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TOPIC: 1966 bus crash (Vic.)

1966 bus crash (Vic.) 20 Jan 2020 11:10 #205826

  • Roderick Smith
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How a fatal bus crash connects Barrie Cassidy and Harry Frydenberg December 14, 2019. 11 comments
Barrie Cassidy and Harry Frydenberg sit side by side in a Melbourne restaurant, learning for the first time of a connection they share from more than half a century ago.
Sometimes time and circumstance collapse and we are brought to understand how few are the degrees by which we are separated.
A surprise connection: Harry Frydenberg, centre, with his son, Josh Frydenberg, and Barrie Cassidy.Credit:Simon Schluter
And so it was for Cassidy, one of Australia’s best-known journalists, and Harry Frydenberg, internationally respected surgeon, still operating at 77 - and dad of the current Australian Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg.
Though their lives when they were young had intersected in a chaos of suffering, death and heroism on a single winter’s night in 1966, Cassidy and Dr Frydenberg met for the first time this week.
They were brought together because of a newspaper article I wrote a few months ago to coincide with Cassidy’s retirement from his ABC television show, Insiders.
The article mentioned he had worked night shift in a country telephone exchange when he was a schoolboy, and how his most frantic night followed a crash between a bus and a truck on the Hume Highway which had caused multiple fatalities.
The story revived all sorts of old memories in the Frydenberg household.
Josh Frydenberg, astonished at the previously unknown conjunction of events in the lives of his father and Cassidy long before he was born, arranged for a meeting over lunch. Having written the article that brought the connection to light, I went along too.
Politics was set aside and a glass of wine eased the way into a distant past.
Harry Frydenberg related how, aged 23 and employed as a junior doctor in a country hospital, he was blearily driving his car on the Hume Highway through the early hours of Monday, June 20, 1966.
He had spent the weekend in Sydney romancing the woman who - five years later - would become Josh Frydenberg’s mother, the teacher and psychologist Erica Strausz. Harry was heading back to work as a first-year resident at the Mooroopna Base Hospital, near Shepparton in north-central Victoria.
At the same time Barrie Cassidy, aged 16, was trying to get some sleep on a bunk in the telephone exchange in his hometown, the north-east Victorian village of Chiltern.
In those days, Hume Highway was a single lane in both directions, and ran just outside Chiltern, population 900. [part of the building of the 1962 Melbourne - Albury standard-gauge railway was the elimination of Hume Hwy level crossing by relocating the highway east of the railway, bypassing Chiltern and Barnawartha].
At 4am, all hell broke loose.
A Melbourne-bound bus packed with sleeping passengers ploughed into the rear of a semi-trailer on the highway just north of the village.
Cassidy was earning his keep by looking after the telephone exchange at night so he could continue attending high school during the day.
He had a mid-year English exam coming up that day. He had no reason to expect his rest would be interrupted: country folk generally respected the custom that late at night was no time to be chatting on the phone.
Suddenly, however, the phone alarm sounded with an urgency that wouldn’t stop for hours.
Young Cassidy would get no more sleep as he frantically patched through calls to police, ambulance stations and emergency workers across the north-east.
Soon enough, too, he had to contend with Melbourne reporters clamouring for details of the disaster - his first experience of the big-time media that would later dominate his career. Long before mobile phones or even automatic dialling in country districts, calls from Melbourne went to the exchange at Wangaratta and were transferred to little Chiltern.
Young Cassidy thus became a one-man communications post at the centre of one of Victoria’s worst highway disasters.
Out on the road Harry Frydenberg, piloting his seven-year-old EK Holden, was the first on a scene of smoking chaos.
“The bus had gone into the back of this semi-trailer, and the tray of the truck was actually inside the bus, level with the floor,” he recalls.
“I found an elderly man who had gone through the front windscreen of the bus and was lying under the back axle of the truck. I picked him up and was amazed that he wasn’t badly injured.
The Age's report of June 21, 1966 on the Hume Highway crash and Harry Frydenberg's heroism.Credit:Age archive
“By then other trucks had stopped and I got the drivers to smash the emergency window at the back of the bus with their crowbars, and I got inside.
“All the seats had concertinaed and the passengers’ legs had been fractured. We used the crowbars to lever the seats apart and to pull them out, with the passengers still caught in the seats.
“There was a lot of blood about the place and all the rest of it. I started binding up the fractures and the wounds and used the seats as sort of stretchers.”
It’s a modest retelling. A report the next day in The Age was headlined “Young Doctor is Hero: Saved gravely injured in 4-death crash”.
It related that “Dr H. Frydenberg worked in battlefield conditions to save the lives of three of the critically injured. Ambulance men said the doctor virtually fought his way through the wrecked interior of the bus to evacuate and treat the injured.”
Meanwhile, Barrie Cassidy’s frantic efforts patching phone lines through to emergency services eventually paid off. Chiltern had only one policeman, but soon enough, Cassidy’s work had police and ambulances howling to the scene from Wangaratta, Wodonga and Beechworth.
As the ambulances ran a shuttle service to hospitals in Wangaratta, 38 kilometres to the south-west, and Wodonga, 32 kilometres to the north-east, young Dr Frydenberg tended to those still trapped in the wreckage.
The elderly man Dr Frydenberg had pulled from beneath the truck’s axle kept up a chant: “How many dead so far, Doc?”
In the end, four passengers died that night, and another succumbed to her injuries a month later.
The wrecked tourist coach with the semitrailer in the background. The impact sheared off the coach's left side. Credit:Age archive
But young Dr Frydenberg wasn’t about to give up. Once all the survivors were away in ambulances, he drove to Wangaratta Hospital and assisting the local surgeon, Dr Hal Stanistreet, spent the entire day operating on survivors.
By the time he got back to Mooroopna Hospital the next day, the newspapers were on the streets and his fellow doctors and nurses had hoisted a sign that embarrassed him: “Hero Harry Lives Here".
By that time Cassidy had switched from besieged emergency telephone operator to high school student.
At 8am that morning he was on the bus to nearby Rutherglen High School, where he managed to pass his mid-year English expression exam despite lack of sleep.
The Age's November 1966 report of the verdict in the trial of bus driver Clarence Cook. Credit:Age archive
His facility with English expression would soon enough help him into a cadetship in journalism at the Albury Border Mail, and later take him to the heights of political correspondent on the ABC and help him create Insiders, where for 18 years he interviewed leading politicians - including, naturally, Josh Frydenberg.
Dr Frydenberg (entitled these days to be called Mr, in the curious tradition of surgeons), hadn’t been dissuaded from working in battlefield conditions, it turned out. In 1967 he volunteered for service with the Israelis in the Six-Day War, but arrived too late to take part. Erica Strausz followed him to Israel, where they married. Josh was born in Melbourne in 1971.
But through the 54 years since that frenzied night at little Chiltern, neither Cassidy nor Frydenberg had any idea how their efforts had combined to save lives. Until Josh, a proud son, organised this week's lunch.
The bus driver, Clarence Cook, was acquitted in November 1966 of five charges of manslaughter and one of dangerous driving.
Related Article Barrie Cassidy is taking stock as his role on the ABC's 'Insiders' comes to an end. Barrie Cassidy: a country boy who flew in the highest circles
< www.theage.com.au/national/how-a-fatal-b...20191211-p53izr.html >


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Last edit: by Roderick Smith. Reason: Inserted the text too
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