I have more to say to the NSW Coroner!

I have more to say to the NSW Coroner!

I have used up every iota of my patience in dealing with the NSW Coroner’s office regarding the road crash statistics for the stretch of Kyogle Road that claimed these five lives in seven years: young Lanthy in 2010, an unnamed motorcyclist in early October 2016, my husband Karl Langheinrich on 6 February 2016, and Matilda Bevelander and Cecilia Bevelander on 22 January 2015.

Five deaths.

Five living people who are no longer alive.

And yet my request for a Coronial Inquest was denied. Five deaths!

What else would it take for someone to take notice?

I am at my wits’ end. The local municipality is listening. They have repaired the road. Now I want the NSW Coroner to acknowledge that perhaps a closer look at publicly available road crash statistics back in 2015 and then again in 2016 might have made a difference.

Perhaps even saved that motorcyclist’s life?

Here’s our recent correspondence:

On 28/08/2018 10:48 PM, Don McLennan wrote:

Dear Ms Sarkissian,

I refer to your recent requests for the State Coroner or a representative to attend an event on the 30th September and provide a statement.

The State Coroner has previously advised and explained that whilst the State Coroner sincerely hopes your event will be successful,  we are unable to send a representative or provide a statement that is outside the scope of an inquest as you have requested.

Yours sincerely

Don McLennan

Don McLennan | Manager Coronial Services NSW | Executive Officer to the NSW State Coroner Department of Justice NSW | State Coroner’s Court, 44 – 46 Parramatta Road, Glebe NSW 2037

From Wendy Sarkissian:

Dear Don,

Many thanks for your email.

Of course, I understand.

You do sound a bit terse. Have you possibly lost patience with me?

I am very sorry to bother you, and I hope this is part of your regular paid job — to take time to craft a thoughtful reply to a grieving widow.

This is not part of my paid job — to campaign for better roads and justice for victims and survivors. But it has become my work.

I ask that you please to understand and accept that grieving people have a range of ways of responding to unnecessary road deaths on poorly planned and poorly managed local roads.

Especially when those deaths involve our loved ones.

Mine has become one of principled activism. This is my “survivor mission”.

In the future, other people who lose loved ones in road crashes may want to ask these things of the Coroner — as our communities develop their capacity and become more literate, knowledgeable and sophisticated about what constitutes leading practice in road safety.

That’s what we hope to achieve in our road safety workshop on 30 September.

And one area where I believe the Coroner (and his colleagues)  could develop further capacity, literacy and knowledgeability is in the area of road crash statistics, now readily available to the wider public in NSW.

A cursory look at these (readily available) statistics in mid-2016 might have led the  Coroner to a much different conclusion regarding my request for an inquest.

Five people died on that stretch of road. Five living beings no longer breathe because of that road.

Surely, this is a matter for real concern.

If five people had died in the same spot over a period of seven years in air crashes, there would be a national outcry — and a national inquiry.

If these shocking statistics do not reflect negligence, I can’t imagine what it would take to rouse people in positions of influence from their somnolence regarding road deaths.

See our updated blog for more information, especially the crash statistics:




Kind regards and gratitude,

Wendy Sarkissian PhD




Today in my email was a message from our UK-based expert road safety advisor, Professor John Whitelegg, editor of the eminent road safety journal, World Transport and Policy and Practice  (http://worldtransportjournal.com/):

Thanks, Wendy

I read your e-mail exchange with the coroner person and it is very sad and disappointing indeed, to put it mildly, to see such indifference to such a serious matter and to the efforts taken to improve the way that the circumstances around deaths can be converted into intelligent, proportionate action to eliminate as far as humanly possible the causal factors.

We are all very badly let down by this fundamental failure and the absence of concern for learning

All best wishes. What you are doing is incredibly important.


Road to Uki Now Safer

Tweed Link banner

Road to Uki now safer

Road to Uki Now Safer

Source: Tweed Link, Issue 1069, 28 August 2018

Council has practically completed work to make a section of

Kyogle Road at Terragon safer.

The work to reduce the likelihood of crashes between Glenock

Road and Gold Gully was funded by the Federal Government

through two Blackspot Program grants provided in the 2017–2018

funding round.

The curve through the section has been realigned after an

upslope embankment was cut away to provide more room for the

road hugging the river.

The crossfall of the curve has been corrected, a 2.5-metre

wide shoulder has been constructed to provide an opportunity for

a motorist to get back on the road in the event that they do lose

control and a skid-resistant surface has been applied.

A guardrail on the river side of the road is yet to be installed.

While works are practically complete, the speed through the

section is being kept at 40kmh until the guardrail is installed. It will

then be increased to 60kmh and a road safety audit undertaken.

The results of that audit will determine if the speed through the

section will then be increased to 80kmh.

The upgrade of the road cost $1.05 million.





Luke Vassella: Our Singer for the Day

We have been blessed to be able to secure our own Northern Rivers legend, singer/songwriter, Luke Vassella, to sing for us — and to sing with us — at Uki Public Hall on 30th September.

See:  http://mail.lukevassella.com/Home.html

Luke Vassella

Many of you will remember Luke’s generous and powerful anchoring of the Bentley Blockade in 2014 and the beautiful songs he wrote — and sang — specifically for that activist campaign.

Bless This Road is also an activist event: organised by people who are passionate about road safety, as the Bentley activists are passionate about protecting the Earth and the water from coal seam gas mining.

It’s all about community empowerment.

Luke will sing some of the Bentley Blockade songs — for sure!

And Luke and I will sing my favourite activist song, “A Change of Heart” by American feminist singer, Holly Near. (We also heard Holly Near songs sung at Bentley: she is a classic activist singer/songwriter!)

Holly Near’s song is all about courage. And how noticing someone’s courage changes our perspectives. You can bet that it’s taken courage to speak out for Kyogle Road and road safety in the Northern Rivers.

Luke will also sing a lovely Bentley song by American-Australian environmentalist, Steve Manoa Andrews:   https://soundcloud.com/musicofmanoa/we-believe-in-spirit

Steve and I studied with the same environmentalist professors in Perth.

So bring your singing voices to the Uki Hall.

Everyone will be welcome.

Karl claimed that he could not carry a tune, but I reckon he — and Matilda and Cecilia — will be singing along with us on 30th September, as we bring our healing day to a grateful close with “Amazing Grace”.

For a New Beginning: The Final Blessing for Our Healing Event

For a New Beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

John O’Donohue
To Bless the Space Between Us

Our articles about road safety

In November 2017, Lori and I prepared our second annual submission to the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.  See: https://worlddayofremembrance.org/

And in January 2018, my survivor mission article was published in an Australian road safety journal.

See: Sarkissian, W., 2018, “A collaborative road safety survivor mission: the sacred work of sorrow.” Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 29(1): 42-48.

See also:

Mooren, L. and Sarkissian, W. (2017). “We need a louder road safety voice.” World Transport Policy and Practice, 22(4): 83-95. http://worldtransportjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/27th-Feb-opt.pdf

Mooren, L. with Sarkissian, W. (2017). “Tragic failure of a road system: an Australian example.” Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 28(1): 58-63. http://acrs.org.au/journals/february-2017-vol-28-no-1/

My re-entry into activism

I’d spent a long career planning, managing, speaking, and teaching about community engagement, but that life ended abruptly when Karl died. My concussion and the PTSD from witnessing Karl’s death severely impaired my cognitive abilities for many months. So I was astonished when I found myself even considering engagement to heal my grief. However, action can be strong medicine in times of trouble.

While action cannot undo the trauma we have suffered, I have found that making people accountable for the wrong that caused our loss can offer a sense of well-being. Engagement in the broader community allows us literally to step outside our grief. It can steer us away from isolation and any negative tendency toward self-absorption. Activism drew my attention away from my sorrow and directed into the unfamiliar realm of road safety activism.

The Helper Principle

To contribute to a community project or action builds our confidence by reminding us what we might easily have forgotten in our grief: we can make a difference. The well-known “helper principle” in psychology applies here: when we help others, we often help ourselves, as we begin to acknowledge the power of our resilience and resourcefulness. We may experience the fusion of activism and spirituality and be uplifted by it.

Many months after Karl died, I was astonished by my first sense of “pleasurable mastery” (being able to do things competently that I could not do for many months) and “personal agency” (a sense of control and awareness of initiating and carrying out my actions in the world).



Spiritual alchemy and sacred activism

My campaign to get the Kyogle Road repaired is what is called a “survivor mission”.

I survived.

Like the mythical phoenix, I am a phoenix griever, rising from the ashes of my grief.

And I’m on a mission to see that something good comes of the tragedy of Karl’s 2016 death (and the deaths of Matilda and Cecilia Bevelander in early 2015).

One way to look at this work is to say it’s spiritual work. I am working from my spirit  — or my soul.

And I am healing myself and others in the process.

Some survivors and authors such as Joanne Jozefowski, describe this work as “spiritual alchemy.”(1)

Our activism transforms something harmful into something beneficial. At least the following seven avenues can open to us:


At least the following seven avenues can open to us:

  1. Contribution: doing something or giving something to those in need;
  2. Connection: resisting isolation, participating in humanitarian events, and being part of the community at large;
  3. Communication: listening to others’ pain and fear and communicating positive themes and messages of hope;
  4. Caring: being aware of who needs help and doing what we can;
  5. Compassion: understanding, tolerating, and accepting others’ differences;
  6. Ceremony: creating and participating in rituals, memorials, religious, and other services that honour the lives and deaths of our loved ones; and
  7. Commitment: pledging and demonstrating our commitment to peace and camaraderie. (2)


(1) Jozefowski, “Rising from the Ashes of Grief.
(2) Adapted from Jozefowski, J., n.d., “Rising from the Ashes of Grief.” See also: http://www.survivorguidelines.org/articles/jozef01.html

Blessing the beautiful Tweed River

Just because my Beloved died in the Tweed River, I do not want to vilify it.

It’s only a river. Doing what rivers do. Being a river. Expressing the essence of its river-ness.

That is all.

The river is not to blame for Karl’s death.

Here is something I wrote this year about the Tweed River:


After we bought Lot 4 at Jarlanbah in Nimbin in 2001, we spent every possible weekend in Nimbin. We’d drive from Brisbane on Friday afternoon. After an hour of freeway driving through the sprawl of outer metropolitan Brisbane, we’d enter the ambit of the caldera of the ancient volcano, Wollumbin, a male initiation site sacred to the local Bundjalung people, glimpsing its dramatic lavender silhouette in the fading light. As we drove, I imagined our new life together in the sub-tropical rainforest. Wollumbin represented hope: every morning, it receives the first rays of sunlight to touch the Australian mainland.

           For me, it was a place to nurture our new beginning.

            When we reached the tiny village of Uki, the sun would often be setting, and night would fall as Karl navigated the last 40 kilometres of narrow, winding, rural road. Our route, the Kyogle Road, parallels the ancient Tweed River, flowing thirty or forty metres below us. In the Rainbow Region, noted for dramatic storms, the Tweed River often flooded. (Over the years, we’d turn back several times when it washed out the road.) Its meandering course was constantly changing. That river, drawn inexorably seaward, found many ways to reach the ocean. I’d grown up on the banks of a mighty Canadian river and I’d always been attracted to them. (Not Karl: he avoided water at all costs.)

            We’d never taken to driving with the radio on, so, with one open window, we drink in the cadences of cicadas, frogs, kookaburras, and the night birds in the deeper reaches of the rainforest. My river meditation draws me to the river’s headwaters, at Lillian Rock, only 10 kilometres from Nimbin. At its source, deep in the valley’s heart, the river begins invisibly, humbly, with the gentlest whisper of intent, a nudge of hopefulness, the suggestion of a few cells pulsing, streaming, vibrating, humming, singing, multiplying, and aligning. Inevitably, the ocean draws the river forth, patiently strengthening and supporting its nascent intentions.

            Observing the Tweed River’s seasonal patterns, I sense that eddies and waterholes are a necessary part of its river-ness: moments of hesitation, conditionality, rebelliousness, even. But the ultimate destination of 80 kilometres of presence is the spaciousness of the ocean. The river longs for its flow. Within a broad, deep valley, meandering feels like play. Not all life needs speed and clarity. Slow, silty, muddiness has its place, too. Eddies allow for contemplation, flexibility to bypass obstacles, or an enticing moment of indecision. This river offers forgiveness; all routes lead to the ocean. Calm shallows, coves almost, balance unexpected rough water. But make no mistake: a strong river has significant work to do. Whatever its season, primordial and irrefutable are the forces that draw the river’s waters from its rocky hinterland through sparkling rainforest and expanses of coastal sugarcane to its fulfilment in the embrace of the vast ocean. For, as Kahlil Gibran exclaimed, “life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”(1)

            My heart softens as we climb out of the coastal country toward Uki, the portal to our new home. There, as we slow to drive through the tiny village, I call out to Karl, “Nearly home.” He nods.

            Nearly home — returning to what would be Karl’s spiritual home.

            We have finally landed.

(1) Gibran, K., 1923/1993, The Prophet, Chapter-27, “Death.” See: https://biblio.wiki/wiki/The_Prophet

Imagining Karl’s activist voice

To me, thinking about my survivor mission after I escaped from our submerged car in February 2016, I imagined what Karl would say about bringing my grief into community activism. Karl was an activist — through and through — so I could confidently predict his response in a given situation that called for an activist response. He loved what he called (and misnamed) “skulduggery”. He loved to “stir the pot” politically. Often when we worked together as consultants in community engagement contexts, I had to keep a close eye on him, or I’d find him in a corner “fomenting revolution” with the locals (which might not be our brief as social planners).

He’d cheekily retort that he was “building social capital.”

 Karl’s “Giveaway”: environmental and social activism

Rachel Remen has introduced into common parlance the word “Giveaway”, used by Native American Indigenous people to describe what we alone have to contribute to life, our reason for being, which must be discovered throughout our life. Our Giveaway imbues our life with a sense of meaning, belonging, and direction.[1] In our wider rural community, Karl and I, as Nimbin eco-village residents and owner-builders, were proud “Protectors” of the land at the nearby Bentley Blockade, a powerful residential protest against coal seam gas mining on prime agricultural land. We had also “locked the gate” on our property against gas mining.[2]

I blogged about the Bentley Blockade throughout 2014, with Karl acting as my research assistant.[3] So part of Karl’s Giveaway was as an environmental activist. On 15 May 2014, as we were driving to buy a tent so Karl could move to the Bentley Blockade encampment, we learned that the mining company’s license had been suspended. Skilled activism triumphed in that battle — a battle close to Karl’s heart.

My photograph below shows Karl standing at sunrise at the Bentley Blockade in May 2014.


Karl’s early activist beginning

As I reflected on Karl’s unique “activist” qualities (street smarts, eyes-in-the-back-of-his-head, suspiciousness, scepticism, discernment, astuteness, and curiosity), I began to see a path forward for my new road safety activism. It was easy to imagine a reply to my question, “What would Karl do here?”

His friends loved his kindness, gentleness, patience, and listening skills and I knew, from our conversations, that he felt he was kind and helped people (one of his humble aims). I also knew that he embodied his Giveaway in other, less poetic ways. Karl’s unique version of activist skulduggery (he was a bit of a ratbag) lived on in my heart as I embraced my road safety activism challenges from mid-2016 until now.


[1] Remen, R.S. (2015). “What is Your Giveaway?”, “Walking the Path”: Rachel Remen’s blog: http://www.rachelremen.com/walking-the-path/ (19 August).

[2] See: http://www.lockthegate.org.au/

[3] See: https://www.thebentleyeffect.com/; see also: https://sarkissian.com.au/emboldened-bentley-blockade/

Is road safety only about funding constraints and financial demands on a small municipality?

John Whitelegg

Professor John Whitelegg

Recently, I put this question to our expert advisor in the UK, Professor John Whitelegg.

He had this to say:

I do not accept excuses around lack of funding. The costs of not doing something are far higher than the costs of doing something.

And there is something called “ethics” which trumps everything else.

There is no point at all in having local government/councils if they do not strive vigorously to protect human life, prevent tragedies and reduce road traffic accidents/fatalities/injuries by whatever means are within the powers of the council.

If a council was aware that drinking water was killing people because it was contaminated by faecal matter (human excrement), would they say, “Sorry..we do not have a budget allocation to deal with this”?

Of course not. And road deaths are directly equivalent.