Bless this Road:
A Unique Approach to Community Education and Healing Road Trauma
By Wendy Sarkissian
On 30 September 2018, in the Uki Hall, northern NSW, John Bevelander and I co-hosted Bless this Road to blend our two grieving communities: to share our sorrows, to thank all those who had helped us in the crashes and their aftermath and in our mourning, and to affirm that life continues.
Bless this Road was the most moving and powerful event I have ever experienced.
Part 1: Road Safety Workshop
We began at 9:30 am with morning tea for Workshop participants. We then held a two-plus-hour workshop on road safety to explain – and work through – the principles of a Safe System approach. The workshop took place in the small meeting room.
We had a leading expert to guide us, Dr Lori Mooren, who earlier in her career was responsible for road safety for the whole state of New South Wales.
We also had an expert graphic facilitator (and local Nimbin resident), Michelle Walker, a leading authority in graphic facilitation, who did the graphic recording of the whole workshop. (See https://www.curiousmindsco.com.au/author/michelle/ )
Graphic facilitator Michelle Walker recording
The first chart of graphic recording
The second chart of graphic recording
The advice from workshop participants in the communiqué from this workshop will be sent to all senior politicians and road safety specialists throughout Australia and will be published in a UK online road transport journal in December.
We are still anlaysing the results of the road safety workshop.
* * *
Part 2: Matilda’s Rainbow Lunch
Then at 12:15, the whole focus shifted, as the road safety workshop participants leave the meeting room to greet and join with other participants who have arrived for the rest of the day.
Now we dressed brightly in Matilda’s favourite rainbow colours.
One corner of the hall was lavishly decorated with rainbow decorations.
Now we were into high energy, bright colours and bright music — as we shared Matilda’s Rainbow Lunch and celebrate her life.
We devoured a gigantic rainbow cake.
Much-loved Northern Rivers legend, activist singer songwriter, Luke Vassella, softened our hearts with his sweet melodies. (For Luke’s website, please see: http://lukevassella.com/)
Here is a link to me singing with Luke at Bless this Road: https://blessthisroad.blog/reflecting-on-bless-this-road-change-of-heart-with-luke-vassella/
I chose this song by American feminist activist singer, Holly Near. Called Change of Heart, it’s a song about what happens to us when we are trying to build our courage, and we witness someone else’s courage. It resonated with my feelings that to undertake road safety activism from a cold start (and absolutely no experience) required a lot of courage. (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SC4egRR3YL0)
Part 3: Opening of The Matilda Way and Gift Giving and Appreciation
Then we moved on to Part 3 — after lunch –to proclaim The Matilda Way. The Mayor of Tweed Shire, Cr. Katie Milne, cut a huge purple ribbon to formally proclaim this stretch of Kyogle Road (symbolically only) for evermore as The Matilda Way. Accompanied by many of Matilda Bevelander’s teenaged friends and two of Karl’s special young friends, Ashwin and Erin Bulmer, the Mayor formally declared The Matilda Way to be open. Now we can always call it by that new name and no longer “the crash site”.
Gift giving and appreciations
The final part of our day was gift giving and appreciation — and speeches of thanks. We gave gifts for many first responders, the police, emergency services and hospital staff who helped us. In all, we handed out forty certificates of appreciation, as well as a dozen gifts of succulent plants (plants that are loved for their “resilience”).
During the afternoon of gift-giving and appreciations, Tony, a senior paramedic who attended on his own time, wept publicly, explaining to us how Bless this Road had caused him to radically reconsider his attitudes toward so-called “victims” of road trauma. They were real people, he now understood, with loved ones who cared deeply for them. He found that insight both heartening and healing.
We all wept together, singing, finally, Amazing Grace.
* * *
We achieved our aims: to share our grief and pain, to express our gratitude, and to build our individual and shared courage – as a community of mourners – to move on with our lives despite the tragedies we had experienced. We were building community.
Message from Cr. Isaac Smith, Mayor of Lismore
Isaac Smith, Mayor of the neighbouring City of Lismore, sent a welcoming message that showed how deeply he understood our shared intentions:
I am sorry that I cannot join you today, but I want to thank Wendy and all those who made this significant event happen.
Every individual and, indeed, every community, must make a choice on how to respond to tragedy. We see many examples of human nature at its worst when that response pulls people apart.
But what we see today is the best in us. What we see today is the inspiration and the restoration of trust in the human spirit.
By gathering here and blessing this road, we are all standing together in the hope that our future will be brighter and that those who have scars may be healed.
This is a great example to all communities that the roads which inevitably create angst and loss, can also represent peace … if we so choose.
The residents of Nimbin and the whole of Lismore Shire thank you all for gathering today to bless our road.
* * *
Fundraising for our Road to Healing film
Road to Healing: a feature documentary about my activist life and my campaign for road safety in Australia
We would like to ask you to join us in making a feature documentary about my life, about Karl and our life together, and about my campaign for justice and road safety. We have already self-funded the completion of a significant amount of filming for this project. We just need your help to complete the film.
We are initially asking for donations to raise $5,000 to complete our filming. This includes costs for travel around Australia to meet with people who have personal and professional connections to John Bevelander and to me, as well as road safety specialists, community planners and activists, who will contribute to the film. This funding will also cover costs to complete filming (including cutaways and location shots) in NSW and Queensland.
When we achieve our primary goal, we are aiming to raise a further $10,000 (through crowdfunding and/or grants) to contribute towards post-production, including editing, soundtrack, stock footage, and mastering.
We are not asking for large sums of money to make our film. This is our passion project. It requires only a little love and support to cover basic costs so we can properly share my story.
All donations will receive acknowledgements in all social media and online promotions of the film, as well as being included in film credits.
Road to Healing Vimeo film: https://vimeo.com/301436756
Road to Healing website: www.roadtohealing.com.au