Senior Australian of the Year for 2022 and St John Ambulance ACT volunteer Val Dempsey has opened up about the personal tragedy that inspired her campaign to get every Australian to learn first aid.
Ms Dempsey said her daughter was only 17 years old when she went to drive three friends up to Black Mountain Tower.
"It was nine o'clock on a lovely summer's evening," she said.
"They turned to go up Black Mountain, and a car plowed into them and smashed them into a telegraph pole, rolled them over and utterly destroyed the car.
"So sadly, a lovely life was lost that day."
Ms Dempsey said while several people tried to help after the accident, none had first aid training and could do little more than wait for an ambulance.
"My daughter, who survived that accident, had said to me later, 'Mum the thing that I remember most, is that when people stepped forward ... they said, I want to help but I don't know what to do'," she said. "I can't imagine how they must have felt in walking away from that moment."
Ms Dempsey, known as "Aunty Val", said she does not want any other Australian to be in a similar position.
"That situation has resonated with me throughout my whole time with St John, and through the work I do in the community. And I'd like to inspire all Australians through that," she said.
"First aid does save lives."
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Ms Dempsey is calling for every learner driver in Australia to undertake compulsory first aid training, as a first step to having every Australian know basic first aid skills.
"Bystander first aid is is proven to prevent death in those vital minutes before an ambulance arrives," she said.
"Imagine this ... every learner driver in Australia undertaking compulsory first aid training as they currently do in 11 European countries. No other single measure has the potential to educate a generation to save lives."
Ms Dempsey asked that every person reading The Canberra Times learn first aid.
"I want to encourage 1000 Australians to encourage 10,000 Australians because that one person stepping forward will make such a difference," she said.
Australia Day National Council Danielle Roche said the 71-year-old has dedicated more hours to St John than any other volunteer in the ACT.
Ms Dempsey led 40 volunteers supporting affected communities during the Black Summer fires in 2020. She spent her Christmas break to work 12-hour days, providing first aid and helping at evacuation centres.
St John's said she spent 600 hours in service in 2021 alone. She has been a registered nurse since age 16, and has worked across different Canberra-based cancer wards.
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