ONE year ago we had an accident in the middle of the NT, writing off the car and caravan.
Thank goodness, we are now, not only able to celebrate all surviving and still being here, but also we are able to celebrate the pivotal turning point that the accident had on our lives. Devastation that turned into a positive.
"When it happened, I thought I was about to kill my whole family and I can tell you that fear is the worst feeling I have EVER had. I did see parts of my life flashing before me and I really thought we were all about to die......"
When families travel, if you follow them on social media, you see all the amazing places they go to, explore and the adventures they have, but what they post about on social media doesn’t always capture the whole truth. You never hear about the trouble on the road when families are travelling Australia with kids.
You see their news feed full of the all the joy they seem to be having. Smiling faces, seemingly happy families. You often see photos where people may have spent ages setting up a shot.
BUT what you don’t see, is them having a barney behind the camera about how long it’s taking to get that shot. The fact that the kids might not want to smile or that either of the couple do not feel like smiling.
You don’t see couples crying, or shouting at each other. You see the 'happy' family, smiling, having 'fun'.
Despite us having and showing a reasonably ‘light’ social media feed compared to others, social media was actually an issue of contempt for us. I love photography and love capturing the memories, Trent would rather just enjoy the moment and not have ANY devices with us.
There can be pressures in social media about presenting life in a certain way, especially if you see all the other families in their feeds showing such a great life that they appear to be having. But that can also add more stress and your own perceptions of how life should be, and when it isn’t that way, you can feel disappointed or feel like a failure. We often talk about the pressure that social media can put on our children but the research holds true for adults alike.
Let me make a point of not bagging out anybody who uses social media a lot, I would just like to discuss the side that you don’t often see.
I’m telling my story, not just of our accident but also on the potential negative issues that can occur and untold trouble on the road during families travelling Australia with kids.
Whilst we didn’t plan our travels to ‘solve’ any of our relationship issues, (no one is perfect are they?) our travels and the constant time together definitely highlighted and accentuated the problems that were there in our relationship. It happens in many travelling families and talked about informally between them often.
We’ve witnessed it in other families, we’ve heard the fights, we’ve even heard about some domestic violence in some families and punches being thrown! (That’s never shown on Insta is it?..)
Living 24/7 with someone whether it be a husband, wife, or kids is bloody hard work and little annoying things can soon blow out to mammoth ‘push points’ for any party and result in arguments, fighting or tears.
I’d had discussions with other travelling Mums about how someone should write an article about trouble on the road with families and telling how it really is. We would often debrief with each other over a glass of wine or two, support each other and share tears at times.
We had plenty of these arguments in our travels, most of the time they would blow over and you’d get back on with the good stuff. But our problem was that some of these niggles got worse and the arguments got worse too.
A week before our accident we had the worst fight we’d ever had - in one of the most beautiful places in Kakadu would you believe?
Such a stunning, serene, spiritual place with breathtaking landscapes.
Whilst others were taking in the stunning sunset over the edge of a natural infinity pool high up on the escarpment, harsh words were spoken and shouted between us, and tears flowed - from both myself and the children - (I cringe just thinking about this now) and I also had a panic attack. Divorce was mentioned and I truly thought this may be where we were heading.
We had two days of not talking to each other, that’s how bad it was.
To try to move forward, we talked. Not really resolving the core issues at the heart of the problem, but enough to carry on with some semblance of a family enjoying travelling around our amazing country.
We had a good few days at Little Roper Stock camp, enjoying Mataranka and Bitter springs and having an awesome night at Mataranka station watching the Nathan ‘Whippy’ Griggs ship show where I had the ‘honour’ of ending up on the floor in between Nathan’s legs as he whipped around me! (Anybody in the area, do NOT miss his show- he’s a super talented and entertaining whipper!).
Some other people who were also at Nathan’s show that night were some of the people who stopped and helped us after the accident, they recognised Tom, our son, from also being in the show! - As it turns out, I am currently working with Nathan's girlfriend’s Mum in our local hospital, freaky small world heh?
On the day of our accident, it was windy - strong gusty winds unusual for the NT. An hour before we crashed I took over driving. I didn’t feel 100% comfortable with this with the day's condition but knew we had planned a big day of driving ahead, probably a good 10 hours and I wanted to do my fair share of driving, as we would normally do. We both had our 'game faces' on.
Because we’d been having these fights, I didn’t feel comfortable with telling my husband I was worried about driving. And though his gut instinct (that he later told me) also told him I shouldn’t be driving in those conditions, he didn’t say that to me. Neither of us said anything because we didn’t want to potentially say something that would evoke any feelings of mistrust or negativity or cause another argument.
So off we went, after filling up with fuel... I drove on, concentrating hard. I started coming up to a road train who was going pretty slow, who we’d passed previously in the day before a stop at Daly Waters pub.
I could see kms in front of me, there was no other traffic, I could see clearly, so I slowly started to overtake. Looking back with the conditions of the day, I would not make that decision again but hindsight it is a wonderful thing.
I was probably travelling at around 100 kmph but a combination of the trucks back draft and the gusty winds started to make the caravan sway.
I panicked and did the wrong thing which is to hit the brakes. The right thing is to accelerate out of it. Trent yelled at me to get off the brakes which I did but it was too late. The swaying got worse and those next few seconds went very slowly. The van swayed more and more and then hit the truck, it sent the car towards the van - I thought we were going to go headfirst into the road train..
Then the van rolled over onto its side, and then the car followed by flipping onto it's other side.
In those moments, I thought I was about to kill my whole family and I can tell you that fear is the worst feeling I have EVER had. I did see parts of my life flashing before me and I really thought we were all about to die...... I can’t even recall whether I screamed out loud or whether it was just inside my head.
As the car came to a standstill on its left hand side I opened my eyes and saw Trent with his eyes open, we both locked eyes and immediately turned round and asked the kids if they were OK. You can just imagine the relief we felt when we heard them say yes and that they weren’t seriously Injured. Oh my God, what relief...
The next panic came when we worried about what might happen next with a damaged car with a full tank of fuel and 2 full gas cylinders on the van, shit, what if the car caught fire?
Trent tried to take off his seat belt (and yes our lives were definitely saved by our seat belt and the strong sturdy build of the 200 series Landcruiser) and this was when he realised that he was injured - we later figured out that as the car rolled, he put up his hand at the time the airbag was activated and the force of the airbag split his hand open in between his 3rd and 4th fingers and breaking a bone.
Still, he managed to unlock the seatbelt and kick his way out of the windscreen to get out. The priority was to get the kids out and he couldn’t open the back door (which was facing upwards) but lucky for us, the first person turned up to help us - there was to be many more. His name was Daniel and he was our hero that day. He managed to open the door and help pull the kids out free then kicked in the rest of the windscreen so that I could get out too..
Trent was bleeding heavily from his hand and was already starting to feel light headed and I, being a nurse I was worried he was going to bleed out and collapse. Tom our 11 yr old son took off his T-shirt which we used as a tourniquet and Daniel helped me put this on. We tried to get a safe distance from the car in case it blew up.
I saw the look in Trents eyes and I really thought he looked so angry at me; for crashing the vehicles, for causing the accident, for injuring him. He wasn't. He didn’t feel this way – he was injured, he was shocked and worried about us all too. I thought he looked angry and that’s how I took it. BUT that was my perception at the time.
I was injured myself with whiplash (and of course shock) - I’d had a neck disc replacement and fusion only 1 yr previously so was also worried about this. More so though, I was freaking out as I could envision watching my husband and father of my children bleed to death. It was the worst, scariest, and gut-wrenching feeling.
We were so lucky with the amount of people that stopped to help. I should mention here that the Road train driver did stop. He didn’t feel the accident hit his vehicle, but saw us roll in his rear vision mirror. He was also shaken up and stayed with us until the paramedics arrived 90 mins later. He also got on his Sat phone and phoned the police to inform them of the accident and need for medical help. We have spoken to him since and he was very happy to hear we were all OK and to look him up for a beer if we ever got to far North Queensland!
Whilst I was busy putting pressure on Trents hand to stop the bleeding, the people that had stopped to help, were taking care of the kids for us, getting out their vehicle awnings and providing shelter, drinks and most importantly comfort. I will be forever grateful to all those who stopped to help us at this horrific time in all our lives.
Shock finally set in for me about 30 minutes in and I started shaking, crying and retching. It happened to Dan, our first responder too! He had cut himself whilst helping us which later needed stitches, and he went very white and pale and needed to lie down.
It took 90 minutes for paramedics to get to us from Elliot clinic who were quick to tell me that as an ex ICU nurse I should have known better than to walk around with a suspected neck injury!
Along with the policeman that was on scene, they were great and promptly got Trent assessed and given some pain relief. I eventually had to succumb to being told to lie down and get a neck collar on.
Before we all left the scene, the policeman was able to retrieve some belongings from both the car and caravan like phones, iPads, passports and jewellery but other than that we left the scene with just the clothes on our backs, in Toms case - no tshirt - having being used for the tourniquet earlier - he only had a pair of shorts and just one thong! It would be 2 days before we got any other clothes.
Looking at the scene was pretty distressing - bikes strewn across the road, car and van mangled messes, I just felt a lot of disbelief as how we ended up like this.
We were taken in 3 vehicles (Trent and I each in an ambulance and the two kids in the police car ) south to Elliot clinic. It was so hard being apart from each other during this time, especially screaming down the Sturt highway at speed after having just been in a car accident and reliving it in each horrific moment in my head.
I was very anxious and felt such a huge amount of guilt at this point, feeling like I had caused the accident by not speaking up about not wanting to drive. I suffer from high functioning anxiety, which often means I always think of the worst case scenario for anything and at this point I was thinking everyone would blame me, I was thinking Trent might lose his hand, that I may have wrecked his life by my stupid judgement to keep quiet.
We arrived at the clinic and were treated promptly and with care. The kids were really taken care of well by a guy called Bruce at the clinic, I think he was a cleaner but got the kids comfy in front of a TV, brought them soft drinks and sandwiches. They still talk fondly of him.
We spent a couple of hours here whilst we were treated and options explored for getting Trent surgery. They tried to get the RFDS to fly us to Alice but they were busy on worse emergencies so we then needed another transfer to Tennant Creek hospital. However due to imminent darkness and the rules about them using clinic vehicles at night, Trent and I were able to go in one of their Ambulances and Bruce took the kids in his own car! We could only go half way, then St Johns Ambulance had to meet us there and take us the rest of the way..
At least by this point we’d been able to contact our parents and let them know what had happened.
At Tennant Creek, we received more assessments, pain relief and 2 minute noodles for the kids! They managed to get a RFDS flight for Trent around 3am and the kids and I stayed at the hospital until around 3pm the following day.
As you can imagine I didn’t get any sleep that night. Every time I tried to close my eyes I would get flashbacks of the accident which were very very distressing and hightened my anxiety levels.
The only criticism I have of the healthcare we received is that even though I asked for some Valium or something to help me to sleep, they didn’t give it to me and it wasn’t until the Consultant did a round at 10am that she immediately asked the staff to give me something for my anxiety.
The kids slept on pull-out bed chairs beside me, whilst I wept and felt so much grief to the end to our travels, and to the pain I’d caused my family. Mental trauma is just as important as physical trauma and should be treated accordingly.
Trent managed to get his hand surgery in Alice as luckily there was no nerve damage and when the kids and I arrived the next day he was awake and able to walk from the ward to see us. After assessment (funnily enough from a Dr that used to work at Gosford and knew some Dr friends of mine!) and a CT scan to clear my neck, I was discharged. Trent needed to stay in overnight so the kids and I booked ourselves into the Hilton for a comfy bed and a big buffet breakfast to look forward to the next day.
We had been travelling on and off for the previous 5 months with Trent's Mum and Step Dad who were in Litchfield when we had the accident so his Mum arranged to fly to Alice the next day to join us, whilst his Step dad was left with the not so fun job of sorting out our car and van when it arrived in Darwin.
Trent's mum was able to grab some clothes and a few more belongings from the van (sifting through the crazy mess of the upturned van where obviously everything had come out of the cupboards. The toilet lid was in the lounge area (luckily we’d just emptied the toilet at our last stop!), of course the curry sauce had opened and stained heaps of stuff etc etc.
To cut a long story short, we spent 5 days in Alice recovering and sorting out our insurance. We arranged our flights to Sydney - we’d decided to head back 'home' to Avoca Beach where we had the support of our friends, even though we no longer had a house there.
On Day 3, after Trent had been released from the hospital he told me that we thought we should separate when we got back to give us some breathing space from each other and to work out long term what was best for us all.
No longer was I just suffering from trauma from the accident, I now had the grief of a potential separation and divorce on top of that. My mental state was not good, my anxiety levels were off the scale and I was freaking out about what my future life was going to look like. I felt alone, scared and unloved by the person I wanted most to give me support. I was thankful for family (both sides) and some bloody awesome friends who were there for me and often were at the other end of a phone listening to my fears and sadness.
We both stayed with generous, caring friends for 2 Weeks, and again, in another friends apartment for another 2 weeks after then and in that time we booked ourselves in with a local Psychologist for counselling.
This was originally for trauma counselling, but this also turned into marriage counselling and personal counselling and the best decision we could have made.
We benefited HUGELY from all of this and I am VERY happy to say that we are now in a very happy marriage, probably better that it has ever been (for anybody that might ever consider this, find a psychologist who practices the Gottman method - it’s the gold standard in relationship counselling).
Trauma counselling changed so much of my mindset surrounding the lead up and cause of the accident, and post accident, the EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing). It changed the guilt that I was experiencing into rationalised thoughts that were not so distressing. I turned negative traumatic thoughts that provoked physical stress response feelings, into positive thoughts.
I still use these processes now when I think of the accident and can usually turn those horrific pictures in my mind into calm feelings and affirmations.
That therapy has change our lives. It dived deep into the core of our joint issues and put in place mechanisms for us to deal with future problems through better communication. As the saying goes, ‘it takes two to tango’, and in relationship issues there are pretty much always problems on both sides. My anxiety had sky rocketed resulting in lots of self-esteem issues and self-criticism. I felt I always had to prove myself, but in the process, I could be very controlling. After years of raising children, and putting them first before my own needs, often with a husband working away, I often treated him like a child too. Peri-menopause doesn’t help either!
Other issues like a failed business venture, the kids being bullied, horrible neighbours and multiple house moves all added to our problems, but so much of it boils down to how we communicate with each other and work through conflict.
It made us really take a good long hard look at ourselves and our lives, on how our personalities and idiosyncrasies affected each other and I would say, has made us stronger than ever. We all come with emotional baggage into relationships that can affect the way we think, how we act and communicate.
Travel and trouble on the road, had really triggered some of our disagreements and the closeness of being together 24/7 made us a lot more irritable and short tempered. We both had to work hard at resolving these issues, but it’s been so worth it.
It made us think about what we REALLY want from our lives, what we were prepared to compromise on to live our ideal lives.
It’s what led to our move to the south coast of NSW for a simpler, slower life. Even though it may mean compromise on our ideal jobs, or for available career opportunities. We wanted to be somewhere less busy, to really get off that hamster wheel of life and to prioritise what we want for us as a family.
And you know what, we can look back on that accident and be grateful that it was a huge catalyst for change in our lives. We absolutely LOVE our life right now and are happy with the conscious changes we’ve made that have led us to this point.
I wanted to write this to let others know that there can be downsides to travelling around. That there will be trouble on the road. There are so many different things that can spark disagreements or conflicts of opinion. That you’re not the only family who may be struggling in your relationships. You will have arguments, you may have days where you hate each other. But if it’s getting more common, or if I starts affecting your kids, then maybe reach out - to friends, to a counsellor, to a mental health phone line. Do something.
Just don’t get to the point where you can’t talk to each other about things. God forbid you get to a point where you can’t speak up to your partner about something that could affect your safety as you travel. Learn from our mistakes please.
I received so many beautiful messages from friends and family other fellow travellers following our accident, and many of them commented on the difference I had made with spreading my message about everyone learning bystander CPR and how to use a Defibrillator. (And whilst we’re on that subject, make sure you do a first aid and CPR course before you set off travelling!) I know I demonstrated my professional leadership in trying to improve outcomes for others. I know how social media can be a positive vehicle to spread positive messages by spreading our own stories as well as it being a negative entity that sometimes add to our pressures.
I’d like to think that by sharing my story, by being raw, honest and vulnerable I can again help others. Mental health is so important and so many factors in our daily lives can affect it.
I’d like to thank everyone who contacted us for your messages and support after our accident 1 year ago, and especially our families and close friends that stood by us and supported us through this traumatic period in our lives. Those families we met along our journey and have become some of the best friends we have, I love you ALL! The TAWK family is an amazing group of people and you can count on them to help support you.
Also a big shout out to NT police, St John Ambulance NT, the RFDS and to all the amazing people who stopped and helped us out. And probably most of all, thank you to our unbelievable psychologist!
What doesn’t break you makes you stronger... ❤️