Heroism doesn’t require the glare of the public eye, or an upmarket city with towering self-reflecting glass spires to announce itself. Its potential for existence is universal and, often, it is from the world’s most remote parts that the bravest tales emerge. In Australia’s west coast, is a region — one of nine — known as the wheat belt with an estimated area of 154,862 square kilometres and a population of roughly 75,000 residents; about three per cent of the population of Western Australia.
It’s easy to see, given those figures of land and people in ratio, how thinly human existence may be spread on the ground in such places. No city with spires here, but small townships. One of them, Bonnie Rock, sits at the edge of the outback. The nearest hospital is about 50km and it is, allegedly, one without a doctor; to get to a medical centre with doctors one has to travel 200km.
Bonnie Rock got its name from a rock formation and until the following incident of heroism took place, its other moment in the spotlight was when a Russian adventurer, Fyodor Konyukhov, who set the fastest time for circumnavigating the earth in a hot-air balloon (in a little over 11 days) landed there.
It must have been a bright sunny day when farmer Bowron drove his truck out to get the day’s work under way, his 12-year-old son Michael with him. Michael, according to a newspaper article, was travelling in the truck’s sleeper bunk when the truck flipped over and crashed. The accident left farmer Bowron ‘pinned in place’ with his scalp cut open.
There they were the two of them, isolated and literally in the middle of nowhere.
Young Michael, himself injured, was somehow able to crawl out and reach the truck’s radio only to find that it had perished in the accident. Still, following directions from his dad the youngster managed to fetch the spare battery.
Having a spare battery and knowing what to do with it is another thing altogether. A basic knowledge of electronics is needed because one has to know how to strip the wires off the radio and connect them to the external battery. This kind of knowledge one wouldn’t expect a 12-year-old to possess. All one can do at that age is rely on the guidance of an experienced elder — in this case, his immovable, severely injured dad — and do his best. And all the while, try to shut out the thought that the leaking gas and oil from the accident were a constant threat that a merest spark might set alight.
It is under these circumstances that heroism is often forged. In the touching of one wire to another may sometimes lie our borderline existence with life and death. It’s always a gamble, a toss of the dice. But when faced with fighting for survival, we often always take that chance, as perilous as it may seem. We take the wire ends, as directed, and we attach them, with breath suspended, to the terminals of the battery and hope that our fingers, devoid of experience and dexterity at the age of twelve, will somehow fasten everything securely, just as it should be and, as time ticks over, we flip the radio switch, take two deep breaths filled with hope and expectation.
And then we hear the static momentarily, and then the static gives way and a connection is established with the world that is only 50 kilometres away, yet how far is 50km in a crisis! And within the hour, the welcoming sound of the ambulance siren is heard, carried by the wind. And a young man hasn’t quite grasped as yet the extent of his heroism.
History is replete with fathers saving children, but there’s not a lot out there about young heroes saving their dads. Bonnie Rock has etched its name in the annals of the Young Hero history book.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.