21st December 2019, 8.30pm.
You don’t know why I was driving so carefully down Jamberoo Pass.
We were in the final hour—the home stretch—of what had been a 10-hour drive filled with intense bushfire smoke and bumper-to-bumper traffic caused by accidents and road closures.
My mum and I had packed my two-door Pajero that morning with a lot of my belongings as I was coming home to Wollongong from Melbourne for the holidays. It’d been a late start, and the drive was peppered with concerned phone calls from my Dad and Nan who were hearing reports of intense bushfires causing havoc along the Hume Highway.
Driving past Goulburn, it was like we were entering the apocalypse. The cloud became thicker the further we drove, until we were surrounded by an ominous orange haze. Moving towards—rather than away from—danger seems like something people only do in horror films. We turned the air conditioning off to prevent the smoke coming into our cabin, despite the 35C temperature outside.
When we got to Macquarie Pass, it was mayhem. A truck (who had attempted the Pass due to the Hume Highway closure) had caused an accident and we sat in unmoving traffic for 30 minutes. It would have taken us an additional 2 hours to get home, so like you, we took the only other road available.
Jamberoo Mountain Road was blissfully clear. There was only one car ahead of us and they disappeared quickly up the road. I had a car full of clothes, dinnerware and plants—but I also had my mum (who has Parkinson’s induced anxiety) and my 13-year-old cat (who gets car sick coming down the Pass).
At every bend and every steep decline, signs remind drivers to slow down. The gully far below is separated from the single-lane road by a few trees rather than a rail guard. Losing control and falling to a fiery death is not on my wish list this Christmas.
A couple of cars appeared behind us. Shifting between 50 and 60km/h, we snaked down the road, happy to have a clear run home. Somewhere in the distance (about four cars behind us) you began beeping. It was quiet at first, but became louder, angrier and more persistent.
When we were just a small bend from the bottom, your dual cab ute pulled across the double line into the other lane and began overtaking the cars in front. Very, very quickly, you were beside us with your horn still blaring. Maybe you got scared when you got to the curve in the road. Maybe you were so angry, you forgot that you were pulling a trailer. Or maybe you just forgot that we are people, too.
When you swerved aggressively in front of me, you merged too soon. The back left-hand corner of your trailer hit the front right corner of my car, from the driver’s door to the bumper.
Instinctively, you slowed for a split second, realising what you’d done. Then, like a coward, you sped away, leaving us to deal with the carnage.
My first thought was to chase after you and get your number plate details. But my car had other ideas: the tyre was punctured and I was instantly driving on rims. The front bumper was half pulled off and the door was covered in a thick scrape revealing based metal underneath.
I pulled into the shoulder to check the damage, and immediately had a rush of tears. It’d been a long and exhausting day and, like you, I just wanted to go home.
There were witnesses.
Unlike you, four cars stopped to check that we were alright, and one went after you to get your details. Another offered to be a witness should we need it. His brakes were overheating coming down the Pass, so he understood why I was taking it easy.
Luckily, we’re okay. The police came quickly considering the more important things they should be dealing with right now. While I remember your dark ute and distinctive blue-black, house-shaped, enclosed metal tradesman’s trailer clearly, we didn’t catch your registration details. So there’s a very good chance you’ll get away with leaving us stranded with an undrivable car in the middle of bushland on a day where bushfires are ravaging our country, killing our heroes and closing freeways.
It could’ve been so much worse. But broken cars can be fixed. Broken bodies can’t. So I took it easy driving down the Pass. And in your rage, you almost killed us for it.