A rapid response to the Hunter Valley bus tragedy

By Brian Coffey
RAWCS Eastern Region Assistant Co-ordinator

A fairytale wedding at the Wandin Valley Winery, Hunter Valley, over the long weekend in June was a special occasion for two young high school sweethearts, and their friends from the Warrandyte Cricket Club, Singleton Roosters AFL Club and the mining industry.

Alex Tigani, the Roosters women’s coach and a member of the Rotary Club of Singleton Sunrise, was MC, electing to travel in a hired coach to and from the wedding.

At 11.30pm, the bus carrying 17 female and 18 male guests, tipped over on a roundabout, mounting the guard rail. The horror of the accident quickly unfolded as civilians and emergency services rushed to the scene, confronted with mass carnage, in the darkness and fog of the night.

A crime scene was declared as 25 passengers were conveyed to Newcastle and Sydney hospitals by road and air. By Monday morning, it was revealed that six female and four male passengers had died; the worst bus crash in Australia since 1994.

The Rotary Club of Singleton Sunrise commenced a Rotary Australia Benevolent Society (RABS) application and once registered was receiving funds the following day. The NSW Government endorsed the project, with a pledge of $100,000.

However, concerns around the management of the funds came from social media, the Warrandyte community, Rotary and RAWCS. In response, personal and Zoom meetings were held, as a committee from Warrandyte Cricket Club, Singleton Roosters, the Singleton Mayor and the Rotary Clubs of Warrandyte and Singleton Sunrise was formed. A plan was quickly established, gaining rapid approved access to all the victims’ details.

With positive multimedia response and interviews, the funds quickly soared, and distribution commenced within two weeks. Overall, $1,480,808 was equitably distributed between June and October 2023, with tireless efforts by Pauline and Belinda at the RAWCS office. The mining sector and small businesses accounted for over half those funds.

In October, a public memorial service in honour of those affected by the tragedy was a chance to meet some of the grateful victims.

Clubs and districts can learn from what was probably one of the highest and fastest Rotary disaster fundraisers in history. Having advised on 13 RABS projects, I encourage members to test how your local community can benefit from engaging with RAWCS for local and international projects.

MAIN PICTURE: Banger McBride lost both his wife Nadene and daughter Kyah in the accident. Kyah played on the local Aussie Rules team coached by Rotary Club of Singleton Sunrise member Alex Tigani.