FORGOTTEN HEROES: Robins takes up new fight for volunteers

THEY are the forgotten volunteers who attended one of the worst road disasters in Australian history, but Bryan Robins hopes to change all that.

The former State Emergency Service officer is taking on the NSW government to ensure SES volunteers who attended the Clybucca bus disaster in 1989 are formally acknowledged for their service and sacrifice that morning.

"I think they're being incredibly cruel for no reason," Mr Robins said.

"Every volunteer who attended, be they SES, Volunteer Rescue Association, Rural Fire Service and so on should be recognised."

While he acknowledged that unit citations were issued at the time of the disaster, Mr Robins said it was far from sufficient given the magnitude of the event.

"Giving the SES a unit citation is like one little thing to hang on the wall of the office. It's not personal at all," he said.

Police and rescue services on the scene of a bus crash that claimed 35 lives , after a Trans City and McCafferty's tourist coaches collided head on on Pacific Highway at Clybucca, near Kempsey on 22/12/1989.
Police and rescue services on the scene of a bus crash that claimed 35 lives , after a Trans City and McCafferty's tourist coaches collided head on on Pacific Highway at Clybucca, near Kempsey on 22/12/1989.


"A $20 personally framed certificate might not seem like much, but for the people who attended the disaster, it's something that might help them manage life a little better and help with the healing process."

For Mr Robins, this is the second time he has taken the government to task over a failure to recognise volunteers who attended two of Australia's worst road disasters, both of which occurred on the NSW north coast 30 years ago.

In 2012, he campaigned for SES volunteers who responded to the 1989 Cowper bus disaster to receive recognition for their actions. The campaign took two years before volunteers were presented with a Premier's Award 25 years after the tragedy.

"Anyone who went to the Cowper volunteer recognition event would know that they were all very happy and proud to be there," he said.

Bryan Robins is campaigning for Kempsey bus crash SES volunteers to be recognised.
Bryan Robins is campaigning for Kempsey bus crash SES volunteers to be recognised.

"The fact we had just about every volunteer that was still alive turn up and one of them flew home from Boston, USA, shows how important it was for them to be there on the day."

Although a major win for his former colleagues, Mr Robins revealed he felt somewhat guilty for volunteers who attended the Clybucca bus crash.

"When they found out that the Cowper volunteers were going to be recognised and they weren't it was very hurtful for them," he said.

"So, I made a promise to some very special SES volunteers that I would not give up on them."

Earlier this year Mr Robins reached out to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services requesting formal recognition for volunteers who attended the Clybucca crash.

But, just as Mr Robins expected, the request was rejected on the grounds "it would be inappropriate …" by " … inadvertently stirring old memories and distress for those attended."

"That paragraph is an exact quote from the rejection letter they sent me back in 2013 when I was fighting for the Cowper volunteers," he said.

Sunday Telegraph 75th Anniversary pictures. (December 22, 1989 file picture) 40 people died when 2 buses collided on the Pacific Highway near Kempsey. Flowers line the side of the Highway in memory of those who died.
Sunday Telegraph 75th Anniversary pictures. (December 22, 1989 file picture) 40 people died when 2 buses collided on the Pacific Highway near Kempsey. Flowers line the side of the Highway in memory of those who died.


"It's just a cheap shot to volunteers in order to move on and forget the issue.

"I'll continue, regardless of what they say, to pursue the matter to achieve an outcome that's in keeping with the respect of these people and in line with what we've already done at Cowper."

Mr Robins said his next port of call will be to Melinda Pavey the member for the NSW seat of Oxley on the Mid North Coast where the tragedy occurred.

"I invite her to contact our local Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis who didn't hesitate to take this issue to parliament," he said.

 

MORE:

 

"Chris and Deb Newton handled (the Cowper event) beautifully so they can assure her that it was well received and how happy the volunteers were that it was organised."

The Daily Examiner reached out to Melinda Pavey earlier this week regarding Mr Robins' campaign.

"In the first instance, while we think it appropriate to await the advice from the responders and residents about what they would wish to do, we will certainly support their wishes," a spokesperson from Ms Pavey's office said.

 


A trio of reporters from The Daily Examiner were honoured to share the stories of more than 30 people involved in this tragedy. The result of this seven-month project was a podcast series complimented by an exclusive series of feature stories which delved into the personal accounts of those affected by the worst road crash in the Valley's history.

This investigation series can be found HERE or listen to the podcast below: