Bamawn hero is honoured for saving a drowning man

April 03, 2018

BAMAWM’S Mathew Dunham doesn’t want to be called a hero.

But he is.

The father-of-three saved the life of a colleague during a barge capsize disaster in Patterson Lakes in 2012.

And he is now being rewarded for his efforts — with a national Bravery Medal.

‘‘I’m pretty proud. It means a lot because of the nature of the award,’’ he said.

‘‘But I don’t feel like I’m a hero. I did save a man’s life but I consider firefighters and emergency services workers the heroes because they’re doing it day in and day out.’’

Although the workplace accident was almost six years ago, Mathew remembers it like it was yesterday.

‘‘I can still hear the ringing of the motors,’’ he said.

On April 27, 2012, Mathew and two colleagues were on a barge, carrying a 13-tonne excavator, travelling along Patterson River.

The barge began to tip over and then capsized near the middle of the river, sinking to the bottom.

‘‘One of the boys was catapulted 30m into the river and broke all his ribs,’’ he said.

The man also suffered a lung infection, smashed top dental plate, enlarged heart and psychological injuries.

Mathew found himself under the push-boat, but managed to swim out from under it.

The excavator operator, Brendan Maher, had become trapped inside the machine’s cabin as it sunk beneath the water.

Without thinking, Mathew swam to where the barge had sunk and duck dived several times as he tried to find the side of the excavator cabin.

‘‘It was really deep and there was fuel in the water and I kept running out of breath,’’ he said.

After a few minutes, he swam over to help his other colleague, who was struggling in the water, and they began to swim towards the shore.

Then Mathew saw Brendan come to the surface, floating lifelessly in the water.

He swam to him and grabbed hold of his right arm before retrieving a lifejacket from the water and placing it under Brendan.

‘‘He was a big boy and I couldn’t hold him, so I found the lifejacket and popped it under him and inflated it,’’ he said.

‘‘When I got him to shore, I started first aid and CPR.

‘‘He had no pulse, so we didn’t know if he would make it and there was no-one around to call for help and our phones were busted.

‘‘So I went for a run while my other mate kept giving Brendan a few light punches to his chest. Eventually I found a tradesman on the road and he rang 000 and we continued CPR on Brendan until the ambulance arrived.’’

According to the Australian Bravery Decorations Council, Mathew displayed considerable bravery through his actions.

Three years later, the company responsible for the disaster was convicted and fined $350,000 after it was found it had overloaded the barge.

‘‘Legislation was also changed to make the industry safer because of what happened,’’ Mathew said.

Mathew will receive his medal at an awards ceremony at Government House later this month.

‘‘I’m obviously very honoured and chuffed,’’ he said.

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