Wednesday 18th May 2022

Women of Courage Series. #4. Debbie Harris. 67/2019.

Women of Courage Series. #4. Debbie Harris. 66/2019.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid May 2019: Wednesdays: each week.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda


Welcome to  Debbie Harris, aged 58 who is sharing her story today. 


What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

Despite what some people may think, my life is far from perfect and I have faced some truly terrible moments along the way. Some I didn’t know about at the time but required me to be ‘courageous’ to continue on – as a baby I contracted pneumonia, was hospitalised and then it went to double pneumonia with the added complication of Golden Staph infection – this resulted in having to have some of my left lung removed. I now have an amazing scar running down my left side! It’s horrific enough now that I’m fully grown but how must it have looked on a tiny baby??

I was involved in a tragic accident while on a school excursion in Noumea, New Caledonia at age 17 where the bus we were in rolled off the steep winding road on a wet night, rolling several times into the river below, drowning 2 students and a civilian and leaving many others severely injured.

I received a Brave Conduct Award from the Queen for my efforts, along with several other students who were involved.

From my blog post May 2018:

It was 40 years ago in May 1978 that I set off on a dream trip with my friends, my French teachers, and other French students from my school, all of us armed with a real sense of adventure. We headed off to New Caledonia ready to practice our French language skills and immerse ourselves in the culture of the French island.

I was 17 and in Year 12, my final year of school, at Bomaderry High School, a public high school on the NSW South Coast (Australia).

Little did we know that within a few days we would be heading home after surviving a tragic accident which took the lives of 3 people, two of whom were young students in the prime of their lives.

I was one of the oldest students on the trip with two of my best friends. But sadly only two of us returned home alive.

At 1.00am on Thursday 11 May 1978 we were returning in two buses to our hotel Chez Maitre Pierre at Hienghene, after spending the evening at a disco at a nearby resort, with a group of students from a Wagga school.

It was raining heavily, and I was on the first bus which left with 13 people on board – 4 adults and 9 students plus the bus driver.  I remember the road was winding, narrow and slippery.  The bus slid from the road and overturned, rolling four or five times down a forty-metre embankment, ending up submerged in the river, La Hienghene, with only a small part of the bus showing above the water.

I was thrown from the bus as it rolled down the embankment and sustained concussion, shock, cuts, glass embedded throughout my body and other minor injuries, but somehow, I had survived.

In total darkness, and with no sign of panic, those of us who had managed to escape from the bus immediately set about the task of rescuing the injured, resuscitating those who had drowned and caring for them until rescuers arrived, more than two hours later.

But for their actions the loss of life would have been far greater.

It was tragic – 3 of the 13 people aboard, died on that bus.

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

As I was only 17 at the time, I hadn’t really suffered any great losses.  This accident made me aware of how fragile life was and to live a good life wherever possible.  I didn’t get any counselling or support from professionals at the time, this would be very different scenario today!  I remember just having to continue on and so I did with help from family and my then boyfriend (now husband).  I think it gave me some resilience.

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

We all need to be brave in our own way and make the most of what life throws at us.  It’s funny that anyone who gets a bravery award says they didn’t feel brave they just did what they had to do at the time.  Those were my exact words when I was given the award.

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

Yes, I now tackle things head on.  Due to the accident I have a fear of heights, but I didn’t let it stop me from walking in the Himalayas in Nepal, tackling the infamous Kokoda Track, skiing in the Italian Alps.  I could have been put off from travelling and to be honest it took me 14 years before I travelled overseas again after the accident but now, I’m a fearless traveller, with my husband, family and even solo trips to Europe.  I grasp opportunities with both hands.

In late 2016 I was made redundant from my rewarding 22 year career of Managing Education programs and working with inmates in a correctional centre.  The government decided to outsource education provision (it was a cheaper option) and they decided they didn’t need qualified teachers in their system any longer.  I was 55 turning 56 at the time and this forced change to my lifestyle nearly brought me undone.  I needed all my courage to join with my Teachers Federation colleagues to fight this abominable decision.  I fought hard, rallied troops, spoke to the media and put myself out there- it was very scary.  But I had the courage of my convictions and I stuck with it.  Unfortunately, the changes went ahead as planned and I was suddenly a very young retiree.  I grieved for months but have bounced back with optimism and enthusiasm, created a new lifestyle and I am happy to say life is good!

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

I know it seems to be a cliché but really you just have to hang on. Try to take the positives out of a situation and get help if you need to.  My family keep me pretty grounded and don’t let me carry on too much!  Everyone sees courage differently and we need to respect these differences.

There is no one way to be brave, sometimes we just need to know it’s inside us all and hope that we will find it when it’s needed.

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post.

I hate roller coaster rides (I think due to my accident) but have learnt that if I close my eyes and count slowly they only last a few minutes at the most.  I don’t enjoy them but remind myself that ‘this too will pass’ – life’s a bit like that in many ways.

Many thanks to Debbie for her story of courage. I first ‘met’ Debbie on-line and as teachers who left their roles in circumstances beyond our control I ‘get’ her part in this post very much.


Follow Debbie here:


Twitter: @wonderwomandebz

Facebook Page (not personal account):


Next week’s Woman of Courage is Kirsty Russell. 

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends and on Fridays, it’s Open Slather here with Alicia.

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