‘Near death experience’ sparks concerns for car park safety

The tree branch that fell on three cars at the Olinda Playspace car park.

Calls are being made for the Olinda Playspace car park to be upgraded, following a close call with a falling tree branch at the site.

Jacqui James and Mandy Ferguson are both mothers from the Dandenong Ranges that had a Mountain Ash branch fall on their parked cars on 26 October.

The pair were separately visiting the Olinda Playspace with their children when the incident occurred. Thankfully no one was injured.

Ms James, who is also 19 weeks pregnant, and Ms Ferguson recalled how busy the car park was on the day.

“I drove up there and it was completely packed, every single car park was used. The only space left was under the trees,” Ms James said.

“The car park was pretty full, there weren’t many options. When we go there I actually look for places that are not under the trees, but that day there weren’t any other options,” Ms Ferguson said.

Both mothers said they felt slight apprehension towards parking under trees. Ms James even opted to park under a healthy Mountain Ash, as opposed to an unhealthy-looking one nearby.

“It actually did cross my mind, maybe it wouldn’t be a good place to park,” she said.

Within a couple of minutes of getting out of the car with her daughter, Ms James said she “heard the massive snap of the branch.”

“I raced over there and the car was squished and it also landed on three other cars as well,” she said.

“There was actually a lady who was getting her baby out of the car when it fell, she was knocked to the ground.

“She was OK but obviously very shaken up.

“I keep thinking about what could have been, it was literally a few minutes…it was a near death experience.”

Ms Ferguson said she believed the roof racks on her Prado helped mitigate some of the impact.

“I have a proper steel roof rack on top of my car but the car next to mine, which was Jaqcui’s, was just crushed,” she said.

“The main weight of the branch came down on Jacqui’s car and then hit my roof rack.

“I do think that my car being pretty robust plus that roof rack probably saved the (other) lady next to us…it didn’t break so it didn’t bend over onto her car, otherwise it could have been so much worse.”

“We were only in the car two minutes before that, you keep going through the what ifs?”

Despite still feeling anxious about driving, Ms James said she had mostly recovered from the traumatic incident.

She and her husband, Graham, have now turned their attention towards warning others about the car park.

“With respect to the development of the precinct, it appears to be a case of amenity before infrastructure,” Mr James said.

“They’ve built this safe new playground that’s state of the art and then they have this 1960s car park with no lines.

“They haven’t done anything with the infrastructure to cater for the use.”

Ms Ferguson said more precautions could be taken in what was becoming an increasingly popular community and tourist area.

“I don’t think we should just be cutting the trees down willy-nilly but I think there’s also a safety concern,” she said.

“That precinct is going to be used a lot more and if proper precautions are not taken we’re going to end up with deaths.

“To an extent that’s the risk you take when you live up here but there’s also a bit of prevention that could happen.”

Park’s Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges district manager, Victoria Purdue, said the organisation was aware of the incident.

“Thankfully, no one was injured. The tree is a healthy Mountain Ash with no visible defects or issues. The limb which fell was also healthy, had no pest or structural issues or other signs that would indicate its imminent failure,” she said.

“Trees are a natural part of the Dandenong Ranges environment and a big part of what makes this area so special for residents and visitors alike.

“Parks Victoria undertakes regular visual assessments of trees within car parks, applying a risk-based approach to managing hazardous trees.”

Parks Victoria is currently implementing an almost $8 million development plan at the Olinda Precinct, to pave a new future for the former Olinda Golf Course site.

As part of that plan, a state-of-the playspace has been developed but there has been no upgrades to its car park.

Monbulk MP James Merlino said developing the car park was a priority.

“We have invested significantly in the Olinda Precinct funding for new sports oval for junior sport and training, a nature-based playspace for children and families, upgrades to the netball courts and cricket nets, and an additional netball court,” he said.

“The next stage of the project includes upgrading the car park as part of the precinct. I know how important it is and it is something I am regularly raising with the Minister for Environment, Lily D’Ambrosio.”

But until upgrades can be made, the James family and Ms Ferguson are urging people not to park under the trees at the car park.

“I think some signs need to be put up at the very least. In the meantime, until they sort that car park out, parents especially, just don’t park under the trees,” Ms Ferguson said.