I was at a meeting in Cobargo one Monday afternoon in August last year. A committee member was running late. Eventually she arrived, grim-faced; there’d been an accident at the stock crossing on the Bermagui-Cobargo Road. A little boy had been hit by a car after getting off the school bus.
The next day I heard that the boy, ten-year-old Noa Jessop, had died of his injuries. And soon it filtered through that another of my friends, Rosemary, had been one of the first at the scene, and that she’d performed CPR on the child while waiting for the ambulance.
Rosemary’s a Buddhist scholar, with a doctorate in spirituality and leadership and a strong connection with land and community. She was on her way home from an event called Death Café—a gathering of people wanting to talk about death, a subject we shy away from so often. There would have been a few people stuck at that roadblock who were on their way home from the Death Café.
Like many in our small community that week, I was immobilised. All I could think to do was to call Rod Dunne. Rod’s a builder. In fact that’s how I met him—he did a lot of work on my old house many years ago. He’s a local Tai Chi teacher. And he was also intimately involved in a road death, in 2015.
Rod was driving his ute north from Bermagui when an approaching motorcyclist took a bend too fast and veered onto Rod’s side of the road. Rod tried to swerve but there was little room to move and the bike collided with his vehicle at the point where the tray of the ute extended out behind the cab. Rod stopped and ran back to the rider. Both his legs had been torn off. Rod held his hand and kept talking to him, but he died very quickly.
Months after Rod’s collision I saw him in the street. We talked through the incident and the aftermath. Rod told me that among the flashbacks he was experiencing, the strongest was the moment a split second before the collision, when he and the rider locked gazes, gripped—it seemed to Rod—with a shared awareness of what was unfolding. He also told me that, a year later, the investigating police officer still rang him every couple of weeks just to see how he was tracking.
But I rang Rod that day, after Noa’s death, because I thought he might have something to offer Rosemary. He hadn’t heard of her involvement, but agreed. Since then, I’ve learned, Rod has supported the young driver of the car that killed Noa. A beer and a chat, now and then. It’s a small club: those who’ve been involuntarily but closely involved in others’ tragic ends—sudden, untimely deaths. It’s an intimate association, one you wouldn’t want to join.
Months later, I still think of Rod, holding the hand of the young motorcyclist under the spotty gums that evening, as the life bled out of him. And my heart lurches too for Rosemary, present at that profound moment at the end of young Noa’s life. I picture her working, willing against fate for a breath, for a pulse. That little chest, those blessed hands.