Part of the appeal of raising kids in the country is the freedom and wide-open spaces they get to enjoy in what (we hope) is an adventurous but safe environment.
For these Cohuna brothers, a regular weekend means heading out to the farm with their dad to do cattle work. They have lived and breathed farming since before they could walk, so at 9 and 10 respectively, Charlie and Hunter are “pros” at farming.
Working at their family farm recently with their dad, Dave Toohey, was just an ordinary day. It was dusty, hot and there was plenty of work to do. The boys love working with their dad, and they are only too familiar with the work, but this particular Sunday did not end the way it usually would, with a big feed to refuel their bodies after a day of hard work.
“Me, Dad and Hunter went to the farm at Teal Point to help Dad bring the cattle in just like normal,” Charlie explains.
Sitting in the office at the Teal Point farm, Charlie and Hunter are far beyond their years as they explain in great details what occurred on the day.
“When that was done, we were loading the cattle. The bottom of the truck was done and we lifted the ramp. We were about 10 cattle from being finished and a bullock got stuck in the ramp.”
“That happens a lot,” Charlie adds.
“Normally you get hip clamps and pull up the tractor, but we couldn’t do it because the boom doesn’t go to the top deck, so Dad went to lift the tail and the bullock behind him was getting rowdy. I’m talking 850 kilos heavy! Yeah, so then Dad got out, and it sort of flicked out and kicked under him up into the air.”
Hunter nods as his brother relives the moment.
“I was on one side and Charlie was on the other. I didn’t see the whole thing happen, I just saw Dad land on his back and it was so scary.”
Charlie’s eyes are wide, his voice etched with panic – “I just screamed, and then sat with Dad on the ground while Hunter rang Triple 0.”
I can only imagine how frightened the boys must have been and wonder how on earth they managed to think so quickly.
“I saw Dad’s phone on the ground so I picked it up and rang an ambulance. Dad had always taught us about safety on the farm so we knew what to do. Then we saw Dad wiggle his feet which we knew was a good sign. He told us he thought he’d broken his back.”
The mobile phone signal slightly weak, the phone dropped out momentarily, so Charlie called back to give instructions on where they were and explain what had happened once again.
“Then I rang Mum,” Hunter says. “She was in Maldon and nowhere near us so she hung up and rang our friend, Pete, who was just over in Barham, so he came out to look after us and sit with Dad until the ambulance arrived and Mum got to us. One of the workers was here with us too so he also helped us with Dad.”
I wondered what was going through their heads.
“I couldn’t stop crying, I thought he was dead,” Charlie admits.
“Yeah. Dad always said, ‘Don’t get in with a mad cow’ and this is what happened. I was so scared he would die or be in a wheelchair,” Hunter agrees.
Their fears were momentarily eased when Dave carefully pulled himself up, and with Charlie and Hunter on either side, they then slowly walked with him to the office, laying him down on a group of chairs.
“We didn’t want him to get up or walk because we knew when you hurt your back you should stay still, but Dad just wanted to make sure he could move so we just helped him.”
Both boys are clearly still shocked by the accident, the fear still on their faces.
Waiting for the ambulance must have seemed like an eternity, and especially worrying for the boys who were doing their best to be brave and keep their dad calm.
“I was worried how long he would be away from us in hospital, and I thought if he doesn’t come back then I don’t want to see anyone again,” Charlie cries.
With Dave taken to Bendigo Hospital, it was a long two days before the boys could see their dad as they stayed with family friend, Pete, while Dave got the treatment he needed.
Although they were kept busy, Charlie says it was not until they got to see their parents that they were able to rest their minds.
“We went to swimming and the next thing Mum and Dad turned up at the pool to surprise us and we were so glad to see them. We just hugged them so much because we knew he was alright.”
The diagnosis was a smashed coxic, whiplash and bruising and a massive case of pride for Dave.
He was reluctant to be part of the interview, preferring the attention to go to his boys who he was and still is, extraordinarily proud of.
Still recovering from his injuries but back at work, Dave’s efforts to instil farm safety into his children has paid off ten-fold as the outcome of this particular accident could have been so much worse.
It certainly has not taken any of Charlie and Hunter’s love of farming away from them, with both boys eager to follow in the footsteps of their dad and continue to work with the Toohey Farms enterprise.
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 4 March 2021.