Nik Barbara won’t be spending Christmas with his family this year.
For the first time Sharon Walker will not set a place at the table for her son - because Nik, 21, died instantly in a fiery crash five months ago.
Instead Ms Walker, her other children and family friends decorated Nik’s memorial cross with tinsel, stars and candles so he can be a “sparkling reminder” to drivers that people can and do die on the region’s roads.
Ms Walker remains devastated by the region’s road toll – which officially sits at 20, four times higher than the 2015 toll.
She remembers hearing the sirens as emergency services rushed to the scene of a crash on the Western Highway, Ballan on July 12. She had no idea her son was the victim.
When the police knocked on Ms Walker’s door, her world changed instantly. She was told her son had died.
“The biggest heartache in our life was farewelling Nik,” Ms Walker said.
“Part of us died that day. You replay every moment in your head. It’s a constant war of grief and pain and it becomes a great trauma to your heart, mind and soul and daily existence.”
This Christmas, Ms Walker is pleading for drivers to slow down.
“Please get home safe over the Christmas holidays,” Ms Walker said.
“We don’t want this to happen to you or your friends and loved ones.
“Every time I hear of another death on the road, I feel physically ill.”
Nik worked as a concreter, but his true love was fishing.
He loved driving up to the Murray River and catching cod. He was “a boy’s boy” – camping, fishing, rabbiting – were his hobbies.
He lived his life to the fullest, everything he said he’d do he did. Now, the grief is ever-present, it defines Ms Walker’s life.
“Listen to the messages. Every single road message out there – listen to it,” Ms Walker said. “You have one chance, one life, drive safe.”
Ballarat Highway Patrol Senior Sergeant Pat Cleary has urged all drivers to be alert, responsible and safe this Christmas.
The toll in this region has never been this bad, Senior Sergeant Cleary said.
Anecdotally, it is believed the number of serious injury accidents has plateaued while fatalities have increased.
“Distraction continues to be one of the biggest contributors to collisions and trauma.”
This is a message Ms Walker is determined to get across to all drivers.
“Don’t be distracted, to don’t speed. Get home safe to your family this Christmas,” Ms Walker said.