News National ‘I was an invincible 22yo … one punch changed everything’

‘I was an invincible 22yo … one punch changed everything’

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Friday December 29, 2000.

I’m 22 years old, still convinced of my immortality. The Twin Towers are still standing. A few months earlier I’d started seeing a girl I like, a singer. We’re in a band together, but my drinking – large, obliterating weekend sessions that leave me incoherent – troubles her. She’s convinced it’ll come to no good.

She can’t understand this urge I have to drink until I can no longer talk, or walk. To guzzle beer and bourbon until I vomit and pass out. I don’t really understand it myself. All I know is that, in the circles I grew up in, it was the done thing. My group of friends, mostly of British descent, were binge drinkers – each and every one of us. We didn’t know any better.

One-punch shatters family 
Accused brother basher on jail

On this particular Friday, my new girl and I had resolved that I would do my drinking on my time. This suited me fine. I didn’t need her around putting the clamps on when the booze was flowing. Me and a couple of mates headed out to the Breakwater Tavern, at Hillary’s Boat Harbour at Sorrento Beach north of Perth, for a few quiet drinks. We used to joke that the reason our beers were ‘quiet’ was because we were so busy throwing them down that we didn’t speak.

It’s a start and I applaud it, but there’s a limit to what can be done with this issue on paper, or in a courtroom. By that time, it’s too late.

The night is a blur, it moves from the Breakwater to The Craic, the Irish-themed nightclub nearby, and my last flash is hailing a taxi home with my friends in tow.

In my next moment, it’s 4:30am and I’m standing over a toilet, peeing in Joondalup Hospital, leaning on my old man who looks ashen. He helps me back into bed, and I see my mother who looks by turns relieved, terrified and furious. My head hurts, the worst headache I’ve ever known. And my vision is blurred. I ask my dad what happened.

One of my mates had vomited in the taxi and the driver had kicked us out, demanding money to clean it. We’d given him some notes, and then tried to hail another cab on the road leading out of the car park. Between the three of us, none of our stories were the same. I suspect I’d wandered out into the road, forcing some driver to stop, and when he’d asked me to move I probably told him where to go. He hit me, one punch to the left side of my jaw, and I fell and hit my head on the pavement. The most coherent of my friends called the ambulance, worried I was a goner.

Thankfully, I woke up.

My right eye was swollen shut, and my jaw blew up and throbbed for days. I vomited for about eight hours, on and off, on Saturday, and the concussion was so severe that I couldn’t think clearly until a week or so later. To this day, there’s a funny little ridge on the right side of my head, just above the temple, a permanent reminder of how close it came to being over before it really began.

I spent a fortnight convalescing and didn’t drink again for 18 months.

Street violecne protest
People take to the streets urging the NSW government to get tough on street violence. Photo: AAP

In the wake of 18-year-old Daniel Christie’s one-punch death in Kings Cross in early 2014, and a spate of booze-fuelled attacks preceding it, the New South Wales government passed laws designed to prevent such incidents

Among them are mandatory eight-year prison terms for anyone who fatally punches someone while drunk or on drugs, as well as 1:30am lock outs in central Sydney and a ban on selling drinks after 3am,

There is also a ban on bottle shops staying open later than 10pm.

And still, one punch assaults happen, as highlighted in the tragic case of Irish Lyttle brothers.

Barry Lyttle is free on bail after allegedly punching his younger brother Patrick into a coma.

Whenever I read about a one-punch death, I’m reminded of my own experience and a line I read once. I think it was in the biography of a boxer, when his trainer was imparting some sage advice on a sensible lifestyle: “Nothing good happens at 3am.”

But the same could be said for 1am, or midnight. If you start drinking early enough, you can get yourself in a nice old pickle by 10pm. I’ve done it.

The new laws are a step in the right direction, but one punch deaths will still happen.

There are simply too many people with loose wires in their heads for us to stamp out this problem completely, and the law comes into play too late for some.

I’m almost 37 now, hardly drink, a father. I rarely go out, unless it’s for a feed, and haven’t set foot in a nightclub for years.

Whenever I hear about one-punch assaults I’m reminded of my own experience that night in Perth. I’m grateful for the second chance I got, the chance that Daniel Christie, Thomas Kelly and so many others never received.

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