AN INTIMATE ceremony at the Fitzroy River Barrage yesterday revealed untold heartbreak for the families touched by two boating tragedies there in 1968.

On the 47th anniversary of the first accident, Rockhampton Regional Mayor Margaret Strelow unveiled a plaque remembering the lives lost on the river and honouring two heroic rescues.

The Morning Bulletin told the story of the tragedies earlier this year, including calls for a tribute from the families of 17-year-old Anthony Boyd Cook, one of the young men who drowned in the first accident on September 4, 1968.

That afternoon, Boyd and school mates Stephen Ward, 17, and Timothy Wickham, 15, had set out in a wooden row boat to explore the partially completed barrage.

When their boat capsized in the churning wash from the spillway, Boyd and Timothy were swept away and Stephen eventually managed to climb into the gate recess of the barrage.

After almost an hour, fireman Rob Nebe was slowly lowered down to the recess with just a rope, harness and life jacket to rescue Stephen.

Boyd's body was recovered on September 5, and Timothy's on September 7.

HEROIC RESCUE: Rob Nebe is lowered from the catwalk on top of the barrage and prepares to swing himself on to a ledge to rescue Stephen Ward, whose overturned dinghy sits in the turbulent water at the bottom of the spillway.
HEROIC RESCUE: Rob Nebe is lowered from the catwalk on top of the barrage and prepares to swing himself on to a ledge to rescue Stephen Ward, whose overturned dinghy sits in the turbulent water at the bottom of the spillway. Contributed

Just five weeks later, a second boat capsized in the treacherous waters.

Daniel and Alan Toohey were towing a launch downstream through the barrage on October 6, 1968.

The launch rammed into the stern of the brothers' small boat in turbulent waters, driving it into one of the concrete pillars of the barrage.

When the brothers were thrown into the water, they clung to a bobbing drum and, eventually, Daniel climbed into the gate recess.

As he attempted to pull his brother to safety, Alan was dragged under the water. Daniel was rescued by fireman Bob Collins.

While the tragedies had not been forgotten by those involved, they had over the years faded from the city's collective memory.

Unveiling the plaque, Cr Strelow said the pages of The Morning Bulletin at the time told the story of the community's distress.

Cr Strelow said the plaque would serve as a memorial to ensure the lives of Boyd, Timothy and Alan would not be forgotten by future generations.

FINALLY RECOGNISED: Rob Nebe and Bob Collins, who both rescued people from the Fitzroy River Barrage in 1968, with the plaque commemorating the rescues and the lives lost.
FINALLY RECOGNISED: Rob Nebe and Bob Collins, who both rescued people from the Fitzroy River Barrage in 1968, with the plaque commemorating the rescues and the lives lost. Allan Reinikka Rokabarrage

It would also mark the actions of Rob and Bob, who changed the lives of Stephen and Daniel when they hauled them to safety.

Both Bob and Rob said the heroic efforts were just part of the job.

Rob said while neither received an official recognition of the rescue, the boys at the station made him a pretend medal.

"It's good to have the plaque as recognition, not only for us... but for those that were lost as well, and for their family," he said.

Both credited the safe rescue to the entire crew.

"Even though it was scary, the whole crew did the rescue, it wasn't just me. Without them I couldn't have done it," Bob said.



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