Sisto Malaspina (right) and his business partner Nino Pangrazio at their cafe Pellegrini's on Bourke St. Mr Malaspina died in the recent attack, which saw the heroics of Melbourne's
Sisto Malaspina (right) and his business partner Nino Pangrazio at their cafe Pellegrini's on Bourke St. Mr Malaspina died in the recent attack, which saw the heroics of Melbourne's "trolley man”. File

Our instincts aren't a croc

WE'VE all been following the Bourke St trolley man saga in Melbourne, and uncomfortable that it is - his quick ascent to hero followed by rapid descent to villain - is not what I want to talk about.

It is my fascination with heroic actions by people who happened to be in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time.

I've long been interested in what I might do if, say, I passed a burning house or car plunging into a river and I am the only person at the scene. Would the superwoman in me come out? Or would it run away?

I like to think I'd help. You couldn't just stand by on the safety of a river bank and shout to a man trying to escape his sinking car in a swirling current: "I'd love help but I'm a bit of coward and I don't really know you. All the best."

You'd do something. Surely?

If you were told you had to go into a dangerous situation to help a stranger next Wednesday at 4pm, would you do it? I think not. You would have days to think about it, fret over your courage, delve uncomfortably into your psyche to ask the awful question: "Would I risk my life for someone I don't know?"

The trolley man certainly did that. He was there in a terribly dangerous situation, and he reacted instinctively. There is always someone somewhere in the world taking a huge risk to help a stranger. It is one of these things I often mull over in the early morning hours when I am in that surreal zone between sleep and awareness.

I think my weird dream-like-zone thoughts began some years ago when I heard the news of a 60-year-old woman camping in Cape York and jumping on the back of a crocodile to save a fellow camper. What a heart-lifting story it was, apart from the woman being called an "elderly grandmother" in every news report.

It was in the dark, early hours of the morning and the campers, including children and babies, were in deep sleep. They had done all the right things in terms of making their camp safe.

But the whopper of a croc crept into one of the tents, had a man by the leg and was dragging him out into the open.

The woman, awakened by the noise, ran outside and despite being an "elderly grandmother", jumped on the crocodile's back and did whatever a person would do to get it to release the man: gouge its eyes, try to pull back its enormous head, punch it in the snout. Fortunately, one of the other campers woke, had a gun (as you should while camping in remote areas) and as he was quoted as saying, "that was the end of it".

The "elderly grandmother" became an overnight sensation and was feted all over the country to tell her story on the telly. But if the woman had been told weeks before she would have to leap on a 4m crocodile intent on an early morning breakfast, she would have no doubt gone into a fever of terror knowing she could never contemplate such an act of such supreme courage. The woman made light of her bravery and simply said, "You don't know what you'd do until you see someone in trouble."

 

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