St Joseph's Maclean commemorate crash

'I had a recurring dream... each time two girls would die'

ON July 14, 1989, 11-year-old St Joseph's Maclean student Alison Moloney was being driven from school camp at Midginbill Hill in the Tweed hinterland with five other girls. They were laughing, giggling and remembering a camp experience they were eager to relay to their parents.

Suddenly, she lay by the side of the road, glass fragments in her eye, and skin ripped from the right side of her body. She was taken to hospital, and the next day received the news two of her friends Amanda Zell-Pateman and Jade MacDonald, as well as the driver Dr Usha Thakur had died.

Her three other friends, Therese de Dassel, Sari Ingram and daughter of Dr Thakur, Siobhan, had suffered significant injuries.

She was the lucky one.

Bowen Barrett with mum Alison Barrett, who together will commemorate the 30 year anniversary of a mini-bus crash that killed three and injured four St Joseph's Maclean students, including Alison.
Bowen Barrett with mum Alison Barrett, who together will commemorate the 30 year anniversary of a mini-bus crash that killed three and injured four St Joseph's Maclean students, including Alison. Adam Hourigan

 

Thirty years later, now named Alison Barrett, a note came home, asking for permission to send her son Bowen, 10, to go on a bus to school camp back at Midginbill Hill.

"I knew they were going to camp, but I wasn't ready for it to be there," she said. "They went back to the camp two years after the crash, and they hadn't been back since."

With the weight of thirty years of memories of how her time at camp ended, she pushed through, and signed the note.

"I really did want him to go. I remember really enjoying camp, and I'm trying to not push my feelings onto him, but still," she trails off.

Eventually, she signed the note.

Crash survivor Alison Barrett speaks at the plaque dedication for membrs of St Joseph's Maclean community who died in highway crash 30 years ago.
Crash survivor Alison Barrett speaks at the plaque dedication for membrs of St Joseph's Maclean community who died in highway crash 30 years ago. Adam Hourigan

Thirty years previous, lying on the side of the road Alison found Siobhan laying next to her.

"I remember there was helicopters and police, and Siobhan and I were side by side and I don't remember where anything else was," Ms Barrett said.

"We had been pulled out of the car, and I had eye injuries, all the skin off one side of my body and a broken hand.

"Sari had two compound fractures in her legs, she didn't come back to school for the rest of the year, Siobhan had to have her spleen removed I think and Therese had nearly 40 broken bones."

Taken to Lismore hospital, she found out the news on her classmates the next day when her dad came to tell her what had happened.

"I was just devastated. I remembered hearing they were going to put the four girls together in one ward, and I thought 'where are the others', but didn't put it together," she said.

"I went straight to the ward, the other girls came back in from ICU."

While the companionship of the room helped them deal with the incident, Ms Barrett said it was a tough time.

"Some of the girls had sandbags attached to their legs, and if they bumped they'd be excruciating pain," she said.

"People would cry during the middle of the night, and poor Siobhan had just lost her mum, it was a pretty traumatic room."

A newspaper article on the crash in 1989.
A newspaper article on the crash in 1989.

Ms Barrett said they gradually came back home and rejoined the school community, who rallied around the girls and their family.

While they went separate ways over the following years, Facebook and sometimes just a text message kept them connected.

"There'd always be a text message, sometimes just a heart from one of the girls on the date every year, so you always remembered," she said.

"I had a recurring dream I was back in the crash, and each time two more girls would die, and then I'd have it again and two more girls would die.

"Over and over it went, and it probably took more than ten years to pass."

Fast forward to a few months back, Ms Barrett sent Bowen on his way to camp with her husband Brett, unable to see him off at school.

"I just couldn't do it. I would've been a mess," she said.

"I waved to him at the door, and then lost it. I had a big cry. I had to."

Hanging on every Facebook update from the school, she read how Bowen and his classmates were enjoying many of the same activities they had.

After three of the longest four days of her life, Alison raced into town to meet the bus and an excited Bowen, who couldn't wait to tell her all about his time.

"It was really nice to sit down and have him tell us all he'd done. I never got the chance to do that so it was great," Ms Barrett said.

Chosen to speak on behalf of the group at Monday's 30 year commemoration at the school, Ms Barrett said she hoped it would provide a little bit of closure for her and others.

"I think I'm holding together pretty well," she said. "Thought I just talked to (Therese's mother) Connie the other day, and she said hello and I just started crying."

"I'll always remember it."