The moment I was told he was dead: Cyclist’s widow

On the first Monday of November, ­Catherine Frewer stirs in her sleep, vaguely registering the front door of her house clicking shut.

It's about 5.45am and her husband Cameron is leaving on a regular morning bike ride from their Sunshine Coast home at Little Mountain, Caloundra, earlier than normal because the days are now warming up. He is usually gone about two hours.

When Catherine gets up at 6.45, she notices ­Cameron has eaten his usual banana and ­muesli bar for breakfast.

His coffee cup is in the kitchen sink. His iPad is propped up on the table.

Catherine and Cameron Frewer.
Catherine and Cameron Frewer.

The morning progresses as normal with their three children - Lachlan, 15, Oscar, 10, and Heidi, 8 - getting ready for school.

The younger siblings leave first, riding their bikes together.

Catherine Frewer with her three children Lachlan, Heidi and Oscar. Picture: Peter Wallis
Catherine Frewer with her three children Lachlan, Heidi and Oscar. Picture: Peter Wallis

Catherine thinks about her day ahead.

She will walk their dog Herbie on Currimundi Beach; she will go grocery shopping at Aldi.

Later, the family will give Lachlan his 15th birthday presents that are still unopened from the day before because he was working.

But at 8.20am, police officers are knocking at her front door and Catherine feels her stomach flip.

Instantly her mind goes there - something has happened to Cam, for sure. Lachlan is still at home, almost ready to jump on his bike to ride to school. Why are the officers asking if she wants Lachie to stay?

For a moment her brain tricks her. Has Lachie done something wrong? Is that why they don't want to talk to me in front of him?

Catherine assures her eldest son everything is fine and, with some hesitation, he leaves for school. But nothing about this day is fine.

The ­officers tell her Cameron - the man she has known since she was a 14-year-old schoolgirl, her husband of 18 years, who kissed her "good night, baby'' the evening before, her "everything" - is dead, struck by a utility and killed less than 15 minutes after leaving the house.

By 11am, Cath­erine Frewer is identifying her husband's body at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

Cameron Frewer with the family dog Herbie.
Cameron Frewer with the family dog Herbie.

SENSELESS DEATHS

Cameron Frewer, 44, who was head chef at Mykies By the Bay restaurant on Kawana Island, is the fifth bicycle rider to die on Queensland roads this year.

His death comes less than a month after 14-year-old Danielle Butterfield, on her way to feed her pet horse, suffered critical head injuries when her bike was struck by a maxi-taxi near her home at Mount Tarampa, 80km west of Brisbane.

In August, 37-year-old ­father-of-two Ryan Goff was struck by a prime mover while riding his bike at the intersection of Hudson St and Albion Rd, in the inner-northern Brisbane suburb of Albion. His body was caught under the eight-wheeler truck.

Danielle Butterfield, 14, was hit by the maxi-taxi as she rode her bike along Mount Tarampa.
Danielle Butterfield, 14, was hit by the maxi-taxi as she rode her bike along Mount Tarampa.

 

Ryan Goff was killed while cycling at Albion.
Ryan Goff was killed while cycling at Albion.

There have been two other deaths of male ­cyclists that did not involve vehicles.

In July, 74-year-old Ted Price suffered a heart attack and died while cycling at Glenlee, north of Rockhampton in Central Queensland, and a 65-year-old man died from a critical head injury after crashing his bike on the Go Between Bridge at South ­Brisbane in April.

Cameron Frewer was no stranger to Queensland Police. In fact, he was in no doubt police ­considered him a "pest".

A passionate cycling ­advocate, Frewer operated Facebook page Drive Safe, Pass Wide to educate and encourage drivers on "safe and responsible passing of vulnerable road users".

Like many cyclists, Frewer had ­cameras attached to his bike (coroner's cameras, as they are darkly called by the cycling fraternity) to record near-misses from vehicles passing him by less than the required safe passing distance, as legislated in Section 144A of Queensland Government road rules.

Only four days before his death, Frewer emailed a document to his friend and Bicycle Queensland chief executive Anne Savage, ­detailing his frustration at inaction by police who would not fine drivers, despite him providing video footage of the breaches.

He included links to 17 videos showing drivers passing too close.

Cameron Frewer wrote a chilling letter just days before he was killed. Picture: John McCutcheon
Cameron Frewer wrote a chilling letter just days before he was killed. Picture: John McCutcheon

In what was to become a chilling message from the grave, he wrote: "I just felt the need to say my piece in the event something ever happens to me (God forbid). I know I am not the only rider with these issues."

 

INJURIES ON THE RISE

Queensland Health figures show the number of injured cyclists increased by about eight per cent each year from 2010-2015.

In an analysis of hospital separations admissions due to road traffic vehicle crashes, "pedal cyclists" made up 16 per cent of all people hospitalised from road crashes in 2015 - about 1500 people.

A report by the Australian Automobile Assoc­iation shows an 80 per cent increase in national cyclist deaths in the year to June 2018 with 45 ­fatalities ­recorded, well above the long-term ­aver­age and up from 25 in the same period in 2016-17.

In another report, the 50,000-strong member bike-riding organisation Bicycle Network ­examined figures over two decades in its Bike Rider Fatality Report 1998-2017.

It found the ­number of bike riders dying on Australian roads has remained largely stagnant for 20 years, despite an overall reduction in deaths for other road users.

It reported there were 742 bike rider fatalities ­between 1998 and 2017, an average of 37 cyclist deaths each year. In 2017, there were 38 deaths.

Cyclists hold a minutes silence in memory during a Ride of Silence in Brisbane CBD. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Cyclists hold a minutes silence in memory during a Ride of Silence in Brisbane CBD. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

Middle-aged men, who make up the biggest number of bike riders, are the most likely group to be killed.

Bicycle Queensland CEO Savage believes the safety of bike riders is "at crisis point" and ­describes a "car-centric economy".

She is calling for a Road Safety and Healthy Travel Commission to enable collaboration across public, private and community sectors in an effort to combat road deaths.

"We need safe infrastructure, we need ­enhanced law enforcement, and we need all levels of government to step up and stop deaths on our roads by working better together," Savage says.

"Significant numbers of people are too afraid of traffic to ride on Queensland roads, which is a tragedy in itself. We urgently need authorities to place a brighter spotlight on safe passing laws - to improve compliance through stronger policing and education.

"Our goal is zero deaths on our roads, and zero tolerance for dangerous and distracted driving and riders who disobey the law. We need to make our roads safe for all Queenslanders to travel."

Anne Savage, the CEO of Bicycle QLD, says the safety of riders has reached “crisis point”. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner
Anne Savage, the CEO of Bicycle QLD, says the safety of riders has reached “crisis point”. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner

Bicycle Network chief executive Craig Richards, of Melbourne, says we haven't gone far enough in providing adequate safe spaces for ­cyclists.

He advocates separated bikeways, ­reduced speed limits and wide enough shoulders on regional roads.

"Drivers pass too close," Richards says. "People yell abuse, rev the engine, swerve their cars in ­deliberate acts … I don't think people realise the consequences if it goes wrong. Where there are high volumes of vehicles or vehicles driving at high speeds, separation is the key.

"We would like to see the speed limits reduced in certain areas, and there is a particularly high risk for bike riders on regional roads where the [average] speed is high, so we need to ensure there is a good, wide shoulder for people to ride."

"Over time, brake-assisted technology, lane changing systems, that could make a big difference.''

Professor Narelle Haworth, director of the ­Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety, Queensland (CARRS-Q), undertook the evaluation of Queensland's two-year trial of the minimum passing distance laws that were introduced in 2016.

She believes Australia lags behind other countries with regards to safety laws for heavy ­vehicles and she wants to see mandatory requirements for trucks to have side underrun protection that prevents cyclists and pedestrians from being dragged under the wheels of a heavy vehicle.

Trucks should also have better mirrors or ­electronic aids to help a driver "see around the ­vehicle".

"Side underruns have been mandatory in Europe for probably 20 years but the Australian federal government has pushed back repeatedly to make it mandatory on trucks,'' Haworth says.

"The trucking industry has lobbied that it will cost money, take trucks off the road. We've been pushing that very strongly for many years. It can be retrofitted. A number of big companies are introducing side underruns but there are a large number that aren't.

"We also need to go for lower speed limits," Haworth says. "Fundamentally, if we can slow things down, there are fewer conflicts and more time to respond.

"As a first step, we should expand the 50km/h [limit] to most low-volume roads. In areas where there are significant numbers of ­pedestrians and cyclists, we need to think of 40km/h or perhaps even 30km/h. If you can get the speed limits down, we can share effectively."

Haworth, who presented at the recent International Cycling Safety Conference in Barcelona, Spain, has also been studying just how well ­drivers are able to judge distances when passing a bike, with the results "a little bit scary".

It was found that 58 per cent of drivers, regardless of age, ­gender and car size, were incorrect, when shown a distance of 900mm, in judging if it was less than a metre.

There were 28 per cent of ­drivers incorrect at judging 500mm.

"There are some challenges there," she says.

Matthew Coley, who was struck by a hit and run car on Kelvin Grove Rd in 2004, is regularly riding a road bike again. Picture: Peter Wallis
Matthew Coley, who was struck by a hit and run car on Kelvin Grove Rd in 2004, is regularly riding a road bike again. Picture: Peter Wallis

 

WE ARE ALL ROAD USERS

It's a rock pitched at a head, hard enough to split a helmet in two. It's a vehicle engine revving loudly as it passes centimetres away.

It's crude abuse screamed ("get off the road, ya fat bitch"). It's being followed, then punched in the stomach at a cafe.

It's a vehicle swerving deliberately to knock a ­cyclist to the ground. It's intolerance. It's ­impatience. It's nerve-fraying close calls.

It's the story of almost every regular bike rider in Queensland.

But for every nasty incident of road rage ­towards cyclists, there's the flip side of frustration and irritation from motorists.

Drivers report ­cyclists "acting like they own the road", who ride three or four or five abreast, who run red lights and weave in and out of traffic. They ride on footpaths and clean up pedestrians on busy CBD streets. They don't pay vehicle registration, and on many roads it's near impossible to pass and leave the required gap.

So what will it take to improve the culture of bike riding in Australian cities? Why can't we all just get along?

It is on this point that Matthew Coley, who suffered permanent brain damage when he was struck from his bike in a hit-and-run incident at Kelvin Grove in inner-northwestern Brisbane on the evening of August 16, 2004, has a simple message.

"Cyclists are human beings," Coley says. "Motorists are human beings. We all have fam­ilies and friends, hobbies, kids and jobs. We are all road users. We would all do well to remember there is an actual, real person behind the steering wheel or bike helmet."

Coley's helmeted head slammed into the ­passenger door of a four-wheel-drive that turned right across his path into Park St, off Kelvin Grove Rd. Despite a protracted police investigation, the driver or vehicle involved has never been identified and the case is now officially closed.

After weeks in a coma, four months in hospital and six months as an outpatient, Coley struggled at home with a new personality and capabilities, problems with memory, multi-tasking and ­patience.

Matthew Coley in intensive care at Royal Brisbane Hospital after he was hit by a car.
Matthew Coley in intensive care at Royal Brisbane Hospital after he was hit by a car.

Coley, 47, has long accepted his new life but the consequences of that evening are ongoing.

A former human resources officer for Suncorp, he has since worked as a landscaper, as a ­gardener at Brisbane City Council's Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, and as a groundskeeper at Brisbane Grammar School.

He currently works part-time preparing food at a cafe at Roma St in Brisbane's CBD.

Three years after the crash, he and his wife were divorced.

He married his second wife in 2015 but they divorced this year. He has suffered many dark periods where he has thought about ending it all, pulled back from despair by thoughts of his three children - Aidan, 18, Ethan, 16, and Zarah, 11 - and his place in the world as a parent.

His life is not how he thought it would be but Coley is philosophical about it all.

He is alive, and that in itself is a wonder. Doctors at the time gave him a small chance of surviving his injuries.

Coley also doesn't fear what he can't remember, and in 2009 - almost five years after the crash - he ­decided it was time to get back to riding.

He bought a road bike and has since taken part in a five-day Great Ocean Road cycling trip out of Melbourne, and more recently completed the 100km MS Brissie to the Bay ride (to raise funds for sufferers of multiple sclerosis) in June.

Two or three times a week he rides about 35km on the bikeways and on-road circuit of the Brisbane River Loop from his home at inner-city West End.

 

A STARTER NATION

The negative culture pitting driver against cyclist may go all the way back to the driver licensing process.

Haworth has co-authored a report about a three-year project examining novice driver ­education and training. Published in Elsevier Journal,it found cyclists were often referred to in "negative ­messaging" such as being identified as "hazardous, unpredictable and/or untrained".

"These messages construct cyclists as a threat to motorists and direct attention away from the responsibility of motorists to keep vulnerable road users safe," the report found.

"Governments that promote cycling and claim aspirational cycling participation goals have a responsibility to ensure their contribution to the construction of cyclists is positive.

"They cannot claim the benefits of cycling on one hand and undermine public thinking about cycling, and therefore individual cyclists' safety, on the other.''

The behaviour of some cyclists can infuriate motorists.
The behaviour of some cyclists can infuriate motorists.

It characterises Australia as a "starter nation" in regard to cycling participation and finds ­policies and strategic plans that aspire to increase cycling participation are "not supported by ­meaningful allocation of road space or novice driver education and training that facilitates ­sharing space".

It also found that driver education and ­training materials show Australian jurisdictions ­provide "limited, inconsistent and sometimes contradictory advice" on interacting with cyclists.

Interestingly, "cyclists" were more likely to have a negative connation than "bike riders".

"From the public perception, cyclists are Lycra-clad lunatics whereas bike riders could be children, people just trying to get to work," ­Haworth says. " 'Cyclist' is a correct term but it seems to have picked up a negative connotation over recent years."

 

LOOK FOR LONG-TERM FIXES

No city has ever built its way out of congestion. That's the message from urban planner Greg Vann, a director of planning at Ethos Urban with more than 40 years' experience in the southeast Queensland region.

He sees a ­region that will be home to another two million people in the next 25 years and believes a conn­ected, comprehensive bikeway system is a vital piece of "the urban mobility puzzle".

"There are still a lot of people in the southeast corner with the mindset that the answer to ­congestion is building and widening more roads," Vann says.

"But the experience is that no city has road-built its way out of congestion. Generally, if you provide more road space, more people will drive. So you are actually getting further behind.

Urban planner Greg Vann believes the long-term fix is to have dedicated bike ways to separate cars from cyclists. Picture: Peter Wallis
Urban planner Greg Vann believes the long-term fix is to have dedicated bike ways to separate cars from cyclists. Picture: Peter Wallis

"The short-term fix is about legislation ­enforcement and education, but the longer-term fix is dedicated, separated infrastructure where people can ride a bike in a location that is not shared with cars and trucks.

"That will create safer conditions for people riding bikes, but also better conditions for drivers. The single biggest impediment to more people riding bikes is a safety issue.

"If you go to the most advanced cycling cities in the world, such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, they are re-purposing some of the roads - they have taken a car lane and made it into a bike way.

It's nowhere near as expensive as building major roads. The per-kilometre cost of a bikeway is a pittance compared to the cost of a road.

"It's not that hard to do physically but it's a hard thing to get the political and community behind it. For every car you take out for another mode - be it cycling, walking or public transport - it's one more space on the road so it's actually helping them.

"It's very interesting that there is this anger and frustration towards bike riders because every person on a bike means more space for people driving their cars. If you build a system and that's the easiest way for people to travel, they will choose it."

No better example is perhaps Brisbane's ­Bicentennial Bikeway, which links the western suburbs to the CBD, and was recently ranked number five in most used bikeways in the world, out of more than 211 locations across 53 countries.

The bikeway has recorded more than a million ­bicycle trips this year, with about 5000 people ­riding along the route every day.

Brisbane City Council Public and Active Transport chairman Cr Adrian Schrinner says the council has committed $100 million into ­upgrades and expansion of dedicated cycling ­facilities over four years, following $220 million already invested.

He says the number of cyclists is "growing every year", with 14 per cent of all trips in Brisbane made either walking or cycling, and that council aims to have a bikeway network of more than 1700km by 2031.

"In 1986 there was no major cycling infrastructure within 12km of Brisbane CBD; now there is more than 75km," he says.

"Council's bikeway program is designed to extend the off-road bikeway network and provide new, safer, separated or on-road options to tackle cycling safety hot spots."

And as for hilly cities, such as Brisbane, Vann says "electric bikes make every city flat'' and he believes these will only continue to increase in popularity.

Cyclists using bike lanes on main roads in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Cyclists using bike lanes on main roads in Copenhagen, Denmark.

 

SWAPPING SEATS

The great cycling cities of the world are ­almost always universally agreed on: ­Amsterdam and Utrecht in the Netherlands; Copenhagen, Denmark; Strasbourg and Bordeaux, France; Malmo, Sweden; and Antwerp, Belgium, among others.

But cities such as London have also attempted to improve safety of cyclists and convert into a bike-riding city following a spate of six bike-rider deaths over a two-week ­period in November 2013 that brought total ­cyclist deaths in the city that year to 14, nine of which involved a heavy goods vehicle.

In recent years, London has reallocated road space for segregated bike lanes/tracks, introduced the creation of "cycle superhighways" and "quietways", and offered education programs for truck drivers and bike riders to demonstrate each ­others' perspective.

Craig Richards says London's success has ­inspired an Australian version of the education program, called Swapping Seats.

Currently "in its infancy" in Victoria, the program allows "truck drivers to see from the rider's point of view and riders to see from the truck's point of view".

"There's a place for better education for heavy vehicles and also for bike riders to understand just how poor visibility is for the truck driver … a lot of the time you might think they can see you when in fact they can't," Richards says.

"It's a program in its infancy at the moment but I certainly hope it will be run in other states because we've seen a significant increase in truck movements in cities … the trucks are in the urban areas where bike-rider concentrations are at their highest. If we can't coexist, there will be lots of problems. London has converted into a bike-­riding city and there's no reason why we can't do that in Australia."

"In other cities around the world, we have seen London change, New York change, Seville (Spain) has changed and France is certainly on the path.

"Australia's population of all our cities are set to increase substantially in the next 40 years and we are going to have more people move around by more space efficient means.

Cameron Frewer with his wife Catherine and their children Lachlan, Oscar and Heidi.
Cameron Frewer with his wife Catherine and their children Lachlan, Oscar and Heidi.

 

DETERMINED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Catherine Frewer was born in Oxford, ­England, and met her husband-to-be when she was 14. Cameron, who was born in Frankston, outer Melbourne, moved with his family to England at age 12 for his father's work as a mariner.

He went to school in Cornwall, on ­England's southwest coast, with Catherine's twin brother James.

Catherine, an early childcare educator, simply says: "We always knew we'd be together".

They came to Australia in 1999 and Cameron, "who wasn't romantic at all", proposed while they watched the movie Notting Hill on the TV in their Dee Why flat on Sydney's Northern Beaches.

They married in 2000 in Sydney, then moved to Melbourne to be closer to Cameron's family after Lachlan was born.

They relocated to the Sunshine Coast for a change of pace in April 2017, falling in love with the region's parklands and bikeways.

"We always made decisions together," Catherine says. "I was homesick when I was ­pregnant with Lachie and I told Cam I needed to go home [to England]. He just said, 'I'd go anywhere with you, Catherine'. He was always like that. We were always a team. We had each other."

Catherine knows she has lost "the perfect ­husband", a man who did everything to make her life easier, a man who was kind and generous and loving.

But Cameron Frewer was also something else. He was determined to make a difference in his campaign to educate drivers on safe passing. And Catherine is determined to carry on her ­husband's work.

"We did talk about the risks of cycling," she says. "Cam knew every day he went riding that one day he might not come home. I knew, we both knew. I don't want anyone to stop riding. We want driver education for safer driving with ­common sense and patience. Remember the bike rider is a normal person like you with a family back home.

"I want my kids to know that every time they ride, their dad is with them. That's what Cameron would want."

Brisbane will host the International Cycling Safety ­Conference in November 2019.

Bicycle Queensland (bq.org.au) will hold a street party at its West End headquarters next Saturday, with all proceeds going to the Frewer family. A GoFundMe page, ­Campaign for Cameron, has also been set up



Man trampled by cow in serious condition

premium_icon Man trampled by cow in serious condition

LifeFlight was tasked to property where a man in his 60s was injured

TC OMA: Mass erosion, 50m of beach gone on Cooloola Coast

premium_icon TC OMA: Mass erosion, 50m of beach gone on Cooloola Coast

'The longer it stays stationery beside us, the greater the damage'