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Dalby Anglican grazier rescues woman from ute roof in dangerous floodwaters


A 75-year-old Dalby Anglican and grazier used a jet ski to courageously save the life of a young woman stranded in rapid floodwaters near Dalby recently

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A 75-year-old Dalby Anglican and grazier used a jet ski to courageously save the life of a young woman stranded in rapid floodwaters near Dalby recently.

Doug Browne took a shortcut when returning home via jet ski after checking on his flooded cattle station at Springvale, over 200 kilometres west of Brisbane, earlier this month and saw the young woman waving desperately from her ute roof.

The woman’s ute was reportedly swept into the rapidly-moving floodwaters from Springvale Bridge mid-morning on Saturday 4 December.

Mr Browne said that the rescue was the most dangerous he has undertaken.

“I run cattle on river country and whenever the river floods, I naturally need to check on the cattle and I use a jet ski to do this,” Mr Bowne said.

“It was a freak occurrence that I came along, as I took a shortcut home in the secondary river channel and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked up and saw a girl on the top of a ute screaming for help.

“After her ute got tied up in my barbed wire fence, she climbed out the window because she couldn’t open the door and tried to ring her family at St George, but that is 200 kilometres away.

“She was screaming ‘help, help’ and I knew that she was in big trouble because the water had reached the ceiling of the ute.

“I had several attempts to get close to her, but there was so much turbulence in the current it was quite difficult.

“I am an experienced rescuer, as I am a volunteer rural fire warden, and this was a life or death situation.

“Every time I approached the ute, the jet ski would be thrown one metre sideways when it touched the side of the ute.

“She did an unexpected flying leap from the ute and landed on the back of the jet ski.

“I asked her to sit on it properly and to hang on and I then took her to my place.

“I have two daughters myself. I don’t want to be made a hero because anyone would do it – what sort of a person would leave a girl stranded like that?

“Her name is Hannah and she is very young – late teens, I think – and she had a little cry when she got rescued.

“When she was at our home, she gave my wife Lexie and me a hug and Lexie gave her lunch and took care of her until her mother drove from St George to pick her up.

“Her mother called in a week later and gave me a Christmas card with a scratchie and lotto ticket in it, a Christmas cake and a bottle of rum.

“I’ll be texting Hannah tomorrow to check in on her again.”

Mr Browne said that while he and his wife Lexie are unable to attend regular Sunday services, that they stay connected to the local Anglican church through dedicated parish priest, The Rev’d David Browne.

“The Rev’d David Browne dropped in a Christmas card yesterday,” he said.

“We get on quite well – he is a good bloke and we are both former rugby players.

“He especially comes to see my wife Lexie because she doesn’t get to church as much these days now that she has Alzheimer’s, although we are going to a Christmas service together tomorrow night.”

Priest for The Parish of Dalby The Rev’d David Browne said that Doug and Lexie Browne are quintessential Western Region Anglicans, who are well known for their dependability and hospitality.

“Doug and his beautiful wife Lexie are salt-of-the-earth Anglicans and so I was not surprised to hear that Doug came to the woman in her time of need and that Lexie cared for her later so gently and warmly in their home,” The Rev’d Browne said.

“People are asking me if Doug and I are related given we have the same surname – I wish I could say that we are related; however, I am proud that he and Lexie are part of our parish family.”

Mr Browne’s family has owned their two Springvale farms since the 1920s, with both farms holding 1879 original titles.

At the age of 75, he still works seven days a week to rear cattle and grow wheat, barley, chickpeas, sorghum and mung beans.

Mr Browne said that he took over the running of the farm when he was only 16 years of age after his father was diagnosed with cancer.

“I love doing what I do. I am never bored because it’s always a challenge – at 75 and a half, I am always busy,” he said.

“I have lived here all my life and I know the river country backwards and my father lived here before me.

“On each side of the river there is a channel that floods with heavy rains – it’s called a secondary channel.

“The current is often more intense in the secondary river channels because the water is trying to escape.

“I got caught once myself in a monstrous flood in 2010 or 2011– it was the first flood ever to go through my house and it went three-bricks high.

“I was checking on my cattle and the cattle had water up to their backs and some of the calves had washed away.

“I got snagged in the barbed wire fence, not knowing that the bottom wires were broken by debris going through.

“I was wearing soft rubber diving boots, which got caught in the barbed wire, and as I reached down to release myself, I got knocked over.

“I stayed calm, released myself before coming to the surface completely out of breath and then went with the current – it took me a few hours to reach dry land.

“Every now and then, I stopped to hold onto trees, which were full of ants and snakes.

“I was so tired when I reached land, I had to crawl home a couple of hundred metres because I couldn’t get to my legs.

“A friend flew me via helicopter to the local hospital because I was cut all over my legs from the barbed wire and the water was full of manure and such.”

Mr Browne said that he worries about people getting stuck in dangerous floodwaters and offers wise advice.

“If you do get stuck in floodwaters, my advice is not to panic, to stay calm and float with the current, keeping your head above water while getting your thoughts about the best way to veer off to dry land,” he said.

“Don’t fight the current, as it will exhaust you.

“Most importantly, listen to the warnings of the emergency services – if they say don’t go into floodwaters, don’t go into floodwaters.

“Even if the road seems open, it may be unsafe.

“Speaking from experience, just don’t go into floodwaters.”

Editor’s note: Thank you to the somewhat reluctant Doug Browne for sharing his story. Out of concern for motorists, Mr Browne agreed to share his story as long as he was able to communicate the danger of driving in floodwaters. We are very blessed to have folk like the Browne family in our Diocesan community. 

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