Road to a place of beauty is visited by horror

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The dreadful paradox is that four young lives ended, and another was broken, in one of the loveliest areas of western Victoria.

The Wannon-Nigretta Falls Road, a few kilometres north-west of the old city of Hamilton in far south-west Victoria, is just what it says it is.

The wrecked car is taken from the crash scene on the Nigretta Falls-Wannon Road at Bochara.Credit: Nicole Cleary

At its eastern end lies the Nigretta Falls, a cascade of the Wannon River tumbling down a series of channels formed by ancient broken lava.

About 10 kilometres to the south-west, the river plunges 30 metres in a single stream over a lava shelf, clear to a pool below. This is the Wannon Falls.

Between the two waterfalls runs a narrow bitumen path, hemmed in by trees.

It is straight, most of it, its speed limit rated – absurdly, it feels – at 100km/h. Until now. Already, faced with the evidence of what happens when a car veers into one of those trees on the path’s fringe, police and local authorities are talking about dropping it as low as 60km/h.

There comes a desire, standing there knowing what the police down the road have been guarding, to avoid the reality and think of this little stretch of road in terms of what it was before horror visited on Saturday morning.

The land around sits at the intersection of three unimaginably old nations – the Gunditjmara, the Tjapwurong and the Bunbgantitj – and it takes no stretch to picture it as an abundant hunting place going back almost forever. These days it is considered among Australia’s finest grazing land. Merino sheep and Hereford cattle graze beneath massive red gums, some said to be 600 years old, some scarred for canoes and shields.

The Wannon, a stream that springs from the Grampians/Gariwerd mountain range to the east, flows along its valley to the north of the road, heading for its junction with the Glenelg River to the west. The map will tell you this is Bochara. There is no township or even village here. It is simply a rural area on a map.

The tree-lined road was closed all Saturday and Sunday. Police cars sat vigil at both ends, preventing tourists or any members of the public from venturing to a sight beyond imagining in this otherwise gentle place.

Here, surrounded by police and specialist accident investigators, sat the remains of a red Toyota sedan under an orange tarpaulin. A bit before midday on Sunday, a tow company came and dragged it onto the bed of a truck and carried it away for further forensic examination. A P-plate lay in the grass.

In the city of Hamilton, families were immersed in the disbelief and grief that accompanies the echoing emptiness of knowing a son or a daughter, a sister or brother, is gone and is not coming back.

Only last Friday, more than 1000 mourners packed the auditorium and the outside of the city’s Hamilton and Alexandra College to farewell an immensely popular young man, Sam O’Shannessy, who died aged just 21 in a car accident in outback Queensland.

On Sunday, up at the high-spired St Mary’s Catholic Church, Father Patrick Mugavin called on his silent congregation to pray for those taken by this latest tragedy.

A late autumn rain set in, cloaking the land around in a cold mist.

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