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On the scale of human tragedies in this part of the world, this one hardly registers.  Three people lost their lives when the driver of a semi smashed into three cars in the Burnley tunnel on Friday morning.  Two of the victims were young, one was a champion cyclist.  The third man to lose his life was in his early fifties.  He was from Essendon.

Imagining the prospect of perishing is difficult enough, but dying in a fiery crash in a dark tunnel ranks near the top of my list of fatality fears.  I have been through that tunnel several times.  On one occasion, when I forgot to bring along the address of our dinner engagement and didn’t realize it until the last minute, I managed to drive through that tunnel under the Yarra River three times within one hour.

Burnley is over three kilometers long.  It connects two major freeways east and west.  It carries 150,00 cars a day.  And trucks.  Don’t forget the trucks.  The conflagration that trapped Olympic cyclist Damian McDonald last Friday morning was triggered when a truck driver was forced to pull his semi into the left-hand lane because of a blown tire.  Three cars and two trucks collided when traffic tried to merge around the stopped semi.

There are no breakdown lanes or bays in the tunnel.  As the flames and smoke billowed out, drivers abandoned their cars and fled on foot. The closing of the tunnel created traffic chaos.  Hands are being wrung;  experts are being quoted in the local paper suggesting that the speed limits are too high and that the tunnel should have a breakdown lane.

I was surprised to see drivers changing lanes within the tunnel.  Try that in New York City and you get shot.   Burnley is supposed to reopen tomorrow, and a spokeswoman for the tunnel’s owner assures us it will be safe.  Nothing has changed.  How is that possible?


I worry about that phrase. It probably stems from memories of my first days in California, when we discovered to our dismay that the nephew of the landlord was actually living in the garage behind the modest bungalow we had rented in Pacific Palisades. He was a surfer, and he seemed to embody a contradictory stance. He was what I would call an aggressive slacker. His favorite phrase was “no problem.” What it meant was: it’s not my problem.
The night before we were to move into our current abode here in Melbourne, my wife and I arranged to meet the rental agent for a walk through. We discovered that the power had not been switched on. I believed that would make it impossible to get the garage door up, which would make difficulties for the movers.  The agent was under the impression that I had taken care of the matter, while I believed that she was handling it. It was my first Australian encounter with the mentality I associate with our surfer in Los Angeles. No worries. Not my problem.

There is a good interpretation of the phrase and I suspect that most Australians use it that way. Meaning, I’ll take care of it. It is not your problem. I stayed up late the other night and caught a wonderful movie called “Mr. Reliable.” It came out ten years ago and is called “My Entire Life” in the US. It is based on an incident that happened in a suburb of Sydney during a heat wave in December, 1968.

Wally Mellish, (recently released from prison) is living with his girlfriend and her baby in a shack in what looks to be an industrial suburb, Glenfield. Beryl suggests that the place (which is almost empty) could use some ornamentation. Wally heads to the junkyard and steals some Jaguar ornaments. This, of course, leads to a visit from the local cops, and Wally getting angry when one of them kicks a hole in his door. He lets off a blast with a sawed-off shotgun and this leads to the biggest hostage crisis in Australian history.

Unlike “Dog Day Afternoon,” the story is played for humor and pathos. Wally is not a psycho. During most of the crisis, he keeps one step ahead of the police and behaves better than most of them. There is a lot of care taken with establishing the time and place and the group psychology that ends up playing such a big role in the drama. What struck me was how very Australian it felt. One of the reporters keeps saying, in fact, that in any other country they just would have blown him away. There was no doubt in my mind that he would not have survived in the United States. Maybe Canada.

Wally embodies the “No worries” character. He is worried, of course.  He is not an idiot.  But he reassures Beryl that despite being surrounded by a SWAT team, with no escape possible, everything is going to be all right. He will take care of it. And he does.

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