A pretty serious day.

I was 18 years old. I had recently bought a new motorbike. a Kawasaki 350 twin cylinder two stroke, with rotary disc valve carburettors. I had had two previous motorbikes. An elderly, 1953 model, Matchless 350 single, and a BSA 441 single, both four stroke engines.

I lived with my parents in the WA country town of Harvey. This was in dairying farm country. Great, rich soil. There was a butter and cheese factory in town, as well as a significant abattoir. We had lived in the area for a number of years after moving from our previous place in Kelmscott.

One night I decided to go for a ride, together with a couple of my mates. One of them, Peter F, rode a Honda 450. We were riding as a group of three, with Peter leading, and then myself, and then the last in the group. I don’t remember his name. We had decided to go to the Shell servo in Yarloop, a town about 16 kilometres north of Harvey, on the South Western Highway. Just go and hangout for a coffee, then fire up the bikes and ride home again.

Coming into Yarloop, Peter F approached the servo, passing Johnston Road on the left. There was a Holden panel van coming the other way, but he passed all right. Just as I was to pass the Johnston Road intersection the panel van turned right into Johnston Road and collided with me on the motorbike. I was thrown from the bike and landed, with pretty significant injuries to my right leg, face down alongside the road. From checking out the scene afterwards, it seems that I took out a white guidepost with my helmet.

Peter F realised quickly that something had happened, had turned his bike around and had ridden back to me. He looked down at me, and roared off on his bike. This all happened in 1971, before mobile phones happened! He rode straight down to the Yarloop hospital / doctor’s surgery, and let the local doctor know what had happened. It was the best thing he could have done. Within five minutes the doctor had arrived in his station wagon.

In the meantime a local at the servo, which was on the other side of the highway a couple of hundred metres up the road, had run over to see what had happened. He decided it would be a good idea to take off my helmet. Without undoing the strap! I lifted up my head and said ‘Let it be, mate!’ Which he did.

The doctor, Dr Ronald Barrington-Knight, was an old country doctor who had had to deal with difficult challenges many times. That’s what country doctors do! Anyway, he realised two things pretty quickly. He had to get me to the surgery. And there was no ambulance close. The nearest one was in Harvey, 16 kilometres away. So, he got a blanket from his car, laid it on the road next to me, and with the help of Peter and others, got me on to the blanket. Then one man on each end of the blanket lifted me up and onto the back seat of the doctor’s station wagon. Because I am fairly tall – I stand 2 metres, nearly 6 foot 7 inches, tall – they had to leave one door open. One man held the blanket with my legs in it out the open door, while the doctor drove carefully to the surgery at the Yarloop hospital. There they unloaded me on to the examination table. I remember this all very clearly. I was quite awake and aware of what was going on, though I was in a fair amount of pain.

I heard the doctor call the Harvey ambulance station and order the ambulance, which was to take me to the Bunbury Regional Hospital about 60 kilometres away. I remember being loaded into the ambulance, and of driving out of the hospital carpark. I do not remember anything after that. Apparently I lost consciousness as we drove away from the hospital.

The ambulance was about halfway to Bunbury when the doctor, who was carefully monitoring me, realised that I would not survive the trip. I was losing too much blood. So he did what country doctors do, he came up with a solution to the problem. He cut open my groin with a scalpel, pulled out the femoral artery – the main artery that goes down your leg – doubled it over and put a bulldog clip on it. That simple, straightforward action saved my life.

The surgeon who operated on me when I arrived in Bunbury, Dr Val Lishman, was a top surgeon in Bunbury. His dedicated work was also a key to saving my life. Dr Lishman stayed at my side until I woke from surgery some hours later, he was so concerned about my condition. My right leg was so badly mangled that he had had to amputate it. Given the very difficult circumstances, he did a very good job. Interestingly, some years later he was the resident doctor at the Australian Antarctic Base.

About three months after the accident a senior nursing sister came to see me. She wanted to check up and see how I was going. She had been in charge of emergency the night I was brought in. So I asked her how I was when I came in. ‘BND’ she said. What does that mean? ‘Bloody near dead!’. ‘Oh, that bad.’. ‘Yeah, you just made it. You had lost that much blood that we had to use 13 units of blood to replace blood lost.

A few weeks after the operation I was lying in a hospital bed thinking about things. You have a lot of time to think about things in hospital! I said to myself ‘Well, you’ve really stuffed things up now! But there’s not much you can do about it, so you might as well just carry on’. Truth be known, that is the sanitised version of what I actually said!

This sounds pretty cool and sorted on my part. There was much more than just that. There was much agonising by me. I spent a lot of time in prayer, asking God ‘Why??!’ And ‘Now what, Lord?’. It was not an easy road. I found it hard. Very hard. I had trouble eating, and lost a lot of weight. But God did stay with me, all the way through. Right up to today, more than fifty years later.

An interesting sidelight to this story. My Dad had worked at the Yarloop timber mill for a time some years before, and we had lived in a house on Hospital Road, directly opposite the hospital. When Dr Barrington-Knight retired some years later they renamed Hospital Road into Barrington-Knight Road in his honour. A richly deserved honour for a man who had given his life in service to the town and the surrounding farms.

Dr Barrington-Knight was much involved in the community. You can read more about these things, and the awards he has received, here. Dr Barrington-Knight retired in 1981, and passed away on 8 April 1993. He had served as the doctor at Yarloop for 45 years.

© Copyright Willem Schultink