Sunflower shrine for a much-loved truckie

On 20 July 2020, an experienced road train operator was tragically killed when his truck rolled on the Leichardt Highway, around 15km north of Taroom, Queensland. His sister has set up a memorial at the site in his honour, planting sunflower seeds, which are yet to bloom.

Justin Kay was only 39 years old when he left for work and never came home, leaving behind his three children Kaleb (12), Lexi (14), and Kiara (16).

“He had been driving road trains since he was about 22. He was crazy about his trucks and was a bloody hard worker too,” said his sister Hayley Kay.

“He was funny and bubbly. He was our protector. He was always the strong one, but deep down he was actually a big softie with so much time for his nieces and nephews. He was the uncle they all couldn’t wait to go and visit.”

Sadly, this isn’t the first time the Kay family has experienced such grief. Less than a year earlier, in September 2019, Hayley reveals they lost their sister Christie to suicide. She was 36.

“I’ve struggled with my own mental health since I lost my sister and Justin and I would always check in on each other regularly,” Hayley said.

Justin Kay was just 39 when he lost his life.

Exactly one month after the incident, Hayley and her partner made the trip to the site where Justin’s life was cut short – about 6-7 hours away from their home in Brisbane.

“We planted sunflower seeds because they were his favourite flower and I had fake sunflowers handmade by a lady that makes waterproof flowers for events, which we put on a tree,” said Hayley.

Living so far from the memorial site, Hayley had no way of knowing whether or not the flowers had bloomed, so she put a post up on Facebook: “What I am looking for is someone who may pass his crash site on the regular. I have my doubts due to soil conditions but we planted some sunflowers at the site and wanting to know if any of them made it? The site can be easily missed due to being down an embankment but the sunflowers that are in the tree may catch your eye,” it read.

Though the sunflower seeds haven’t grown, Hayley was overwhelmed by the response she received from the trucking community.

One truckie wrote, “I was one of many drivers that were held up that night. Next trip will do my best to have a look for you, feel free to pm me anytime.”

From the feedback Hayley received from truckies travelling that way, she now knows that the site looks exactly as she left it, with sunflowers tied to the tree and a cross with the words ‘RIP Justin’.

“It was just beautiful to have all of these drivers respond. Justin was pretty well known within the trucking community. Some of the comments were even from his old school friends. For truck drivers, I know it’s hard for them when they see one of their own lose their life out on the road,” said Hayley.

“I just want to thank them and also say, stay incredibly safe if they’re pulling up with their big rigs on the side of the highway. It’s the sort of thing Justin would have done for any truck driver too, but please be careful.”


*If this story has raised any mental health issues for you, call Lifeline: 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 (24 hours/7 days).

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