It’s the story of a love that triumphed against the odds.
When people ask Amy and Dan Gray to share the story of how they met, they could be forgiven for anticipating a fairytale romance.
The couple, who’ve been together for ten years, have an affection for each other that’s as obvious as it is infectious. They have two children together and share a passion for the ocean. Their life – from the outside – seems picture-perfect.
But although Dan describes what happend on the night he met his future wife as “love at first sight”, the start of the Grays’ love story is marred by racial hatred and violence.
On tonight’s 60 Minutes, Amy and Dan Gray tell the story of how they met for the first time at the Cronulla Riots, and how a life-threatening injury nearly ruled out a first date.
December 11th 2005 seemed like an innocuous day to visit the beach. The weather was unusually hot for early summer and the beachgoers at Cronulla were out in hoardes. What couldn’t be seen, however, were the racial tensions bubbling under the surface.
“Reclaiming Cronulla is to do with keeping everyone nice and friendly,” one beachgoer tells a cameraman.
“It’s a beach – share it,” demands another.
“Let everyone enjoy the water that needs to,” says a third.
Their message seems innocent until the mob mentality takes hold, cheers of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” echoing the length of the foreshore. The crowd is hot, drunk and angry – and just after lunch, they explode.
It was around this time that Amy got a call from a friend inviting her to Cronulla, who described the escalating racist mob as “just like Australia Day.”
When she arrived at the beach, however, the frightening reality of the situation hit home.
As the crowd chanted, “F*ck off, Lebs! F*ck off, Lebs!”, Amy raced to find her brother, who was with his girlfriend and his friend Dan. It was the first time Amy and Dan laid eyes on one another. In the background, a mob of Anglo-Australian men begin physically attacking beachgoers of Middle Eastern appearance.
Amy and Dan take that as their cue to leave. Along with Amy’s brother and his girlfriend, they made their way to a local golf club in a quiet neighbouring suburb. Without watching the news, it was impossible for them to know what most of Australia knew by then – that the outbreak of violence they witnessed at mid-afternoon had intensified before being shut down by police.
That members of the Middle Eastern community were gathering in parks in Sydney’s south-west, planning vigilante-style revenge. That throngs of angry youths were headed for Cronulla, but, finding it cordoned off by police, spilled into neigbouring suburbs looking for a fight.
As Dan was walking Amy and her brother’s girlfriend home, a passing car slowed beside them.
“Have you been to Cronulla today?” A guy asked, sticking his head out the window.
“It’s bullshit down there,” Dan replied, barely glancing back over his shoulder. “Don’t go down there.”
Dan only wanted to warn others away from the violence he’d witnessed at the beach. Instead, by admitting he’d been at the scene, he painted a target on his own back.
What happened next plays out like a scene from a nightmare. Four or five guys jumped out of the car, yelling, “Get those f*cking Aussie dogs!” Dan screamed at the girls to run, and turned around to fight his attackers.
“There was a lot of yelling and screaming and then there was punches and hits and kicks, and I went to ground, and as I went to the ground, I just put my arms up – I thought, if I kept my head semi-covered… You know, I want to stay conscious,” Dan says of the attack.
Watch the 60 Minutes coverage of the Cronulla Riots here:
“I had one on either side of my head, kicking my head from side to side like a pendulum. So I was copping a fair beating. And then it just stopped and… I was just trying to get my breath back with my arms up and then that’s when I felt the trickling down my back and felt something in my back.”
Dan had been stabbed by a 9.8cm hunting knife, which had broken off in his back, the point of the blade resting only a millimetre from his left lung. Still conscious, Dan rang for his own ambulance as Amy raced back to the scene.
When the paramedics arrived, Amy insisted on accompanying Dan in the ambulance.
“I thought, ‘Well, you know, she wants to jump in this ambulance, I’m half a chance here,'” Dan told 60 Minutes.
Lying in the ambulance with four stab wounds, Dan only had one thing on his mind. He removed his oxygen mask and prepared to ask the most important question of his life.
“I said, ‘Obviously given the circumstances I didn’t get the opportunity to speak to you about this, but if there’s any chance after I get out of hospital, I might be able to take you out on a date?'”
“Yes, but put your oxygen mask back on, you idiot,” Amy replied.
At the hospital, the true extent of Dan’s injuries became clear. Romance and jokes aside, he was fighting for his life. Amy was taken into the counsellor’s room and told that he might not survive the night.
“They said, ‘You need to be prepared that he may not survive.'”
But survive he did – and within just three weeks of his release from hospital, he took Amy on that promised first date.
Their fairytale ending wasn’t quite in reach, though, with Dan diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the attack.
“Someone could say the most simple thing to me and I’d turn around and just tear, you know, verbally tear their head off. There’d be little triggers that would be the most benign things and I would… Yeah, I’d lose it,” Dan told 60 Minutes.
With Amy’s love, however, those emotional scars have slowly healed.
“She’s… you know, a phenomenal friend, mother, partner, best friend. Um… just… She’s just everything.”
Those are the words Dan Gray uses to describe his wife Amy.
Those are words that make four stab wounds seem almost worthwhile.