A small Queensland community will turn its annual Christmas party into a fundraising event after a local family was struck by unthinkable tragedy at the weekend.
Parents Mel Martin and Dylan Wadley are recovering in Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane after their car smashed through a guard rail and rolled into Wyaralong Dam on Sunday.
The couple were able to escape their submerged car with their five-week old daughter, Hope, and one-year-old son, Ace, but tragically struggled to open the car to save Ms Martin’s 13-year-old son Leo, and four-year-old daughter Mia, despite desperate efforts by Dylan.
Ace remains in a critical condition in Queensland Children’s Hospital.
The family had been travelling from the Gold Coast to their home in Pratten, a small rural town in the Southern Downs region of Queensland, half an hour west of Warwick.
The tight-knit Pratten community, with a population of around 200 people, are heartbroken for the family and have begun to rally around them.
The town’s annual Christmas party, held at the Pratten Community Hall, will this weekend raise funds for the young family.
The Pratten Progress and Preservation Association encouraged the community to attend the party or drop by and donate.
“We all want to stay safe, so social distancing will be in order. But after all that is done, it is still pretty easy to either come inside for the event — or come just to donate for the family of the children who died in the dam. See you there,” the association said.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely if White Street near the hall was filled with cars and people just coming along to give? Not so full that we need police directing traffic, but hey, it would be nice to have lots of people just coming along to donate.”
Pratten Progress and Preservation Association President Diane Lawlor told the ABC the community was “in shock” after hearing about the tragedy.
“Everybody’s in shock … initially people didn’t believe it,” Ms Lawlor said.
“Then, they started to think, ‘OK, what can I do to help’, which is what started (the fundraiser).”
Any funds raised will go towards the family’s funeral and medical costs.
“We’ll be passing around a big bucket and inviting people who can’t make it to the function to call in and make a donation or just drive past and drop off a donation,” Ms Lawlor said.
“It’ll really be a fundraiser rather than a celebration of Christmas.”
Leo, who went to nearby Warwick State High School, was also being mourned by his classmates.
A Department of Education spokesperson said staff and students at the school were being cared for “as long as it is needed”.
“The Darling Downs region is deeply saddened by the sudden deaths of two children,” the spokesperson said.
“Our thoughts and sincere sympathies go out to their family, caregivers, friends and loved ones during this difficult time.”
The family were a well-loved part of the Pratten community, with the parents often asking “what can I do for you?”
“We all do that. Everyone supports each other here,” Ms Lawlor said.
“Through the drought or through this kind of adversity, we all help each other. In the rural areas that’s what you have to do.”
Local residents took to social media to express their condolences to the family, torn apart by tragedy, and call for a major overhaul of the road.
“There needs to be an overhaul of that road. Been many fatalities over the years … RIP little ones,” Sue Clarke wrote on Facebook.
“It is extremely sad to hear. However whoever designed the road and markings in particular needs to have their head examined … you can legally pass when you can’t see but can’t pass when you can,” Tracey Maguire wrote.
Other locals paid tribute to the young children who had lost their lives.
“Our little town of Pratten is heartbroken,” Jenni Kehlet wrote.
“Fly high beautiful Leo and Mia. You were absolutely gorgeous children. My heart breaks for your mum and dad. So shattering. Praying for your little brother and sister,” Liz Turner wrote.
“This is too sad. Just like that, their lives will never be the same. Sending all my love to their mum and dad,” Bonnie Girven wrote.