Tourist buses regularly roar down the Bass Highway to the thriving tourist town of Philip Island. Some travellers venture further south to the often frigid wind-swept beaches at Inverloch and Wonthaggi.
Not many find their way 40km inland in Korumburra. And locals living in the small, religious farming community have liked it that way.
But when the town's local Baptist pastor became ill, and three others died after eating a meal that may have contained poisonous mushrooms at nearby Leongatha, the area was uncomfortably thrust into the international media spotlight. Rumours have been spreading in neighbouring towns, where everyone has a “friend-of-a-friend” who knows someone directly affected.
One woman in Wonthaggi who asked that we just use her first name Elizabeth said it was “a bit of a shock” to see “conservative” Korumburra "thrust into the spotlight" so suddenly. "I've been hearing people talking about it in town," she told Yahoo News.
She attends the Baptist church in Wonthaggi and she’s been praying for Ian Wilkinson, a pastor at the neighbouring Baptist church in Korumburra, who remains in a critical condition. Her thoughts have also been with the three dead guests, Heather Wilkinson, Gail Patterson and Don Patterson.
Timeline of the mushroom deaths
July 29, Erin Patterson, 48, allegedly served lunch to six people in the town of Leongatha.
July 30, Four people who attended the lunch were taken to hospital after falling ill.
August 4, Gail Patterson and Heather Wilkinson died in hospital.
August 5, Don Patterson died.
August 7, Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said the woman who served the meal was a "suspect".
'We're not perfect and anyone could do harm'
Police said this week there could be a “very innocent” explanation for the deaths. They are continuing to investigate the matter and have seized items from the host Erin Patterson’s house and a nearby tip.
Elizabeth also has no idea what caused the deaths, she said her own son had been out picking mushrooms that week, something that it's common for locals to do.
But the incident has led her to question how well she knows the wider community. “We all sin. We’re not perfect and anyone could do harm. Our church is lovely but we don’t really know each other properly,” she said.
Small community feels tragedy more than city
The leader of her Baptist church in Wonthaggi has been interstate visiting family as the sad saga has unfolded, but he’s flying home this evening. Speaking on the phone, Pastor Peter Tesch told Yahoo it’s been “tragic” for everyone back home.
“Whenever something happens in the Bass Coast it affects everybody because most people know someone involved” he said.
“I moved down 10 years ago, and I’ve found that when we’ve had road tragedies and deaths people are more affected than in the city.
“It’s a time we pray and if we can offer any help we will.”
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