Dear Tony Abbott,
I was at home one Thursday morning when the police knocked on my door and delivered the news that immediately shattered my life. It was only 32 days later that you would personally stand up in parliament to speak of my son, Jordan Rice.
My childhood sweetheart and partner of thirty years, Donna, and my son Jordan were both swept away in the 2011 floods that raged through Toowoomba.
It wasn’t until I got down to the police station that day to identify their bodies and pick up my other son, Blake, that I realised just how close I had come to losing him as well.
He told me what had happened in the car. That Jordan had been grabbed by the rescuers to be taken to safety – but he pulled away and pushed his little brother Blake out to them.
Jordan’s last words were “take my brother first”, as just moments after he got Blake to the rescuer he and Donna were taken by the flood waters.
I’ve seen transcripts of the triple-zero call that Jordan made from the car just before he died. Jordan was a very shy kid, he didn’t like to talk much and I’d never seen him speak on the phone before – he was just 13 years old.
To know he’d had the strength to make that call, get the rescuer to take his brother, then got his mother and him onto the top of the car as it began to fill with water. He must have been terrified, he didn’t know how to swim. To know he was able to hold it all together that well just makes me so proud. Actually proud doesn’t even begin to describe it.
It’s your words in parliament that are actually closer to how I think of Jordan. You said he was “emblematic of the Australian spirit”. You said he should be awarded the Cross of Valour, the highest civilian bravery award. Those words and your support, back then, to say that Jordan deserved a bravery award meant something to me. It gave me something past grief.
The days around when you and then-PM Julia Gillard were speaking in parliament about the flood victims and Jordan’s bravery are
all a bit of a blur to be honest. That whole month after losing them was a blur – I cried for days, when I hardly cry usually. I remember one day I was in our kitchen at home when grief overcame me, as it sometimes would, and I collapsed on the floor bawling my eyes out. I just wanted to hide away from the world and try and forget.
In the last three and a half years, I have had moments of feeling very alone. Battling to hold myself together, to support Blake, to hold down a job, to deal with the pain. People often ask me how I keep going after losing two of the people closest to me like that. To be honest, I don’t really know. I still live with the pain, probably always will.
But one of the worst moments over this journey came two years ago – when the Australian Bravery Awards Council emailed me to say that Jordan had been rejected for a bravery award. I actually hadn’t nominated him, but the rejection was a kick in the guts. They instead offered a much lower ‘group citation’, the same level of award given to those that in the past have saved pets.
It was crushing. There’s no disrespect to those that received one of those awards, but I was just so taken aback that they wouldn’t properly acknowledge his bravery. And I think I was so shocked because I’d been holding on to your words from parliament for so long – I believed in your words that his sacrifice would be remembered and not somehow just cast aside.
I went from being so proud. To waiting, waiting, waiting. Then they said it would never happen and I was left wondering whether all those words were empty gestures.
That feeling of Jordan being rejected has only begun easing slightly this week. I’ve been so humbled by the overwhelming support of my change.org petition asking Jordan to finally be remembered through a bravery award.
That 180,000 Australians have backed it in just a couple of weeks has been amazing. I now just hope that the you, Prime Minister, and the bravery award council will support it too and help make it a reality.
Jordan will always be a hero to me, and one of the bravest people I know of. In some ways I don’t need any award to tell me that.
But I feel like we need to reward these kinds of things – looking out for your family and those younger than you, showing incredible bravery and thinking of others. I feel like we are losing some of these core Australian values these days.
Mr Abbott, I hope you’ll help us remember Jordan. To help remember all that bravery shown during the floods in Queensland. It would mean so much to me, and a lot of other Australians, to have him given a bravery award.
John Tyson is the father of Jordan and Blake Rice. Jordan and John’s wife, Donna, were killed in the 2011 floods that ravaged parts of Queensland. To sign John’s change.org petition, click here.
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