Woman who rescued toddler from raging creek in Australian outback to be honoured
A Co Down woman branded a “guardian angel” by the parents of a toddler whose life she saved is to receive an Australian bravery award.
In September 2010 personal trainer Maeve McLoughlin (26), from Carryduff, was working as a nanny at a 30,000-acre cattle station in Springsure, Queensland, when two-year-old Bridie Woolcock fell into a flooded creek and nearly drowned.
Maeve told the Belfast Telegraph she had been hanging laundry in the yard while three of the Woolcock children — Bridie, Bella and Hastings — were playing with a litter of new puppies when the nightmare unfolded.
“The kids went quiet, which alerted my attention, and then I heard screaming,” Maeve said.
“I ran across the yard and Bella and Hastings were shouting ‘Bridie’s gone, Bridie’s gone’.”
Heavy rainfall had caused the creek to swell from ankle depth to 5ft of fast-flowing, debris-filled floodwater.
Little Bridie had slipped, fallen in and been carried away by the current.
“I told Hastings to go to the house and get Ally, his older sister, to call the emergency services number,” Maeve said.
“I jumped straight into the water and was pulled under by the current.
“I was full of adrenaline and managed to get up onto the bank.
“I ran barefoot along the side of the creek, climbing through shrubs and barbed wire fences.
“It was the longest five minutes of my life.”
Bridie had been swept over half-a-mile down the creek when Maeve spotted her, face down, floating in the water.
Maeve got into the water again, reached out and grabbed the tot’s ankle to pull her to safety.
“Bridie was blue and her eyes were wide and she was making the death rattle, so I resuscitated her in the water and revived her,” Maeve said.
“I had my legs wrapped around the roots of a tree and was clinging on.
“I managed to get out of the water and carried Bridie, unconscious, but breathing, to the house.”
Bridie was then airlifted to hospital in Brisbane were she spent four weeks recovering from a collapsed lung and an infection she contracted from swallowing dirty water.
Maeve returned home to Northern Ireland and two weeks ago opened her new business, Pre Core Fitness in Royal Avenue, Belfast.
Still on a high from her new venture just getting off the ground, Maeve was left stunned when she received a letter from the Governor General of Australia’s office notifying her that she is being honoured with a Commendation for Brave Conduct at an investiture ceremony to be held later in the year.
“When I received the letter I was so shocked,” Maeve said. “I am very honoured and humbled by it all.”
On Wednesday night Bridie’s parents Richard and Jenny Woolcock, who nominated Maeve for the award, told this newspaper they will be forever grateful to Bridie’s “guardian angel”.
“We are really proud of Maeve,” Richard said.
“She is a very special woman to us and will always be very close to our hearts.
“We love her like one of our own.”
Bridie has recovered from the injuries she sustained in her near- death experience and is going through therapy to overcome her phobia of water.
“It was not Bridie’s time to go,” the father-of-four added.
“God must have something very special planned for our baby girl to achieve later in life.
“We love all our children so much and were are so grateful Maeve was there as Bridie’s guardian angel.”
Australian Bravery Decorations recognise acts of courage where people put themselves in jeopardy to protect the lives or property of others. They date from February 1975.
A council of 14 members including representatives of each state and territory, two ex-officio members and four community members appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, consider nominations and decide who will receive an award.
The Commendation for Brave Conduct, which Carryduff woman Maeve McLoughlin will receive later this year for saving the life of Bridie Woolcock, is a silver gilt sprig of mimosa mounted on a red backing ribbon.