Raymond Short with his brother Daryl, 15, and schoolmates from Kingsgrove High School. From left: Colin Peak, Ken Tapfield, Alan Moses by his bedside in Coledale Hospital.
Coledale Beach Shark Attack
SOME simply addressed to “Raymond Short, Australia,” hundreds of letters and cards have found their way to the small hospital at Coledale, N.S.W., where the town’s brave little shark victim is making a recovery.
“Look, this one is from a Raymond Short, of Pasadena, America,” said Coledale Hospital’s 13year-old Raymond Short, his brown eyes lighting up as he proudly sifted through a big box of mail on his bed.
“He read about me in the newspapers and sent me a photo of himself playing baseball in the living-room.”
Mostly from strangers, letters with good wishes, money, and gifts have arrived from all over Australia and New Zealand, as well as from America and Britain.
One little girl from Roseville, N.S.W., wrote a very sweet letter. “I am 8 years old, my brother Simon is 12 and he is helping me to pay for this tumble bug which you will love.”
She enclosed a new jumping toy craze for Raymond to play with on the hospital tray.
A widow from Strathfield wrote: “I’d write a cheque for $1000 for the lifesavers —if I didn’t know it would bounce. Instead I can only say I’m so pleased they saved you.”
The patient got cheer-up letters from two skindivers who had also been attacked by sharks, and a letter in braille from a blind woman who has crocheted an initialled face-washer for him.
“As soon as my hands are better I will write to every one of them,” Raymond said. “I’ve had so many letters you’d think I was famous.” You certainly would.
A few weeks ago Raymond was just another youngster who swam regularly at Coledale Beach. He lives at Hurstville, in Sydney, but spent most weekends and holidays camping at the beach with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Short, and his brother, Daryl, 15.
In fact, he was almost a local at Coledale, a coalfield town about 40 miles south of Sydney, with little to distinguish it from most other small resorts along the coast. Very little until young Raymond was attacked by a shark on that warm Sunday.
The water was choppy and murky, but Raymond and his father were in and out all the morning. Then, about 2 o’clock, Raymond went for a swim on his own and was 30 yards from the shore when he was attacked by a 7 ft. white pointer. And it was the bravery and quick, quiet efficiency which followed that saved his life.
“No one will take the credit for it,” said Mr. Short. “It was a marvellous joint effort and without it we might be without our son today.”
There was Raymond Joyce, the 24-year-old life-saver who had finished patrol and was sunbaking with his girlfriend on the beach when he heard cries of “Shark!”
“At first I thought it was a joke, but then I heard the bell and saw the 50-odd surfers heading for the beach. Then I noticed one little figure bobbing up and down.
“He didn’t move toward the beach and I knew he needed help.”
In a few seconds Raymond was in the water heading toward the boy.
“I just knew he’d been attacked and I must admit I was terrified swimming out to him. But one look at the kid and I knew I had to get to him. He looked so pathetically lonely out there on his own.”
When Raymond reached him the little boy kept saying, “Help me, please — the shark is still there.”
“At first I didn’t believe him, because the water was so murky you couldn’t see anything,” said Raymond. “But when I tried to drag him to shore I knew something was wrong, as he was so heavy.”
By that time five other life savers — Raymond Joyce’s brother, Bryan, 20, Clarence Taylor, 22, Les Kennedy, 18, and Dallas Haberley, 19, and his cousin, Warren Haberley, 18 — had joined him, and they helped to pull the boy to the shore.
“We could see the shark on his leg and it wouldn’t let go,” said Warren. “Three of us grabbed its tail, but we were almost to the beach in knee-deep water when it finally let go.
“Another member, Ray Robinson, hit it with a surf board and we dragged it to the beach—the whole 500lb. of it.”
Dallas said, “The report from the Museum, who are making a cast of it, said the shark was sick and that probably why it was so close to the beach. I just know it had terrible big eyes and everyone though it was looking at them.”
As soon as the shark relaxed its grip the boys ran with Raymond up the beach where people were waiting with towels and blankets.
“I could only think of keeping him warm and giving him confidence until we could get him to the hospital,” said Raymond Joyce. “Thank goodness everything went like clockwork.”
One lifesaver used the club phone to call an ambulance while another raced to the hotel to ring the hospital. Another ran down the beach with a stretcher, and others shouted for transport.
The exchange girl blocked all calls to take emergency ones and warn the hospital that the boy was on his way in a station-wagon a nearby picnicker had lent them.
“We never even found out the picnicker’s name, but we are sure thankful he was there,” said Raymond Joyce.
“We just bundled the stretcher in on top of chicken and cream cakes and went like a jet to the hospital.”
Meanwhile, Coledale District Hospital’s matron, Miss Jane Dunster, had everything organised in “three minutes flat.”
The doctor dropped his lawnmower and rushed to the hospital in his gardening shorts. The theatre sister, who was on holidays, rushed there, too.
There was also the ambulance driver who raced six miles to Bulli and back with blood, and the hundreds of people who offered blood.
“No one could do too much,” said Mr. Short. “It was as if it had all been rehearsed.”
Raymond was fully conscious until he reached the hospital, where he was admitted with a very badly torn right leg, two bites on the upper left leg, wounds where he’d hit the shark with his hands, and, of course, extreme shock.
“I don’t remember very much,” Raymond says, “but I know I tried to punch the shark off many times. Then I bit it on the nose, but it still wouldn’t let go.”
Matron Dunster knew they had only a few minutes to save the boy. “We did almost a four-hour operation that afternoon, and before Monday morning he’d had eight pints of blood — a complete body replacement,” she said.
“He had only a very narrow chance of survival.”
For the first week there was the fear of having to amputate his right leg, but now the doctors say he is out of danger. He has had several hundred stitches and faces a series of skin-grafting operations, but should be able to leave the hospital by the end of May.
“And as he’s got so many morale-boosters around him with all the sisters and nurses, he’s confident about all the operations,” said Mrs. Short. “He’s really a spoilt patient.”
Said Matron Dunster, “He’s also one of the bravest little boys I’ve seen in all my years of nursing.” (That’s more than 20 years.)
“He asks me to tell him everything we’ve done and everything we’ve got to do. And, I might add, he tells me off if I try to make it sound better than it is.
“He tells my nurses that he’s my pet — I don’t know how he found out!”
Raymond is also the pet of Sister Horrell, who cut her holidays short to assist at his operation. She also helped with the only other shark victim known in the area — Darcy Lorenz, who was mauled at Austinmer more than 30 years ago.
“I just want to get back in the surf,” Raymond told me. “I still want to be a lifesaver.”
A good all-rounder in sport, Raymond has always been keen to be a lifesaver. He usually joined in the Sunday surf races on the sidelines, although he admits he often had to turn back halfway. “But I’ll make the distance some day.”
He loves it when the local lifesavers call to see him. These were the only non- family visitors allowed for the first few weeks.
“They didn’t know me before, but I knew them,” he said proudly.
“Hi, handsome!” is the way Raymond Joyce usually greets the youngster he helped to rescue. He rings the matron three and four times a week from his flat in Sydney, and visits the boy Saturdays and Sundays.
The day I visited the hospital young Raymond was in great spirits. It was the first weekend he was allowed visitors apart from the lifesavers and family, and three of his best schoolfriends had caught the train down from Sydney.
“We had to beg our parents to let us come and see Shortie,” said Ken Tapfield. (The boys are only 13 and it’s more than 40 miles each way.)
“We’re going to try to make it every weekend.”
When Ken, Colin Peak, and Alan Moses reached Coledale they headed straight for the hospital, not even waiting for visiting hours.
“But we were caught looking through the window at Shortie and we had to go away until they finished bandaging him,” said Colin.
It seems Raymond’s quite a figure at school. The headmaster had a special assembly to tell what a brave boy he was.
“We all sent cards every day for the first week, and we’ve collected $12 in our class for the lifesavers,” Ken said. “All the school would like to visit him.”
In fact, there are many people who want to see him, and recently the Governor, Sir Roden Cutler, and Lady Cutler paid a visit.
In recognition of their bravery, the boys of Coledale Surf Club have had many letters of praise, donations amounting to a couple of hundred dollars (which starts the kitty for a new club building), and recommendations for medals.
“But we’re not very interested in medals,” said Raymond Joyce. “It’s our duty to save people — any people. Any lifesaver would have done the same.
“I’m just sorry it takes such a drama like this to get nationwide headlines. What about the hundreds of lives the lifesavers save each summer?
“As a matter of fact, while we were rescuing Raymond our captain, Garry Lorenz, was risking his life to save a girl swept out in a rip when the shark bell rang.”
Garry is the son of that surfer who was attacked by a shark at Austinmer so long ago. Mr. Lorenz still carries the scars. A friend of the Shorts, he is a frequent visitor to the hospital.
“It’s taboo to discuss the attack with anyone now,” lifesaver Joyce said. “It’s over, Raymond’s OK, and that’s all that matters.”
The only important thing left is to spoil Raymond and help to make his hospital stay as happy as possible.
And all the people of Coledale, from the local Lions Club, who lent him their television, to an old man who picked some mushrooms for him because he heard Raymond liked them, are doing their part.
When he gets out of hospital Raymond is looking forward to the holiday he’s been promised on his uncle’s cattle station in Queensland.
“I’ll stick to horses and cows for a while,” he said. “But don’t think I’m scared about going back in the water — I’ll always love the surf.”
– Story by KERRY YATES, pictures by Keith Barlow, The Australian Women’s Weekly, Wednesday 6 April 1966.