At Kay and Bill Anderson’s Balgownie home, the cupboards heave and the shelves seem to sag with the results of decades worth of careful collecting.
Kay, says Bill, is a perfectionist – a creator of fine porcelain dolls and figurines, a gatherer of op shop bone china.
She brought the stuff home – fine saucers and cups, matching pieces of crystal – to be stacked on dust-free shelves and squeezed into what little space was left. Bill would sigh and make wry jokes about how much crockery the two of them could ever possibly use.
She came over and gave me - I'll never forget it - gave me a cuddle and a kiss, and I just said to her, 'well we'll see you up the road'. It was the last time I saw her.- Bill Anderson
A picture of Kay hangs in the entryway, retouched to show the colour of her cheeks at the couple’s Church of England, Corrimal, wedding ceremony 54 years ago.
Bill, 79, holds the picture close to his chest now.
“I wish I could hold her in person,” he told the Mercury.
The Andersons were driving in separate cars from Balgownie to their daughter Kylie’s Queensland home on Tuesday morning when Bill realised he had lost sight of his wife’s distinctive lime green Ford Fiesta, just north of Telegraph Point on the Pacific Highway.
It was 8.50am and 72-year-old Kay, having already driven for more than five hours, had allowed Kylie to take the wheel.
Kay instantly fell asleep in the backseat, with her six-year-old granddaughter McKinley at her side and her grandson Riley, 17, in the front passenger seat.
Bill soon saw the green car in the traffic ahead. He kept it in his sights as he continued north for the next four hours, travelling with grandson Byron, 12, and his young friend.
The trio was approaching Grafton when Byron took a phone call from Riley in the other car, and relayed a message.
“Pop, Riley’s telling me to tell you to pull over,” Byron said.
“I’m not pulling over – we’ll catch up to them,” Bill replied, still eyeing the Fiesta.
“Pop,” Byron said, firmly now, “Riley’s saying to pull over.”
On the roadside, the brothers’ conversation continued, before Byron’s voice spiked.
“Deceased! Who’s deceased?”
It was Kay, back at Telegraph Point, her Ford Fiesta crumpled under the weight of an oncoming B-double, her critically injured granddaughter still at her side.
Up ahead, a lime green car continued on, with a stranger inside. It wasn’t Kay’s after all.
The crash occurred between Pear Tree and Bill Hill roads, on a two-lane stretch of road where four trucks had collided two weeks earlier.
Another sedan and a ute were also involved in the collision.
Police are now investigating how Kay’s northbound car ended up in the path of the southbound truck. Dashcam footage captured by the truck driver is expected to assist.
Her family believes Kay effectively saved McKinley’s life, as her body folded over the girl’s on impact.
McKinley suffered a brain injury and would later be placed in an induced coma to aid her recovery.
The highway would be closed for seven hours as paramedics helped the injured and cleared debris. A woman who had been travelling in one of the other cars suffered a broken pelvis and a broken leg.
After observing the wreckage, police would tell the Andersons they didn’t know how anyone travelling in the Fiesta had survived. Yet Riley and his mother walked away, virtually “without a scratch”.
Bill, a recently retired volunteer in policing, has little interest at the moment in how the crash unfolded.
Kay is gone. But he sees her careful hand in everything at their Balgownie home. He speaks with pride of her career. She began as a teller at Wollongong’s IMB branch in 1968, then worked her way up to become its first female branch manager.
Earlier, she had been a receptionist at Wollongong Engineering, where he worked as a draftman. Asked what he first noticed about her, he replies, “What I didn't notice. An absolutely gorgeous person. Beautiful. I loved her very dearly”.
They were the first couple to have recorded bells at the Corrimal church made available to them on their wedding day, Bill says, and as a result passers-by assumed their’s was a “posh” wedding.
At Grafton, eager to reach his wife’s side, Bill turned the car around. At one point he realised he was speeding and, thinking of the boys in his care, forced himself to slow down to 80kms.
He reached Port Macquarie Base Hospital by the afternoon and opted not to formally identify his wife from behind a see-through pane. “And the police don't usually allow it, but they allowed me to go in and touch her and give her a cuddle and a kiss,” he said.
“They allowed me to go in and give her a final hug. I was quite happy about that.”
It was Bill that the family had worried about during the long drive north, when he had started to drift on the roadway.
At their urging, he had taken an hour’s sleep before the family pulled into a rest stop to once again swap drivers, not long before the crash. Bill keeps replaying the short exchange he and Kay shared before they got back in their cars.
“She came over and gave me - I'll never forget it - gave me a cuddle and a kiss, and I just said to her, 'well we'll see you up the road',” he said. “It was the last time I saw her.”