July 13, 2007 was a cold, rainy night. My parents were away at our family holiday house in Wye River, Victoria, and I had a group of friends staying at my home in Williamstown, Melbourne. In our early 20s, we’d been out on consecutive nights; apparently I’d been drinking everyone else under the table. Always the dedicated obsessive: if I was going to drink, I was going to do the job properly.
We’d been at Seven nightclub in South Melbourne where it was Unlucky Thursdays, our favourite night of the week. Drunk after another big session, I took a taxi home with my best friend, Huw, and our mates Aidan and Jason. Once home, I don’t know what possessed me but I got into the family Saab. Maybe I wanted to grab some food. I can’t be sure. Huw, who I’d grown up with, decided to jump in with me. He was in a similarly drunken state, and for some reason decided to lie down across the back seats of the car.
I took off, flying down the main street in Williamstown at 90 kilometres per hour in a 60-kilometre zone, screaming the lyrics to Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers, which was on at full-blast. Something clicked in my head and I suddenly realised that what I was doing was dangerous. I tried to turn the car around to head home.
Everything was in slow motion; it was just like you’d see in a movie. As I wrenched the steering wheel, the car hit a traffic island and started spinning out of control. I could see the houses in front of me as the car continued to spin, only stopping when it slammed into a tree, crushing in one side – the side Huw’s head was facing as he lay down.
I was stunned, and for several moments after the car finally stopped, sat there gripping the steering wheel and breathing hard. I ripped the cassette player out to make it stop playing. With my seatbelt on, I miraculously suffered no injuries beyond a bit of whiplash.
Dazed, I looked over my shoulder. Huw was lying across the back seats, covered in blood and very still.
Dazed, I looked over my shoulder. Huw was lying across the back seats, covered in blood and very still. I called out to him, but he didn’t answer. Ripping off my seatbelt, I turned, shouting his name again and again to no response. Finally he twitched, shook his head and sat up. I was enormously relieved to discover he was alive.
Had he not had a reflex to jolt up when the car spun, he would have been killed upon impact. But somehow he seemed relatively okay, and despite being covered in blood, with gashes on his arm and face, he decided to walk the few kilometres home. He hoped it would save me from getting into more trouble.
By this point I knew I was in trouble. People were running out of their houses and I ended up asking if I could call the police because I wanted to handle the situation myself. At the station, I had to make one of the hardest phone calls of my life. It was to my dad, Steve Bracks, then premier of Victoria. Thankfully, his and my mum’s main concern was for our wellbeing.
It was now 7am and I was told my incident would be all over the news by 8 that morning. Sure enough, by 8am it had become a national story. I couldn’t leave the house for days because media were camped out the front. One of the photos that appeared was of the written-off car in a junk yard with a black cat sitting on top of it. “Unlucky Thursdays” suddenly seemed very apt.
I remember telling myself that I had to change, that I was going to stop drinking and get myself back on track. The police said they’d never seen an accident that severe where anyone had survived. I was lucky to be alive – and even more so, lucky that I didn’t kill my best friend or harm anyone else.
I’d been given a second chance.
But despite numerous attempts, I didn’t take it. I found myself the centre of attention, people watching my every move. As long as I was drunk, I didn’t mind. I felt like I could get away with anything. The weird part was that I wasn’t famous for being an amazing football player or an Olympian or an actor. I’d done nothing more than crash a car. Looking back, I realise I was very naive and stupid, but at the time I thought it was fun to get into nightclubs without having to pay the cover charge.
I loved the approval from crowds of people I didn’t even know. Going out was my world. While I could see that my life had taken a seriously wrong turn, I couldn’t see that I had bigger issues to tackle than just the drinking. In time I came to realise, however, that alcohol had been nothing more than a really bad coping mechanism for some very serious problems.
This is an edited extract from Move your Mind: How to Build a Healthy Mindset for Life by Nick Bracks (Wiley, $30), out now.
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Link to The Age article: https://www.theage.com.au/national/nick-bracks-on-the-accident-that-confirmed-dad-steve-s-decision-to-quit-as-victorian-premier-20210624-p5843h.html