ACT News

Cross of Valour winners open Canberra Lifeline Bookfair

Electrocuted, shot and traumatised, these five courageous men admit re-living the disasters that made them heroes can give them the horrors.

Opening Canberra Lifeline's annual bookfair, the winners of the Cross of Valour, the civilian equivalent to the Victorian Cross, say meeting as a group for the first time is phenomenal and fantastic. It is the one consolation for having to go back again to a confronting mix of wonderful recognition and post traumatic stress.

Five Cross of Valour recipients (l-r) Richard Joyes, Allan Sparkes, Darrell Tree, Victor Boscoe and Tim Britten.
Five Cross of Valour recipients (l-r) Richard Joyes, Allan Sparkes, Darrell Tree, Victor Boscoe and Tim Britten.  Photo: Jay Cronan

Wounded from a shotgun blast, Victor Boscoe's stubborn pursuit of two armed robbers and ramming their car caused his family, his church and workmates to shun him.

In danger of drowning, Allan Sparkes rescued a little boy from a fast-filling Stormwater drain in 1996, only to later be sacked from the police force. Suicidal from what he had seen in the morgue and on the beat, he wrote a book, The Cost of Bravery, to overcome recurring nightmares and depression.

Electrocuted twice trying to rescue a father and son from an electrified crane in 1988, Darrell Tree faced a grim recovery in a damaged body. His pale blue eyes shine with pride as he says: "They said I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 60 but I'm 65 now and still walking. I have had to just push myself really hard because I still get a lot of pain."

After seeing a robbery in Brisbane's northern suburbs in 1993 Mr Boscoe drove after the robbers' getaway car through traffic, even after they changed vehicles and blasted him with a shotgun.

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"For that I lost my family, they removed themselves from my care, the church I was with ex-communicated me, because they felt I over-stepped the mark and being an aviation rescue fire fighter, most of the chaps said I did the wrong thing," Mr Boscoe said.

Traumatised, he withdrew from society until one morning, sitting on his bed in a share house, his stubbornness returned.

"From that time on, I had to reinvent my complete life. I would never let anybody push me out of my work, or push me out of life. I reinvented my life, I  took up music. I play Latin percussion, played in some big bands, some great venues, I have taken a more humble job from aviation rescue."

A constable in 2002 Tim Britten was sure terrorists had planted a second bomb to disrupt rescuers as he worked with Richard Joyes to retrieve a badly injured woman from Bali's Sari Club in 2002. They came out of the b burning building, were doused in bottled water and went back for the woman knowing it could have cost them their lives.

Having carried her out, they went back again looking for survivors among all the dead bodies. For an hour the men carried badly wounded people to waiting trucks. Mr Joyes said being constantly reminded of 2002 terror attack never sits sits well with him.

"If you put your mind to it you can do some pretty amazing things sometimes," Mr Joyes said. "I have moved overseas, I'm married with two young children, the great thing is I get time to come back and spend time with Tim and the other guys, we celebrate and be proud of our achievements."

Mr Britten said: "Two hundred and two people died on that night, it has made me value life a lot more and appreciate,  I suppose, things that you used to walk past. I've got a grown up son, and two little boys. Life's good."

The men were honoured on Friday night at the ACT Heart Foundation's hearts of valour ball, and again on Saturday, on the 40th anniversary of the Australian Honours System, when they attended the Royal Australian Mint where their names will be struck into collectible coins.