One of CQ's top cattleman saved life of John Bjelke-Petersen

John Bjelke-Petersen has little recollection of the event, but appreciates that Sir Graham was his saviour that day.
John Bjelke-Petersen has little recollection of the event, but appreciates that Sir Graham was his saviour that day. Helen Spelitis

POLITICAL hopeful John Bjelke-Petersen owes his life to a prominent Central Queensland cattleman.

Sir Graham McCamley found a seriously injured John Bjelke-Petersen, the son of then Premier Sir Joh, on a cattle property west of Rockhampton in September 1985.

He had come off his motorbike while rounding up some stray cattle and fallen down a 15m embankment. The bike landed on top of him, crushing his midriff.

He was missing for hours. His disappearance sparked a huge search, hundreds of people scouring the rugged country for any clue.

Police feared he could have been kidnapped - or met a worse fate - given that he had recently received a death threat.

Bjelke-Petersen has little recollection of the event, but appreciates that Sir Graham was his saviour that day.

"Thanks to Sir Graham, I am still here," he said. "The doctors said if it had been another hour I would have choked on the fluid in my lungs.

"I can remember riding up that bank and I can vaguely remember hitting the brakes and that was the end of it. That's all I can remember until the next morning when the chopper came in," he said.

The chopper was piloted by Sir Graham. He was living at Tartrus, his family property 50km west of Marlborough, when he received an SOS from police about 9pm on September 4. (The two families were well known to each other through Sir Graham's regular dealings with Sir Joh.)

Sir Graham McCamley by the river on Tartrus. Photo Kathleen Calderwood / Rural Weekly
Sir Graham McCamley by the river on Tartrus. Photo Kathleen Calderwood / Rural Weekly Kathleen Calderwood

The search had been under way for several hours after young John Bjelke-Petersen failed to turn up for dinner at a neighbour's house earlier in the night.

Sir Graham fuelled his helicopter ready to head out early the next morning.

An experienced pilot, he used the Mackenzie River to navigate in the poor light.

He picked up Ron Howland, another local who was familiar with the country's terrain.

At first light, the pair took the search to the skies.

Sir Graham remembers he was flying along a boundary fence when he noticed some skid marks.

He then spotted the motorbike at the bottom of the embankment.

He landed the chopper and called the police to direct them to the scene.

He and Ron climbed down to the bike, which Sir Graham remembers was spattered with blood.

They also found several more of Bjelke-Petersen's personal items, including his boots and his notebook.

But that is where the trail of clues ended. Sir Graham and Ron got back in the chopper and continued searching before turning back to do a last check of the cattle yards.

It was there they found Bjelke-Petersen, slumped on a log, slipping in and out of consciousness.

On one occasion, he summoned the strength to say: "Oh Graham, what are you doing here?" before he passed out again.

"I must have walked about 5km back to the yards, but I can't remember doing it," Bjelke-Petersen said. "There was nothing left of my socks. I had taken my boots off and left them under a tree in the opposite direction.

"I obviously walked one way to start with, but then heard the cattle bellowing in the yards. I then walked towards that ... it's the only way I can think I ended up there."

Bjelke-Petersen suffered a punctured lung, broken elbow and broken ribs and spent several weeks recovering in intensive care.

He remains eternally grateful to Sir Graham.

"I'm still going around thanks to him and the doctors and nurses at the Rockhampton Base Hospital."

A humble Sir Graham plays what he did.

"If you can help, you help," he said. "It was important that I went. I'd have done it for anybody."

Topics:  john bjelke-petersen queensland election 2015 sir graham mccamley

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