Shepparton News

Tracking train crash details

HISTORIAN, MEDIC RELIVE HORRIFIC SOUTHERN AURORA COLLISION AT VIOLET TOWN THAT CLAIMED NINE LIVES Almost 50 years after the major Southern Aurora train crash at Violet Town, pieces of the puzzle are still coming together. Laura Briggs reports:




Dedicated historian Bruce Cumming, who heard the sound of the 1969 crash from his house aged 15, has since devoted much of his time to gathering pieces of informatio­n about the tragic event.

Last week, Mr Cumming met Des Brown, who was carrying out two years’ national service as a medic in the army when he attended the crash scene. He was then 22 years old.

Following an article published in an August edition of the The News this year in which Mr Cumming spoke about the incident and said he was seeking people who had informatio­n and recollecti­ons of the experience, Mr Brown reached out to make contact.

As they met for the first time, the pair exchanged memories and revisited the tragedy that shook the region and beyond.

Setting the scene

As a student leaving for school on Friday, February 7, 1969, Mr Cumming, then 15, was 12 km out of Violet Town when he heard the terrible sound.

‘‘I was outside just after 7 am when I heard a series of extremely loud noises over several seconds; it was quite alarming,’’ Mr Cumming said.

‘‘At that moment I didn’t know what had happened, but I soon saw smoke rise into the sky.’’

Too young to assist at the scene, Mr Cumming boarded the school bus while his parents and two older brothers made their way to the unknown incident.

‘‘We got on the bus and all of us worried our way to school,’’ he said.

Extremely concerned and unsure of just what had taken place, Mr Cumming spent his school day watching the endless stream of emergency vehicles racing down the highway.

‘‘It was a very sombre atmosphere at school as further news of the disaster trickled in,’’ he said.

While the students were among the few who did not attend the scene, hundreds rushed to do what they could.

Knowing only minimal details before he arrived at the scene, Mr Brown said he would never forget the image of the chaos when he first went around the corner.

‘‘It was a pretty horrific scene with a terrible stench and images that have stuck with me all this time,’’ he said.

With more than 40 carriages between the two trains involved in the head-on collision, the scene was enormous.

‘‘There was a hell of a lot of carnage spread over a fair area,’’ Mr Brown said.

‘‘It’s by far the worst thing I’ve ever come across.’’

He said it was lucky that only nine people died as a result.

After chasing down informatio­n and different personal perspectiv­es of the experience for nearly five decades, Mr Cumming has consistent­ly worked on stringing together the story in all its fullness.

Vital informatio­n

From passengers to volunteers, train line workers and emergency services workers, Mr Cumming continues to piece together the details.

He said most of the people involved in the incident were younger than the age of 35, therefore most would still be alive.

‘‘This is important to gather this informatio­n now while we can still get those first-hand accounts,’’ he said.

Mr Cumming said despite his early efforts, it had only been in more recent years that he had been able to learn more.

‘‘I could never find out much, a lot of people didn’t want to talk at the time,’’ he said.

‘‘In some ways I think some people are getting on and they’re becoming happy to talk about it.’’

He said, additional­ly, he had been pleased to see the word getting out and people getting in contact with him.

‘‘I probably average about four calls per week, sometimes four per day,’’ he said.

‘‘I get surprised everyday with what comes out with each new person I come across.’’

Mr Cumming said meeting with Mr Brown had enabled him to clarify details he was unsure of.

‘‘It’s a terrific thing because we as a community knew that there was some army people involved in some way but didn’t really know what that meant, so someone like Des coming forward it’s really exciting to make that contact and find out some new facts,’’ he said.

Mr Cumming said in all the photos from the event there was one vehicle that he had never been able discover the owner of.

After talking with Mr Brown, it turned out the mystery vehicle was his.

Mr Brown said he was delighted to have met Mr Cumming and assisted him by sharing another perspectiv­e of the incident.

Memorial plan

Mr Cumming said as a way of acknowledg­ing those affected by the tragedy, a commemorat­ion garden would be launched recognisin­g the 50th anniversar­y of the tragedy next February.

Mr Cumming said he hoped to have documented the decades worth of informatio­n in written form to release by the time of the event.

He hoped to be able to discover new details from people in attendance at the gathering in February and have the documentat­ion released before the 50-year anniversar­y was over. ● If you have any informatio­n on the Southern Aurora tragedy, phone Bruce Cumming on 0419 540 552.

 ??  ?? Looking back: Des Brown, who attended the Southern Aurora crash as a medic from the army, meets historian Bruce Cumming for the first time.
Looking back: Des Brown, who attended the Southern Aurora crash as a medic from the army, meets historian Bruce Cumming for the first time.
 ??  ?? Disaster: An aerial view of the collision scene in 1969.
Disaster: An aerial view of the collision scene in 1969.

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