30 August 2017

Fatal Shark Attacks in Mackay Rivers

I've already written in these pages about fatal shark attacks in Queensland rivers, including the Brisbane River, the Logan River and Townsville's Ross Creek. Another one to add to that unfortunate list is the Pioneer River, which runs through the central coast city of Mackay.

The first recorded attack came in December 1939 at Rubbish Dump Creek. This was about 30 metres wide and a popular swimming spot for the locals. It was so named because of a nearby dump, the refuse from which was also thought to attract sharks. One hot day, around noon, 20-year-old railway fireman Frank Gurran was fishing in the creek when he decided to have a quick dip in the water, which was about 3 metres deep. He dived off the rowing boat he was in, but as soon as he resurfaced he cried out 'shark!'. Onlookers thought it might have been a prank, but they sprinted for help when the water turned red.

A bull shark almost 3 metres long had gripped Curran's right leg. He kicked furiously at it until it let go, but it returned and bit into his left foot. Curran managed to scramble to the shore, where a companion helped him. While lying waiting for the ambulance, he directed the application of ligatures to stem the bleeding in his leg, smoked a cigarette, and joked about finally getting time off work for Christmas. Curran was soon rushed to the local hospital, where it was found necessary to amputate his right leg below the knee. He received massive blood transfusions that kept him alive for a while, but he died three days after sustaining his injuries.

The shark that bit him was caught and killed within hours of the attack. Charles Simpson, who boarded with Gurran, baited a hook and line with a bullock's liver after seeing the shark 'lazily cruising up and down the stream'. The shark took the bait and Simpson coaxed it to the bank, where he bludgeoned it with an axe. The shark was landed after another boy put 14 air-rifle pellets into its head. It was reportedly still 'quivering' when the following Mercury picture of the shark and its captors was taken:

Daily Mercury, 18 December 1939.

In later years the Dump Creek area became the site of the Caneland Central shopping complex.

The next fatal river shark attack at Mackay took place in February 1956. Barry Antonini, aged 15 years, was swimming with friends in the Rocklea reach of the Pioneer River one morning. The boys were diving from the bank into deep water and returning to shore. Antonini dived in, resurfaced about 3 metres from the bank, and scrambled back. When a friend pulled him out they saw that Antonini had been bitten deeply on the calf of the right leg and part of the muscle was removed. He was bleeding profusely.

The boys ran to get help from a policeman who was fishing nearby. A tourniquet was applied to the leg and the ambulance arrived, Antonini turned to his friends and said, 'It looks as though I will have to have my leg taken off.' Sadly, he died on the way to hospital.

'Sailing on the Pioneer River, Mackay', c. 1935. (State Library of Qld)

There have been no more fatal attacks in the rivers or creeks of Mackay since that time. So far...