‘Minnie crew’ rocked by shark tragedy
DEAR valued subscriber,
The absence of fatal shark attacks along the 80km stretch of the Clarence Coast was quite the tourism advertisement for the region, much like the Whitsunday Islands until recently.
It's been something of a security blanket for myself, as someone living here who loves to bodysurf.
Indeed, the last time I swam in our waters, eerily enough was at Wilsons Headland on May 17. That once 'unreasonable fear' of what was lurking beneath did enter my mind on that occasion, alone amongst the waves that Sunday afternoon two months before last Saturday's tragedy, to such an extent that on the drive home I recorded the initial lyrics that later that week would become a new song about the broader subject of facing your fears called (I'm sorry, look away now!) Swimming With Sharks.
That's no joke. And I'm sorry if that coincidence shocks you. I tell you, it does my head in just thinking about it. But it feels therapeutic to finally get that off my chest. It reminds me that I'm also a real person. That's what all the mental health advocates are telling us to do, right? To talk about what's eating you up inside instead of bottling it up?
There's a lot of grief in the Clarence right now. And sometimes talking about it can be the best tonic. Sharing the story of 15-year-old Mani Hart-Deville would be a beautiful starting point.
The original context of that song is now null and void. It's no longer an unreasonable fear. And there's no escaping the fact it will change the ball game for many, myself included, when weighing up the motivation to go for a surf, or deciding maybe not today.
The most courageous response is to carry on putting fate in God's hands, knowing the odds are overwhelmingly stacked in your favour. But that is easier said than done.
Just why tragedy hadn't struck any of our numerous popular surfing spots and beaches before now is a mystery. It's surely an anomaly, and we've just been very lucky.
But that's no longer the case, and while any shark attack death is among the most tragic and inconceivable, the region's first is particularly heartbreaking.
As the local media there is a fine line to tread between allowing the family and community to have their space to grieve, and our responsibility to ensure Mani's death was not in vain, and that he is given the tribute he deserves to be remembered by.
When I first moved to the Clarence Valley in 2013, the first group of people around my age that I met were the Minnie Water six-a-side soccer team who kindly accepted me into their team.
As a player for the next five seasons for Yuraygir FC United, with whom Mani was a junior at one stage, I called Wooli Sports Ground home. I enjoyed plenty of highs and lows including two premierships, forged friendships for life, and rocked out to multiple gigs of Minnie Water's favourite sons The Ninth Chapter at the community hall.
It's a tight knit community, full of friendly, worldly people, who value their independence and the solitude it provides away from the mundane machinations of mainstream society, the media included. And despite my connections I know I'm not a bona fide local, not just because I've only lived here for seven years, but because of what my profession represents.
There have been similarities this past week, on a smaller scale, to when the world's media descended on Grafton after the Christchurch massacre, and unscrupulous investigative journalists doorknocked, turned over every stone and invaded people's privacy on the hunt for the best scoop.
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It makes it difficult for the regional news teams, who consider respecting the communities they live in as part of their job descriptions, and essential for their longevity. Severed ties are often never repaired, so maintaining a mutual bond with the community is an imperative role of a regional journalist.
A lot of family and friends are hurting right now, and to those people my thoughts are with you.
For the greater Clarence Valley public, there's shock from the absolute realisation of what can happen in familiar waters.
We do have a responsibility to discuss shark attacks as an issue. We don't have to - and we won't - dehumanise Mani in order to do that.
There are also stories to tell about heroes in the water and on the beach last Saturday and their valiant attempts to save Mani's life.
None of those people chose to be heroes, and would wish it away in a heartbeat. But they are, forever. And people should know that.
May Mani's soul rest in peace.