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Pedal to the metal at Lions’ rip-roaring track day

The sun smiled down on Sandown Raceway on the first Sunday of July, setting perfect conditions for The Lions Club of Warrandyte’s 22nd edition of In The Driver’s Seat.

This annual event gives visually impaired persons (VIPs) the opportunity to get behind the wheel and drive a few laps of the raceway, under the supervision of a qualified driving instructor.

In Victoria, drivers need to have a Visual Acuity of 6/12 which is measured by reading the letters on an eye chart positioned six metres away. For those who are visually impaired, the inability to read this chart means they are not legally able to drive.

For people who have passed their driving test, the loss of their licence can exacerbate their sense of loss of freedom.

In The Driver’s Seat at Sandown is therefore a high point on each participant’s calendar and each year, the event expands as new VIPs sign up and previous participants return to, once again, get behind the wheel.

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John Pope, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in 2013; a rare, degenerative, inherited eye disease with symptoms which include reduced vision in low light and tunnel vision.

“I had been driving for about 40 years…I drove taxis for 20 years, I drove trucks, it was a big part of my life.”

John explained how a trip to the ophthalmologist, five years ago, had suddenly dissected an activity which was a big part of his life.

“The ophthalmologist asked me if my wife had driven me here, I said yes and she said ‘well she’s driving you home’ and that was it.”

Throughout the day, VIPs told their stories of how accidents and degenerative eye diseases had forced them out of the driver’s seat and one thing was clear, days such as this allow them to experience the pleasure of driving once again, something which they clearly miss and is why they keep coming back year after year.

“This is my third time here,” said John.

Ken Gunning stopped driving in 1983 due to his degrading eyesight and after hearing about the day, first came along in 2000.

Ken travels down from Ballarat each year to attend this event, so I asked him what compels him to come back year-after-year.

“The idea that I can have a drive, on my own, without being on the road doing something silly.

“[Out on the track] the speed doesn’t worry me; this afternoon I ended up going over 100kph but if I hadn’t it would not have been a problem — it is more about being in control of the car.”

Ken remembers busloads of VIPs coming in from Geelong, Castlemaine and Bendigo in previous years and although numbers today may not be as high as in the past, Lions Club volunteers and driving instructors turn up, every year to give a sizable group of VIPs some quality track time.

When getting behind the wheel, each VIP has a conversation with the instructor before taking the car onto the track, the instructor assesses the extent of their vision and driving experience and tailors their instructions to that person’s specific needs.

These needs vary from person to person and can mean as little as saying “on” or “off”, while the instructor changes gears, and “brake”, to more complex instructions which may include distance to the corner, when to turn and how much to turn.

It is clear the instructors get as much out of this day as the VIPs.

“I found out about this about 10 years ago and have been back most years since,” said Rowan White, a Melbourne based driving instructor.

“Initially I got an awful lot out of it because one has to be really precise and establish a rapport with a vision impaired person, with any driver, but particularly with a vision impaired driver… it really helped me refine the way I assess people of what they can do and what I can give back to them.”

The event was also supported by Vision Australia, a not-for-profit organisation which supports blind and low vision Australians in helping them become more independent.

Vision Australia’s Access Technology Specialist, Elise Lonsdale was there on the day.

“Because I am vision impaired myself, I’ve not been behind the wheel of a car for a long, long time and it is one of the things I have always wanted to do… and realistically one can’t with low vision, so I took the opportunity today to get in on the fun and I was on the first drive and had a ball.”

Vision Australia’s attendance and coverage of the day by both Channel Nine and Channel Ten brought welcomed publicity to the day. In The Driver’s Seat is the brain child of the Lions Club of Warrandyte.

Pete Watts set up the day 22 years ago when his vision was damaged by glaucoma and Pete became aware of the debilitating effect of vision impairment.

From that first event to now, and into the future, driving instructors bring along their cars and give their time for free to these VIPs, to give back a piece of their old life for a few laps. Murray Rowland, 56, began to lose his eyesight at the age of 17.

“Now I don’t see past my nose; I just see dark and light perception.

“What I get out of today is what the sighted take for granted — driving a motor car every day.

“Going down the straight…and hearing the roar of the motor and knowing I am in control of it, not the driving instructor or someone else, is just a really exciting and fun time.”

A self-confessed lead foot, the smile on Murray’s face speaks volumes about what this day means to the visually impaired and blind.

“The smile will be there on my face for a week…and I just thank everybody who puts it together because it is just an awesome experience…we do not get this chance except for this one day of the year.”

I was given an opportunity to join one of the VIPs on their run of laps.

Strapped in to the back seat trying to hold the camera steady while the driving instructor and the VIP tested our nerves as we accelerated towards 100kph on the front and back straights was better than any theme park thrill ride and the joy in the voice of my VIP driver, John, was infectious.

After seven laps of accelerating, braking, turning and overtaking — at speed — I am not sure if the driver had more fun or I did.

The excitement was exhilarating and I can see why people like John come back year after year.

However, there is more to the day than just driving instructors assisting the visually impaired to relive the joy of driving.

A contingent of classic cars and the Ulysses Motorcycle Club were also in attendance to take anybody there on a hot lap around the track in a variety of vehicles.

The Ulysses Club have been coming to the event since 2012.

“It’s the children, mainly, that brings us here,” said Homer, Ulysses Club member and the club’s liaison at the event.

“We just like seeing their faces smile when they’ve gone for a ride, it gives us a buzz.”

The contribution to this event by classic car owners and the Ulysses Club make this day a great family day out for friends and family of the visually impaired and for the handful of volunteers.

“We offer rides around the track when it is our time on the track, we also offer rides around the car park and the side street.

“They get to enjoy all bits of it — they get the buzz of the speed and some may even ask if we can go a little bit faster,” said Homer.

Even though this event is run in Springvale, attracting the support of national organisations such as Vision Australia and the Ulysses Club brings in the blind and visually impaired from all over the state, and beyond, it is still, at its core, a Lions Club of Warrandyte event.

“We’ve got about 100 VIPs today,” said Jenni Dean, Lions Club of Warrandyte President.

“We’ve had people come from America just to drive around the track, they’ll even fly over from New Zealand — I think it is fantastic.”

After more than 20 years of running this event, the organisational workflow is very efficient which is lucky as year on year the Lions Club of Warrandyte seems to get smaller and smaller with only a handful of current members in both the Lions and the Leos.

“We’d love it if people out there would want to join the Lions Club in Warrandyte, they too could then get an experience like this,” said Jenni.

Bolstered by the support of Nillumbik, Park Orchards and Noble Park Lions Clubs and a handful of volunteers from within the community, the Warrandyte Lions were able to put together another brilliant day at Sandown and both the attending VIPs and myself look forward to coming back next year.

Opening the door to reconciliation

THE COUNCIL chambers’ gallery was filled with friends, family and colleagues on April 24 as Doctor Jim Poulter was presented with Manningham’s Key to the City.

Jim’s important works with Reconciliation Manningham, as a social advocate and as a member of Manningham’s University of the Third Age is the reason Council chose to recognise him with one of the highest honours they can bestow.

Many Diary readers will recognise Jim’s name from his Indigenous history column, Birrarung Stories.

Manningham Mayor Andrew Conlon had this to say before presenting Jim with his award:

“Jim has made a significant contribution to the reconciliation movement.
“Jim has worked closely with Aboriginal Elders and Indigenous organisations to produce educational material on Aboriginal history and cultural practices… has published 25 books, including several acclaimed Aboriginal-themed children’s books, and sold more than 70,000 copies in the past 30 years.
“This includes several acclaimed Aboriginal themed children’s books.
“Jim was also a founding member of Doncare and the Manningham Community Health Centre.
“Since retirement, Jim continues to contribute to the community, giving talks on Aboriginal history and heritage as well as conducting history walks along the Yarra River in Manningham.”

“This is a vehicle to do more — if they are going to give me a key to the city, well it’s got to unlock something, even if it is only their minds.”

At an intimate reception held in the Manningham function rooms following the council meeting, Jim spoke about the significance of his award and his feeling that this is a positive step forward in recognising the rights of Indigenous Australians.

“It’s gratifying to have achievements recognised, but the reality is nobody achieves anything without the help and support of family, friends and colleagues.

“Life’s a journey and we are all involved in journeys with each other and some of our common journeys are for a short time, a long time or sometimes a lifetime,” he said gesturing to his wife of 60 years.

Jim later expanded on the significant role his wife and family have played in enabling him to give in the way he has and how his wife is there to “hose me down every now and again when I get too exuberant”.

Jim concluded his thank you speech with his vision of the future of reconciliation in Manningham.

“This is not the culmination of anything, this is the start of the next phase and gives us the opportunity to get the view of council of what we will be doing next, to make sure that the myth of terra nullius is put to bed in Manningham.

“Council has established a reputation as the leading municipality in reconciliation… so tonight is about building on that.”

Telstra outage hits North Warrandyte

AN UNFORTUNATE sequence of events, coupled with ageing infrastructure, have left a large number of North Warrandyte residents without landline phones and ADSL internet for almost a fortnight.

On May 9 a contractor working on the bridge project damaged a hydrant near Kangaroo Ground-Warrandyte Road causing a water main to rupture, which left residents on both sides of the river without water for several hours.

The ensuing flood necessitated single lane working at the bridge while Yarra Valley Water (YVW) attended and repaired the fracture which led to further misery to motorists who are already frustrated by the road congestion in and around Warrandyte.

Dona Tantirimudalige, General Manager, Distribution Services at YVW advised us “Permanent repairs were completed and water supply restored as quickly as possible, with no further works required.

“We thank the community for their patience while these works were carried out.”

Unfortunately the flood of water found its way into an important Telstra pit containing a 400-pair cable and damaged both the connections and the cable itself which has to be replaced leaving residents with no phone service and no or very slow-speed ADSL internet.

Residents had been complaining to their phone/internet suppliers about problems with their service since May 3 so it is assumed that water had already seeped into this pit before the great flood of May 9.

Loretta Willaton, Telstra Area General Manager, tells the Diary “We have up to 170 landline and internet customers without service in the Warrandyte area.

“Problems were first reported to us from May 5.

“We have had a major cable damaged and contractors are working daily to replace 150 metres of cable and join two separate ends.

“The work is complex and in a difficult area to access and completion is tentatively scheduled for May 16; however it may be restored sooner.

“We are sorry for the inconvenience this is causing and are working as quickly as possible to get customers back online.”

Vince Punaro, VicRoads Regional Director, Metro North West advised “VicRoads is aware of the issue of a burst fire hydrant in Warrandyte on Wednesday May 9.

“As soon as we were made aware of the issue, we worked quickly with the contractor, Melbourne Water and Yarra Valley Water and notified emergency services to minimise the impact on the community.”

Featured photo posted on Facebook Warrandyte Business and Community Page by Clive Rixon, May 9.

Full bridge closure this weekend: how to get around

After numerous postponements, the full closure of the Warrandyte Bridge is set to happen this weekend.

The works between May 4 and May 7 will include:

  • installing supports for the downstream bridge widening works
  • further preparation works for bridge strengthening
  • roadworks and clearing to prepare the road and surrounds for further works

Being the first weekend in May, it is also the Warrandyte Riverside Market.

To accommodate this, the following timetable for bridge closures has been put in place:

10pm, Friday May 4 — 5am, Saturday May 5

One lane of the bridge will be closed, with traffic management onsite, to help keep the traffic moving.

5am Saturday May 5 — 3pm Saturday May 5

The Warrandyte Bridge will be open as usual, this should reduce the impact of bridgeworks to stall holders and visitors of the Warrandyte Riverside Market.

3pm Saturday May 5 — 5am Monday May 7

Full closure of the bridge to vehicular traffic.

Cyclists and pedestrians will still be able to cross the bridge, under the direction of traffic management.

Although the Total Fire Ban period has officially ended in both Manningham and Nillumbik, VicRoads stress that scheduled bridgeworks may be modified/postponed to ensure the public safety and the efficiency of the emergency services is not impacted by bridge widening.

With a number of local events taking place this weekend, including the Kellybrook Cider Festival and Nillumbik Artists Open Studios, additional journey planning may be required.

Traffic diversions

 Both private and public transport will be affected by these works.

 Car

VicRoads have provided a map illustrating the traffic detours.

There will be four detours in place; (purple, green, yellow and orange).

All the detours start/finish on Main Street, Eltham, north of the river and cross the Fitzsimons Lane Bridge.

People travelling to Warrandyte are encouraged to follow the purple diversion which takes them down Heidelberg-Warrandyte Road.

For those travelling to Park Orchards and Warranwood and the South Warrandyte/Ringwood borders; the green diversion along Reynolds Road and Falconer Road is suggested.

For everyone else looking to travel between Eltham, Kangaroo Grounds and beyond, and Everywhere South and East of Ringwood, the yellow diversion (along EastLink) or the orange diversion (Box Hill and Whitehorse Road) is advised.

Full details of the diversion routes can be found under the diversion map.

 

Detour map (key)

  • Purple route: Main Road, Porter Street, Heidelberg-Warrandyte Road
  • Green route: Main Road, Fitzsimons Lane, Reynolds Road, Falconer Road
  • Yellow route: Main Road, Fitzsimons Lane, Williamsons Road, Tram Road, Eastern Freeway, Eastlink (toll road), Whitehorse Road
  • Orange route: Main Road, Fitzsimons Lane, Williamsons Road, Whitehorse Road OR Main Road, Fitzsimons Lane, Reynolds Road, Springvale Road, Whitehorse Road

Bus

During the bridge closure, PTV bus services 578 and 579 (Warrandyte Reserve to Eltham Station) WILL NOT CROSS the Warrandyte Bridge.

Passengers wishing to travel on the 578/579 can access the busses at the following bus stops north of the bridge:

578 – Research-Warrandyte Road/Bradleys Lane

579 – Kangaroo Ground-Warrandyte Road/Research-Warrandyte Road

According to the Public Transport Victoria (PTV) website, PTV do not anticipate any disruption to the 906 and 364 bus services.

The Warrandyte Diary will keep an eye on the forthcoming bridgeworks and communicate any changes via our website and on social media.

Happy outcome for river rescue

WE ARE BOMBARDED, on a daily basis, with all the horrors that occur in the world, along with the irresponsible and sometimes very awful things one person is capable of doing to another.

So, it is always extremely uplifting and hope filling, to hear the good side of human nature and how the safety or survival of a fellow human being can set a heroic deed into action.

On a Sunday afternoon in early March, Liz Marsh was enjoying her run along the river when she heard some cries for help and saw a young man; face down in the deep section of the river.

With split seconds to think, Liz’s lifeguard knowledge — not used for many decades — and her kayaking experience kicked in.

With shoes off, Liz headed into the water.

As she approached the young man, she was joined by Michael Wines. Michael and Liz instinctively worked as a team, with Michael flipping the young man on his back, allowing Liz to apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while they were still in the river.

Jeff Smith then assisted with the exhaustive swim to the shore and a group of people lifted the young man up the steep bank to safety.

During this time, Liz had called out for someone to call 000 and to her relief, another Warrandyte community member, Joanne Milic was speaking to the ambulance dispatcher.

Liz then ensured that her patient — in a semi-conscious state — was placed in the recovery position, enabling Liz to clear his mouth and keep his airway open until the paramedics arrived.

Several other helpers assisted with the onshore recovery, such as fetching a defibrillator and placing a blanket over the young man.

Six ambulance officers arrived, working on the young man, until he could eventually be taken to Box Hill hospital.

Saving this young man was a wonderful joint effort, but was triggered by Liz’s cool-headedness.

Her background, her first aid training and the fact that she is a former Outdoor Education leader, do not take away from her brave decision — at 54 and with a family of her own — to jump in the river and save this young man while continuing to direct his rescue.

It was not until Liz got home and had a hot shower that the reality hit her and shock set in.

Although many of us would aid and assist to the best of our abilities, not many of us could carry out such a heroic deed.

There is a mother and a father out there somewhere who will be forever grateful to Liz and the other rescuers.

Thanks to Senior Sergeant Stewart Henderson, Liz has been able to make contact with the young man she rescued.

He is fully recovered from his ordeal and Liz is still hoping to connect with him soon in Warrandyte and “give him a big hug”.

Liz has contacted Dr. Bernadette Matthews PhD, Principle Research Associate at Life Saving Victoria, who informed her that there were six drownings in the Yarra river in Warrandyte from July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2017.

Although there are no statistics on non-fatal incidents (hospitalisations), previous research indicated that for every drowning there are two non-fatal incidents.