Friday, December 07, 2012
They sent us off the freeway at Lara, with signs, traffic cones and a lone officer waving cars down. Three lanes of traffic slowed, merged and took the off-ramp. We crossed the overpass and turned back onto the main road; a diversion of maybe 400 metres. It was a beautiful morning yesterday; at 7.30 am the You Yangs and Port Phillip Bay were sharp and clear in the early sunlight; the north wind hadn’t yet set in. It was a great day to be alive, driving down to the ocean for a surf. A morning full of possibility. As I drove up the off-ramp, there was hardly time to see the mass of emergency vehicles parked along the verges of the freeway, and the shroud of orange safety fence around a patch of the dividing median. Somewhere in there, though, were five lost lives. Half an hour earlier, I’d flicked on the radio news and heard the tail end of a report – a man fighting for his life, the Princes Freeway closed. Only on the recap did I catch the “five dead”. A moment later, a silver ute passed me, doing maybe 120 in a 100 zone – I have his number if anyone’s interested – and disappeared into the traffic, weaving, tailgating and braking as those maniacs do. I considered turning around – surely the holdup would be awful – but drove on. I’d come this far. When the flashing lights came into sight, I dutifully merged left, cringing a bit as I passed the group of investigators surrounding the scene. Somewhere out there, past the open plains of the Werribee grasslands, in ordinary suburban streets, families were receiving phone calls; officers were standing on doorsteps delivering the news. I didn’t know who the victims were: age, gender, relationships. Just five people, dead. The radio announcer said a car had been on the wrong side of the divided road and I wondered how you even do that. Friday night was hot; there must have been a lot of cars on the road, even at 1a.m. when the smash had happened. Tex Perkins was on the CD player, singing about the regrets of the morning after: “And now you realise: there’s no getting away with it.” In the end, the holdup wasn’t too bad; a matter of minutes. It would be easy to pass by and not notice much at all. I got to the beach; I surfed; no problem. Seven hours later, at 12.30 pm, the overpass was empty. Traffic flowed smoothly in both directions, including the occasional speeder, and every cop car, sign and piece of tape was gone. Apart from a sole news photographer standing idle beside his car in the shadow of the overpass, a long-lens camera in his hands, it was as if nothing had ever happened.