The man who shot to internet fame for saving a drowning baby kangaroo from raging Queensland floodwaters has revealed how he wanted to end his life twice despite his hero status.
After photos of Ray Cole cradling the drenched roo made international headlines in January 2011, the father-of-two became a laughing stock at work.
Not even 11,000 Facebook friend requests could bring him out of his misery, perpetuated daily by a boss who considered kangaroos to be the country’s biggest pests.
The hate didn’t stop there. When the 48-year-old logged online, he was met with a barrage of death threats from roo shooters.
Just like Mr Cole, grandmother Toni Doherty recently became famous after dramatic footage of her rescuing a severely burnt koala from a bushfire in New South Wales went viral.
Despite Ms Doherty’s brave effort, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital euthanised Lewis the koala on Monday because his horrific burns were just too extensive to hope for recovery.
As animal lovers mourn Lewis’s death, Mr Cole spoke to The New Daily about the dark side of internet fame.
Not only is he still suffering after losing his home when the floods hit Ipswich eight years ago, but the bombardment of hate amid the praises of the world continues to stand out vividly in his mind.
Mr Cole was no longer just a truck driver from Ipswich. In the eyes of the world, he was a hero.
But at work he was at the target of ridicule.
He said the widely shared photo was continuously put up on the lunchroom wall, where his coworkers would throw darts at it.
Mr Cole couldn’t escape the silly jokes.
“I suppose you’re going to go and rescue the emu from the coat of arms today,” he recalled his boss saying.
“Everyday there would be the smart-alec cracks.”
Not long after, Mr Cole asked for a day off to which his boss replied: “You can bloody rescue one of the biggest pests to our (trucking) industry but you can’t come to work?”
He took that day off and was fired.
” ‘I don’t think this is working’,” Mr Cole recalls his boss saying.
“I got into work at 6am and I was back home by 8am.”
A “very distressed” and upset Mr Cole went and saw Paul Pisasale, the then-mayor of Ipswich.
“I think I cried in his office,” Mr Cole said.
In the middle of trying to rebuild his life and support his wife and children who, like himself, had lost most of their possessions in the floods, Mr Cole never expected to lose his job.
“I was a hero to a lot of people and an idiot to a lot of people.”
Then three months later, Mr Cole’s mum died.
“I gave up on life twice,” he said, adding that he was eventually admitted to a mental health hospital.
“I just wasn’t strong enough … It was something I’ve never experienced before in my life.”
Despite his hardships, Mr Cole doesn’t regret saving the roo, which recovered in the backyard shed of his property for about a month before being set free.
“Australians can turn a blind eye to an all-in brawl down the street but when it comes to wildlife animals, we’re big softies,” he said.
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