Matt Naysmith says he was known to his mates for making “stupid decisions” when he had been drinking: “getting into partying mode”, risk taking and “hopping into cars and not really thinking about the consequences”.
But his worst decision was the day the 21-year-old mechanic decided to jump off a waterfall after drinking with about 15 Fly In, Fly Out workmates. Ignoring signs that Mr Naysmith admits clearly said “no climbing”, he slipped and crashed onto the rocks below at Fern Pool in Karijini National Park, Western Australia.
Waiting for the ambulance that “beautiful hot sunny day coming up to Christmas”, Mr Naysmith couldn’t move and felt nothing. He recalled thinking, “This should hurt.”
That was when the young mechanic’s future who had been “living the dream” near Marble Bar – earning good money, living in his own house and saving to go overseas – changed irrevocably.
He is now a quadriplegic living with his mother back home in Perth.
Men are about four times more likely to drown than women. About 40 per cent of the nearly 2000 men who fatally drowned in the past decade had drugs or alcohol in their systems, research by the Royal Life Saving Society Australia shows.
Of the men who had been drinking and subsequently drowned, 67 per cent would have failed a random breath test with a recorded blood alcohol content above 0.05.
Mr Naysmith said his drinking on the day he broke his neck hadn’t been excessive, but typical of young Aussie blokes. The friends were recovering from a work Christmas party the night before and Mr Naysmith had organised a bus to take them to the park. Photos show the group carrying their eskies and inner tubes down to the pool.
Had he been tested for drunk driving, though, Mr Naysmith told Fairfax he would’ve “absolutely” been over the limit.
“We had a barbecue lunch and I was drinking throughout the day but not excessively. It was a happy fun day. It was not like I was trying to do something stupid.
“It was that whole Aussie notion that you’ll be right for a good time, but not for a long time. It was the attitude, live for the moment, and have a few beers and everything will be great. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.”
Now 31, Mr Naysmith’s Facebook page is full of photos of him and his mates with beers in their hands, even a humorous sign saying drunken people crossing.
The latest image shows him in a wheelchair, the only way he can get around. He now works for the Paraplegic Prevention Fund, visiting schools and other groups to warn of the dangers of alcohol and risky behaviour.
To prevent another increase in drownings after last year’s deadly summer, the Royal Lifesaving Society with federal government support is running the campaign, Don’t Let Your Mates Drink and Drown.
The society’s CEO, Justin Scarr said the culture of drinking among men before boating or fishing or a day out was placing them at greater risk.
“An esky full of stubbies is often as important on a fishing trip as the bait or checking the conditions before swimming,” he said.
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