A road fatality – and the impacts for those left behind

To honour Hannah: Graeme and Di McMurtrie have a memorial garden for their daughter at their home in Taree. Photo: Scott Calvin
To honour Hannah: Graeme and Di McMurtrie have a memorial garden for their daughter at their home in Taree. Photo: Scott Calvin

On March 15 it will be five years since Di and Graeme McMurtrie got the devastating call that their teenage daughter had been killed in a car accident. 

But for the Taree parents who had to bury their child, it doesn’t matter what day it happened, it has forever changed their lives.

“It doesn’t get easier,” Di said. “It gets harder.”

Hannah was 19 years old when she died in a head-on collision on Gloucester Road near Wingham. Her parents are determined to speak out about road safety in the hope they can help prevent other families going through what they are going through.

Their loss has been far greater than just losing Hannah. The repercussions have spread across all aspects of their lives.

Hannah’s younger sister, Amy was in her Higher School Certificate (HSC) year at Taree Christian College at the time and it took her four months to get out of bed and return to school.

Amy, who was 17 years old, delayed getting her provisional licence for four years after the accident while Hannah’s older brother, Todd, who was 20 years old at the time, stopped driving altogether.

Di tried hard to keep it all together for the sake of the family, but three years ago her body could no longer take the toll. She had a stroke which has resulted in her inability to drive or work.

“I have lost my independence,” Di explained.

Graeme became her carer as she had to learn to walk and talk again.

Di worked as a nurse, something she describes as more than a career.

“I loved nursing. It’s part of who I am,” she said.

Having to give up nursing has been devastating for her.

“We’ve lost so much,” Graeme said.

Related reading: 

The loss of Hannah is with the McMurtrie family everyday. Christmas week is especially hard with Hannah’s birthday falling on December 19 and Amy’s on December 26.

“The week is crap,” Graeme said.

Hannah loved Christmas and was the one in the family to decorate the Christmas tree, a tradition the family stopped the year Hannah died as they couldn’t bear to have the reminder. Last year, Amy got a white tree and the family once again celebrated.

“Amy insisted,” Graeme said.

Despite the pain of losing their daughter, Di and Graeme have decided to focus their energy on raising awareness about road safety in honour of their daughter.

Graeme said Hannah was alone when she died, something that he feels guilty about.

“I feel like a failed as a father because no one was there,” he said.

His only relief from the guilt is knowing that Hannah died quickly.

His determination to not see another parent go through this is what motivates him to speak up.

“I could just sit in a corner and drink, but what good is that going to do,” he said.

We bare our souls to complete strangers to hopefully save a life

Di McMurtrie

Every six weeks they relive the night of the accident by retelling the story in graphic detail to a room full of traffic offenders. 

“We bare our souls to complete strangers to hopefully save a life,” Di explained.

They believe the best way to get the message across is to rip open the wound and recount the events as if it was only yesterday. 

And it is a method that seems to be working, with many attendees coming up to the couple after the session to tell them how their story has changed their lives.

But it’s not just the offending drivers they are targeting, the couple are also going after the politicians to make serious changes to the laws.

They don’t believe the fines are working and feel the punishments need to be harsher. For example, they believe people caught using a mobile phone should lose their licence for a period of time and after the third offence, they should lose it completely.

“Driving is a privilege,” Di said. “It’s not a right.”