Farmer pays the price

He thought it wouldn’t hap­pen to him. It did

The Western Star - - RURALWEEKL­Y - KIRILI LAMB [email protected]­ral­

BUNDLING a chuck­ling 18-month-old out of the car, proud grand­fa­ther-of-five Garry Ni­chols says he loves life, and soaks up the joy of shar­ing time with his fam­ily, even when the lit­tle ones are throw­ing a tantrum.

It’s a good life that he could eas­ily have missed com­pletely when a trac­tor struck a large ob­scured rock that had a washout be­low, caus­ing the trac­tor to roll over onto him, re­sult­ing in the loss of his leg, from the hip. He re­mem­bers the mo­ment vividly as be­ing 3.38pm on the day be­fore An­zac Day, 26 years ago.

“It was only a small farm, but I was build­ing to have cat­tle, that was my dream, but the trac­tor quashed that,” he said.

“We bought a rough old block, hilly. I loved the hills, I was raised in the hills, I learnt to drive a trac­tor in the hills as a boy.

“I still love the hills ... they just don’t love me any more.”

Garry and his wife Mar­lene had put 10 years’ hard slog into de­vel­op­ing their ba­nana-tran­si­tion­ing-to-cat­tle op­er­a­tion west of In­n­is­fail, North Queens­land, and also op­er­ated a lease­hold west of Her­ber­ton that ran 170 head.

Both from ru­ral back­grounds, they had good knowl­edge of the in­dus­try and a very clear vi­sion of where their fu­ture lay.

The year be­fore, Garry’s tennis team had won the A-grade fi­nal at In­n­is­fail.

Their daugh­ter Crys­tal had only just turned three.

Garry went out that fate­ful af­ter­noon to slash some hilly coun­try on their 16-hectare farm, aim­ing to open up some ad­di­tional pas­ture. He knew the day was fad­ing, he knew the coun­try had rocks tucked in scrubby grass.

“I was hard-headed, and I just wanted to get the job done,” Garry said.

“I also know that the rollover was pre­ventable.

“Back in the day I was a bit of a bull­dozer. I was driven back then, and I think that was part of my un­do­ing – I pushed my­self, so many jobs to do and not enough hours in the day.

“I think most farm­ers would agree with that. Do­ing things we shouldn’t, tak­ing short­cuts ... and that’s what I did.

“I should have ac­tu­ally got the dozer in, in­stead, I went out there with a nine-month-old 60hp trac­tor and a slasher, and tried to open the coun­try up so that I could get some grass and bring the wean­ers down.

“I didn’t even have the money to get a dozer at the time. So, we seem to do these things un­for­tu­nately. The for­tu­nate thing is, I’m still here to tell the tale.”

He cites other fac­tors, aside from not us­ing the right tool for the job, that in­cluded not hav­ing the right safety equip­ment, hav­ing re­moved the cum­ber­some roll-frame that came with his trac­tor.

He had wanted one suited to ba­nana crops, but that was not avail­able for the trac­tor – only one suited to open pad­docks. That took some four hours to fix into place, and it was not legally re­quired at the time any­way. So he gave it a miss.

Garry ac­knowl­edges a lapse in con­cen­tra­tion as a fac­tor.

“I wasn’t pay­ing at­ten­tion to the task at hand when I rolled the trac­tor. I’d come off the steep part, started to re­lax, to think about Satur­day, when I had to go up to the cat­tle. I was look­ing up the hill.”

And then came the rock. As Garry re­gained aware­ness, he saw a cloud of dust down by the road as his wife left for town. Help wasn’t go­ing to be com­ing from home.

His only hope was call­ing for his neigh­bour. And a piece of train­ing from his days of ac­tive ser­vice in the army: shell wound dress­ing, taught to com­bat sol­diers so they could ad­min­is­ter field dress­ings, at the right pres­sure point, to ma­jor shrap­nel wounds.

Mak­ing use of his pocket knife and belt, he was able to stem blood loss for the hour-and-three-quar­ters it took for his neigh­bour to be­come aware of the ac­ci­dent, and the two hours un­til para­medic help ar­rived. He was weak, but still alive.

“It was like a book slam­ming shut, a fi­nal chap­ter,” he said.

He at­tempted for three or four years to keep the dream of a cat­tle farm alive, even de­sign­ing his own pur­pose-fit crutch and adapt­ing lifts and trac­tors to aid his abil­ity.

But the fi­nan­cial re­al­i­ties meant it was time to let go.

Garry had al­ready turned his at­ten­tion to ad­vo­cat­ing for bet­ter safety re­quire­ments on trac­tors, par­tic­u­larly around site-ap­pro­pri­ate roll frames.

Work­place health and safety of­fi­cers took note of the hard-headed ad­vo­cate, and be­gan to look to him as some­one from a farm­ing back­ground, with in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence and a story to which other farm­ers could re­late in a work­place safety ad­vo­cacy visit.

“So I get out in front and say: ‘Look, I was a hard-head, and look where it got me. It wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen to me, it was go­ing to hap­pen to some­one else’.

“Yet, in my im­me­di­ate vicin­ity, a bloke had been killed by his trac­tor, in his shed; there’d been mul­ti­ple rollover ac­ci­dents in the district – a trac­tor had snapped in half ... but it hap­pened to other peo­ple, not me.

“And that can be a real prob­lem, that cul­ture of ‘well, I’ve been do­ing it this way for years, and noth­ing’s hap­pened to me’.”

He said agri­cul­tural in­dus­tries needed to work to im­prove the safety cul­ture for young work­ers com­ing through, to de­velop safer sys­tems and ap­proaches.

“The sup­port is out there. If there’s a prob­lem, you can get the Work­place Health and Safety Queens­land ad­vo­cates out there for a talk; you can get in touch with and get one of the ad­vis­ers to come and help you find a bet­ter way of do­ing it,” he said.

“We need to not be too proud to ask for as­sis­tance. There are sev­eral ru­ral spe­cial­ist ad­vis­ers avail­able across Queens­land.

“They are there to help you bet­ter set up your farm and pro­tect your work­ers.”

This story is the first of a four-part se­ries spon­sored by the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment Of­fice of In­dus­trial Re­la­tions.


It was only a small farm, but I build­ing to have cat­tle, that was my dream, but the trac­tor quashed that.

— Garry Ni­chols


IN AN INSTANT: Garry Ni­chols lost a leg at the hip fol­low­ing a trac­tor rollover on his Daradgee prop­erty, near In­n­is­fail, 26 years ago.

has Garry Ni­chols ex­pe­ri­ences, Safety own Draw­ing on his Work­place Health and be­come a com­mit­ted Queens­land ad­vo­cate.

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