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Shark attack hero passes away after battle with cancer

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

A LISMORE man who put his life on the line during a fatal 1993 Great White Shark attack at Byron Bay has died.

On June 9, 1993, one of the Northern Rivers' bravest men, Jeffery Brackenrig, was holding a dive course at Julian Rocks when a Great White Shark attacked and killed Sydney diver John James Ford, who was on honeymoon with his new bride Deborah.

When the shark was spotted in the water, students frantically clambered into the boat, as Mr Ford put himself between his wife and the shark to save her.

The front page of The Northern Star after the 1993 shark attack at Byron Bay.
The front page of The Northern Star after the 1993 shark attack at Byron Bay.

"Jeff was the type of bloke who worked on spontaneity more than anything else, so I think he was in there saving the woman before he thought about his own personal safety," one of Mr Brackenrig's best mates, Steve "Scotty" Scott said.

"Everyone on the course was in the boat when Jeff jumped in to find the bloke, but unfortunately there was only pieces of him left."

In September 1995, Mr Brackenrig was awarded Australia's second highest bravery award, the Star of Courage, for his heroic act.

"While he was very happy to get the award it was something he would have done anyway, for anyone," Mr Scott said.

Mr Scott told of a loyal, faithful, stubborn, uncompromising, down-to-earth Australian, who he met in Year 7 at Sydney's Castle Hill High School in 1973.

"We did all the normal things teenagers did after school and played around with cars and motorbikes," he said.

After finishing high school, Mr Scott said the pair kept in regular contact when Mr Brackenrig moved to Queensland before he relocated to Lismore in 1982.

"I caught up with him every month when I was a sales rep in Lismore," he said.

Mr Brackenrig soon made his mark on the Lismore sport and motor sport scene.

"Jeff was the club champion at the Lismore Kart Club, he raced rally cars for a while, he raced a little bit of motocross, he was an avid motorcyclist and dirt bike rider," Mr Scott said.

"He even did a tour of Tasmania on a motorbike.

"In the mid-1990s Jeff represented Australia in dragon boat racing."

From 1983 to 1986 Mr Brackenrig's parents had the lease on the Lismore Tourist Caravan Park.

"Jeff ran the park for his parents for three years."

Former Lismore man Jeffery Brackenrig, pictured around 2002.
Former Lismore man Jeffery Brackenrig, pictured around 2002.

The battle

Mr Scott recalled being with Mr Brackenrig when he was diagnosed with bone cancer.

"He had a pain in his back which was getting worse and worse and I took him up to the hospital to get some x-rays and when he came out he said 'have a look at this'.

"I said geez; you've got bone cancer, you're dying.

"So he walked into the doctors and said 'my mate says I've got bone cancer and I'm dying'.

"She looked at the x-ray and said 'he might be right'."

This was the start of a determined battle to beat cancer for Mr Brackenrig.

Former Lismore man Jeffery Brackenrig with his Star of Courage award in 1995.
Former Lismore man Jeffery Brackenrig with his Star of Courage award in 1995.

"All the way through the battle he was never giving in to the fact that he was going anywhere. He lived life to the full till the end."

On December 10 last year, Mr Brackenrig was admitted to Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital for a bone marrow transplant.

With family and friends by his side, 55-year-old Mr Brackenrig died on Australia Day while suffering lung and kidney infections.

Mr Brackenrig's funeral will be held at Lismore Memorial Gardens tomorrow this Friday, from 2pm.

He is survived by his wife Karen, parents Les and Betty, his sisters Trish and Liz and brother John.

Topics:  byron bay heroism shara attack



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