Cedar College Northgate – sports day and tree (part1)


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

Nine years ago today a tree fell on me at Cedar College Northgate. I refer to the incident as ‘my 0911’, as it occurred on September 11, 2009.

Initially, this blog wasn’t about forgiveness. However, an experience a few weeks ago changed my mind, and I will share this is part seven. The seven blogs contain details of the accident and the effect it had on my family, as well as the relationship between the school and myself. The timing is right, as both of my children are no longer at the school.

Cedar College Northgate opened in 1997 with only 34 students and commenced as a ministry of the Baptist Church CityReach Oakden. They experienced good growth, and now over 800 students are enrolled. It seems ironic to me that the school is named after a tree. Their website explains the reasoning for the name…

‘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.

And 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

My parents start the tradition.

my mother, joyce is wearing a nice necklace and holding a bag, and my dad is on the right in a suit, while I am in the middle looking great!
Joyce (mother), me and Alex (father) on my wedding day

My parents didn’t have a chance to get a good education. However, they understood the value of a good education and encouraged me in this area. I graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor Degree of Applied Science in Computer Technology, from the South Australian Institute of Technology.

I continue the tradition.

When I became a father, I encouraged both of my children to do well too.  Both Jasmine and Ben were accepted by Cedar College Northgate, and their entire primary and secondary education was completed there. They enjoyed their time at Cedar and achieved great SACE (South Australia Certificate of Education) scores. Jasmine was selected as a head prefect in her final year, Ben was the school dux, and both received ATARs of over 85. The education enabled them to commence university studies in 2018 at Adelaide University. Jasmine is studying for a Bachelor of Music (Sonic Arts), and Ben a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)(Software). Hopefully, my children can help their children to get a good education, and the tradition continues down the line.

 September 11, 2009 at Cedar College Northgate.

the cedar college northgate map of the areas near the event, and it shows the gauntlet event is on the lawn near the admin buildingI took a day off frthe timetable showing that the gauntlet is on at 1130am from cedar college northgateom 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 both Ben and my dad following me.

A news report by ABC news provides an insight into the events of the day.

The news report from ABC news about the day at cedar college northgate - it was windy

The tree was a Eucalyptus Sideroxylon, also known as an ironbark gum tree, and had 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.

In layman’s terms, the damage to the spine was 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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