EDITORIAL: Drivers must not be tired
IT’S one of those houses where you can hear every floorboard creak.
Night sounds waft into its timber belly — disgruntled cattle, the whinny of a horse, crickets humming.
But try as he might as he lays in bed wrestling demon dreams, he cannot hear the one sound his heart longs for; the sound of his daughter stumbling in her half-sleep state to the bathroom or the kitchen.
He just wants to hear the damn floorboards creak.
The kettle is on and Anthony Lonergan stands at the kitchen sink of his Sandy Creek home, cutting cake and chopping tomatoes to put on dry biscuits.
“He’ll cook you a three-course meal if you’re not careful,” warns his mate Mark Draper, who stands to help make tea.
Last Thursday marked seven months since Anthony’s daughter Ezra, 19, was killed in a car crash on the Murray Valley Highway near Rutherglen.
Ezra fell asleep at the wheel as she drove back from a bachelors and spinsters ball at Hay to a pony club meet at home in Sandy Creek.
Her XR6 ute drifted onto the wrong side of the road, crashing into a Western Australian couple coming the other way.
The elderly couple, who were travelling around Australia, escaped uninjured, but Ezra was killed instantly.
“The policeman, he assures me she was probably unconscious the whole time,” Anthony said.
He is sitting at a dining room table laden with cups of tea, cakes and biscuits.
The wall to his left is covered in photos of Ezra, some with her white horse Bronte, others friends, but she’s always wearing a million-dollar smile.
Ezra was one of 28 people who were killed on Border roads last year and her father spoke to The Border Mail in the hope it would save someone else from the same fate.
“If it just gets through to one other kid that it’s not a crime to stop and have a sleep,” Anthony said.
Police said Ezra was killed in a year where fatigue played a major role in Border crashes.
“Ezra’s was a situation where somebody so young died as a result of something so avoidable,” North East highway patrol Sen-Sgt Cameron Roberts said.
“This is the sort of thing that needs to be talked about between families.
“Travel plans are quite often communicated with families and if somebody’s travel plan flags a warning sign, talk about it, because they try to push themselves through fatigue.”
Ezra’s plans set off alarm bells with her father on the night before she went to Hay.
“She was my right-hand man. The day after Ezra was killed we were going to mark calves and drench cattle and sort them up, it was five months before I managed to pull myself together enough to get it done.”ANTHONY LONERGAN
Anthony, Ezra, Mark, his family and another pony club family met for dinner at the Commercial Club in Albury.
Ezra told of her plans to travel to Hay the next morning and make it back in time on Sunday to ride her new horse.
“I told her from the start not go to because she needed to take this new horse down to the pony club to get it used to bigger crowds,” Anthony said.
“Mark was telling her and so were the Sloans that she shouldn’t be going, but she had her mind firmly made up.”
And there was no telling Ezra when she had her mind set, it was just like when she cast her eye on the XR6 in a Wodonga car yard.
“We went and hunted around for a while and she got her eyes on this XR6 and that was it. There were some other friends that rent a house off me that have a Mitsubishi Pajero, but she wasn’t interested in that at all,” Anthony said.
The former Wodonga Catholic College student was single-minded, generous and hard-working.
A month after her death, the Pony Club Association of Victoria posthumously awarded her a certificate of merit, an award they hadn’t given out for four years and one she was nominated for before she died.
“It’s because of the work she had done with the club; picking up hay bales, sprayed down the arena when no one was there, working, looking after the little kids and encouraging them along,” Mark said.
At school, she dreamed of becoming a vet, but instead vied for and won a mechanic’s apprenticeship at the Twin City Truck Centre in Wodonga after she finished year 12.
“She didn’t think she wanted to waste four years going to university, nope, not at all,” Anthony said.
“And she loved it. She used to give the boys as much hell as they gave her.”
But her work ethic came from working alongside her Dad on the farm.
“She always came out, she was my right-hand man,” Anthony said.
“The day after Ezra was killed we were going to mark calves and drench cattle and sort them up, it was five months before I managed to pull myself together enough to get it done.”
With Anthony’s ex-wife and eldest daughter in Adelaide, Ezra was his companion.
That’s why he hates the quiet of the house, only returning to it from the farm when the sun starts to set.
“I’ve got to keep my brain from getting addled,” Anthony said.
Still at the kitchen table, he reaches for a black mobile phone. It was Ezra’s and police recently returned it after they concluded their investigation.
“I can’t switch that on,” Anthony said, passing the phone over the table.
“I don’t know if there’s a password. I have no idea, do you know how to work it?”
The phone “pings” as it switches on and we scroll through the photos Ezra had taken in her final days.
“Oh goodness, look at these Mark,” Anthony said.
“That would’ve been photos from the B&S,” Mark replied.
They poured over the last photos of Ezra, posing with friends in checked shirts at the ball and the photos she had taken of herself with dark dye all over her face and that million-dollar grin.
“Look at the black moustache on her,” Anthony said.
“That’s the food dye they plastered over everybody.”
Her father, who hadn’t been able to contain his sobs, started to laugh and his chuckles started to fill up the quiet house at Sandy Creek.