"You can come out of the dock, Mr Aston." No words will ever sound sweeter to former Gold Bus driver Jack Aston, as well as many supporters in Ballarat - most of all to his devoted family: wife Wendy, daughter Meg and son Ben.
They and a loyal contingent of family, friends and well-wishers were at court to hear those words uttered. Ms Aston's mother and father, aged 85 and 88, made the journey to court for the first time. "We've had enough of this jail thing," said Mr Aston's father-in-law as he waited at Ballarat train station.
Not that they ever felt completely sure of the outcome. "I just hope it will happen," said Mr Aston's sister-in-law Debbie said as they filed into the court before the judges arrived. "But anything is possible with this."
In the end, at last, the justice system did not let them down - on this occasion at least. There was a curious silence as Justice Phillip Priest read the details of the community correction order imposed instead of the sentences for the convictions that were overturned. Did 305 days mean he was free? And then finally with giving permission to leave the dock, the dam burst. Mr Aston's supporters cheered and clapped. Wendy wept with uncontrollable joy as her husband moved from the dock to take a seat by her side. The Aston family - Jack, Wendy, Meg and Ben - locked in an embrace so tight it looked like they never wanted to let go.
Slowly it sank in: Mr Aston was free at last after more than 300 days in jail.
The ordeal, of course, has lasted much longer than that. The darkest chapter in the Aston family history began more than three and a half years ago, less than three kilometers away over the other side of the Yarra River.
The Aston family have never downplayed the events of that fateful day, when the Gold Bus he was driving crashed into the notorious Montague Street bridge.
Six of the bus's 14 passengers were seriously hurt. Two had fractured vertebrae, and there were multiple lacerations and abrasions while Mr Aston himself was left slumped and bloodied on the footpath, his neck broken.
The brace he had to wear eventually came off, but the mental scars ran deeper still. He has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, medicated, his anxiety levels soaring and his mind wracked with remorse.
For two days after the crash he did not speak, only re-emerging from his shocked silence after those around him managed to convince him that no one had died.
Since that day, his family say he has not been the same again.
Formerly clean shaven, he grew a long, greying beard after the accident, which those close to him came to see as a symbol of his grief and sorrow.
For more than two and a half years, the prospect of a trial loomed over the Aston family until he was found guilty of causing serious injury by negligent driving after a two-week trial in October last year.
And then on December 17 last year, the day of his sentencing, their nightmare almost inconceivably took a darker turn. Steeling themselves for a custodial sentence - perhaps a few months, maybe a year - they learned it was far worse than they imagined. Judge Bill Stuart handed down five years and three months, with a non-parole period of two and a half years.
Despite recognising Mr Aston's good character, describing him as a family man who lived "an exemplary life ... with an exemplary work ethic, with serving [his] community in a myriad of ways", Judge Stuart opted for a long term. "Deterring others is the principal sentencing factor I must take into account in sentencing you," he said. The family wept as Mr Aston was taken away. "Love you, dad," a voice shouted. "You're a good man, Jack".
It was a sentence that shocked the Astons. And many others too, it turned out, as the family somehow picked themselves up around Christmas time and began the #freejack campaign.
Wendy Aston, a popular, well-known figure in the community who had set up the Ballarat Wholefoods Collective in happier times, threw herself into another all-consuming project: getting Jack home.
For almost 10 months, she and her network of family and friends kept pushing, throwing themselves into an unfamiliar world of media interviews and the legal jargon of the appeal court.
She scoured the newspapers, gathering the many messages of support, and installed a landline phone in her house so she could steal more time talking to her husband to keep him buoyed. She rallied the family round when she sensed her husband was particularly low. At least two of those injured in the accident lent their support to the campaign
"She's been amazing," her sister Leanne Heenan told The Courier on Monday. "Sometimes I think the rest of us have struggled more than she has."
On the day of the appeal, there were good omens. Mr Aston looked healthier, his family said, with his beard now shaved off. As his convictions were overturned, one of the appeal judges, Justice Phillip Priest, was sharply critical of the oversight at the original trial. "This is basic trial practice," he said. "I'd expect a prosecutor to know, defence to know and, with all respect, the judge should have known."
Still his day of freedom had not arrived. His family say Mr Aston was treated well in Castlemaine's Middleton prison, throwing himself into every activity that he could - but even last week after the appeal they were at the mercy of the justice system, with the family unsure of his whereabouts as he was shuttled between prisons without warning.
Meanwhile, back in the place where vehicles have kept crashing into the Montague Bridge despite VicRoads increasing the warning signs, and two gantries added either side of the lowest bridge in the metropolitan network. Just last month, there were pictures of yet another truck wedged beneath the bridge's lowly frame.
"Dan Andrews, fix that bridge," Mr Aston said on the steps outside the court, after thanking everyone for support in a short statement. "I just want to go home," he said before walking away with his family.
In another ironic twist, as he arrived at the Aston family car, he found a parking fine - having taken a little longer than anticipated to sign the paperwork for his release. Mr Aston allowed himself a smile - he has encountered bigger injustices in his time. "Thank you everyone for believing in us," Ms Aston said, and the family drove off to be to their Brown Hill home.
There Mr Aston can potter. In his own time, he will be free to change the light out the back that only he knows how to fix. Ms Aston has mowed the grass in readiness for his return, but left the edges for him to chop. He can now also adjust the clock to daylight savings time, a task held for him as he has always been the one to do it after more than 25 years in the house.
He can tinker with cars in the garage along with his son, put on the old work shoes left waiting for him by the front door and meet the golden retriever puppy bought for his return.
Wendy Aston, however, has no illusions that the repercussions from that terrible day in February 2016 will end neatly now.
She knows the return to civilian life may not be easy, even though Mr Aston has his old job at Inland Motor Body Works to go back to, where he will once again work alongside his son.
She constantly refers to how supportive everyone in Ballarat has been but says that time and space will be essential. How difficult it will be, she is unsure. "We will only know when he's home," she said just before his release.
Now, at last, that time can begin.
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.