Helpers try unsuccessfully to push the broken-down vehicle up a steep incline. Photo: Fairfax Archives
AT FIRST she thought it was an octopus bite, perhaps because the prospect of a shark attack in Sydney Harbour seemed fanciful by comparison. She stayed calm even as her blood spilled into the shallows off Sugarloaf Bay. ''I am not in pain,'' she told her fiance. ''Don't worry about me, dear. God will look after me.''
Marcia Hathaway was 32, an actress and converted Christian, who once played a mission nurse in the forgotten film The Shadow of the Boomerang. But she will be forever remembered for her final role, as the last person killed by a shark in Sydney Harbour.
Exactly 50 years ago Miss Hathaway, from Milsons Point, was wading in Middle Harbour while on a boating trip with friends when the shark attacked, tearing at her right calf and thigh until the water was ''bloodstained and foaming'', The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Death in the Harbour
Rescuers carry the injured Marcia Hathaway to a waiting ambulance after she was mauled by a shark at Sugerloaf Bay. Photo: N. Stubbs
Witnesses heard her scream. ''She said she thought she had been attacked by an octopus,'' her fiance, Frederick Knight, then 38, said later.
He wrestled the shark to stop it from dragging her into deep water. ''I saw a fin and its girth as I straddled it. My legs were wide apart and its body touched both of them,'' he said.
''The water was stained with blood and I never thought I would get her away from it. I think at one stage I had my foot in its mouth. It felt soft and spongy.''
The Herald's front-page report. Photo: Fairfax Archives
Friends on the nearby cabin cruiser Valeeta tore sheets from the bunks for tourniquets. Mr Knight swam for help and arranged for an ambulance to meet the boat at Mowbray Point.
Miss Hathaway's predicament was worsened when the ambulance broke down on the road leading from the harbour. About 30 people tried to push the vehicle but the grade was too steep. By the time another ambulance arrived to take her to Mater Misericordiae Hospital she had stopped breathing.
Later, her friends returned at night in a boat and tossed bait into the water to lure the shark, according to a man who has not spoken publicly about the event until now. But Miss Hathaway's killer was gone.
A catch in the shark hunt that followed the attack. Photo: Fairfax Archives
There since have been other shark attacks in Sydney Harbour and many sightings but no deaths. Googling ''Sugarloaf Bay'' reveals a 2009 YouTube video of a bull shark swimming about the mangroves. But the risk of fatal attack is relatively less now than on January 28, 1963, according to the shark researcher Andrew Fox.
''With the amount of time we spend in the water these days and the massive population increase, you should expect a proportionate increase in the rate of attacks but that hasn't happened.''
The most recent fatal attack in NSW was at Lighthouse Beach, Ballina, in 2008. But nationally only one person is killed a year on average, according to the Australian Shark Attack File at Taronga Zoo, although in in 12 months over 2011-12 five people were killed in WA. An average of 121 people drown at the beach each year by comparison.
A portrait of the actress. Photo: Fairfax Archives
Mr Fox, of the Fox Shark Research Foundation, said public ''hysteria'' over shark attacks had stopped many people swimming in open water during feeding times at dawn and dusk. ''A lot more people have got shark-attack smart,'' he said.
Improvements in emergency medical care had helped cut the death toll, Mr Fox said.
When the navy diver Paul de Gelder was mauled by a bull shark while training in the harbour near Garden Island in February 2009, surgeons saved his life. De Gelder, now 35, lost a hand and most of his right leg in the attack.
He describes feeling strangely calm, much like Miss Hathaway in the moments before she died. ''Twice before I got out of the water I thought I was going to die. I didn't want to die but I just accepted the fact that I was going to be eaten alive,'' he recalled.
He now gives motivational talks on conquering fear. There were inherent risks with swimming in the harbour or sea, he says. ''Everyone gets this preconception that the ocean and beaches are backyard swimming pools. But it's the wild, if you go out there you're signing a waiver.''