Caroline Karena at her home in Sarina.
Caroline Karena at her home in Sarina. Rainee Shepperson

Horror crash still remembered 50 years on

CAROLINE Karena won't drive on April 3 and she encourages her family to stay off the road on that date every year.

That's because on that date 50 years ago she became a widow at the age of 19, and a single mother to three children under four.

Her first husband, Harold Tonga, was one of five people killed in a horror crash that was described at the time as one of Mackay's worst single vehicle accidents.

The crash that shocked the Mackay region occurred after midnight on Thursday, April 3, 1969.

Only one of the six people travelling in the white Holden, survived.

Brothers, Harold Edward Ernest Tonga, 22, and Gary Charles Tonga, 17, both of Sunnyside, and their cousin Lionel Tonga, 15, of Bakers Creek, were killed along with two girls, Lorraine Elizabeth Dickson, 15, of Sarina, and Leslea Jennifer White, 15, of Alligator Creek.

Harold's brother-in-law Ronald George Della, 20, of Habana, was injured and taken to Mackay Base Hospital.

The officer in charge of Mackay Police at the time, Inspector T. Boyle, said in a Daily Mercury report on Saturday, April 5, 1969, it was the worst accident in his four years in the district.

The vehicle had been travelling west along Bridge Road and police at the time believed it may have attempted to turn right into Milton Street.

The car failed to make the turn and plunged into the ditch. Two guide posts were knocked from the ground before the vehicle went into the ditch, which the paper stated was 1.8 metres deep.

Ms Karena said Harold had been in Mackay with his brother, cousin and brother-in-law to visit his sister, Gwen Della, who was in labour at the hospital.

She said she understood they had been coming home when they met the girls, who were at high school with Gary. They had driven to Far Beach and were returning when the accident occurred.

The car came to rest on its hood, the Mercury report said, and an imprint of the side of the vehicle was left in the embankment of the ditch.

A crane had to be used to lift the car to enable rescue workers to gain access.

Ms Karena was told of the accident when police officers knocked on her door while she was at home with her children, Bronwin, Selina and Trini.

She said her husband had been well-known in the boxing community and hard-working.

Her children had only slight memories of their father fishing.

Harold Tonga now has eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

"The sad part of all of it is the children didn't get to know him and neither will his grandchildren," she said.

Ms Karena placed a memorial notice in the Daily Mercury to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Harold, Gary and Lionel Tonga.

Even 50 years afterwards, the Sarina woman said she still could not see a car accident without remembering.