What was it that really changed in your personality, after the accident? Looking back on yourself, what do you see in the person you were then?
I’ve definitely learned, through the accident, that we can all play a bigger game, we’re all capable of so much more than we could have ever imagined. The big thing the accident taught me was we’re not here forever, so you really want to get focussed on what it is you want to do and take the steps to make that happen.
What was it you really wanted to do?
I suppose I’d always wanted to work for myself. And I was always content to keep that fairly small. I realised over time that if you keep it too small, all you’re really doing is creating a job for yourself, you’re not really creating anything bigger than that.
Really, it’s probably about growth, what can life be about? What can somebody’s life look like? Growing up in the western suburbs, life was in a box and it wasn’t a very big box. I suppose I was never really satisfied with that. You look around, there’s people doing amazing things and I wondered if that’s something I could do.
It sounds like you’ve stumbled across the power of a story and the way stories can change our lives.
The funny thing is, if you’d’ve told me that ten years ago, I’d’ve thought, That sounds like a crock of shit. The reason it kind of took me so long to really accept the value in sharing our stories is that I honestly believed for years after the accident, that that’s just what you do. Something like this happens, you find a way to pick yourself back up and you just keep going.
Going back to the accident, what led you to undertake that trip, in particular?
I just felt like I needed to reconnect. I probably wouldn’t have used the connection word at the time. I was living on a beach, working part-time as a painter, I was partying pretty hard. I’d just got to this point where I needed to go bush, to spend a couple of nights out somewhere and just get that grounding effect. I’d had times where it was great to go do a trip with somebody but I got as much from heading out on my own. I was just going to spend a week hiking the Osborne trail. Things were going pretty well, I met some people on the ferry, hiked with one guy for a couple of hours, stopped at every beach I came to and had a swim. Everything was falling into place. I was thinking, This is perfect, this is exactly what I came here for. That afternoon, I met Geert [van Keulen] on the beach and, as soon as he mentioned that he wanted to hike to the top of Mt Bowen, I was like, “Well, that’s a no brainer, let’s do it”. It’s wild to think about in hindsight, but I’d never been more confident on my feet. Here I was with a fairly heavy bag, bouncing from rock to rock. It felt amazing at the time, but it’s not lost on me now, that it was the last time I got to do that and I’d never been more confident on my feet than that last day.
In some ways it must seem both lucky and unlucky that you met Geert. Without him, you wouldn’t have been rescued, but he was the one who first mentioned the idea of climbing the mountain.
Good luck and bad luck often go hand in hand. Was it bad luck? It’s interesting that you say that, because I’ve never really looked at it that way. I know that Geert went through a period of years where he went through survivor guilt, because he was the one, he invited me up there. I was like, “Mate, don’t even go there”. If he hadn’t been with me, I wouldn’t have survived, he saved my life. I think I’ve always been way too much of a realist to dwell on ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve’ scenarios.
Do you remember the moment of the accident?
Yeah, yeah. The way it happened was, I was trying to do the right thing. If it had been someone who hadn’t spent a lot of time outside, they probably would have just pissed in the creek. But for me, that was our water supply. So I thought, If I get up that rock wall and get away from the creek, that should be fine. I thought it was lucky that I’d found a crack that I could use to climb up out of that gully, but what I didn’t realise was that crack then ran across. When I pulled up on it, that was enough to crack that band. I don’t remember being in the air. I have no memory of that. I just remember the crack and then hitting the ground and that second crack which they told me afterwards was my pelvis fracturing. And then pain. Incredible, burning pain that just took over everything else.
Obviously, for someone who hasn’t gone through that, it’s impossible to conceive the amount of pain you must have been in.
It’s always been a question for me when we talk about unbearable pain. What happens when pain gets above a threshold we can stand? Do we die from shock? Wherever that line is, I felt I was pretty close to it, that’s for sure.
But you were conscious the entire time?
I didn’t lose consciousness until they actually lifted the rock off me. For me, I think the pain and the adrenaline in the beginning got me really focussed. I realised that what we were doing wasn’t going to work and we would need to use a lever or something. I have this in life now that there’s gotta be a next step. Thinking about it, that came from the accident.
You’re obviously having to manage a whole lot of different, conflicting emotions being stuck there.
There’s a lot going on. What are you in control of? You’re in control of your headspace, that’s about it. Physically, I could control what was directly around me. I had a yabby trying to chew into my foot so I had to kill that bastard.
That’s a horrific image to have to confront.
I don’t know if it was horror, but a big part of that was the sheer cheek of something having a crack at you when you’re just so helpless.
It’s a new level of connecting with nature.
Again, is this glamorous enough for you? I tell you what was lucky, in a sense.