tired. I love him I know I do… I feel it all through me ..this wonderfully happy, relaxed feeling when I’m with him (ESPECIALLY when we’re alone & at night!) [Um, yeah Liss, that’s a different four-letter ‘L’ word…] Did nothing at home. boring. Watched EUROPEAN VACATION tonight … bore! [I’ve never been fussed on the National Lampoon series. Give me Monty Python any day…] Is now 9:15.. early really! (compared to other nights I’ve had) god I hope he rings me soon .. am dying to see him again soon.

A Life in Words
The last photo I have of my Nana was taken on this day. She was wheelchair-bound by this stage due to her rheumatoid arthritis. See her gnarled right hand? …and by the way, the cigarettes in her handbag? She smoked right up until she was unable to hold anything in her fingers…

Saturday 18/4/87

mmph! woke only after 7:00 (got up around 7:45) this morning – not fair – I can’t sleep in. Did nothing, basically.. watched Between the Teeth [a quite short-lived music programme on the ABC] & that was about it. (all that I did) Michael & I went with mum around 11:00 to get chicken, change the video & get Nana (saw Paul W on the way) When Auntie Thel, Uncle Ross, Michael (mum’s cousin) & cynthia (his wife) & child came, we were watching BACK TO THE FUTURE. Sharon rang me .. we talked for yonks (she did). Auntie Thel helped me make a big (solve a big problem) decision…my CAREER ..She said Libby (daughter) was booming in her interior dec. business & could (does) need help.. so all of a sudden, I’m interested..think of the prospects!! It’s an excellent idea! [That, like the few others I ever had, left my consciousness after that day. What do they say…”all talk no action”?] Anyway, Mark rang after Sharon..talked for ages (mum & Mrs W decided on tomorrow’s trip to Josephine Falls) & after (visitors left) I got ready to go to his place . . . it wasn’t quite as “touching” this time ..we did kiss now & then (not that I didn’t like that – I loved it! But, ah, somehow it was less “touching”… we watched TV, ate dinner late, during the sick movie.. mucked around mainly.. tickling not much talking ↵

Sunday 19/4/87

But, anyway when I rang a taxi at 11:15, no answer… Mr & Mrs W came home after their dinner & suggested I stay.. I thought so..Mark didn’t want me to..wonder why? But anyway, I rang mum & it was O.K. I was in Sandra’s room, with FM4CCR on her clock radio (Mark set it up for me!!) I went to sleep around 12:30, I guess woke around 7:00, but snoozed till 8:15 – Mrs W got me up (I heard Mark play “Candy” – he played it to me last night) this morning) Had brekky & finally around 9:30 mum & the gang came. I went with the W’s.. Mr & Mrs & Mark and Keith too..trip up there & swam ice-cold water (not many people looked at my leg – I wasn’t really embarrassed at all!) After lunch (BBQ) left (I went with them again) stopped in for a look at the Bus at Edmonton. Left Mark’s ..went to Nana ..BORING!! Got a video SHORT CIRCUIT after that & watch it this arvy .. then dad came (I got $15 believe it or not) ..then we watched the movie again. Mark was working 3pm to 9pm tonight, so unless he rings me soon, or tomorrow, I’ll speak to him again Monday night before school. J&M and Julia & A.H. are going to G. Island 2morrow – I’m staying home to do the work I should’ve done over the hol’s. Saw Lyn. C. at the BIG TOMATO today (working there) Ugh! Am tired… have had an unreal weekend!!

A Life in Words
The bus wreckage was housed at Edmonton Police Station for quite some time. Here, I’m pointing out to my sister & cousin approximately where I had been sitting. The window struts caved in as we rolled so the roof sheared off the vehicle as it came to rest.


A Life in Words
All of the deceased had been sitting on the left-hand side of the bus & mostly toward this rear corner.
A Life in Words
the front of the bus
A Life in Words
The rear righthand side just behind where I had been sitting. This is the luggage compartment: the extra weight in the rear most likely decreased our chance of staying on the road…

Clean Teeth, Therapy & the School’s Commemoration Service (6 February)

Friday 6/2/87

Have tried to get as much info as possible. It really was national news – I couldn’t believe it. Also partly international. We had group therapy today – talking about the accident There was me, Jason, Steven L, Ms Bowles, Ms DeJourdan, Mr Stopford, Yru, Fi, Jacki & Cameron and the social workers. Talking is to help us remember so we can cope. [The problem is, not enough of us were counselled, full stop. Only a handful of us (mostly injured victims) received any kind of psychological support, let alone being encouraged simply to talk, to each other or our families, anyone. Sadly, it’s just ‘the way it was’ back then; ‘Mental Health’ was a shameful, unsavoury topic. I am so, so relieved that society has embraced it in a positive light and it’s reassuring to know that had this happened in this day and age, counselling would be available to not just ALL Year 12 students, but the entire school community, at every other school in the region, and to the general public, for that matter.] A Life in WordsIt was extremely distressing. Oh I love Monique so much. They changed my knee dressing today .. that was painful. Although there weren’t too many visitors today, they stayed longer and helped me feel brighter. Mark’s coming out of ICU tomorrow. I gave him a note, a teddy & a red rose today (not directly, of course – I can’t have) I also had a sponge bath. And cleaned my teeth for the first time in 2½ days Slept soundly last night, but woke uncomfortable this morning because I could’t roll over. [I have always been a side-sleeper] I am so tired now. Jason & Yru went home. Cameron’s on his own (with an old man) next door. [I recall that scenario providing some cheer, thanks to his sarcastic sense of humour.] He’s expecting to go home on Saturday. I got lots more flowers today. Mima gave me a white Teddy Bear in a ballerina suit. It’s name is Monique. [In her previous life in Brisbane, Monique had practised ballet. That was another defining characteristic: she was our ballerina.] Sleep now.

[By the time I came to write about this day in the scrapbook (and incidentally, it’s the point at which I gave the project away) it was literally months after the accident, so my memory was not as clear and in some instances I virtually copied almost word-for-word from my diary:]

A Life in WordsWoke early because I was uncomfortable, not being able to turn over because of my right leg injury. Mum came for a little while, bringing the paper. . and also toothbrush & other toiletries that she had collected from Croswell Hall when she dropped Julia at school. [Clearly that was where the ‘remainder’ of our possessions were housed after retrieval from the crash site.] First ‘teeth wash’ for 2½ Days…

Tried to get as much information as I could… I couldn’t believe it was national (& even partly international) news. But I got a little more ‘personal info’ from 9:30 in the morning, just after mum left… we had group councelling session for an hour. Fiona Ms Bowles & Kay returned [to the hospital] for it & there was also Jacqie, Mr Stopford, Ms DeJourdan, Yru, Cameron, Jason & Steven L (& the 3 councellors) I found it distressing, in fact…cried a lot, especially at Mr Stopford’s & Jason’s recounts.. both of Monique. scrapbook Fri 6:2[I can’t recall much of what was said but I do know that Mr Stopford pulled Monique out from under the bus (she wasn’t pinned) and rested her against a tree; I can’t remember whether he’d had to try resuscitating her. One of them – I think it might have been Jason – mentioned something about her face being a bluish-grey colour. I’d guessed then, that she was the first pronounced dead.] Jason was next to me in his wheelchair holding my hand the whole time. General consensus was guilt that we survived… I couldn’t believe people were dead. After the councelling session and a bit of ‘informal mingling’ everyone left for the private memorial at Cairns High ([those] who could, that is) Yru and Jason were released from hospital so Cameron, Jacquie Ms DeJourdan Steven L & I couldn’t go. A Life in Words[There was no mention at all in my personal diary about the school memorial …did my inability to attend hurt so much that I deliberately omitted it? It doesn’t seem like something I would do…] Mum returned from doing some work and sat with me during it .. I was upset also because I had to miss it, but they promised to video it. In the meantime, I had the dressing on my left knee changed …it was quite painful as they had to remove the drain from the wound [it was not the ‘huge gash’ I’d earlier believed. The right leg injury however…] But the new bandage was much lighter and allowed more movement (not that I’d move much!) Petra and Julia came up after the memorial service ..bearing little gifts ..and stayed with me after mum left around noon. Julia gave me a little chocolate brown teddy which I named ‘Anton’ and Leanne J (her other friend) gave me a little snoopy dog. A little dolly off the flowers Dad and Jenny gave me, I called ‘Lisa’ (after Monique) [it was her middle name]

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…


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 –


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.

Doom’s Day (4 February)

Wednesday 4/2/87

A Life in Words
a candid shot during camp pack-up

[Since I typically make my diary entries at the end of each day, it stands to reason that the likelihood of that happening on this particular day is slim, even though the wording seems to suggest otherwise…]

TRAGEDY. After packing up etc this morning I took heaps of photos. Then we boarded buses. Erica, Monique, me, Fiona, mima Mark, Brent, Steven, Keith, Cameron, Chris, Glyn, Judy Jason P, Brett H, Becca G Michelle W. . . all on our bus. At first we had fun .. food fights too. Down the Gillies range I swapped places with Mark- he got the window seat – I snuggled back into his arms. Half Dozing (???) I felt us going really quickly around a corner, too fast .. I saw gravel and the bus rolled. I blacked out. When I woke Erica was on my left – head covered in blood; Jody K & Lee-anne W on my right and Mark underneath me, under a seat too. It was a nightmare. I couldn’t accept it as real, my right leg was jammed under the bus. After ages I was “pulled” out & soon taken by helicopter to hospital. The rest of the night & events are blurred. I went into theatre . . saw heaps of people .. Fiona, Kay H, Jacki W, Miss (MF) DeJourdan and Miss (R.) Bowles were in my ward. I was very tired.

A Life in Words[Make sure you’re comfortable: there are seven pages of the scrapbook dedicated to this one day, with as many details as I could recall…]

Yes, it really was the last day…time to leave. Absolute chaos trying to tidy up & pack up our belongings. Out came the cameras too…until now, we’d forgotten all about them. […that was something I later considered a prescient phenomena: how lucky were we to have remembered our cameras and gotten as many photos as we did, within just hours of the tragedy?] With the cameras came some candid shots, of course! A few misplaced items, but mainly the problem was fitting things back into bags and boxes. Most of us couldn’t wait to get home to get clean – shower, wash hair & clothes. A Life in WordsAfter taking down the tent (I’m sure we left some pegs or something behind) [ooh, Dad wouldn’t’ve been happy about that…] we lugged all the gear up to the covered area, where everyone else was, with theirs. Then, a barrage of photos taken as people stood around talking, fighting & mucking around until the buses arrived. When they did there was a mad rush to pack the buses and grab the best seats, but we were stopped by the teachers. We had to wait till they let us pack…then there was a longer wait til we were finally allowed on the buses. Only one bus was filled at a time: girls got on first…

A Life in Words
Waiting for the word. Our bus is on the left.

We chose the second bus because of its big sliding windows [better ventilation, for a cooler ride] (I also thought we’d have a better chance of getting good seats). Jemima was the first on, and I second. She sat in the second last seat on the driver’s side [what I call the ‘right side’ for future reference…] and I, after a quick decision, [aware that others were very likely queueing up the aisle behind me] slipped into the seat in front [of her], instead of the one opposite, where Monique and Fiona sat. [I have no doubt that the choice I made in this fleeting moment was pre-determined; not a (conscious) choice at all. I was destined to survive.]

The rest of the seats filled quickly: we saved seats for Erica, Monique, Mark and Brent.

A Life in Words
The last photo I took. Erica asleep, Judy’s legs beside her and Jody & Leeanne’s heads visible in front

We left second; the journey started great: we ate any leftovers we had (including Coco Pops and 100’s & 1000’s fights!) Elisia E. had a drink container of water [the contents of] which disappeared as it was passed around the whole bus.

Up a steep hill, the 3rd bus passed us, but we soon overtook it again, as it stopped for Alan D. (Who was sick).

Down the range, we began singing songs…Beatles songs mostly. Soon we all settled down, snoozing and talking quietly to each other. Mark compained about the heat, so we swapped places: he had the window seat. I leaned back against his chest…I don’t recall what time it was. I must have dozed off….

A Life in WordsThe first thing I remember just prior to the crash, was as we were just nearing the bend…I was looking across the aisle, over Jody & Leeanne’s heads, to the view, thinking “we’re going a bit fast”…then (it felt like) we took the corner really wide. [In fact we didn’t at all: the bus driver apparently sounded the horn – of which I have no recollection – as a warning to any oncoming traffic that he intended to – and did – actually cut the corner in his valid attempt to avert disaster.] I must have stood or leaned up because I remember seeing the gravel (the road shoulder) before the drop…then looking to the front of the bus, past the driver, to the bank on the other side of the road, thinking, “Come on bus driver, keep turning and we’ll stay on the road” (which was really wierd when you think about it, because I didn’t know what was happening: that is, that we were actually going to go off the cliff…maybe I subconsciously knew) [Yes, I would have, we all would have…]

I remember the front of the bus seemingly stopping, while the rear slid [out, sideways], and slid over the shoulder, the left side dragging the rest of the bus over. [Which makes sense considering that only the front brakes were operational: with no functioning rear brakes and the added weight of the undercarriage storage also located at the rear of the vehicle, there was no stopping the ‘tail-swing’.] The rest of this, the actual descent, seemed more dreamlike than the events prior to it…I remember pitch darkness…flashes of light (where perhaps windows were?) I couldn’t see anything besides that but I could hear metal crunching and glass breaking…and feeling, well, I was thrown once, twice, then I recall nothing: [I deduced later that the bus would have rolled one & a half times, because it came to rest upside down: that amounts to 6 ‘throws’ in total.] I must’ve been knocked out, but as I was rolling it felt [as if it were] in slow motion, bodies and things brushing past me, not roughly or painfully. It felt much like I was floating…doing flying somersaults.

When I came to it seemed very slowly: like the dream (nightmare) was continuing. […emerging from an inky abyss…] My body was in almost total darkness (I was under the bus) [the roof had sheared off as we rolled down the embankment and, since it ended up upside down, the bottom effectively became the ceiling] and I felt an incredible pressure upon my right leg.. I only remember thinking I was dreaming & telling myself to scream, because you have to TRY to scream in a nightmare, even though your screams are inaudible. There was a hole in the bottom of the bus [the ‘roof’] so I could see out, up a slope. [This confused me in the weeks & even months to come (until I was able to return to the site) because I couldn’t fathom why I could see trees still upright: if we had rolled down the hillside, wouldn’t we have taken out everything in our path? It turned out that the angle at which the bus came to rest in the gully was different to that at which we left the road, so I had a ‘room with a view’ of the untouched environment.] I remember screaming to get the “fucking bus off my leg” and yelling the names of people I saw walk past…some of whom told me to shut up. Slowly I realised it wasn’t a dream. I noted Erica’s head on my right, sticking partly out from under a seat, and I could only just see (from my trapped position) two bodies, whom I believed to be Jemima & Brent, at first, on my left: they were in fact Jody & Leeanne.

A Life in Words
The bus as it came to rest. Apologies for the quality of these photos: I took them from video footage stills

Astia held & stroked my left foot outside the bus and helpers tried to comfort me. There was a pair of legs sticking out from the far end of the seat on top of Erica & I finally realised they were Mark’s. I must have been out for a little while because all those people [teachers & students from the third bus] were there when I’d regained consciousness. [The third bus was apparently only minutes behind us, but long enough for some of the lesser injured to scramble back up the hideous slope and flag them down.] When Mark did, he frantically yelled at and abused me…to “get this fucking person off him” Of course I couldn’t & his anger at me distressed me more. [I had to assume it was Erica’s body, and knowing she was (therefore they both were) under the bus seat that I was also partly on top of, I tried my best to keep my bodyweight off it. Pinned as I was by my right leg, with the earth significantly dropping away into the base of the gully, I had to use my left arm to hold my bodyweight off the seat.] It seemed my mouth & my mind were two separate beings because, although I was yelling and screaming, I was thinking “don’t panic – they’re getting help – they’re doing all they can…” [the Mind versus the Witness?]

A Life in WordsMichelle W. was nearby, but I couldn’t see her…she touched my right leg and also tried to reassure me. [I have since discovered that one of the ambulance officers was periodically ‘manhandling’ my pinned leg for signs of response from me; because it was clamped so tightly but my femoral artery was still pumping blood into it, it had swollen to “twice the size” of my left leg, and I was in serious danger of losing the entire appendage if I lost sensation…] 

I was arguing with Mark…I tried to tell him I couldn’t move Erica because she was…unconscious.  But somehow I knew she was dead. There was fresh blood all through her beautiful blonde hair, and a pool of it in her ear (none on her face). [That still amazes me, to this day.] I heard Jody’s breathing, if that’s what you can call it: he was having tremendous difficulty: wheezing & choking [his lungs were punctured]…but I don’t actually remember hearing him stop.

I didn’t think of Monique, nor Jemima or Fiona. I was thrown into oblivion by the shock, I think. I thought only of my immediate surroundings and not even of what had actually occurred. [Talk about being ‘in the Now’…] I remember at one stage, reaching back to feel my right leg…drawing my hand back into view, I saw lots of blood and dirt and fragments of skin hanging off my fingers.  Mark’s left calf had a tear in it: a ‘hole’ and bright red flesh was hanging from that. Possibly the only reason I was not sick (physically) from the sight of all this gore, was the fact that I was in shock. [Absolutely.]

A Life in Words
An aerial view of the hairpin bend we failed to negotiate. You can just see the bus at the top of the picture

I remember, what seemed HOURS later, when they first attempted to lift the bus off my leg…there was a new sensation…painful only in the sense that it was uncomfortable: the rush of blood to supply the rest of my leg, or be released through my open wounds…but it was shortlived…the great tonne [or more?] of metal was again allowed to rest on my leg, as, I found out later, when the bus was first lifted with only one set of ‘Jaws of Life’, the weight was transferred to the other end of the bus and consequently put more pressure on a victim (Cameron) who was trapped by his chest.

So a second set was [finally] applied and the bus levered up evenly. Again, the horrible new sensation.

A man told me he was going to take some metal out of my leg, “Hold still and I’ll do it gently” But I couldn’t bear the thought of him slowly edging foreign material out of my leg, and so yelled “No! Just RIP it out!” [Actually, from memory it was more like “no, just fucking rip it out”] He must have, because I don’t remember the pain from that.

Possibly the most pain I experienced was when they dragged me out from under the bus…up onto a stretcher…I kept my eyes closed for most of that time. I remember chatting away, as they hoisted me off the ground and carried me (upside down – I remember – possibly to stem the flow of blood?) [or to keep the leg elevated, to drain some of the swelling & keep the blood in my torso, around my vital organs?] to the ‘top’.

A Life in Words
Anyone & everyone (who was able) helped SES workers in the rescue.

I was placed under a yellow tarpaulin…still talking to anyone who was there. [Clearly my automatic shock response defaults to Chatterbox.] They tried to put up another tarp adjoining the one I was just underneath and I remember it falling and me putting my hand up to stop it landing on my leg. [It was overcast but I believe there was minimal rainfall, so the rescue operation wasn’t hampered. Lucky us.]

I have no idea how long I waited up on the road, before I left by helicopter. [Days later, two of my friends said their watches had stopped at exactly 12:57pm, so we all assumed that that was the moment of ‘impact’ …and apparently it was pretty much spot on. As for how long I was trapped, then lying on the roadside before my transit to hospital I still have no idea, other than my sister guessing I arrived at Cairns Base around 4pm] Although, I remember seeing Kay standing up…looking at me and saying “You’ll be alright Elissa.” [God knows what her perception of my leg was. I cannot imagine what it must have looked like.]

When I was lifted and told I was going by helicopter (and wasn’t I lucky?) and to shut my eyes, they carried me past a familiar pair of legs sticking out of a familiar pair of shorts…I tried to reach down to him…”Mark! Mark?” But they moved [lifted] me higher up and away faster. From then I kept my eyes closed…it seemed a fairly long trek to the helicopter. [It would have to have been… I almost can’t picture where the chopper would have been able to land on the narrow mountain highway] Then I felt the overhead propellors and I was loaded inside the ‘copter.

I could see the [back of the] pilot’s head, a man sitting to my right (to whom I kept babbling on) and the perspex roof, through which light grey clouds and raindrops could be seen. [Hardly a memorable helicopter ride, when all you get to see is the sky above you.]

I remember borrowing the man’s handkerchief for some (unknown to me) reason and making sure that I returned it to him when we landed. [Courtesy instilled in me by my great parents.] I remember lots of people in white putting me on a trolley stretcher and wheeling me somewhere, [most likely from the Cairns Esplanade (the nearest open space suitable for a helicopter to land) which is fortunately just across the road from the Cairns Base Hospital] but I don’t remember actually entering the hospital.

I remember being wheeled past partitions in a room, wheeled into an end one: directly opposite a set of swinging doors, Just before I was put in there, I recall turning my head to the left and seeing someone, in the partition before mine, with a totally red face….blood-covered & bloodstained…at first I thought it was Brent but realised later it must have been Brett.

I was in that partitioned area for quite a short period of time…some doctor looking at my leg and asking my name, address, parents’ names and home phone number…then I was wheeled through the swinging doors into an unpartitioned room and placed quite nearby Sean D…who was sitting up, looking OK. Again the nurses asked personal details and, whether they gave me a ‘shot’ or not, I remember nothing else…but passing out.

A Life in Words
The shorts I was wearing were cut off me: I don’t know if the discoloured areas are old blood or faeces stains. I would have had no idea (nor care) obviously whether I’d soiled myself or not…

When I came to again, it was only extremely briefly and I felt extremely groggy…I was in a white room with lots of silver machinery [theatre] and they were putting a gown on me, and taking off my ring and earrings. Then I passed out again.

I came to in a corridor; I was being wheeled somewhere [probably to the ward]. As I was still under the effect of the anaesthetic, I was trying my hardest to keep my eyes open. I saw Julia, Mum (very concerned-looking) and Dad and Jenny, then I said “How’s Monique? What about Mark? How is everybody?” [but don’t recall any responses] I vaguely remember Mum nearly fainting and the nurses putting her on a trolley too. [My poor beautiful mother… I can’t imagine the stress she was under. She had had the utter misfortune earlier of sitting with two of the dead children’s mothers at the very moment they were called to be dealt their worst nightmares.]

The next and last thing I remember from that day was finding myself in my room in Ward C West (floor 3). There were lots of people, mostly visitors, milling around. I can only remember talking to Sharon and Harry B. I was unaware of any pain in my leg(s) or the catheter they had ‘implanted’. I didn’t even realise I had no underwear on. I was wearing a hospital nightie. I remember being quite ‘chirpy’ (obviously still in shock) and asking people questions. I had missed the news but heard that it was a ‘national disaster’. [Oddly, I must admit I felt a little ‘thrilled’ about the whole country knowing and talking about us. It goes to show just how powerful Ego can be. Shock can deny you the gravity of a situation but may have no effect on Ego.]

Although visiting hours officially ended at 8pm, I think the hospital staff had quite some difficulty in removing all the visitors (especially relatives) by 8:45pm.A Life in Words

I remember still wanting to talk when everyone had left: Jacque seemed the most willing, aside from Miss Bowles. Miss DeJourdan seemed very quiet and Kay appeared to do much more listening than talking. Fiona was quite absent from this world…it would take at least 3 calls of her name before she would turn to look at whomever was calling, then when asked a question, would either nod, or just look at you, not understanding or comprehending, even ignoring. She slept the most and longest out of the six of us. I wasn’t sure of my wounds, thinking I had a deep cut in the back of my right thigh, and a severe cut on my left knee. I don’t remember whether I was fed painkillers, but I fell asleep quite quickly and quite soundly.