When I met him he was a perpetual student at Melbourne University. I was a pupil midwife at the Royal Women's Hospital and we met at the hospital ball - not love at first sight because I thought he was the local drunk. But this evolved after I accidentally met him a couple of days later. I discovered some years later that our next meeting wasn't accidental but I'm not talking about this right now. He proposed to me maybe month later and we married in six weeks.
So, he sped up his thesis and worked part time in a chocolate factory while I took the next six months to qualify as a midwife. During this time, he was offered a job as the assistant manager of a newly set up antimony mine in far north Queensland, to begin in the new year. I'm not talking about this now, either, because I'm still on track about him being a genius and me not realising this for about twenty years.
At the end of the year, we duly toddled off to the outback. Interesting times. North Queensland is tropical. It either rains all the time or some of the time. We had a trickling little river near the mining camp, one you could walk across - until the rains came. Then this little river turned into a raging torrent, full of crocodiles - proved by a couple of locals who caught a big one near the camp. The mining camp was sited on one side of the river and the men worked on the other side.
Only one other woman lived in the mining camp. Elke was the wife of the engineer and she had two young sons. She was also a nurse and we got along well. Her little boys were a handful and one day she came screaming up to me with one clutched under her arm. He had blue powder around his mouth and coating his tongue. Clearly, he'd been snacking on the loo cleaner. We read the ingredients and got pretty nervous. We washed out his mouth, gave him a glass of milk, and thought we ought to call the flying doctor for extra reassurance. For reasons unremembered, my husband was on our side of the river that day, but the radio to contact the flying doctor was, of course, on the other side. The miners had taken the only boat over the other side too.
My husband decided he would swim across the crocodile infested flooded river to contact the doctor. He was 25. Nuff said. I watched him safely reach the other side and disappear up the makeshift road and then went back to watch the kid die. He didn't know he was going to die and he started playing happily, which was good, given his prognosis. In fact, he was so happy we gave him another glass of milk (which we decided, both being nurses, was the proper treatment) and we waited for at least half an hour for the feedback from the flying doctor.
Eventually, when both the boys were playing with little their toy trucks in the dirt and we were ready for a nice cup of tea, we spotted an arm in the flooded river (attached to my husband, I'm glad to say) holding something strange aloft. He was very careful with with object, clearly trying not to get it wet. This meant he was swimming across a crocodile infested flooding river using one arm.
To my great relief, he reached the banks and crawled out, puffing. 'Water,' he said, indicating the bottle. 'The doctor said to give him water. If he tolerates it, give him milk.'
Seriously. He had brought the best water he could find, distilled in the lab across the river, to save the life of a child who was in the hands of two trained nurses. Brings tears to your eyes, doesn't it? I don't think I could have loved him more that day. So brave, so strong, so truly heroic.
But just not practical.