Nell Hanrahan's much-loved car represented more than just a form of transport; it was the 91-year-old's independence and freedom, and that of some of her elderly friends.
The heartless actions of a group of car thieves who stalked her and stole her car in broad daylight, in front of members of her senior citizens group, has left her angry, upset, shocked and fearful.
The near car-jacking took place on Friday at the North Ballarat senior citizens club and the car was torched near Bray Raceway at Delacombe early Sunday morning - the latest in a string of stolen and burned out cars across the city.
Ms Hanrahan had been talking to a friend while unloading her car when she had to run to use the bathroom and mistakenly left her keys in the boot.
While her friend was standing there, three men and one woman rushed to Ms Hanrahan's car, one man grabbed the keys and drove off in it while the others jumped in to two other cars and sped off, almost colliding with other senior citizens arriving at the centre.
"They must have been sitting there waiting for people coming. It was a matter of minutes and it was all over," a shaken Ms Hanrahan said.
Ironically she was being safety and security conscious in moving valuables from the back seat of her car before the daylight attack because she feared they could be seen and stolen.
The thieves ignored the disability sticker on the windscreen and the walking stick on the drivers seat, which she uses after complications with a blood clot in her leg. Her prescription glasses were also inside.
I don't know whether they have a conscience, but they've upset a lot of people.Nell Hanrahan
She said the car meant nothing to the thieves, but the world to her.
"It's my independence and the independence of my friends," she said.
"I have a date every Wednesday to take someone to indoor bowls, I take friends to medical appointments, I drive to Geelong and Melbourne to see my family.
"They didn't do it to make money … just to annoy people. They didn't even take any of the valuable parts like the almost new tyres."
Because the thieves took her keys and her address was on the service manual, Ms Hanrahan also had to change the locks on her house.
"Now I'm frightened to be home on my own," she said.
"I don't know whether they have a conscience, but they've upset a lot of people."
Daughter Caroline said she was thankful her mum had to rush inside. "I fear she would have been harmed in their bid to have (fun) I would like others to be careful as they are not safe."
Firefighters were called to the car fire just before 7am Sunday morning near the corner of Rubicon Street and Sutton Street in Delacombe.
They must have been sitting there waiting for people coming. It was a matter of minutes and it was all over.Nell Hanrahan
Two fire trucks from Lucas Fire Brigade and one from Ballarat City Fire Brigade attended the scene and quickly extinguished the fire.
Police were called to investigate the incident.
It comes after another car fire in Wendouree in the early hours of Saturday morning.
RELATED STORY: Another Soldiers Hill car fire being treated as suspicious
Lucas Fire Brigade station officer Brenton Smith said exposure to contaminants and smoke was a 'real concern' to firefighters who were attending a number of car fires in Ballarat.
"Our people are exposed to smoke and carcinogens when a car is on fire and there is the risk of things like explosions you can get from any fire," he said.
"We want to minimise the amount of times our people are exposed to this."
On Saturday Ballarat City Fire Brigade senior station officer Darren Roper warned there was a risk of 'more serious consequences' if car fires spread to surrounding structures, grass or bush.
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