An annual fundraising paddle from Coraki to Ballina will have added significance this year following the death of four young people in a crash on the Pacific Highway north of Ballina this week.
The Paddle for Life group, a sub-committee of the Far North Coast Canoe Club, will again be raising funds for a driver education program being developed for the region, to be based in Lismore.
The driving program was conceived following the deaths of four other young people in a crash near Broken Head in 2006.
They were Bryce Wells, Corey New, Mitchell Eveleigh and Paul Morris.
Paddle for Life secretary Richard White said the crash this week was the type of tragedy the Southern Cross Lads group was trying to prevent.
Rob Wells, father of Bryce, and founder of the Southern Cross LADS (Learn About Driving Skills) group, described this week’s accident as devastating.
Former Ballina High School students William Manton and Richard Wells died, along with their friends Jessica Camidge and Samantha Enright, on Wednesday after hitting a tree near Newrybar.
‘It brought everything back. Are hearts are with their parents and friends because we know exactly how it feels,’ Mr Wells said.
‘These accidents effect the whole community and it’s happening too often on our country roads.
‘This region has the highest fatality rate in rural New South Wales.’
The LADs group has been raising funds for a number of years to construct a driver education facility on the outskirts of Lismore.
He said the facility would teach students from years 10 to 12 safe driving techniques, and would also be open to older drivers.
Mr Wells said the land had been purchased and a development application approved.
‘A construction certificate is set to be lodged with the Lismore City Council in about three weeks,’ he said.
‘We can’t keep losing our kids,” Mr Wells said.
‘I researched it after our boys were killed and the cost of just one fatality was set at $1.83 million with emergency services, investigations, court cases and compensation. That figure would be $2.25 million now,’ he said.
‘It raises the question of why are we spending this money after the event instead of trying to prevent these accidents.’
He said the LADs group was grateful for the support of the Paddle for Life crew.
For those interested in taking up the challenge, the paddle takes about a day and a half, with three legs: Coraki to Woodburn, Woodburn to Broadwater, and Broadwater to Ballina.
Different people choose different legs to complete, or take part for the whole journey, with an overnight stay at a private property in Broadwater, and with meals supplied by services clubs along the way.
‘There will be a dragon boat taking part on the Sunday, along with stand-up paddlers,’ Mr White said.
‘There’s usually a mixture of craft and they are all welcome as long as there are no motors.’
The paddle starts of Saturday, 13 September and ends on Sunday, 14 September.
For information on the paddle go to www.paddleforlife.org.au, or to southerncrosslads.org.au for the driver training program.