Of bricks and bravery: Joanne McCarthy recalls moments of shark rescues and grace under pressure

ONE of my favourite photos from a trip to Tasmania nearly two decades ago shows my father and my brother Bill, both bent slightly forward beside an old wall at Port Arthur, examining the brickwork.

My late father, a brickie, taught Bill the trade.

I have no idea what they were discussing at the time, but I took the photo because it represented a recurring theme during our week together in that most beautiful state.

We would arrive at a place, walk around, and invariably Dad and Bill would find something to inspect that was old and made of brick.

They would talk about the shape and make-up of the bricks themselves, what it would have been like to have laid them, the tools of trade in the 1800s, the bonds (the patterns in which bricks are laid), the “lines” and “perps” (the horizontal and vertical mortar joints between bricks) and loads of other things that I wouldn’t hear because I’d have become bored by that stage and have wandered off to look at something else.

The photo album from that trip shows Dad and Bill inspecting bricks at Port Arthur, on a bridge at Richmond, on the waterfront at Strahan and in other places I haven’t identified. If ever I lost them I’d just walk around for awhile, looking for brick walls, and eventually find them.

My brother is the fourth in a family of 11 children. I am the eldest. There are another two girls between us. Bill and I spent most of our childhoods trying to seriously maim each other, or worse. I didn’t take kindly to suddenly having a sibling described as “the son and heir” because he was male. It was a direct challenge to my exalted status as the eldest. Bill didn’t appreciate the little despot four years ahead of him.

I didn’t take kindly to suddenly having a sibling described as “the son and heir” because he was male. It was a direct challenge to my exalted status as the eldest. Bill didn’t appreciate the little despot four years ahead of him.

As adults we worked out we are fundamentally male and female versions of the same personality, and made our peace.

Bill has two sons.

On July 17, 2016 he took the boys fishing at Erina Creek on the Central Coast.

A report of the day even records the time and where on the creek they were fishing. It was 9.45am, a Sunday, and they had thrown in a line off the wharf.

If my young nephews are anything like my three sons when they went fishing as children, a more likely story is that the boys threw in multiple lines which became entangled, snared or hooked on bushes or people, and Bill spent his time disentangling, unsnaring and unhooking the boys’ lines from bushes or parts of his body.

A report of what happened on that day as Bill and my nephews fished, which was made public by the Royal Humane Society after a ceremony at Government House in Sydney on October 20, notes that shortly after 9.45am a car stopped at a boat ramp near the wharf.

“Suddenly the car drove straight into the water, where within a very short time it sank, becoming submerged,” the report said.

Bill has always been an action man, and capable. The report says he “immediately stripped to his underwear, grabbed a spanner from his car and entered the water”.

The report doesn’t record that he told his sons “DO NOT MOVE” first and rang 000, before throwing his phone to a couple out walking their dogs. The man in the couple, Jeffrey Doyle, also stripped to his underwear and swam to the car.

The report says the two men used the spanner to smash the back window and pulled the woman out. She was taken to hospital.

Royal Humane Society of NSW patron, NSW Governor David Hurley, presented 43 people with bravery awards for 2016-17 at the ceremony on October 20, including bronze awards to Bill and Mr Doyle.

It’s worth going to the Royal Humane Society website from time to time, if ever you think society is going to hell in a handbasket, to see how average Australians respond when others are in danger.

Dr Hugh Giles and Matthew Meadows received gold awards at the ceremony for trying to save the life of Tadashi Nakahara, 41, who was attacked by a four-metre great white shark at a Ballina beach on February 9, 2015.

Mr Nakahara bled profusely after the shark bit off his legs and the back of his board.

“Most of the surfers quickly made their way to shore,” the Humane Society report said.

Dr Giles and Mr Meadows swam towards him. They placed themselves on either side of the dying man and towed him in.

A third man, Darren Rogers, jumped from rocks to help keep Mr Nakahara’s head above water. He received a silver award.

The report notes that throughout the rescue “the shark was still in the area and the victim was suffering substantial loss of blood into the surrounding waters”.

The three continued to try to keep Mr Nakahara alive once they reached the beach but he died.

Four men – Paul Pollard, Michael O’Rourke, Hayden Griffiths and Thomas Raymen – received silver awards for their extraordinary attempts to rescue people trapped in their cars after a shocking petrol tanker crash at Mona Vale in 2013. A fifth man, Andrew Cochrane, has already received a gold award for his courage on that day.

My brother attended the awards ceremony alone, and was later roundly abused by some of his siblings for not letting his family know about it.

It was after the ceremony, while on a veranda at Government House overlooking Sydney Harbour, that he teared up while inspecting the brickwork of that beautiful old building.

Our father died in November last year. Checking out the brickwork in solitary silence was a poignant reminder of that loss. Bill’s courage, though, is testament to our father’s legacy.

This story “Suddenly the car drove straight into the water” first appeared on Newcastle Herald.