The extreme risk faced by firefighters during one of the toughest bushfire seasons on record have been honoured at the 2019 National Pride of Australia Awards.
The extreme risk faced by firefighters during one of the toughest bushfire seasons on record have been honoured at the 2019 National Pride of Australia Awards.

REVEALED: Our bravest heroes - and the horrors they've faced

For the first time, our nation's frontline fighters were recognised for their bravery and commitment as the state continues to battle some of the worst bushfires.

News Corp Australia and Australia Post today honoured the Editor's Choice medallists in the 2019 National Pride of Australia Awards, and also celebrated the heroism and courage of our firefighters.

News Corp Australia's community ambassador, Penny Fowler, announced that a special Pride of Australia Award was created to honour fire services organisations from across the country.

"We want to acknowledge the extreme risk faced by our emergency services and the sacrifices they have made," Ms Fowler said.

"It has already been a tough season across most of the country, and summer has only just begun. We thought it was timely and important to acknowledge the great service these organisations provide to help keep our communities safe."

 

RFS volunteers and NSW Fire and Rescue officers fight a bushfire encroaching on properties near Termeil on the Princes Highway between Bateman’s Bay and Ulladulla on December 3. Picture: AAP
RFS volunteers and NSW Fire and Rescue officers fight a bushfire encroaching on properties near Termeil on the Princes Highway between Bateman’s Bay and Ulladulla on December 3. Picture: AAP

Several fire authorities and emergency services were represented at today's award ceremony at Doltone House, Jones Bay Wharf in Sydney.

They included: NSW Fire and Rescue Deputy Commissioner, Jim Hamilton, NSW Office of Emergency Management Director of Recovery, Wendy Graham and NSW Rural Fire Service Assistant Commissioner, Rebel Talbert.

"Thank you for everybody's support with what we are facing in NSW and it's fair to say we have never seen anything like this in the history of our state and it is truly devastating," Ms Talbert said.

"Those families will never be the same and we are trying our best to protect everyone we can. It's a tough time for us, it's going to be a tough recovery process and it's a long couple of years ahead."

Weary firefighters take a break from battling bushfires in Nana Glen, near Coffs Harbour, on November 12. Picture: AAP
Weary firefighters take a break from battling bushfires in Nana Glen, near Coffs Harbour, on November 12. Picture: AAP

Also joining them was NSW State Emergency Service Assistant Commissioner, Steven Hayes, QLD Fire and Emergency Services Acting Deputy Commissioner, John Bolger, SA Country Fire Service Commander, Ray Jackson and VIC Country Fire Authority - South West Region Assistant Chief Officer, Peter Creak.

Ms Graham said it was important to acknowledge the "unsung heroes" who work in disaster relief and recovery as they work to help people in bushfire affected areas rebuild their lives.

"Hundreds of community groups, charities and not-for-profit organisations that are working with us to help communities along that really long road on disaster recovery,"

"Whether it's helping providing an ear for people to tell their stories and these will be going for months. The journey of disaster recovery will take years.

"Our job, my job and all our jobs is to keep on walking alongside these communities."

RFS volunteers from Carwoola prepare to protect property as a large fire burns out of control in the Bombay area just outside of Braidwood in NSW. Picture Gary Ramage
RFS volunteers from Carwoola prepare to protect property as a large fire burns out of control in the Bombay area just outside of Braidwood in NSW. Picture Gary Ramage

News Corp Australia pledged a $50,000 donation to assist people and communities in bushfire affected areas, with $25,000 donated through Pride of Australia to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund supported by Australia Post.

The other $25,000 will go to The Salvation Army Emergency Services, which is supported by Woolworths stores nationally.

Alongside our frontline firefighters, four Editor's Choice medallists from NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland were also celebrated for their selflessness, courage and community spirit.

 

Pride of Australia NSW winners for Sydney Stabbing incident Bennett Gardiner, Jamie Ingram, Mitch Bennetts, Jase Shorem, Mike Stuart, John Banford and Gonzalo Herrera. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Pride of Australia NSW winners for Sydney Stabbing incident Bennett Gardiner, Jamie Ingram, Mitch Bennetts, Jase Shorem, Mike Stuart, John Banford and Gonzalo Herrera. Picture: Dylan Robinson

 

NSW

Their acts of bravery ended a deadly rampage and brought a city to a standstill.

Brandishing a bloodied butcher's knife, a 20-year-old man ran through the streets of the Sydney CBD on August 13 after allegedly murdering one woman and trying to kill ­another.

Amid the danger and chaos, a group of bystanders came out of nowhere to take the alleged attacker down.

The seven everyday heroes did not hesitate to jump into action, and their bravery was recognised among a room full of other heroes from Victoria, South Australia and Queensland at the Editor's Choice medal ceremony for the 2019 Pride of Australia awards.

Jase Shore made headlines around the world when he was photographed using a milk crate to stop the man.

"I appreciate the award but I don't'; t think it has sunk in still, "Mr Shore said.

"I had a massage last week from a friend who said it has inspired her to know there is safety in the street. It's a good thing to inspire people."

 

On August 13, a group of bystanders took action to take down alleged knifeman Mert Ney.
On August 13, a group of bystanders took action to take down alleged knifeman Mert Ney.

 

The father of one and former soldier has bonded with Westpac IT manager Jamie ­Ingram, who picked up a cafe chair and thrust it at the ­knifeman.

"I often talk about communities staying up and saying we had enough and I think that's what happened that day. Little things coming together and helped us to prevent things from happening,"

Mr Ingram said.

"On that day we noticed a lot of people with headphones in and walking in the street at risk and not even knowing it. The amount of people the man ran past and could of been injured is astonishing.

"Look up and live, look around you because you never know when you might need to look up to live.

A women is taken by ambulance in central Sydney on August 13 following multiple stabbings. Picture: AAP
A women is taken by ambulance in central Sydney on August 13 following multiple stabbings. Picture: AAP

Four firefighters from Drummoyne - Gonzalo Herrera, Mitchell Bennetts, Bennett Gardiner and Mike Stuart - were sitting in traffic when they got out of their truck to chase, then detain the suspect.

"We are very honoured to receive this amazing award. The four of us have worked as a team for many years, on the day of the attack we were confronted by a situation we had never seen before," Mr Herrera said.

"There was a situation that was dangerous and uncertain. But with the embers of the public we did our best and prevented any more danger. On that day we found out someone had been hurt and a young life lost."

Mr Herrera added: "The support out there has been amazing and all the kin words of gratitude from the public. We helped that day but you all helped us in moving on from that traumatic day."

The four heroic firefighters from Drummoyne station (from left) Bennett Gardiner, Mitch Bennetts, Gonzalo Herrera and Mike Stuart. Picture: Toby Zerna
The four heroic firefighters from Drummoyne station (from left) Bennett Gardiner, Mitch Bennetts, Gonzalo Herrera and Mike Stuart. Picture: Toby Zerna

Lawyer John Bamford, who didn't hesitate to pick up a chair from a cafe and confront the attacker said: "Since the event we were all invited to a meeting with Michaela Dunn's mother, she was a truly heroic woman."

"If you reflect on what happened that day the assailant had only the courage to attack two women. He didn't come anywhere near any of us blokes once we fronted him.

Quite frankly, this is the sort of thing that we have to stand up and oppose."

Mr Bamford - who was seated next to South Australia winner and abuse survivor Eman Rahim - praised her as the real hero who has helps saves lives of people every week through her work.

Australia Post Executive General Manager Community and Consumer, Nicole Sheffield, said the awards represented the beauty of community, where everyday Australians are the true heroes.

"Right across the country every day, people go above and beyond the call of duty and help their communities, and it's a delight to be able to recognise some of those heroes today."

 

Melbourne-based engineer Mat Bowtell has been changing the lives of people around the world creating prosthetic hands and fingers for children and adults. Picture: Tony Gough
Melbourne-based engineer Mat Bowtell has been changing the lives of people around the world creating prosthetic hands and fingers for children and adults. Picture: Tony Gough

VICTORIA

EXTRAORDINARY Australians have been honoured for their humanity, courage and community service with a prestigious prize.

Victorian Mat Bowtell, who makes prosthetic limbs to turn tragedy into change, was among the winners of the Editor's Choice medallists at the 2019 Pride of Australia awards, for an act of instinctive bravery.

Mr Bowtell, founder of Free 3D Hands, has been volunteering his time for two years helping more than 150 kids in need of prosthetic hands and AIDS.

"I am very emotional being here today, it is something very different to where I was just two years ago being made redundant by Toyota as part of the automotive industry closure," Mr Bowtell said.

"And at the time I didn't understand that I just asked myself the question, 'if money didn't exist how would I spend my time?' and I am very fortunate to have a wife who told me to follow my passion and supported me all the way."

Using his redundancy money, Mr Bowtell said he wanted to "use his engineering skills" to share a little bit "about himself with others".

"I made the first hand for a kid and when I saw the smile on their face being able to do things they have never done before, and became very quite emotional, extremely satisfying and rewarding," he said.

"I think as a society we have a responsibility to look after people and I think if we shared a bit about ourselves then I don't see volunteering as sacrificing but staying true to our core values."

Free 3D Hands has now been formalised as a registered charity at Phillip Island.

 

Maike Hohnen and his son Julian who beat the odds after being declared dead following a boating accident. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Maike Hohnen and his son Julian who beat the odds after being declared dead following a boating accident. Picture: Steve Pohlner

 

QUEENSLAND

For little Julian Hohnen, fishing is a true passion.

But only six months ago, the plucky seven-year-old was declared dead after being lost at sea in freezing, shark-infested waters for six hours - but against all medical odds, he survived.

The Sunshine Coast boy's astonishing courage and positivity in the face of near death was recognised at the Editor's Choice medal ceremony for the 2019 Pride of Australia awards.

It was a fateful night in June when Julian, his father Maike and family friend Stephen

Jeacocke were forced to tread water for six hours after their fishing boat capsized 15km off the Caloundra coastline.

Where other children might have panicked, particularly in the pitch black and freezing cold, Julian was the one reassuring the others.

"My son was the one who encouraged us to remain calm because they will come and rescue us because he had heard other people somewhere else being rescued," Mr Hohnen said.

"He knew the rescue was going to happen. As he opened eyes he said dad 'I am OK, I want to go fishing' and I was over the moon because I was told there was a good chance he will not survive."

With hypothermia ravaging Julian's tiny body, Mr Hohnen described the moment doctors said if his son did survive, he would "wake up with severe brain damage" and have to learn to walk, talk and eat.

It was not until morning that the trio was rescued, by which point Julian appeared lifeless. He had to be resuscitated in the rescue chopper and was placed in an induced coma in hospital.

Julian has made a full recovery, astonishing doctors who gave him a less than 5 per cent chance of survival.

 

 

"Eman Rahim founder of Heart and Soul charity providing food to 2500 South Australians a week."

 

South Australia

They are ordinary people whose extraordinary achievements, bravery, humanity and community service have now received national recognition.

People like abuse survivor Eman Rahim who rose above the abuse she suffered and now helps others through the Heart & Soul group, feeding 3000 people a week.

"I am extremely honoured and grateful to be standing her today and receiving such an esteemed award. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to have the hard work and determination put in recognised at such a fundamental level," Ms Rahim said.

"The word 'need' is so broad and carries so many different meanings to so many different people. For the last five years myself and my amazing team have spent hours helping those who are less fortunate."

Ms Rahim said she feels "blessed" to be able to relieve some of the burden and some of the struggle" and said the award is a "mark of our achievements".

"I'd love to stand here and say those needs have been met and the job has been done but, in reality, we don't even touch the tip of the iceberg," she said.

"We see your traditional people in need like homeless people and drug and alcohol affected people. But now we see more people like you and I who enter or doors whose needs are no less than the traditional you would expect."

Ms Rahim added: "You and I are only one pay cheque from falling into this category. All it takes is an accident at work or workplace to go into administration for you and I end up in this situation."

 

Blaxland Rural Fire Brigade's first all-woman firefighting crew have been on the firefronts this year.
Blaxland Rural Fire Brigade's first all-woman firefighting crew have been on the firefronts this year.
An RFS member during a controlled burn during milder weather as bushfires surrounded Spencer on the Hawkesbury River. Picture: Jane Dempster
An RFS member during a controlled burn during milder weather as bushfires surrounded Spencer on the Hawkesbury River. Picture: Jane Dempster