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Coroner finds Island Quarry death was drowning

Island Quarry, now surrounded by a fence that was not in place when Brendan Vickery died. File photo

Hans Lovejoy

The mother of Brendan Vickery, who drowned at a Byron Bay waterhole in 2014, has told The Echo that the lack of a thorough autopsy has made closure hard and raised concern that fencing was not installed sooner.

On February 23, 2014, 20-year-old Brendan was on holidays from Melbourne with friends and entered Island Quarry (IQ), located at 380 Ewingsdale Road, opposite the Cavanbah Centre.

His friends claim that he failed to emerge after jumping into the waterhole, which is a former quarry.

Brendan’s body was recovered a day later by police divers in 3.3 metres of water, according to the coroner’s report.

The once-popular waterhole drew mainly young crowds of backpackers and visitors and was widely advertised on websites, yet after a series of spinal injuries, IQ management implemented signage and fencing in an attempt to stop the activity.

Assistant state coroner Teresa O’Sullivan handed down her findings on April 11, 2018, and concluded she was ‘satisfied that a lot has changed since Brendan’s death.’

O’Sullivan wrote, ‘The downturn in attendance and associated injury, the improved fencing and signage, and the commitment of the caretaker to prevent trespassing give me confidence that the Island Quarry site has been made significantly safer.’

Brendan’s mother Tracie Medew told The Echo she believed the inquest to be a fair and open process.

‘Yet it was long process that took four years,’ she said.

‘There was cost cutting by government, as they didn’t allow a full autopsy.

‘Additionally, communications from the government departments were inadequate.’

Ms Medew said, ‘While it was determined that drowning was the outcome, he could have died from something else. A doctor from Tweed Heads raised this possibility.

‘Here in Victoria, all autopsies go through a CT scan to identify internal injuries, yet this didn’t happen with Brendon as it wasn’t NSW policy at the time. Now it is.’

Fencing

MS Medew said it took 13 years for IQ to secure state government funding for fencing.

‘That is way too long, and had it been in place earlier it could have prevented his death and the injury of others’.

She added that a rock used to jump the fence should be removed to be further away from the fence.

‘This rock was not of significant Indigenous heritage as it was removed from the quarry,’ she said.

Island Quarry chairperson Shane Rennie told The Echo, ‘We have had fencing and warning signage installed since about year 2000, and initiated installation of $80,000 worth of 1,800mm-high chainwire fencing ASAP after backpacker onslaught in 2013, with completion in 2014.’

Signage

The adequacy of signage and fencing was examined during the inquest.

Brendan’s friend Luke Johnston told the inquest he ‘recalled seeing a barb-wire fence with holes in it, a gate with a sign and then another sign as you entered reading “Enter at your own risk”.’

He also recalled a sign saying, ‘Swim at your own risk.’

Another friend, Vincent Brandall, stated to the inquiry ‘no-one in the group paid attention to the warning signs’.

He described the access as ‘all pretty open.’

Regardless, the coroner noted, ‘Warning signage currently displayed around the Island Quarry site is substantial,’ despite, ‘arrangements for fencing the quarry being finalised at the time of Brendan Vickery’s death.’

‘The police officer in charge, Senior Constable McCaffrey, gave evidence that since the incident the caretaker, Bazz Laow, would ring the police to report people trespassing.

Senior Constable McCaffrey stated that prior to Brendan’s death there would always be a dozen cars parked in the carpark out the front, but now you would be ‘lucky to see one.’

The report reads, ‘He believed that it was promoted as a popular place to cliff jump by backpacker websites.

However, he believed word had circulated that people were no longer being allowed in and that trespassers could receive infringements and this contributed to a downturn in attendance.’

Island Quarry chairperson Shane Rennie told The Echo, ‘We are a not-for-profit community group who have worked extensively in the community on a voluntary basis for 20-plus years, creating and protecting a green space for arts, culture, community and environment.’

Moving forward

‘Now that the inquest has been completed we are moving forward with implementing our vision for the quarry.

‘We look forward to a gradual reopening to the public and are aiming to hold an open day in late spring, together with encouraging further participation and inviting expressions of interest from the community.’

 


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