AT FIRST she thought it was an octopus bite, perhaps because the prospect of a shark attack in Sydney Harbour seemed fanciful by comparison. She stayed calm even as her blood spilled into the shallows off Sugarloaf Bay. ”I am not in pain,” she told her fiance. ”Don’t worry about me, dear. God will look after me.”
Marcia Hathaway was 32, an actor and converted Christian, who once played a mission nurse in the forgotten film, Shadow of the Boomerang. But she will be forever remembered for her final role, as the last person killed by a shark in Sydney Harbour.
Fifty years ago, Miss Hathaway, from Milsons Point, was wading in Middle Harbour while on a boating trip with friends when the shark attacked, tearing at her right calf and thigh until the water was ”bloodstained and foaming”, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Witnesses heard her scream. ”She said she thought she had been attacked by an octopus,” her fiance, Frederick Knight, then 38, said later.
He wrestled the shark to stop it from dragging her into deep water. ”I saw a fin and its girth as I straddled it. My legs were wide apart and its body touched both of them,” he said. ”The water was stained with blood and I never thought I would get her away from it. I think at one stage I had my foot in its mouth. It felt soft and spongy.”
Friends on a nearby cabin cruiser tore sheets from the bunks for tourniquets. Mr Knight swam for help and arranged for an ambulance to meet the boat at nearby Mowbray Point.
Miss Hathaway’s predicament was worsened when the ambulance broke down on the road leading from the harbour. About 30 people tried to push the vehicle but the grade was too steep. By the time a second ambulance arrived to take her to hospital she had stopped breathing. Later, her friends returned at night in a boat and tossed bait into the water to lure the shark, according to a man who has not spoken publicly about the event until now. But Miss Hathaway’s killer was gone.
Since then there have been other shark attacks in Sydney Harbour and many sightings but no deaths.
Googling ”Sugarloaf Bay” reveals a 2009 YouTube video of a bull shark swimming about the mangroves. But the risk of fatal attack is relatively less now than on January 28, 1963, according to shark researcher Andrew Fox. ”With the amount of time we spend in the water these days and the massive population increase, you should expect a proportionate increase in the rate of attacks, but that hasn’t happened,” he said.
The most recent fatal attack in New South Wales was at Lighthouse Beach, Ballina, near Byron Bay, in 2008. But nationally, only one person is killed a year on average, according to the Australian Shark Attack File at Taronga Zoo. An average of 121 people drown at the beach each year by comparison.
Mr Fox, of the Fox Shark Research Foundation, said public ”hysteria” over shark attacks has stopped many people swimming in open water during feeding times at dawn and dusk.
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