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    BRAVERY PERSONIFIED: Kylie Fowler, centre, will receive one of Australia’s highest civilian bravery honours later this year. She is pictured with her family, from left, James, Louise, husband Tony and Jack.

Kylie Fowler honoured for act of courage

By Colin MacGillivray

Kylie Fowler still struggles to talk about the incident that will see her receive one of Australia’s highest civilian bravery honours.

Ms Fowler, formerly of the Wimmera, was among 89 people cited last week by Governor-General David Hurley for their acts of courage, and will be presented with a Bravery Medal later this year.

Her commendation relates to a car crash near the Victorian town of Allansford in January 2020.

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Ms Fowler was a passenger in a vehicle that came across the crashed car in heavy rain. 

The driver had struck a power pole, breaking it in half and causing live wires to start a fire.

Ms Fowler ran from her vehicle towards the crashed car, attempting to free the driver, who was the sole occupant.

Another witness held back the flames engulfing the car with a fire extinguisher, while Ms Fowler repeatedly attempted to free the driver, but when the fire reached the petrol tank the pair had no choice but to back away.

While the Governor-General’s citation said Ms Fowler ‘displayed considerable bravery by her actions’, she said she felt uneasy about receiving the award.

“It’s really uncomfortable to be recognised for something that is a natural, reactive thing. It’s something that is innate almost,” she said.

“The hardest part is that I’m being recognised for something when the result wasn’t ideal. I couldn’t save him.

“It’s almost like being rewarded for failing.”

Ms Fowler said her husband Tony, who was principal of Warracknabeal Secondary College from 2007 to 2015, supported her through the aftermath of the incident, insisting her actions were worthy of recognition.

“My husband tried to point out that not everyone does respond, and that was true at the time,” she said.

“There was only me and another person who responded, and I remember thinking as I was pulling at the handle, ‘why isn’t anyone bigger and stronger coming?’

“I’m only five feet two inches and 45 kilos. I could hear lots of people, and I wondered why nobody physically bigger than me came to help.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that people would freeze in that situation.”

Lasting memories

Ms Fowler said many parts of the incident were still as fresh in her memory as they were on the day it happened.

“I noticed so many things. It was an older car, there were no airbags, I knew there were no other passengers,” she said.

“There were live wires all over the place and in the distance I could hear people yelling out that the fire had reached the petrol tank. It felt like it went for such a long time, but in reality it wasn’t.

“Then we had to give up. That was the hardest part, knowing that we had nothing else to fight the fire.

“The fire took over his car and we saw him go with it.”

Ms Fowler said she still struggled at times to process the traumatic event.

“All I kept thinking the whole time with this man, who was younger than me, was ‘this is someone’s son. This could be my son’,” she said.

“As a mum, I would want everyone to do everything they could to save him. That’s your worst nightmare as a parent.

“It’s just bizarre that it’s been so long now – it’s been four years – and you keep thinking of it, but the moments are less and less.

“Then this award came up and I was shaking. It’s been that long and it still has this effect on me.”

While the tragic incident has had a huge effect on Ms Fowler, she said she hoped it could ultimately have a small positive legacy.

She encouraged people to think of her story each time they got behind the wheel of a vehicle.

“I wish everyone would take more care on the roads,” she said.

“You can say it until you are blue in the face, but there are people who continue to drive in a hurry.

“It had just started raining at the time of the incident, and even a little bit of water on the road should be enough for people to think twice about what speed they’re doing.

“I say to my daughter that it doesn’t matter if you’re late somewhere – I’d much rather you be late and alive.”

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