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Copyright © 2018 by Carmel Beresford

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Published by

Carmel Beresford

Eulo

2018



with the assistance of Mulga Mob Publishing

Charleville. Qld.









UNFORGIVING


CARMEL BERESFORD





ABOUT THE AUTHOR


My early childhood was spent in the semi-rural area of the Lockyer Valley below the Great Dividing Range in Queensland. I grew up and was educated a city girl after a move to the Redcliffe Peninsula at the age of ten. I attended Frawley College where, in year eleven, I met a boy from south west Queensland. His stories of life in the bush fascinated me and I made my first visit to this place called Eulo and his sheep and cattle property, ‘Farnham Plains’, in 1974. The country and its landscape were so foreign and alien to me yet so fascinating. I was mesmerised - endless blue sky, ochre coloured soil and mulga trees for as far as the eye could see. I was hooked to this land. In 1977, after undertaking a teaching diploma, I married my high school sweetheart and moved permanently to the Eulo area.

My teaching career began in Cunnamulla and it was to span across the next 35 years. My three children were born in the 1980’s decade – Patrick in 1981, Lauren in 1983 and Sam in 1989. Although this was a tough time for us on the land, the children grew up enjoying an idyllic childhood - riding horses and motorbikes, having endless numbers of animals and pets and swimming, fishing and yabbying in the Paroo River. With a lingering drought and boarding school fees to meet I returned to full time teaching in Cunnamulla in 1994, travelling there for the working week and home to the property for the weekend. In 1998 I accepted the principal’s position at Eulo State School – a position I held for fourteen years. I didn’t intend staying that long, but each dry spell became more frequent and money was always needed. The first five years flew and not long after it seemed, I was marking my tenth year as principal. These were the most rewarding and challenging years of my teaching career. Life was on track. The children had grown, and grandchildren were arriving.

Good rain fell in the summer of 2009/10 setting us up for a season of long, waving grass, fat cows and bonny calves. In 2010 Sam learnt to fly a gyrocopter giving us the ability to aerial muster over our property whenever we needed. It was also the year we celebrated his 21st birthday. Another wet summer followed, and we were recovering well from droughts of the ‘00’ years. Complete and utter devastation hit in March 2011 and life as I knew it came crashing down. Sam was run down by a gyrocopter purchased second hand from his flying instructor just the day before. Tragically, he died eight days later.

Sam’s death sent me into a deep, dark world that consumed and imprisoned me and the grief I felt and experienced engulfed me. It challenged my marriage, damaged relationships and cost me my career. I searched for distractions and sought meaning to Sam’s death but most of all I sought answers to what caused his death.

At the same time, I began writing this story – the story of Sam and I. Throughout the years I had written short, unpublished stories and always yearned for the time to write a book. I could never have imagined nor envisaged Sam dying and that his death would be the centrepiece of this story. ‘Unforgiving’ is that story.

Carmel Beresford









Dedicated to Sam

15/10/89 – 17/03/11

A life so full

A death too soon

and to

Mick, Patrick, Lauren and Krysta

for your patience, love and support always.

With special thanks and sincere gratitude to Brunette Lenkic

whose wealth of knowledge, encouragement and assistance inspired me to improve my writing and finish this story.

When a memoir is written, it can involve events that are shared by family and friends. These events may be remembered differently by others.

‘Unforgiving’ is my memories and my story.









UNFORGIVING



Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - Farnham Plains

Chapter 2 - Wednesday 9th March 2011

Chapter 3 - Thursday 10th March

Chapter 4 -Friday 11th March

Chapter 5 - Saturday 12th March

Chapter 6 ~ Sunday 13th March

Chapter 7 ~ Monday 14th March

Chapter 8 - Tuesday 15th March

Chapter 9 - Wednesday 16th March

Chapter 10 - Thursday 17th March

Chapter 11 - Friday 18th March

Chapter 12 - Saturday 19th March

Chapter 13 - Funeral Eve

Chapter 14 - Sam’s Funeral

Chapter 15 - Collecting Sam’s Ashes

Chapter 16 - Home To Eulo

Chapter 17 - Sam’s Second Service

Chapter 18 - To The Tabletop

Chapter 19 - The Days And Weeks After

Chapter 20 -The Gyrocopter Inspection

Chapter 21 - The Letter

Chapter 22 - Walking Home

Chapter 23 - The Price Is Too High

Chapter 24 - Sam’s Financial Affairs

Chapter 25 - Suicide

Chapter 26 - The Long And Painful Journey

Chapter 27 - Krysta Leaves Farnham

Chapter 28 - Packing Away

Chapter 29 - 15th October 2011

Chapter 30 - The Phone Call

Chapter 31 - Snakes, Floods And A Pig In A Wheelbarrow

Chapter 32 - Bogged On A Guidepost

Chapter 33 - Returning To Work

Chapter 34 - Flying High

Chapter 35 - The Burning Of The Helicopter

Chapter 36 - The ‘Gamarren’ Experience

Chapter 37 - Unforgiving

Chapter 38 - Exiting The Grazing Business

Chapter 39 - Feast Or Famine

Chapter 40 - Sal

Chapter 41 - Two Lives

Chapter 42 - The Inquest

Chapter 43 - The Findings Of The Inquest

Chapter 44 - The Aftermath

Epilogue




A school photo of Sam and I taken about 1999.




Out in the paddock amongst the long grass.









UNFORGIVING

PART ONE

Chapter 1 - Farnham Plains

I first came to Farnham Plains in August 1973. I had been hearing about this place from my boyfriend, Mick Beresford, for more than a year. Mick and I were at senior school together and I was flying to Cunnamulla to spend a week of school holidays with him and his family on their property, Farnham Plains – Farnham, as it’s sometimes shortened to. As the plane did a final pass over the town and airport of Cunnamulla, 900 kilometres west of Brisbane, I got a bird’s eye view of the stark countryside below – so different, I remember thinking, to the landscape and greenery of Brisbane.

Eulo, the closest town to the family property, was a further 60 kilometres west and, as we made our way there, I was mesmerised by my surroundings. I expected to see a flat, treeless land but instead, tall, craggy-barked trees with dull, green leaves were everywhere.

Mick answered my query about them. “They’re called mulga trees,” he said.

It was dark as we drove the final 18 kilometres of dirt road into Farnham Plains and after rain that day, patches of road were slippery and boggy. As Mick drove, he darted between trees and found detours that seemed to have us headed towards tree trunks before he’d turn again and find a drier track to follow. I had never experienced anything like this in my life. The homestead was in darkness as we approached, even though Mick’s mother was there. No men had been at home that evening to wind the handle of the big, diesel engine that generated the power for the house. So different to my city home where electricity was supplied at the touch of a switch.

Next morning, as the sun rose over this alien land, I looked out. The sky was the bluest colour I had ever seen it – no clouds, smog or fog filled the air like it did in Brisbane. The ground was a deep, red, ochre colour with scatterings of green clumps of grass and it was deathly silent – no traffic, no sirens, no noise: the sound of nothing. I was consumed by my surroundings and feelings of contentment on that first visit. Mick had a life of freedom here and during this one week of my sixteen years, I shared and experienced that freedom. Although I did not know it then, I seemed implicitly linked to this rugged, outback country.

When school life ended, Mick returned to Farnham Plains to work the property, I began my teaching studies and our long-distance relationship continued. With each visit, my love grew for this country, its everyday, salt-of-the-earth people and the community. During those next three years, holidays at Farnham meant long motorbike rides with Mick. We went wherever we wanted and we went alone. It seemed natural in his world for no one older to chaperone us. I sat behind Mick and wrapped my arms around him; for stability yes, but also for the exhilaration we both got from the closeness we shared on these rides. If the day was hot, we’d stop at a secluded stretch of river somewhere far from the house, strip off and swim naked in the murky brown water, basking in the excitement this brought us.

As we rode through the paddocks, Mick pointed out landmarks that he knew so well. We crossed open grassy plains where cattle and sheep grazed and skirted around a large expanse of water only filled after heavy, continuous rain. Further along the track were small indentations of earth surrounded and protected by large clumps of Gidgee trees that also filled with water after rain. Mick showed me the mud springs – natural mounds of mud formed as pressure releases from the inland underground water system we know as the Great Artesian Basin.

“These can be dangerous,” I remember him warning me. “The mud might look hard on top but it can be soft just below the surface. If you jump or bounce you might fall through. There’ve been lots of times when sheep or cattle have been bogged in these springs and I’ve had to pull them out.”

On one of our rides Mick took me further from the house than I had ever been. In the far distance, I saw a range of hills formed by a series of rocky escarpments framed against the brightness of the sky. The sides were steep and, in most places, impenetrable and caves were scattered around the cliff face. Our road wound past a bluff-like formation above us with an entrance protruding outward. Mick called this ‘Jack-in-the-Rocks’. I begged him to stop so we could climb and enter the cave. Inside was low and dark, scattered with the bones of dead kangaroos and goats and it smelt of stale death. The stench was overpowering and quickly drained away my enthusiasm for exploring this place.

Further on but hidden among the many trees that grew down the sides of the escarpment was the track that took us up onto the top of the ridge. Mick told me his family called this place, ‘The Tabletop’ and I could see why. It was the highest, flattest point for many, many kilometres and here the view was breathtaking. The surrounding country hypnotised me and I felt encased by it. I was not to know or even imagine the significance this place would play in my later life. At that time, though, as Mick and I stood and looked out over the vastness in front of us, we were young, carefree and crazy about each other.

Community life was active around Eulo, with many people of similar ages to Mick and me. Saturday night movies, sneaky visits to the local pub, tennis afternoons and cricket on Sunday, church even, were all well-attended events. When you become part of the life of a family in the bush you soon become part of the community, too, and I felt embraced. People openly welcomed me as Mick Beresford’s girlfriend, a part of his family even then and included in everything they did. I remember being overwhelmed with sadness each time I had to leave and every day in Brisbane I yearned for my return to Farnham Plains.

When those three years passed, Mick and I married, and I came to live permanently in western Queensland. We settled into a small cottage and like a typical, newly married couple, we were blissfully happy. I did a couple of years teaching then our first child, Patrick was born. With a drought affecting Mick’s family property in 1981/82, we left the west and tried life in the city. While we lived there our second child, Lauren, was born. But Eulo acted like a strong magnet and we returned to Farnham Plains in 1985 with our young family.

“There’s no better place for kids to live and grow up,” I remember Mick saying.

That was true, but Mick forgot to tell me or warn me of the hardships and realities of bush life and I’d only previously seen this life through my rose-coloured glasses. The prolonged drought of 1981/82 and the decisions that needed to be made then had sat on the shoulders of Mick’s parents – after 1985, and their retirement from the property, those kinds of decisions were ours. I knew little and I had not experienced the everyday trauma of drought and the cost of it on both animals and humans. There was the relentless, daily task of hand-feeding stock with expensive supplements. Weak animals were at the mercy of crows and most times these animals had to be euthanised – a heartbreaking and daunting task for someone who had grown up in the city.

Responsibility for the financial management of the property was also ours. We had to deal with banks and the balancing act that entailed, the reality of irregular farming income but regular bills and the cost in human terms if decisions at the time were not the right ones. We were like the clown trying to keep his juggling balls aloft only ours were the day- to-day decisions that had to be made to keep our grazing business afloat. It was in that period of our lives that an unplanned baby boy arrived - our third child. We named him Sam.

Living this kind of life, I was constantly thrown into new and challenging situations. When money was needed, Mick worked away from the property. That left me emotionally fragile at times and isolation in the bush can take its toll. I slept with a shotgun beside my bed to ward off the burglars I believed would break in during the night. I had to deal with snakes and centipedes that found their way into the house. I imagined that if I died in my sleep my young children would be alone with their dead mother for days before their father returned.

Choosing to live in the outback means foregoing facilities city dwellers take for granted - immediate intensive medical care is one of these. An ambulance for us at Farnham Plains was an hour by road from Cunnamulla, the same time it took the Royal Flying Doctor Service plane from its base in Charleville. I thought I was lucky that my children survived many of the scrapes and injuries of their childhood without needing such care. There were many cuts and sprains whilst our most serious injury was Lauren’s broken wrist. While out riding her motor bike she fell, putting her hand down to break her fall. She complained that her wrist was sore but there was no outward sign or swelling to show something was wrong. Next day, we were mustering sheep and Lauren’s help was needed in the paddock too. Her sore right wrist meant she had to use her left hand to work the right-hand clutch on her motor bike. Her father watched as she did these many times. In frustration, Mick rode across to Lauren and said to her, “If that hand is so sore, go home to your mother and get her to take you to the hospital.”

I did, and Lauren came home with a plaster on her arm. Mick felt awful.

Another time, Patrick showed signs of having the measles. I phoned the hospital and the response was, “Don’t bring him in; keep him out there where he can’t infect anyone!” My centipede bite on the finger got much the same reaction. Mick was away, the children were young; Sam was a baby at the time. I phoned the hospital and the advice I got was, “Put your baby in his cot where he can’t hurt himself, dose yourself up with painkillers and soak your hand in warm water.” The long infection line from my finger up my arm disappeared by morning and I had nothing to show for the excruciating pain I’d been in. I really did think I had been lucky that our injuries and sicknesses had not been serious, and I was thankful that minimal medical assistance had seen my children through their childhood and into adult life. But on a fateful day in March 2011 our distance from intensive medical care meant it was more than nine hours from the time of Sam’s accident to his hospital admission. His survival was always in doubt.

Through all the early years and the hardships and adversities, I always felt fortunate to live on Farnham Plains. My children were the fifth-generation Beresford’s there. The property was initially purchased around the turn of the twentieth century by Percy Ronald Beresford, PR as he was known. He had owned the original Eulo Store and bought and moved to Farnham upon selling that business. Stories abound of his money-making ventures and with the initials, PRB, he was known by many at the time as the ‘Paroo Robbing Bastard’ – Paroo coming from the name of the river that meanders past Eulo. Some generations of the family that followed him grew their wealth while others blew theirs, which made hard work of family successions. PR had two sons and two properties, so succession then was easy. Next generation was three sons and two properties, difficult but manageable and Mick’s generation was three sons and one property, an even more difficult situation.

By the time it was our turn to plan for succession, Patrick and Lauren had left Farnham and followed other pathways in their lives. So, when Sam turned eighteen, our succession plan for him began. He loved Farnham and everything about it – the land, the stock and the work it involved. We developed a plan for the future, his and ours, and with this in place we relaxed, knowing another generation would work and remain on our beloved Farnham. We discussed life without Mick – what Sam as the successor and I would do. We discussed life without me – again what Sam and Mick would do. But we never discussed life without the successor. Any thought of life without Sam never entered our heads. Why would it? He was young, fit, and healthy and hardly had a day sick in his life. The succession plan was so sound, so calculated and so right for his future, ours too and the future of Farnham.

I know what happens when that future is taken away; that is exactly what happened to us. I went through stages – grief at the initial time of Sam’s death, the feelings of total loss in the following months and then a feeling of grim resolve to continue on and build the life that would have been if Sam was still here. Mick held this feeling too and perhaps, in his own way, still does. But for me, that sense was short-lived; the knowledge that Sam would never be here overwhelmed and consumed me and was greater than the desire to continue his dream. I lost hope, I lost direction, I lost everything. With Sam’s death, my love for Farnham, the place I had called home for 26 years, died too.

Years before Sam died, I heard a saying on the radio as I was driving home from work. I had imagined the headstone of my grave quoting this as it seemed to sum up my feelings about Farnham at that time. It said,

You should never say I own this country.
When you feel this country owns you, you will know you are home.
It will not be engraved on my headstone – but it is on Sam’s.
He deserved it.











Chapter 2 - Wednesday 9th March 2011

The day began like any working day did on the 30,000 hectares of Farnham. Here we bred and raised beef cattle and goats, taking full advantage of the renowned country along the Paroo River. Krysta Garret was stirring. She was the partner of my son, Sam, and she lived with us. As the school’s part-time teacher aide and cleaner, Krysta started work at 6.45am. She left the house as my husband, Mick, and I finished our early morning cup of tea. Most mornings Mick woke, headed for the kitchen and made the tea while I slowly opened my eyes and tried to greet the new day. I didn’t appreciate mornings. I enjoyed the late afternoon when the working day was over and the last of the sun’s rays touched the western horizon. Mick and Sam had no difficulty rising and beginning the jobs planned for the day ahead. Sam was not usually up as early as Krysta or Mick, but he was on that day, eager to go to the hangar and to his new flying machine. Dear Sam, the unplanned child I’d had twenty-one years ago, the one I used to think of as my worst child, now meant the world to me. I heard him in the kitchen rattling plates, then caught a glimpse of him leaving the house.

As he passed my bedroom door I said, “You’re on the go early this morning.”

He smiled; he looked happy. He wanted to go to his two-seater gyrocopter – the one he and Krysta had picked up from Roma the day before.

A gyrocopter (gyro) is a small, compact flying machine usually made of fibre-glass, with a semi- attached windscreen in front. It has rotor blades overhead and a three-blade propeller and engine behind the pilot’s small, open cockpit. At the rear is a fin-like tail. A single-seat type only has the workings of the machine and room for the pilot. There is also a two-seater, used by instructors to train learners to fly. Other pilots choose them for the space to carry a passenger or some cargo. Sam began flying a single-seat gyrocopter in 2010 to help out on our property and to generate some external income for his future.

In 2009, we had begun our succession plan to bring Sam into our grazing enterprise. He had applied to borrow $650,000 from Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority (QRAA), Queensland’s main rural lending body and for that, share my half of the business. Mick, Sam and I would be a three-way partnership. On examination of his previous three tax returns, QRAA did not believe he had the means to meet repayments. No one at board level seemed to consider this young man had spent those years at home on low to nothing wages, helping us get through a terrible drought.

Sam was gutted when the letter of refusal came. No young man deserved more of a start in this business than he did; it meant everything to him. He was advised to go “off to the mines and make some big bucks” then make a new application to QRAA. Sam found this ridiculous advice. He’d stayed at home to build his future here and he wasn’t about to leave. That’s when the idea of flying a gyrocopter seemed to have been hatched between him and his father. Mick’s brother, Eric, had one and with it had built himself a healthy business in the district. Sam discussed it with Eric, too. Eric believed there was room across the district for another gyrocopter and it would likely take some pressure off him with the client base he had. So Sam decided that was what he would do. I don’t recall at what stage I was brought into the conversation, but it all seemed a done deal by the time I was told.

Sam went to Bundaberg, a town on the Queensland coast a thousand kilometres away for a ‘see and try’ with instructor and gyrocopter mechanic, Rob Patroney. He loved it. Flying was in his blood; generations of family members were pilots, so it should not have been any surprise that Sam was keen. But it was to me.

After his initial try with Rob Patroney, Sam and Eric went to Quilpie, 300kms north-west of Eulo, to inspect a gyrocopter there. Our business bought it and Sam would be its pilot. Some modifications were needed to make this new purchase safer to fly so Sam headed to Bundaberg again but this time towing the gyrocopter in a purpose-built trailer. Rob and he worked on the machine, then Sam had a few flying lessons as the tropical coastal weather allowed. Because Rob mainly taught recreational flyers and Sam was learning to fly to muster stock in these western parts, another flight instructor was recommended. His name was Campbell (Cam) Taylor, a registered flight instructor based in Roma, about 600kms from us. As well as instructing, Cam did aerial mustering. He was in his late thirties, athletic and with what many considered an easy-going personality. Sam and his father knew of Cam from polocrosse, the horse sport they all played during the cooler months in Queensland. The contact was made; Sam went to Campbell for lessons. My only knowledge of Cam at that point was as a polocrosse player but I learnt much more about him, about the association he was registered with and about gyrocopters when it was all too late.

I was a tad behind schedule for school that morning. I liked to be gone from the house by 7.40am. It was 7.50 and it was only me who felt that ten-minute difference could make me seem late. I drove along the road to where Sam and the gyrocopter were and slowed but decided I didn’t have time to stop. Sam looked up. It was rare for me to drive past if I ever saw him near the road, in the paddocks or around the sheds close to home. I’m sure he thought I would stop and tell him to be careful and to look after himself – advice mothers always seem to give their sons. In fact, surprisingly, I felt no real concern for him with this gyrocopter; after all, it was the machine he had learnt to fly in. Also, I believed, the purchase had been subject to the machine being rebuilt and mechanically checked, as we had done with the first one. Sam had paid an extraordinarily large deposit for this to be done as I well-remembered because we had disagreed over it.

Sam had come to me in mid-January for help with making a bank transfer of $25,000 to Cam and Adrienne Taylor’s business account. I asked him what such a large amount of money was for.

“That’s the deposit I have to pay for the gyrocopter,” he’d said.

“That’s an awful lot of money for a deposit,” I told him. “When you’re buying a new car you’re only expected to come up with a deposit of around ten per cent. You’re paying half now.” Sam replied, “There’s work that needs doing to it and Cam doesn’t want to spend his own money. All his money is tied up in his new machine so if I pay that deposit, the work can be done before I pick it up.”

Again, I cautioned him about this. “What happens if his business goes belly up?” I asked, “You’ll not only lose your money, but the gyrocopter won’t be released to you; you’ll end up with nothing.”

And I got the line from him that I would grow to hate hearing – “It’ll be right.”

I looked across to where he was working. I got a warm tingle and thought that life, at that moment, was good for us. We waved to each other, smiled and I drove on. I looked back in the rear vision mirror. Sam busied himself around the gyrocopter and I thought to myself how lucky we were to have him.

I arrived at school and began preparations for the day. Krysta was busy, too, and everything was normal. The students arrived at 8.30 and our second teacher, Rose Bladwell, was also there. The phone began to ring. As I walked across the classroom towards it, I noticed the clock on the wall above my desk read 8.40. Happy, laughing children, chatting staff and the ringing phone were the normal sounds that filled the morning air at Eulo State School – my school. The correct term is ‘our school’ but this was my school in this small town I’d called home for more than half my life. The phone’s ring reminded me my busy day as a teaching principal had begun. It was unbearable outside that morning as the heat of a hot, humid summer lingered into March. Although their school day hadn’t started, my thirteen students were reluctant to venture beyond the air-conditioned classroom. They played, talked, laughed and joked with each other. I could not have been more content with my life than I was that morning.

I reached for the phone. “Hello Eulo State Sc…”

I was stopped by the voice on the other end screaming, “Quickly! You gotta do something! It’s Sam! He’s had an accident with the gyrocopter and we need help real quick! He looks real bad – get an ambulance and tell them to hurry!”

It was Mick’s voice I was hearing. In the seconds he took to get those words out, my head was spinning.

“He’s real bad so tell them to hurry,” he repeated. “You’ll have to do all this ‘cause I’ve got to get back to him! Hurry!”

With those words and what followed, my world began to collapse. Life as I knew it was about to be turned upside down and nothing would ever be normal again.

Still clutching the phone, I raced outside. I tried to make sense of all this. Accident – gyrocopter - which gyrocopter? Sam promised he wouldn’t fly his new one until Eric could get out there that afternoon. Was he airborne or was he on the ground? Where did all this happen? Nothing made sense. First aid teaches you to be calm – I wanted to be, but I wasn’t. I dialled 000 and the response came at the same time as I found my sister-in-law, Kate. She was employed at school as a teacher aide at the time. Kate had nursing aide experience as well as a wealth of knowledge around the care of sick and injured animals. I tried telling both her and the operator at the same time. The operator wanted more details but I had none. She was patient, but all I wanted was for her to get an ambulance to Sam – fast! By now Kate knew as much as I knew, and she quickly left for the twenty-minute trip to Farnham, taking the school’s first aid kit with her.

After finishing her own schooling, Kate had wanted to do nursing like her older sisters. Although she started, she became homesick and ended up back in Eulo working at the post office. Perhaps her keenness to build a relationship with Eric, whom she later married, played a part. Over the ensuing years, she undertook courses in vet nursing and was the local ‘go to’ person for both human and animal cuts, breaks and burns. Her first aid treatment at the time we had a helicopter fire was praised by medical staff and saved our young mechanic from serious consequences that day. Now she was being asked to do it all again.

Krysta ran from the music room when she heard me yelling. She paled as she waited for me to get off the phone. I told her the little I knew about Sam’s accident and said we needed to get home quickly. We raced away from school leaving behind concerned staff and children. Dave Solonec, our local policeman, needed to be informed. He hadn’t been in Eulo long and, although he’d been told it was a sleepy place with little happening, he’d already been to a couple of serious incidents. All Eulo’s buildings sit together on opposite sides of the main road –pub, store, church and what was once the post office on one side, while the other side has a house, town hall, two more houses and the police station. The school is on the northern edge of town, away from everything else.

I sped toward the police station. Dave saw me coming and thought something had happened to his daughter at school. I filled him in and was anxious to keep going. He said he’d make some calls, change out of his civvies and be right out.

I drove as quickly and as safely as I could. Krysta’s conversation in the car changed constantly, from questions that she wasn’t necessarily directing to me, to thoughts out loud, to statements about what Sam was and wasn’t going to do that morning.

“He said he was just going to …” After about fifteen minutes we were close to the site. I said to Krysta, “We don’t know what we will find when we turn this next bend, but we must stay calm and focus on helping Sam as much as we can. This is not the time to fall into a blubbering heap.”

She told me she would be strong, and I knew that she would do all she humanly could for ‘her Sam’.

As we passed the trees leading to the old hangar and the house, I saw both Kate and Mick leaning over Sam. He was lying in the red dirt with no protection from the hot ground or the blistering sun. I stopped the car and Krysta jumped out and went to help. I told Kate I had to phone 000 again and give them an update on Sam’s injuries. Kate went straight into rescue mode as she had done on many occasions in the past.

She called out her assessment. “Tell them, head wound and shoulder-upper arm wound is what I can immediately see.” I sped to the house and made the 000 call. I passed on Kate’s observations to the operator, but she wanted more detail.

“I don’t know…, I don’t know,” I said over and over.

The back door opened, and Mick walked up the hallway. He looked distraught.

“Tell them he’s losing brain fluid from the head wound.”

“No, no, no,” I kept saying.

Mick took the phone from me and was given first aid instructions. I thought Mick was wrong – he’s not a doctor, how would he know what brain fluid looked like? He finished on the phone and I asked how he knew it was brain fluid. He said he’d killed enough sheep in his time to know.

He went back to Sam but I waited at the house for any further phone calls or instructions. I sat with my head bowed and my arms folded so tightly around me it felt like they were crushing my chest. My fingers dug into my upper arms. I paced the floor. The phone rang. Naomi Solonec, Dave’s wife and a police officer herself, was looking for as much detail as I could give her. I walked to the back door where I got a clear line of sight to the unfolding scene. I saw the police car parked, so I knew Dave had arrived. Another call came; it was Charleville Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). Their plane and medical team were on the way and they, too, sought as much information as I could give. After that call I paced again, lounge room to back door to look up the road. Back and forth I went. I was torn; I needed to stay by the phone for Sam’s sake, but I also wanted to go to him.

Again, I looked up the road. I felt calmer when I saw the ambulance had arrived, though puzzled that the Cunnamulla fire and rescue vehicle was parked behind it. With so many now attending to Sam, Mick came to the house. Everything seemed under control and I felt better. I asked to go to Sam and Mick thought it would be a good time.

A large umbrella was being used to shade Sam and those around him. He was in terrible pain and I was struck by the sounds he made. My heart was torn open by this, but I managed to hold myself together. “Be strong,” I told myself, “be strong.” I wanted to help so I held the umbrella and Krysta was relieved that she could now use both hands to comfort Sam. He was conscious, his pain unbearable, as he constantly moaned and groaned loudly. Krysta comforted him.

“Try to relax Sammy, it’ll be okay.” She certainly was the tower of strength I’d asked her to be. As Nathan, the paramedic, worked, Kate quietly but firmly explained to Sam what was happening.

She’d say, “Now Sam we’re just going to remove your belt,” or “Sam, Nathan’s going to give you a needle in your thigh.”

Whether he could comprehend this we would never know. All I knew was the pain must have been excruciating and I felt every loud groan and moan coming from him.

I was weakening. Adrenalin was racing through my system but the blood rapidly drained from my head. I started to see white patches in front of my eyes and my legs buckled. Each time the pain became too much for Sam and he wailed uncontrollably, I felt my own strength sapping. I had to move away so I handed Mick the umbrella and quickly headed for the shelter of the old hangar. The white gyrocopter, smashed into the back corner of the Toyota, was not far away. I went to the other side of the vehicle and leaned against it for fear of falling over. I crossed my arms and dropped my head on them. Sam’s painful cries were reverberating in my head. I kept saying, “Oh Sam, oh Sam! Please God get him through this.”

I lifted my head and looked across at the scene. There was Nathan the paramedic. There was Kate assisting him, along with Norma Hoyling, a nursing assistant who had travelled out in the ambulance. There were Mick and Krysta watching on, ashen faced. There was Dave in conversation with two police officers from Cunnamulla. Standing in the background in a small huddle were the fire and rescue guys – familiar faces. Most knew Sam.

Nathan was in satellite phone contact with the RFDS. He turned and asked, “Can the RFDS plane land here at Farnham?” Knowing the condition of the strip, Mick looked doubtful. Over time it had deteriorated. Dave and his fellow officers jumped in a police vehicle and drove the strip to assess its condition. With no fixed wing aircraft at Farnham for a long time, the full length of the strip was neglected and its condition had deteriorated. Light 172 Cessnas could land but they had to be careful. Only a short narrow strip was kept graded for the gyros. The officers returned, and their answer was a definite no.

The inability of the RFDS plane to land at home impacted on Sam’s condition and later became something I could not forgive Mick for. When you live in the bush, workplace safety should be a high priority. Having worked in government, I knew about policy and accountability. Mick scoffed at any attempt to fall into line with these procedures. We had been given a warning when our older son, Patrick, had a motorbike accident in 2002 but we hadn’t learned from it. Any suggestion about fixing up the strip was always met with that “it’ll be right” attitude. In the following months, I cringed, closed my eyes and ground my teeth whenever I heard Mick utter those words. Well-maintained airstrips in the bush are a necessity - not a luxury.

Sam was transported to Eulo by road in the ambulance and the RFDS team was at the airstrip waiting. Kate drove the ambulance because of her knowledge of the condition of the road. Norma sat in beside her and Krysta travelled in the back with Nathan and Sam. Krysta never opened up about that harrowing eighteen-kilometre trip to Eulo and all she said to me was, “It’s so lucky you weren’t in that ambulance with us.”

I remained with Mick at the scene as the police had some questions for him because he had been there before the accident and was the first there after it. All the time I was anxious to get to Eulo.

I said to Mick, “It’s twenty minutes since the ambulance left. They’ll soon be in Eulo and we’re still here.”

We left, expecting to meet everyone at the Eulo airstrip but we’d only gone about five or six kilometres when we came upon the ambulance.

“What’s going on?” I asked Mick, “They’re taking too long. They should hurry up and get Sam there.”

Mick had an idea of what the hold-up was. Because of Sam’s head injury, every bump was an obstacle and our road was full of bumps. After each, Nathan called on Kate to stop while he made adjustments and calmed and settled Sam. This happened repeatedly. I was angry inside that this was taking so long.

“Hurry up, hurry up,” I kept saying to myself.

This usual twenty-minute trip took an hour or more and I gave a sigh of relief as we neared the airstrip. It would be a sigh I made far too soon.

The RFDS crew attending that day was the doctor, Emma Leu-Marshall, flight nurse Jo Mahony, the pilot and a first-year medical student. They’d been diverted to Eulo en route to a routine clinic. Because of the slow trip of the ambulance, our car, the fire truck and police had caught up and arrived as a convoy. At the strip, Sam’s stretcher was carried from the ambulance to the small shelter shed at the end of the apron where the RFDS plane was parked. It was poorly maintained, no bigger than a bus shelter with a toilet off to one side. It was far from a sterile environment. The floor of the shed was concrete.

“At least that’s something,” I thought.

With the stretcher, medical gear from both the plane and ambulance and four medicos attending, it was crowded. Mick, Krysta, Kate and I waited outside while the firies stood off to one side. As news about Sam and what had happened spread, we were soon joined by concerned friends. They asked whether there was anything they could do. There was nothing.

The RFDS pilot was on his phone. As he’d been diverted to this emergency, there was a question around the plane’s fuel load for a long-distance flight. He consulted the doctor about the alternatives then returned to his phone. The medical team quickly worked to stabilize Sam in readiness for his flight to hospital. The young medical student made regular notes in her pad. Everyone was busy and communication with us was minimal. I didn’t mind because they were working to get Sam better again and that was all that mattered. The minutes dragged into the first hour. I knew not to get anxious about the time taken, remembering when the previous policeman’s daughter had needed an emergency flight months earlier. Little Sarah, while running through the kitchen of her home one night, had tripped and fallen onto the cutlery tray in the bottom of the dishwasher. She was stabbed in the upper chest by a utensil, narrowly missing her heart. It had taken hours to prepare her for the flight to Brisbane because of concern for her lungs in a pressurized plane.

As we waited in the shade of the shelter shed, Kate mentioned the lung damage Sam had suffered. During her initial assessment, she had found Sam struggling for breath. This was around the time Dave arrived. Dave had been in the army before joining the police force and instantly recognized the symptoms of a punctured lung. His first aid work on Sam’s chest and lungs had given my son instant relief and most likely saved his life at the scene.

Another hour passed. The young medical student moved away when the situation became too much for her. I often wondered afterwards if she continued her medical studies after such a harrowing introduction. Time dragged. As no one had eaten since breakfast, a large bag of grapes from the store was welcome sustenance. We discussed who should accompany Sam because one family member was usually allowed to travel on the plane with the patient. But not on this occasion. Sam’s condition was critical, and we were told the plane was full. Was it thought he might not survive the journey?

A plan was in place. Sam had lost a lot of blood and needed a transfusion. The plane needed to refuel for the flight to Brisbane. They’d fly the 600kms to Roma and, while the plane was refuelled, Sam would be transfused. Around 2pm, Dr Leu-Marshall felt Sam was as ready as could be to begin the flight and we were allowed to see and speak to him. Sam was now in an induced coma. I walked up beside the stretcher and touched him lightly. I told him to stay strong and fight hard to get better. I told him I loved him, and I’d see him in Brisbane soon. His brother, Patrick, had arrived from Thargomindah with partner Shonnell and children Mistique and Jacob. Patrick also had the opportunity to wish Sam well as did Eric, who had returned from a flying job that day.

The firies, who had stood and waited all that time, carried Sam’s stretcher from the shed that had been his emergency room to the waiting plane to save wheeling it over the stony bitumen on the tarmac. The medical team carried the paraphernalia and tubes attached to Sam’s inert body. Sam was placed in the plane and the on-board crew took their seats. The plane taxied, got airborne then disappeared into the vast, blue sky. Flying on such a clear day would not have been lost on Sam if he had been well and conscious to notice and enjoy it - but he was far from either.

Nathan returned to the shed and picked up swabs, bandaging and packaging. The firies offered to stay and hose the shed out; there were blood stains throughout. They remained sensitive through the ordeal and did not start that job until everyone had gone. Mick and Krysta headed back to Farnham to pack for their trip to Brisbane and I wanted to go back to school and reassure the children that Sam, whom they knew well, would be okay. They had been left that morning with a deal of distress going on around them - me shouting and calling, Kate dashing off and then Krysta and I leaving in a great hurry.

At school, I sat the children on the carpet; it was our usual routine when matters needed to be discussed. They were concerned and wanted to know how Sam was. I told them that Sam had a gash to the back of his head and his arm was cut badly, too, because the prop of his gyrocopter had hit him in both those places. I told them the Flying Doctor was taking him to hospital in Brisbane and Krysta wouldn’t be back for a little while because she and Mick were going to drive down to be with Sam. Then I told them Sam would get a lot of strength from their thoughts for him. I also told them I would be at school the next day, but I’d be away after that because I wanted to go and be with Sam, too. After a few questions, we noticed it was 3pm and school was over for the day. I quickly headed for home.

News of what happened spread through the gyrocopter fraternity. Eric and Mick talked, and Eric made trips back and forth to the damaged two-seater. By 4pm Krysta and Mick were packed and ready and although they desperately wanted to drive through to Brisbane, I talked them into staying at St George, about four hours away, for a few hours’ sleep. We were mentally drained and physically exhausted and they needed to get some rest before making their way through Brisbane’s traffic and on to the PA Hospital. Eric and Kate were concerned about me but I refused their offer to spend the night in Eulo with them. I wanted to be at home and needed to be alone. We’d phoned our daughter, Lauren, earlier in the afternoon and told her what had happened. She immediately began planning to take time off work and drive from Blackwater, twelve hours from Brisbane.

There were phone calls throughout that afternoon but the one I desperately waited for came about 6pm from Dr. Emma Leu-Marshall. They had delivered Sam to the hospital. He was alive but in a very critical condition. She said he would be in surgery and I would get a call from the hospital later that evening when they had finished in theatre. They were operating on his head wound and assessing his arm and shoulder wound. She emphasized to me that Sam was very badly hurt and would be in hospital for many weeks and probably months. I told myself that that was okay; I would work on having him home by Christmas. I had accrued many weeks’ sick leave and other leave benefits and I would use them.

Time passed slowly that evening. There were more calls asking about Sam and his welfare and whether anything could be done. I didn’t know – I couldn’t think past the fact that Sam was in surgery. A call came from Heather Barr, in Pittsworth, who was like another mother to Sam. She was devastated about what had happened and offered to travel straight to the hospital more than 160kms away. I told her that with Sam in surgery for an unknown length of time, it was best to wait. Knowing Mick and Krysta might struggle to find their way through the traffic to the hospital, Heather planned to meet them just outside Gatton and let them follow her in. Lauren was also en route to Brisbane. She would stop with friends at Monto for a few hours’ sleep before continuing in the morning. Everything seemed to be coming together. I just hoped Sam was doing his part in theatre and staying strong.

I don’t know now if I didn’t want to believe he was badly hurt but I was convinced at the time that he would be all right. It had been confronting seeing Patrick after his motorbike accident when he could hardly open his eyes and his face looked misshapen. My heart raced as Mick had rushed him to Cunnamulla hospital while I followed behind. There he was taken into their emergency room for assessment. Mick thought Patrick had a broken leg and facial injuries that might cause him to lose one eye. When I saw him, I was distraught. His face was puffy and one eye was closed, while the other eye was only opening intermittently. He looked gaunt and gray and his speech was slurred. The decision was made to fly him to Toowoomba and Shonnell accompanied him.

I drove down the next day and I wasn’t sure what I would find when I got to Toowoomba General. I found Patrick looking wonderful. I use this term ‘wonderful’ loosely simply because of the improvement since the previous day. His facial swelling had markedly decreased, and both his eyes were open and starting to look normal. Yes, he had visible cuts and bruises, but his overall condition was much better. He chatted brightly to me and answered all my questions. I was relieved and amazed that someone could look so terrible one day and so much better the next. That was what I imagined Sam would be like. If I waited a few days to get to Brisbane, I told myself, it would be just the same. Sam would be sitting up in bed and smiling as I entered. How wrong could one be?

Each time the phone rang that evening I expected it to be the hospital, but it was concerned family and friends. I could only repeat what the doctor had told me. The hours dragged on by – one, two, three. Then, about 9.30pm, I got a call from the neurologist. She started by saying that Sam had come through the surgery; was there some doubt about that - surely not? Sam’s wounds contained dirt and grit from the ground where he’d been thrown, and these were cleaned. She listed his injuries as a punctured lung, broken shoulder and collar bone possible fractured spinal vertebra and possible brain damage.

“What kind of brain damage?” I asked.

While cleaning Sam’s head injury she found a portion of his skull was missing, bone fragmented and the brain in that area damaged. When it is exposed to air and not covered immediately, as in Sam’s case, the cells begin to die. The doctor said the dead brain cells had to be removed so as not to infect the rest of his brain. I asked what effect this would have on Sam. The area of cells removed controlled sight. She thought he would, at the least, lose peripheral vision on his right side. That’s like putting your hand up at the corner of your eye and not being able to see out to the side. Yes, I thought, Sam could live with that. Reluctantly, I asked what his worst-case scenario was. She said Sam could be totally blind. I gulped for air and put my hand over my face. The phone was still to my ear, but I was having trouble comprehending what she was saying. I wanted to scream. Tears began to well. Poor Sam, poor Sam was all I could think. The neurologist asked when someone from his family would be at the hospital.

‘Do these people not understand how far away we are?’ I thought.

I was too distraught to be angry. I told her Mick and Krysta were on their way and would get there as fast as they could but probably wouldn’t arrive until sometime the next morning. She told me it was important someone should be there. She assured me I could ring at any time but they wouldn’t know anymore that night. She said that Sam was in an induced coma and was as comfortable as possible.

As I put the phone down I couldn’t hold my emotions in any longer. I cried and cried. Blindness for Sam meant no more flying and no more playing polocrosse. He’d always lived life to its fullest – how would he manage? Could he cope with such a huge change to his life? I knew Sam was a strong character – we’d witnessed that many times in his life and he liked nothing more than a challenge. But this was life-changing and I wasn’t sure he would cope. I didn’t want to phone and tell Mick. He needed to get some sleep and if I told him what I knew, that wouldn’t happen.

I couldn’t sleep. I’d lie down for a few minutes then rise and walk up and down the house twisting and wringing my hands or I’d sit in a chair rocking myself. This went on for many hours until an exhausted sleep finally overtook me.









Chapter 3 - Thursday 10th March

My night was dotted with long periods of wakefulness and short periods of sleep as the dark hours dragged by. Each time I woke my every thought was of Sam. I talked to him throughout the night. I willed him to be strong and to wake and be well. I wanted him to amaze doctors with his recovery. I prayed so hard for him to be better. I continued saying Hail Mary’s over and over again. I tried bribing God, “if you make Sam better I’ll …” I might have even made a deal with the devil if I’d thought of it at the time. By 5am I felt drained and exhausted. The word ‘blindness’ resonated through my head like a never-ending drum beat.

I planned to phone the hospital at 5.30am. The nursing staff from the night shift would still be on duty but it would not be the change-over period, when everyone was busy. I would get a report on what sort of a night Sam had. I watched the digital clock move slowly towards 5.30. Being March, the sun was rising later so my world was still in darkness but where Sam was in Brisbane, the first rays of sun would be marking the dawn of Thursday 10th March. I made the call and told the person answering that I was Sam Beresford’s mother, I was calling from Eulo and Sam had been admitted to the ICU the evening before after a terrible accident. I asked to speak to the night nurse attending him. I was told Sam had had a comfortable night and his brain pressure, which they were monitoring closely, was a little high but okay. That was all the information they gave me over the phone. I was told I could ring any time and I was given a direct number to the phone beside Sam’s bed. I was asked again if someone would soon be there and I gave the same answer I gave the neurosurgeon the night before: Yes, Sam’s father and partner were on their way but wouldn’t be there until mid-morning. No one seemed to realize we lived 900km away and that it took ten hours to get to Brisbane. At some stage that morning, Mick and Krysta would battle the city traffic to get to the PA Hospital. I knew they would be anxious to get to Sam and meeting Heather near the Gatton by-pass, about 60km west of Brisbane, should help to make it easier as they’d follow her in from there. Heather knew the route well because her husband, Ross, was evacuated on a medical flight to the same hospital after a sickening accident at a polocrosse game in 2008.


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