SYDNEY woman Carole Sherry rushed into the water at South Ballina Beach to save her two youngest children from a strong current that threatened to take them out to sea.
That act of love was the last thing she ever did.
Her husband Joseph’s final act was to try to save his wife after she was snared by the same rip from which she had rescued the children.
A few minutes later Mr and Mrs Sherry were gone, leaving their two girls, Monique, 17, and Elise, 14, and their nine-year-old son, Nicholas, orphaned.
The tragedy – described by one South Ballina resident as the ‘saddest thing’ he had seen in his 24 years in the small community – triggered a wave of sympathy from Northern Rivers residents yesterday, with Lismore police establishing a fund that people wanting to help the family can donate to.
It was understood the children were last night in the care of relatives living on the Northern Rivers and were receiving counselling through emergency services.
The children, from Orangeville near Camden, yesterday also received strong praise from police and lifesavers for their actions during the crisis.
When their 42-year-old father, a chef and TAFE hospitality teacher, got into difficulty while trying to rescue their 44-year-old mother, a schoolteacher, the young boy ran back to the park to raise the alarm, while Elise called triple-0 on her mobile phone.
Richmond Local Area Command Detective Inspector Greg Moore described the children’s efforts as ‘valiant’.
“The children are to be congratulated,” he said.
Surf Life Saving NSW spokesman Scott McCartney also praised the children for their restraint in not following their father into the water and adding their own deaths to the tragedy.
Mr McCartney said the couple were caught in a semicircular or horseshoe-shaped rip. Mr Sherry escaped the rip before succumbing, while Mrs Sherry was dragged several hundred metres up the beach.
A passer-by pulled Mr Sherry into shore, where paramedics battled to revive him while Ballina Jet Boat crew member Shane O’Connor, and later his brother, Joe, dragged an unconscious Mrs Sherry through 50 metres of currents and rough surf to shore where they began doing CPR on her.
The deaths sent shockwaves across the State yesterday as residents here and in the family’s home community of Orangeville, part of the Wollondilly council area, struggled to deal with the magnitude of the tragedy.
“The tragic drownings thatoccurred in Ballina on Tuesday have shocked and saddened the whole community of Wollondilly. We offer our sympathy to the families during this most difficult time,” Wollondilly mayor Col Mitchell told The Northern Star yesterday.
Neighbours at Orangeville described Mr and Mrs Sherry as ‘true Aussie battlers’ who had been trying to enjoy a long-overdue break with their children.
“This was their big holiday. They obviously couldn’t afford many, so this was the big one,” Marilyn Searle said.
“They were genuine Australian battlers that wanted the best for their family.”
Another neighbour, Barbara Pulling, said the Sherrys had left for their summer holiday last Thursday and were due to return yesterday – on Elise’s birthday.
The family were relative newcomers to Orangeville. They moved there from Liverpool about 18 months ago to build their dream home in the semi-rural area.
Ms Searle said Mr Sherry worked tirelessly for the family – to the point of riding a bicycle to work each day to save money for the home they wanted to build.
“It was the self-sacrifice, everything he did was for the betterment of his family,” she said.
“It was total self-sacrifice to the end.”
The family had been living in a shed on their property while they prepared to build their home, which they had expected to start this year.
“The kids had just settled in and he (Mr Sherry) had worked so hard over there,” Mrs Pulling said.
“They were a really nice young couple.”
Police will prepare a report for the Coroner.
– written with the Sydney Morning Herald