Dead couple may get bravery awards
A SYDNEY couple who drowned while rescuing their children in treacherous conditions at South Ballina Beach in January should be considered for posthumous bravery awards, according to Coroner Jeff Linden.
In his inquest findings on Joseph and Carole Sherry, delivered in Ballina yesterday, Mr Linden was also highly critical of the absence of any surf safety signage or warnings on the beach at the time.
He recommended that the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which manages the beach, urgently liaise with Ballina Shire Council and Surf Life Saving Australia to address the issue.
“I am astounded and disappointed that no appropriate signs were present to warn the Sherry family and other users of the beach of the potential dangers in the water,” he said.
“While I am cognisant of the vast number of parks under the control of the wildlife service, I find it difficult to comprehend that no signs warning of the potential beach dangers were erected at relevant access points.”
During the inquest, Mr Linden was baffled the NPWS had not consulted the SLSA when assessing the dangers at the beach.
He was also critical of the size and placement of signs installed since the drownings, calling for larger signs that included the word ‘DANGER’.
Matthew Thompson, SLSA’s coastal safety services manager, who appeared at the inquest last month, welcomed the Coroner’s findings and said the association looked forward to working with the NPWS and Ballina Shire Council.
But he said signage was only one aspect of surf safety that needed to be addressed.
“SLSA still recommends that a more holistic approach to coastal safety be taken in the area, and we would encourage all coastal land managers to examine all factors that may lead to drowning,” he said yesterday.
“Other interventions may include the provision of lifesaving services at the location, distributing beach safety information in the local area, such as the caravan park, or installing an emergency response beacon at the location.”
While not directly responsible for the beach, Ballina Shire Council general manager Paul Hickey said the council had done a lot of work on the issue in conjunction with SLSA.
“From our perspective we would be very happy to meet immediately with NPWS,” he said.
NPWS boss Sally Barnes said the service was urgently reviewing the signs and was setting up a meeting with the council and the SLSA.
Joseph Sherry’s sister, Margaret Leedham, said she was happy with the Coroner’s findings, but hoped better education would be provided for tourists in the future.