“Apparently I ran off the road, hit a stump and flew over the handlebars,” says Stewart. “My mate saw it happen. It was long before mobile phones so he raced off to get help. He told them I’d been knocked out.”
One of the people who rushed out to help was a physiotherapist.
“She took one look and said I wasn’t just knocked out,” says Stewart. “Someone called the ambulance and they contacted the Flying Doctor. They were already on the way to rescue someone else, but diverted and picked me up.”
Stewart was flown to Dubbo Hospital and then onto the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, as his injuries were so bad. Doctors discovered he had also sustained a brain injury causing hemiplegia, which affected the movement of limbs, trunk and face on one side of his body.
“I spent a few months recovering in Royal North Shore,” says Stewart. “My mum came down to Sydney and stayed with a friend. She’d read to me and tell me the footy scores. She was terribly worried.”
More than two years of rehabilitation in Sydney followed. Finally he moved home to his parents in Moree, in North Western NSW.
“There were no jobs for me there,” Stewart recalls. “But I got a taste for computers and went to Moree Tech. I had to learn to ride a pushbike to get around town as I couldn’t drive again.”
He then moved to Sydney where the National Association for Disabled Office Workers helped him get a temporary job with the NRMA for six weeks.
“That turned into a full-time job,” says Stewart. “In 1988 I met Ronda, now my wife, who also worked in the city. I spent 26 years there. When I was offered a redundancy, we bought a house at Bomaderry, on the South Coast of NSW. We moved down to care for Ronda’s mother and we’ve been here ever since.”
Stewart and Ronda say that they’ve always wanted to thank the Flying Doctor staff* who saved his life that terrible day.
“They’ve never left our hearts,” says Ronda. “We don’t know who they are, or if they’re still around. We’re so proud to be Australian, with such wonderful people.”
“They’ve always been my heroes,” says Stewart. “I wish I could tell them I’ve had a good life, thanks to them.”
*Unfortunately our records for that time no longer exist.