LOOKING BACK: The truck involved in the 1989 Cowper bus crash in which 20 people died.
LOOKING BACK: The truck involved in the 1989 Cowper bus crash in which 20 people died. Grafton Daily News

Snapshot of 'sheer carnage'

'SHEER carnage' were the only words on the mind of veteran Northern Star photographer Darcy McFadden as he arrived at the devastating scene of the Cowper bus crash.

“We didn't know what to expect. It was the worst thing I'd ever seen, just the immensity of it,” said the man who had doubled as Lismore's police forensic photographer in the 1950s and 1960s.

“It was just devastating to realise so many people lost their lives in such a way, some on their way home for Christmas.”

Northern Star journalist Rory Medcalf wrote at the time: 'Snapshots of laughing teenagers, a fragment of a pink straw hat, a torn Australian flag, a child's shoe - it was items like these scattered amid the twisted metal that brought home the tragedy'.

The now retired photographer yesterday said he could still shut his eyes and see 'every bit of it'. He recounted the chilling front page photo that appeared in The Northern Star the day after.

“You can see everyone standing by waiting to see what they would find when they lifted the wreck,” he said.

“We didn't know what we'd find. There were no bodies, but the ambos still had a gruesome task.

“You just don't think too much about these things. You turn up and do your job and try to be sensitive to people's feelings, but you realise what a fragile world it is.”

“It was different in those days, we didn't get counselling,” Mr McFadden said, going on to describe the close-knit Northern Star workplace that he drew much of his support from.

“We were like a really good family. We had a great rapport and got on really well.

“I got on well with the police too and they were good to me. My mate (police officer and former mayor) Harold Fredericks said to me after the ordeal, 'You know Darc, we never had any counselling either'.”

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