Garnet Lane prefers to be called ‘Alf’, after Alf Garnett, the cheeky and much-loved lead character in the popular 1960’s British sitcom, ‘Till Death Us Do Part.
13 April 2015 was a normal Monday morning when Alf left for work in the small South Western Australian township of Burekup, where he was employed as an asphalt paver operator for a road paving company.
Little did Alf know then that his life was about to change forever…
The road repair job that day involved standard bitumen maintenance at Collie River Road, something that Alf had done hundreds of times. Trouble struck when the paver rolled down a steep embankment, leaving it hanging over the edge of a drain and ejecting Alf three metres into the collected rainwater below.
His workmates quickly came to assist but it took 10 fire fighters over an hour to stabilise Alf and to get him back up to the road. Now in a critical condition with a suspected spinal cord injury (SCI), Alf was air-lifted from Burekup to Royal Perth Hospital, some 170 kms away. “I don’t remember much about the accident today,” says Alf, “but every now and then some things do come back to me.”
During four long months in hospital, Alf desperately tried to communicate but it was thought he was unable to speak. Well known for liking to “have a chat”, Alf found it extremely frustrating but eventually learned to speak again with the aid of a “trach tube” – a tube inserted through a hole in his windpipe.
After leaving hospital, Alf spent a further 12 months at the Fiona Stanley Rehabilitation Unit in Perth in preparation for his new life back at home. All up, it was two years of doctors, lawyers, institutions and learning to live again. Alf candidly admits, “Without the encouragement and support of the staff at the hospital, the rehab unit and the ongoing love and support of my family, I would not have got through.”
After meeting many people, some who’d become institutionalised and others who had no other choice but to live in a nursing home, Alf realised this was not the way forward for him. “After all that time in hospital and rehab, I was starting to go stir crazy and needed to get out. One day my daughter Shantel and son-in-law David came to the rescue and broke me out for the day!”
Fast forward to 2019, and Alf lives in the sleepy beachside suburb of Dalyellup, 20 minutes from Bunbury, the gateway to the Margaret River. “I love to be at my home with my dog Patches,” says Alf. “And, thankfully, I do have somewhere I can call home.”
Alf purchased his block of land in 2017 and from his wheelchair personally oversaw the building and fit out of the home that would meet all his specific needs. Because accessibility is essential, the house has wide doorways for both wheelchairs and beds, lower benchtops, a flat garden and a big garage to house Alf’s car.
Alf invited us to “come see” his home. We were warmly greeted by the ever-faithful Patches and David, who lives close by and was there to care for his father-in-law. The front of the house looks just like any other suburban home. Once inside, there’s a wonderful mural on the wall, created specially for Alf by one of his carers.
“My house has been specifically designed and built for me,” says Alf. “It’s ideal for a family to come for a holiday or could be used as short-term accommodation when transitioning from rehab to home.
“I’ve willed my home to Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA) so that it can benefit other people who’ve experienced an accident or SCI,” he continues. “I met people at the Fiona Stanley who haven’t been as lucky as me and don’t have enough money to build a place like this; their future is so uncertain. My home is a little bit of heaven that I can pass on to someone who needs it as much as I did.”
Alf is a real “people person” with four children and seven grandchildren. He also has a positive “can do” approach to life and enjoys getting out in the car with a carer or taking off to the shopping centre in his wheelchair. Alf freely acknowledges that he still finds it hard that people he’s known for a long time haven’t come to see him since his accident, and that it’s often difficult when people look the other way. Yet, he remains philosophical, accepting that these are typical of the hurdles he has to face when sometimes people can’t or don’t want to understand.
But despite it all, Alf remains resolutely cheerful and with a strong “C’est la vie” attitude, happy to declare proudly, “I am still me!”
We are grateful to Alf for sharing his story and for his decision to bequeath his wonderful home to SCIA.