Premier Chris Minns at a memorial service.
Ten people died in the Hunter bus crash in one of Australia's deadliest road accidents. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS
  • road accident

Grief keeps grip on region a year after bus tragedy

Alex Mitchell June 11, 2024

Trauma remains rife in Hunter Valley communities as locals mark the one-year anniversary of Australia’s deadliest road accident in decades.

Ten people were killed in the Hunter bus crash on June 11, 2023, with dozens more injured after their vehicle rolled near Greta on the way back from a wedding.

No formal commemorative events were held on Tuesday’s one-year anniversary although many left flowers at the crash site, a nondescript roundabout on the fateful route from the wedding venue of Wandin Valley Estate to the town of Singleton.

Local MPs Dave Layzell and Clayton Barr were among those to attend the site, while others went to a memorial garden the council has built as a permanent memorial for the victims.

Hunter Valley bus crash scene
 The bus rolled near the NSW town of Greta on the way back from a wedding. Image by Darren Pateman/AAP PHOTOS 

Adam Bray, who lost his son Zach in the crash, has channelled his grief into proactive steps in an attempt to ensure no one ever has to experience the same emotions he has navigated in the past 12 months.

Within days of the crash, attention quickly turned to prevention after road and transport experts declared the crash was avoidable.

Stop Bus Tragedies, an advocacy group involving victims’ families, survivors and experts, reflects Mr Bray’s promise to his son.

It was set up to push state and federal governments for safety reforms.

“I don’t know where I found the strength to be honest, but I did hold my son’s hand … and I promised him I’d fix this,” Mr Bray told AAP.

“The motivation behind that was to ensure this doesn’t happen to others, because if we can save one life, or one family from having to feel what we are enduring, that’s an achievement in itself.”

In the past year, the group has contributed to the NSW government’s Bus Industry Taskforce.

The task force recommendations have included a state-wide campaign promoting the importance of wearing seatbelts and considering an 80km/h limit for buses with standing passengers.

It has also called for technological improvements in vehicles, while another report in progress focuses on psychometric measurements for drivers and compulsory drug and alcohol testing.

A file photo of Brett Andrew Button
 Bus driver Brett Andrew Button remains in custody and has pleaded guilty to dozens of charges. Image by Luke Costin/AAP PHOTOS 

The driver behind the wheel in the crash, Brett Andrew Button, remains in custody after pleading guilty to 10 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 25 other charges.

Prosecutors controversially withdrew 10 manslaughter charges in exchange for the guilty pleas when he faced court in May.

He has been accused of taking the roundabout too fast while driving in thick fog.

The death toll was the highest for a road accident since 12 people were killed in a bus rollover in Brisbane in 1994.

Premier Chris Minns on Tuesday labelled the crash “a complete tragedy”.

“I’ve spoken to lots of the families who’ve lost loved ones and the thing that’s so moving and haunting about it is their lives were in front of them,” he told Sydney radio 2GB.

“They’re a good group of people, and they’ve thrown themselves into supporting each other, commemorating the loss of their loved ones and focusing on the future.”

Chris Minns
 NSW Premier Chris Minns labelled the crash “a complete tragedy”. Image by Darren Pateman/AAP PHOTOS 

Cessnock mayor Jay Suvaal said the grief still lingered across the community.

“In the aftermath of the tragic crash, our community banded together and displayed extraordinary unity … it was a testament to the strength of our community, as we leaned on each other for support during an unimaginable time,” he said.

Local Australian rules football club Singleton Roosters, where half of those who died in the crash were members, also paid tribute to departed teammates.

“One year on, the pain is still as fresh as the day they departed us … we continue to wrap our arms around the families and loved ones that lost so much,” the club said.

Button’s case is due to return to court on Thursday.