Stab Magazine | Parenting In The Age Of The “Shark Plague”

Parenting In The Age Of The “Shark Plague”

What is a parent to do when the ocean is said to be filled with man-eaters? 

news // Sep 30, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

For parents living in Australia’s sharkiest regions, the decision is painstaking. It’s either ban their child from their favourite pastime or live with the very real spectre they may be eaten. We spoke with two parents from the Ballina region of teenager Cooper Allen’s attack this week and one from Margaret River, another favourite haunt of the Great White Shark.

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That’s a big boy, or girl…

Anne Lewis, mother of three, Lennox Head/Ballina:
Both my sons were out there when (the most recent shark attack) happened. Cooper (Allen) was a little further up the beach but they were there, and it was very fortunate it wasn’t them.

The ocean has been split in two. There is the ocean at Ballina and the ocean at Lennox. I’m very uneasy about them surfing at North Wall and around Shelly Beach at Ballina. We told the boys before we’d prefer they didn’t surf there, but after the attack this week we’ve told them they’re banned until further notice. You can accept one incident maybe two as freak occurrences. Just the number of them we don’t want them surfing there. Regarding surfing, it’s generally a pretty low risk. I think everything is a risk in life. You risk your life getting behind the wheel of a car. I’m far more concerned with him driving now that he’s got his P’s than surfing.

I don’t think you can do anything. If the water is dirty, if there is big flush coming out of the river, if it is early morning, dusk, I wouldn’t be going out there. But you have to accept the risks and go with it. I think boys my son’s age are gonna go out regardless and they have that it’s not going to happen to me attitude. Although Cooper’s incident was a little close to home.


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The scene from a fatal attack at Shelly Beach less than a year back.


Russell Ord, father or two, Margaret River:
It’s how you approach it I think. I don’t think about it like there’s a shark problem. For me, it’s all about the other benefits of surfing. You’re living in the now. If you’re thinking about getting eaten, you’ll never go surfing. I enjoy everything about surfing; the feeling of being in the ocean, listening to the water, catching waves, so when the mind wanders and you start thinking about that stuff I just bring it back to what’s happening now.

My worries are more that he’s starting to drive. Being an ex-fireman I’ve cut plenty of kids and adults out of cars. That stuff happens every day, but it doesn’t hit the media. So no, we don’t talk about sharks. It’s not a big subject. We talk about driving a lot. It’s just a what-if. If you live life worrying about what-if’s you’ll never do anything. Fear holds a lot of people back.


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The painful, yet lucky aftermath of Cooper Allen’s attack, and soon to be one hell of a “How’d you get those scars?” story.

Deborah Turnbull, Ballina (Shelly Beach), Mother:
I live at Shelly Beach right across from where it all happens. My son Patrick is 17, and he is great mates with Cooper. I’ve been up with Cooper the last couple of days and so it’s hit close to home. But I’m more concerned with people getting their P-plates now; I’m more concerned with them going out on the road than going out in the ocean. I’m more concerned about some drunken idiot punching them when they’re out one night. There’re so many other things that are more likely to happen than a shark attack. Surfing is great thing for them; he’s in such a better mood when he’s surfing. Yes, it’s scary, but number one: there is no way I could stop him from doing it and number two: I wouldn’t wanna to stop him doing it because it’s good for him and he loves it.

I was with Cooper’s mum this morning and until it’s your son you don’t get the full effect of it. She would like it if he wasn’t getting out there so much. It’s bad, but the boys see sharks, they know they’re out there, they know the risks they’re taking, but it’s something that they love. People are fearful of it because they are not in control. Pat and I have spoken about the fact he could get attacked by a shark any day, and he’s okay with that.


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