Former Governor-General Quentin Bryce with Sally Gregory, a diver involved in the fatal shark attack at Julian Rocks in 1993.
Former Governor-General Quentin Bryce with Sally Gregory, a diver involved in the fatal shark attack at Julian Rocks in 1993.

Shark attack hero helps others

IMAGINE that someone pointed a gun at your face and you waited, wondering if they would pull the trigger.

Or that you came across a horrific car accident and were only able to save one passenger because the others were trapped in a burning car.

These are the sort of traumatic experiences that Sally Gregory regularly confronts. Mrs Gregory was one of the divers involved in Byron Bay's tragic Julian Rocks great white shark attack in 1993.

Now vice-president of the Australian Bravery Association, she helps members find treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Of course, not everyone who is involved in a life-threatening situation develops psychological and emotional problems.

For some, it can be a "get out of jail card", once they overcome the initial shock

"They have a profound sense of gratitude for everything that comes next in life," says Mrs Gregory.

But, for others, a confronting or horrific event is the beginning of emotional trauma that lasts years, as they relive it, in their mind, again and again.

Mrs Gregory's own "get out of jail" moment occurred 18 years ago at one of the Northern Rivers' most popular dive sites.

It was about 9.30am when a great white shark, estimated by witnesses to be about 6m long and the diameter of a Kombi van, was seen heading straight for honeymoon couple Debbie and John Ford, who were part of a group dive.

At the time, Mrs Gregory was working as a representative for water sport wholesaler Cape Byron Imports. The job gave her the chance to travel along the coastline with regular stops at her favourite dive spots in Byron Bay.

She had been entertaining clients - taking a bunch of scuba instructors and dive masters for a dive - when she and close friend Jeff Brackenrig, who was skippering their boat, heard a distress call on the radio. It was the captain of the dive centre who had organised the Fords' trip, saying there had been a shark attack.

Mr Brackenrig turned the boat around to head to the scene, where they found Mrs Ford and the remaining divers had been hauled from the water.

In a tragic act of love, Mr Ford pushed his wife out of the path of the monster, only to be taken instead.

But she still had hopes that he would be found alive, and asked Mr Brackenrig, who she had previously had contact with, if he would look for him.

Former Lismore man Jeffery Brackenrig in a photo taken by Jacklyn Wagner in 1995.
Former Lismore man Jeffery Brackenrig in a photo taken by Jacklyn Wagner in 1995. Jacklyn Wagner

While he dived in for what could have been a death mission, Mrs Gregory could see a highly distressed Debbie on the nearby boat and decided to swim 20m across to her to comfort her.

"There was this woman just screaming and screaming," she recalled.

And so she jumped into the water where a man had just been taken by a shark, to console a woman she had never met, in the very worst of circumstances.

"I just wanted to get to her as soon as possible because that's what us girls do," said Mrs Gregory. "We look after each other."

"Later I got post traumatic stress disorder and couldn't eat or sleep. In fact I stopped eating for 10 days."

Friends helped pull her out of her grief but Mrs Gregory said the nightmares, rolling around and waking up and yelling out, lasted for months. The shivers, and flashbacks on a daily basis, went on for many years.

For her actions on that day, Mrs Gregory was awarded a commendation for brave conduct medal by the Governor-General at Government House, Canberra, in 1995.

"But I'm not a hero. I'm a good Samaritan," she said.



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