Black December attack victim speaks out against the use of nets
DESPITE losing her left arm in one of the 1957 “Black December” shark attacks on the South Coast, Julia Painter, 69, said she did “not like shark nets”.
“I don’t like the way people are wanting to kill sharks and the way we are draining our seas,” she said.
Painter, who now lives in the Eastern Cape, remembers vividly the events leading up to December 30, 1957, when she was attacked. “We were living in Bulawayo in Rhodesia. My gran decided I had never seen the sea properly so arranged for a holiday with our family at Margate. I was so excited. I was 14.”
Black December was so named because attacks over 12 days on the South Coast, two of which were fatal, resulted in holidaymakers pouring out of the seaside towns, leaving hotels, restaurants and holiday homes deserted. It was a major economic blow for the region.
“I remember it was a lovely day. We rushed down to the beach so we could park our car in a good place. You know, in those days the Margate beach would be packed.
“Every day at noon a live band would play at the Palm Grove. We got ready for that, but when we got there we found it was cancelled,” she said.
Leaving the entertainment area, Painter and her family returned to the beach.
“Because of the previous four attacks, they [the authorities] were in a panic. All of them had happened after 4.30 in the afternoon.
“They banned bathing from 4pm to 7am. My attack was at midday. We were told not to wear certain colour costumes. There were spotter planes flying up and down.
“In fact the costume I was wearing had frills around my hips. I believe it saved me,” she says.
“We were in water that was between my knee and hip in depth. My uncle, Paul Brokenshaw, was next to me. We were all in a straight line. I can remember seeing a shadow on the rocks side of the Margate beach.
“I ignored it at first, but the next minute I saw two fins.
“I realised what it was. I thought I turned around and ran screaming ‘shark’ towards the beach.
“But apparently I stepped out of the line and held my hands out as if to push the shark away, which made it turn and attack me.
“I just remember it shaking me like a duster. As they carried me out of the water, I couldn’t feel my left leg or my left arm.”
Painter remembers lifting her head and looking at her wounds while lying on the beach.
“They were white, they hadn’t started to bleed. I could see my left heel, so that was good.
“I could also see my middle finger on my left hand, but it was hanging by a thread.”
But now as this remarkable survivor hears that more than 600 sharks are caught in nets off the KZN coast each year, she says: “It makes me sad. It is not the sharks’ fault that people are getting attacked.”