The ocean is risky, even for those that know it best
It was unexpected, but after five years as Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott finally relinquished on our cold war of mutual dislike with one simple sentence.
In a Channel 9 interview on Friday March 30, Abbot said: “Every year lifesavers prevent hundreds, if not thousands, of drownings and I think they do a terrific job, but anyone who does surf lifesaving knows there are some risks attached.”
Abbott was of course referring to the tragic death of a 14 year old surfer Matt Barclay who died while competing in the under 15s Australian Life Saving Championships on the Gold Coast on March 28.
He was also, unusually, trying to down play an opportunistic and gracelessly “pro-Abbott for PM” political spin by Chris Branson QC, who said to the ABC’s AM program the morning Barclay’s body was found:
“I can tell you that Tony Abbott, if he’s elected, will give serious consideration to having a Royal Commission, and Saxon Bird is a member of the same surf club as Tony, namely Queenscliff in Sydney. It’s totally out of hand.”
It is true that the death of another young surf lifesaver is deeply distressing – to his family, his friends, the lifesaving community and of course the organisers of the event.
But what exactly is out of hand…the ocean?
Unfortunately we simply cannot make “the ocean” the bad guy.
Nor can this be turned into a political agenda.
Is Branson really advocating a Royal Commission by an Abbott-led government based on his fortuitous, or in this case fortuitous, personal connection to a similar tragedy at the same beach?
That is as ridiculous as saying Gillard should seek leadership advice from Margaret Thatcher because they both have red hair and are female.
This issue is about two dead teenage surf life savers, whose lives were lost while competing in their passion - saving others in distress in the ocean.
Branson was the QC representing the family of Saxon Bird, another teenager who died competing at the same event at Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Coast two years ago.
No doubt Branson did a magnificent job at representing his client’s interests in ensuring that, where possible, all safety precautions were in place to prevent a similar accident. If I had been working on this case, I am sure I would be equally devastated to hear that another death had occurred so soon after Saxon’s.
However, try as you might, the ocean does not comply with health and safety regulations, despite the very best efforts by everyone, Branson and the Australian Surf Life Saving Championship organisers included, to protect us from its wrath.
The ocean is risky, unpredictable and unconquerable – that’s part of its attraction. In fact, it was Matt Barclay’s own parents who spoke of his passion for the ocean.
“The bigger the surf, the more he loved it,” they told the Brisbane Times on Friday.
If Mr and Mrs Barclay believe no one is to blame for their son’s death, and offer their support to the officials and the organisers of the event, the rest of us including Branson should respect this.
As for Branson, perhaps this will be a lesson on speaking out of turn.
Abbott’s words of gratitude to surf lifesavers, past present and future, who save thousands and thousands of lives each year across the world’s biggest coastline are timely.
According to the Royal Life Saving’s National Drowning Report of 2011, 14 people between the ages of 14 and 35 drowned at beaches during period July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011.
That means that there have been immeasurable near-drownings up and down the Australian coastline that were rescued by surf lifesavers at their own personal risk. If you don’t believe it, just watch Bondi Rescue.
Rather than create scandal, can the premature and tragic deaths of Saxon Bird and Matt Barclay serve as a reminder to us all that the ocean is, and always will be, unpredictable and dangerous, even to surf live savers who know it the best.
And next time one shouts at us to move between the red and yellow flags, listen to them.
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