July 05, 2004 | Jeff Wall

A meanness of spirit we can well do without.

THERE is a meanness of spirit in government – and particularly local level government – that is unhealthy and contrary to the Australian tradition.
I saw it again over the weekend in a “Sunday Mail” story on the move by councils to ban, or severely restrict, “memorials” placed at fatal road accident sites by the bereaved.
One of my earliest memories is the large red and white triangle painted on the road between Pittsworth and Toowoomba. When I enquired of my parents what it represented I was told it marked the spot where someone had been killed in a road accident.
Every time we went past the spot, my thoughts went back to when I was first told what the triangle represented. I guess I first noticed it when I was about four or five years old so we are talking about close to 50 years ago……….but I can remember it as if it was yesterday.
I subsequently discovered – when I was old enough to write to our local State MP Sir Alan Fletcher – that the triangle was placed on roads where there had been a fatality to warn motorists to drive carefully, but that the practice was discontinued in the late 1950’s.
It would be interesting to know why.
The memorials, either in the form of a cross, or small plaque, often with flowers, we now see on highways and even some urban roads, are placed by relatives to mark the spot where the life of their loved one was taken away.
But do they also have the effect of reminding passing drivers that the spot may be dangerous?
Let’s deal with the first purpose. If a parent, or a partner, or another close relative gains some comfort, or even closure, from the bereavement they have suffered by placing a memorial at the site, then why should authority interfere?
Interfere it does, in councils such as Calliope and Toowoomba, and interfere it intends to in other local authorities.
I have never lost a relative, let alone a close relative in a road accident, but I did endure the tragedy of a nephew dropping dead at school from a heart attack at the age of 12. I was asked to speak at the funeral – easily the toughest speech I have ever had to make or write, but I think it was one of my best because he, and his mother, deserved nothing less.
My sister and brother in law made a presentation to the school Corey attended – as a lasting memorial. That provided them with some comfort in their bereavement.
I was driving to Toowoomba one day – for a race meeting, I recall – when I noticed a young couple tending to a memorial on the Gatton bypass. I stopped and spoke with them. Their daughter had been killed at the spot in a car accident some time previously, and they certainly gained some comfort from the memorial cross, and regularly freshened flowers, that marked the site.
Provided the memorial is maintained properly, and not an obstruction, what is wrong with allowing relatives to mourn, and remember, loved ones in this way?
Is it not possible that the site of a number of such memorials on one stretch of road might register with motorists that careful driving is important?
Despite all the radar traps, speed guns, booze buses and the like – and improved roads – our road toll still remains too high. All too often the victims are young Australians.
I can only imagine how tragic the loss of a son or daughter in a road accident is, especially when the fatality takes the life of more than one family member.
Surely local government – the level of government supposed to be closest to the people – can have a heart and allow simple, maintained memorials to mark the site of a tragic loss?
Or have we become so heartless, so mean, that deaths on our roads are mere statistics?
I hope not!

Posted by Jeff Wall at 2:53 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

1 Comment

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your support for roadside memorials.
    You mention Sir Alan Fletcher, a wonderful gentleman whom I had the privilege of meeting more than once.
    What year did Sir Alan die? Is Lady Enid still alive and in Pittsworth?
    Many thanks
    Michael Darby
    Dee Why NSW
    0413 348 843

    Comment by Michael Darby — August 8, 2004 @ 2:42 am

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