John Tyson sits next to his son Blake Tyson as they mourn at the funeral of family members Donna Maree Rice and son Jordan Rice. Photo / Getty Images
‘Take my brother first.” These were the final words spoken by a shy 13-year-old boy: my son, Jordan Rice, while trapped in the 2011 Queensland floods.
When help arrived, Jordan’s first thought was of his younger brother Blake, then just 10.
They must’ve been terrified. Jordan couldn’t swim; gushing water and chaos surrounded him. He could’ve panicked but instead he helped civilian rescuers reach the car.
Jordan was closest and time was almost up, so they grabbed for him to take him to safety. He pushed them away and instructed them to take his little brother first. Moments later, Jordan and my wife Donna were swept away to their deaths.
It hasn’t been an easy journey. Life takes many turns. This one, for me, was the cruellest.
Tough isn’t always loud and brash. Tough is sometimes four words quietly but firmly spoken by a boy who couldn’t swim as water threatened to engulf him.
Hundreds of thousands of people agreed he was tough. I know because they signed the petition I started on Change.org to properly acknowledge Jordan’s bravery and honour his final act.
Everyone can be tough when the need arises.
I never initially pursued anything to commemorate my son. In the cloud of my grief, things like medals and naming parks after him were just words at the time. But as the years rolled by, I came to realise how important this was to me.
I started the petition because the Australian Bravery Awards Council told me Jordan had been rejected for a bravery award he’d been nominated for. It was like a kick in the guts.
How could they weep at his death and move on with so many empty gestures? Since when have you heard of a braver boy than Jordan?
Jordan Rice who died in the 2011 Queensland floods.
The comments below the petition were heart-warming and inspiring. Getting the bravery award for my boy became a mission for people, and for me.
So as a dad, it was only fair, only right, that I fought for him, for something in reality he would’ve been too shy to accept. As the petition kept growing I was shocked – and buoyed to fight harder.
Tony Abbott stood up in Parliament and said Jordan was “emblematic of the Australian spirit” and that Jordan deserved the highest civilian bravery award. But then the politicians seemed to forget him. They were just empty words.
But more than 300,000 Australians are hard to ignore. That’s how many signed my petition and yesterday Jordan Lucas Rice was presented with a Bravery Medal at Government House in Brisbane. It feels, for me, like a victory for the common man, the little guy.
I learned from Jordan that your actions must meet your words. I’ve set up the Jordan Rice Foundation because no one should have to fall by the wayside. Its goal is to open a retreat – Jordan Rice House – where families who’ve suffered loss are able to recharge, reminisce and restore. We also aim to roll out a First Responder Safety Programme, focusing on child safety.
I lost half of my family that day, and most of my heart. I owe it to those 306,000 people and to Jordan, recipient of the Bravery Medal, to pay it forward. Let Jordan inspire you, as he does me, and thousands of others. Tell his story and show that bravery comes in all sizes, ages and forms.