By Andrea Madeley
On January 8th 1986 Daniel came to me in the same hospital where he would leave just 18 years later. He was in a hurry to enter the world, causing the midwife and doctors (not to mention his mum) a few anxious moments, but when he arrived, he arrived in full volume.
I was ill prepared for motherhood having had little to do with babies beforehand. But ... learn we do - and as the months drew on...and the screaming bundle began to smile and gurgle, I found myself enchanted with this mini-human that became glued to my hip.
They say life is made up of moments that lead you to take stock - change course. We lived in a small ex-trust home in Hackham West. You won't hear me speak often of Daniel's father because I refuse to relive that part of my life but I found one of those 'moments' in the face of an angry and drunk husband wanting to 'shut that crying kid up'. I stood my ground refusing to let him pass. The marriage ended shortly after. I do credit him with one thing - that man taught me survival and he taught me to stand up and fight...and...to ditch the fairytale.
By 1990 our home life began to calm and Danny settled happily into his life as the child of a working mum. He thrived at the child care centre - loved the activity and being around other kids. When I'd collect him at night on my way home, he'd merrily hop into the old ute, pulling his seat belt around nodding his head eagerly, "Jimmy...can we have Jimmy?" Jimmy Barnes was his hero and he knew most words to the songs on the Barnstorming tape. Driving along in the evening, we'd be singing along to "Working Class Man" only...we used "woman" in place of man. Sometimes the old ute would break down. "Uh oh.." he'd mutter as he automatically slid across to my side so he could jiggle the steering wheel so that I could free up the linkages under the bonnet.
Daniel had an energy about him - he was exuberant and serene at the same time. A contradiction in terms - a smile mighty and bright with eyes deep and tranquil. Even in these tender years he seemed to understand so much. He made motherhood easy.
In 1991 we moved into a house at Aldinga Beach and this is where Daniel grew up. He did have a good role model in Tony who joined our lives at this point. Tony was too young to play Dad...but he did a pretty decent job at being a big brother. That suited me - Danny was my responsibility. It was just the way it was. We shared some happy years early on but probably battled in the end for longer than we maybe should have. Regardless, good moral fibre and a big heart were what made up the man...and these qualities rubbed off to the benefit of Daniel.
Danny did okay at school but he was never going to be an academic. He was more hands on ... interactive. It drove him nuts to read a book but he could pull an appliance apart and remember where every peace went - well almost. He used to go to before and after school care - that drove him nuts too. It was early 1994 that he started to bug me that he was old enough to walk home with his friends and be home alone until 5.30pm. He wore me down. I agreed we'd try one day a week and see how it went. The rules were that he had to walk straight home 'with' friends who lived on our street - and he had to call me when he got home - and he was not to open the door to anyone - and he had to stay home - and he could not have anyone over to play until I got home.
I got the call at work - I remember it because everyone at work knew on account of the fact that I was climbing the walls. Yep, he was home safe and sound. We had a big German Shepherd and a Kelpie cross in those days - once home I felt he would be okay. I left work a little early and rushed home. I swore all the way home...too young, anything can happen, he'll electrocute himself or burn the house down.
I walked in the door (it was locked...good lad) and immediately my nose was alerted to ... a smell. I peaked around the entry hall and saw Danny standing on a small stool peeling carrots. The smell? Is that carpet powder? Gosh ... I looked around and realised he'd vacuumed! The table was set for dinner - perfectly...and...and I could hear the kettle boiling - and ... there was a coffee cup next to it just waiting for hot water!
This was a problem I had with Daniel for as long as I can remember. He was just too darned good at proving his point and I'd end up...well I'd end up losing the argument. So Mr. Independent eventually weaned himself away from child care. As he grew older he took on more and more responsibilities. We decided though that it was best for me to cook - not that he couldn't, just that spaghetti got a bit monotonous.
By 1995 I had established a strong enough presence in my new career to go solo. I started working from a home office - I became my own boss. This was a huge turning point in our lives because it allowed me to spend more time with Daniel and it gave me the ability to concentrate on one area of industry. Up until then I was selling a variety of electrical products to industry for an agent, this would mean I could focus and build on the field I enjoyed the most. It was a huge leap of faith but it was also the best decision I ever made.
We went through phases - one I recall was timber work. I decided that I wanted to spruce up the house a bit and the old furniture was ugly. New timber furniture was out of the question...but Danny and I would tip tables over at the shops to see how they were made and figured we'd give it a shot.
The whole house ended up getting the 'distressed' timber look - aside from the furniture we built (see pictures by clicking on the thumbnail) we also ended up lining the walls with timber!
Daniel later went on to honing his own skills by rebuilding motor cross bikes. His first bike cost him $300 - purchased from his Uncle Greg with money he'd saved. He pulled that bike to pieces, fixed and cleaned it until it gleamed and then sold it for $850. The following year he purchased a newer bike and tripled his money. Then in 2001, at the ripe old age of 14 he was able to buy a new bike motocross bike - and that was when he realised how dangerous they were.
It was around this time he formed some really close bonds at school. He began to look like one of the 'cool kids' slowly but surely he was beginning to fuss about his hair and what he wore. His confidence grew as he grew taller ... he'd always been a little self conscious of his build - he thought he was tubby...I thought he was perfect. Now he was stretching...and it was pimples that bothered him.
In August 2001 I took Danny and a friend riding at a motocross track in the South of Adelaide. The kids were flying around the track as I filmed with the VCR. I was filming Danny going around the track and over these jumps...over one...over two and then...nothing. There was no over three? I'd seen Danny come off a few times so pulled the camera away from my eye to get a better focus when I saw other kids getting off their bikes and running over. You don't forget those moments in a hurry. I took off down the hill, moving faster and faster the more I realised the kids were running around in a panic.
There he was laying at the bottom of the jump - as white as a ghost. I had my phone and tried to dial 000 but my brain and fingers wouldn't work together. I swore on my own bloody grave that I never wanted to go through anything like that again. There was a moment there when I had to face the possibility that I'd reached the nightmare of all nightmares and it was damned horrifying. Little did I know what lay ahead just 3 years later...
In this instance the damage was relatively minimal - the end result, a broken hip. Daniel decided bikes were not for him and sold his (luckily unharmed bike) and moved towards saving for a four wheel project.
He was absolutely gifted when it came to making something old and tired new again. There was really no limit to his ability apart from funding of course. When we started to move into cars, the need for money became a real issue.
In February 2002 we moved to McLaren Vale. For many years Danny and I had driven around dreaming about one day having a little more than a 1/4 acre block. I snapped up a gorgeous acre of land nestled amongst the vineyards. The only problem was that there was no house on it. "We'll build" he said - in much the same manner as someone would say, "We'll drive"...like it was THAT easy. "We can do this Mum...!" He made it sound so easy - live in the shed (that would end up being his of course) until the house was built - simple.
10 long months later, we moved into the house. There was such an enormous air of excitement...not to mention appreciation for simple things in life - like a decent hot shower, a kitchen with proper cupboards instead of cardboard boxes AND a toilet that you didn't have to walk through the mud to.
Danny was in love and it was at around this time I finally met Ashley. They'd been an 'item' for a while but she was terribly shy. That didn't last long though and pretty soon she became a part of the furniture. The two of them were great friends. He knew what he wanted out of life and he was pretty sure he knew what it took to get it.
This was the time he started his life as a working man. After years helping me with my business, it seemed a natural progression for Daniel to move into the engineering field. I contacted a tool-making company that I had a reasonably close liaison with, explained that my son was interested in working in the industry and would he mind if Daniel came down and had a look at what they did?
No problem...he said, but he also said there wasn't necessarily a position open at the time but he was more than welcome to come and look around. Daniel came away knowing what he wanted to do.
The next day I received a phone call from my contact - he was so impressed with Daniel that he was prepared to create an opening for him. I was bursting with pride...and relief. He was on his way...he was paving his future.
There was no way of knowing what lay ahead in little under a years time. He was full of excitement and I was brimming with pride. I can think of few times in my life since he was born where I felt such a sense of relief - like this weight had been lifted. It never dawned on me until then how much I worried about his future...
The little cottage that we built was beginning to look about as pretty as a picture post card. There was always something to do around the place.
A vivid memory now comes back to me - and this happened not that long before Daniel started his job.
I was just outside the shed by the door sanding back a small coffee table. I had decided to put some of the brick pallets to good use (waste not want not) and we needed a coffee table so I'd reckoned it would be a cute sentimental project to turn one of the older broken pallets into a keepsake.
Danny and a couple of his friends were in the shed working on cars. It was a glorious day. The dogs were all sprawled out under the tree's snoozing and I remember waving to my neighbour Dave who was himself pottering on his property (there's another strange coincidence - Dave was a Workplace Inspector). The family who owned the property up from us were also out and about.
A familiar noise started to hover overhead. There was a small helicopter that used to fly over our properties on a regular basis. I didn't know whether these were tourist scenic rides or whether it was someone surveying the vineyards, but he was a common sight with his bright red chopper and while he was always too high up to make the pilot's face, it was always evident that he would wave as he flew over.
On this day though there was a deafening bang as he approached. I immediately looked up to see where the noise had come from but my attention was diverted by the dogs leaping around in panic. By the time I was able to focus in the direction of the loud bang, there was an even louder, earth rumbling crash. There was no doubt that the chopper had crashed but my brain took a few seconds to dissect this...and it seemed like everything from that point went in slow motion.
Instinctively we all started to run up the hill. I could see people coming from all directions - many with mobile phones calling 000. As we approached the wreckage, I could see it had come down through a large gum tree and crashed on top of a shed on my neighbours property.
The people who owned the property must have been having a game of tennis because I could see men in tennis gear desperately trying to move the wreckage and free a body that was wedged underneath. I could also see a woman frantically trying to get to him to feel for a pulse. I will never forget the look on her face as she became more and more frustrated at not being able to get to him well enough. I later learned that she was a nurse. There was another body with a blanket already covering the head so it was pretty clear this person was dead.
That was the first time I had ever come so close to human death. We see it in the news on a daily basis but there's something about being in the presence of such a tragic occurrence - watching everyday people take on super human strength to help save the life of someone they didn't know. There was aviation fuel spewing out of the tanks ... and you know, the stupid thing about this was that when I saw the men were having trouble lifting the wreck off the trapped man, I suggested Daniel and Brett could help. It was actually the boys who pointed out the danger to me ... I was so focused on the whole 'life' thing that I hadn't even stopped to think about what I had just asked them to do.
Within a couple of seconds people were being told to move back in case the whole thing went up. The sirens were already evident and it was now clear the man trapped was also dead.
I didn't realise it at the time of the accident (because I never saw the faces of these two men) but I soon learned that I knew both of them - they were my customers. I had called on their business several times. The heartbreaking reality came when I realised this was the father and son team who ran a small toolmaking workshop just minutes away from my place. I was only able to put two and two together when I read the funeral notices because through the obituaries I recognised notices from other customers.
I called one of these customers a few days later - a large toolmaking firm - and we talked about the accident and what a tragic coincidence it was that this chopper that had been flying overhead and crashed so close to my home was actually someone I knew. The chap I spoke with had two boys himself and he told me about a photo taken with his boys in the chopper.
In looking back now, I wonder if there was ever any link with this tragedy and my closer liaison with this company. This was where Danny started his apprenticeship some months later.