MEMORIES: Ray Tobin received a bravery award from the Governor-General for rescuing people from drowning in the Clarence Riv
MEMORIES: Ray Tobin received a bravery award from the Governor-General for rescuing people from drowning in the Clarence Riv

Sad Christmas 1955 recalled

By JULIA ILES julia.iles@dailyexaminer.com.au

THE course of Ray Tobin's life has never run far from the river ? almost every day he takes his boat out to fish, jumping in the water if it gets too hot.

"I just love it, I grew up on it and spent every spare moment there. I always promised myself that if I retired I would go fishing every day," he said.

But Ray's relationship with the old Clarence is bittersweet.

His older brother Allan, as well as a cousin, were two of the 13 cub scouts to perish during the fateful crossing from Susan Island in 1943.

On Christmas Eve in 1955 around 6pm while cutting down a Christmas tree on the banks of the river at South Grafton with his two younger brothers, the then 16-years-old heard screams for help coming from the river.

A canoe returning from Susan island to South Grafton had overturned. Ray immediately told his brothers to run home for help.

All that he could find was a wooden boat which had been used to transport cattle across the river. Apart from 50mm at the top it was completely submerged, but Ray had no time to syphon the water out.

As there were no oars he ripped out a wooden fence paling and used it as a paddle. Miraculously Ray was able to row the boat and when he came closer he realised an indian canoe with eight people had tipped over.

"No-one really had swimming lessons back then and there were strong winds with waves of a metre and a half," he said. "When I found them they were thrashing and floundering in the middle of the river. Bryan Hughes (canoe passenger) was looking madly for the girls."

That Christmas Eve Rebecca Taylor-Cannon, 8, Virginia Hughes, 6, and Christine Church, 7, drowned. Other children and Mrs Taylor-Cannon were rescued, thanks to Ray's fast thinking.

The survivors piled into the decrepit boat while Mr Hughes held on to the back and kicked to help it stay afloat.

Ray's valiant rescue had even more merit as he had been diagnosed with a heart murmur, following rheumatic fever. He had been told by a doctor that he would not be able to do anything strenuous.

He received a bravery award from the Governor-General and was the only civilian to receive one at the ceremony.



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