Let’s take the scenic route,’ I smiled to my daughter, Trinity, then 13.
We’d had a day out at Buchan Caves, close to our home in Victoria. By now it was late afternoon, and we were feeling peckish.
‘We can grab some food on the way,’ I said, choosing the drive that followed the Snowy River.
The road ran along the edge of a cliff. Spotting a sign for more caves, I kept my eyes peeled for the turn-off.
‘Oh, I think we’ve missed it,’ I remarked, passing a hidden entrance.
Pulling up, I checked the road was clear and started to do a U-turn.
But as I reversed, I felt the back of the car slide. That’s odd, I thought. The road was wide enough and our car was small.
Trying to move forward again, it was as if the back wheels had no traction.
What was going on? Every time I tried to go, we slipped further.
The ground’s giving way! I realised.
To my horror, I saw the passenger side was hanging over a slope. ‘Trinity,’ I said, trying to stay calm. ‘I think we’re stuck.’
Wanting her to be safe if the car slipped further over the ledge, I asked her to get out on to the embankment.
‘Take your phone,’ I said. ‘We should call the fire brigade to move the car.’
Gingerly, she opened the passenger side car door. To my amazement, she then disappeared from view with a jump.
Where’s she gone? I thought. ‘It’s steep Mum!’ she called. ‘I’ll need to climb up to get to the road.’
We were closer to the edge than I’d thought.
I’m sitting in a car, halfway off a cliff, I realised, stunned.
Trying to shift my weight towards the road, I shouted to my girl. ‘You’re going to have to call Triple-0 Trin,’ I said, still trying to sound calm. ‘I can’t get out.’
Perched precariously, I was terrified the car would fall if I moved a muscle. Dialling, Trinity explained what was happening.
Suddenly, the car lurched.
‘She’s falling!’ I heard Trinity scream hysterically.
Then, the car was tumbling over and over. It’s like I’m in a washing machine, I thought, as I gained speed.
There was barely time to panic. It was so surreal.
The slope led to a sheer drop, then another slope.
Let go! urged a voice in my head. Let go! So I forced myself to go as limp as I could.
Then, I blacked out. Coming to, I was still in the car.
Pain tore through my body and my right arm was in agony. The vehicle was upside down and my seatbelt had snapped.
Lying against the roof, my battered legs were sticking out of a shattered window.
Becoming aware of the sound of rescue workers, I heard one approaching.
‘Where’s Trinity?’ I croaked.
So stunned I was still alive, he jumped when I spoke and smacked his head on the gear stick above us.
The team assured me Trinity was safe and I’d see her when I was freed. It took two hours of sawing and cutting the twisted metal before I was finally stretchered out.
‘I’m okay,’ I told Trinity as I was loaded into a helicopter.
‘Call your dad. I’ll see you soon.’
Lying in the chopper, I couldn’t believe my luck.
Rescue services would usually have been hours away, but they’d been training at the caves. If they hadn’t been, I’d have bled to death.
And, because I’d relaxed, the impact hadn’t caused fatal injuries. I should be dead, I thought.
For two days, surgeons battled to save my arm from amputation by re-building it with metal plates.
My eye socket was shattered, my spleen and aorta were torn and my head and hip had suffered huge blows. But I was alive.
When my injuries were less frightening, Trinity came to see me. ‘I love you,’ she said, gently hugging me.
‘I’m so proud of you,’ I told her.
Brave Trinity had watched me tumble 200 metres and crash land. Keeping her cool, she managed to scramble down the cliff face after me, clutching her phone.
Until rescuers arrived, she didn’t know if I was alive or dead. The crew were amazed she’d made it to me.
‘You’re a mountain goat!’ they said, staring at the rock face in disbelief.
After 12 days, I was allowed home where my ex-husband, Trinity’s dad, Andy, 48, cared for me.
Sadly, six months on, I’ve lost some movement in my arm and may always suffer hip pain. But there are psychological scars, too.
Naturally, Trinity is now very wary of heights and sometimes feels anxious that I’ll leave her.
‘I’ll be here for a long time,’ I tell her. ‘Thanks to you.’
I couldn’t be prouder of my girl. When my life was hanging in the balance, she truly saved the day.