Cedar College Northgate – sports day and tree (Blog 1 of 7)


the ironback trees lies on the ground at cedar college northgate
The BFT that fell on me (Big Falling Tree)

A tree fell on me at Cedar College Northgate on September 11, 2009.

Seven blogs contain details of the accident (this is the first blog)

  1. Cedar College Northgate – sports day and tree
  2. Spinal Cord Injury and no visits from the school
  3. They said what? and withdrawing help
  4. Safework SA and victim impact statements
  5. Cedar College pleads guilty
  6. Relationship breakdown and suing Cedar College
  7. Forgiving Cedar College and the future

Cedar College is named after a tree!

It seems ironic to me that the school is named after a tree. Their website explains the reasoning for the name…

‘Cedar College is derived from Psalm 92:12, which outlines the growth of a righteous person, pictured as a cedar tree, growing to become strong and vital and leading a fruit-bearing life.’

Regarding the purpose and goals of the school, their website mentions…

‘The purpose of Cedar College is to prepare students for real life as they discover Jesus, display love and develop self.

The website contains the following goals…

  • Discover Jesus. We believe that real life is found in knowing Jesus Christ, and we regularly encourage our students to discover Jesus for themselves.
  • Display Love. Our students are challenged to display honesty, compassion, truth and love, within the school community and also around the world.
  • Develop Self. We value high standards in education. Our students are challenged to reach their full potential, through access to high-quality education. Students are treated as unique individuals and guided personally towards their future goals and aspirations.
cedar college northgate administration building
Cedar College Northgate Administration building, Northgate, South Australia

 September 11, 2009, at Cedar College Northgate.

The news report from ABC news about the day at cedar college northgate - it was windyI took a day off from my employment in SA Police and attended the sports day at Cedar College Northgate to support my children. The program supplied by the school showed that Ben was participating in the ‘Gauntlet’ at 11:30 am in the lawn area near the administration building. I didn’t want to miss the event, and I took off with Ben and my dad following me.

The tree was an Eucalyptus Sideroxylon, also known as an ironbark gum tree, with many trunks. One of the trunks landed on me, hitting my head and my back and pinning me to the ground. I was fortunate to have teachers and parents with training in first aid, and one of their first tasks stopped the flow of blood from my head. One of the parents was a nurse employed in the Orthopaedics ward at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH), and he adjusted my leg and ankle. At the same time, Jasmine and Ben were well cared for by the teachers. The ambulance took me to the RAH, and a reporter snapped a photo as I arrived.

john on the stretcher arriving at hospital
Arriving at the emergency department at the Royal Adelaide Hospital

Trying to survive while Cedar College Northgate talks to the media.

My spine was severed in the T3/T4 section, which is roughly at chest level. Other injuries include concussion; a laceration to the head; broken collarbone; cracked ribs; damaged sternum; broken leg; broken ankle; a neck fracture; and bruising to the face.  The swelling in my body made me appear to be much larger. The biggest issue was a bruised heart, and I wasn’t expected to survive. Adelaide commercial television stations covered the incident at their number one story, including Channel 10 News.

The report included an interview with the school principal, and he mentioned…

‘We’ve had a tree surgeon on the property who’s examined all the trees and instructed us which branches need to be removed, we’ve done that.  This tree, in particular, wasn’t on that list, so we assumed it would be safe and sometimes you just can’t tell what’s inside a tree.’

‘The children have all gone home, and we’ve got the situation under control, We’ve already had the trees assessed, we’ve had everything in place for the safety of the kids . . . unfortunately, it’s just one of those things, we don’t know when a tree is going to fall.’

‘Just prior to that, we were arranging to move students and activities away from the trees because of the high winds, which is normally our protocol on windy days’

A teacher mentioned…

‘One of the teachers was a bit worried about the trees because some of the sports things were near the trees’

another view of the tree that fell on me at cedar college northgate
The 8-metre trunks of the Eucalyptus Sideroxylon tree

Given the statements, the accident was just a case of bad luck or an act of God, as the tree reports were actioned by the school, and the tree that hit me wasn’t mentioned in the reports. However, on a day with winds gusting over 90 kilometres per hour, why would I be invited to stand near trees to watch a sporting event? The weather reports were available, and the wind gusts were present hours before the tree fell on me. It seems the protocol wasn’t followed. The SES (State Emergency Services) had advised…

‘moving cars under cover or away from trees, securing loose items and remaining indoors, away from windows, while conditions are severe’.

As there is a struggle with the wind to keep his hat on, the principal talks. ‘We’ve got the situation under control’. 

I wish my health had the same status.

adelaide advertiser newspaper describing the accident at cedar college northgate including a photo of the tree. Title is 'lucky to survive'
The Adelaide Advertiser shares the story of the accident

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