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Shark attack rescuers among award heroes

When a great white shark attacked and then circled a fellow surfer, Jess Woolhouse was one of three men who paddled straight towards the five-metre predator.

It was an act of courage off the coast of Western Australia that helped save the life of the stricken surfer, 28-year-old Phil Mummert. It also earned the three rescuers widespread recognition.

They are among 49 people from around the country to receive Australian bravery medals, commendations and citations for putting themselves in jeopardy to protect others.

On July 31, 2020, Mr Woolhouse, along with his best mate, Perth priest Liam Ryan, and fellow surfer Alex Oliver helped the injured surfer onto a longboard, and dragged him 100 metres to shore.

Mr Woolhouse told AAP that it was only after the group had ferried Mr Mummert back to shore that they realised how dire the situation had been.

Others rushed to assist and stem the bleeding from a deep bite wound on Mr Mummert’s thigh.

“To be perfectly honest, we had no idea,” Mr Woolhouse recalls of the incident at Bunker Bay, off the southwest coast of Western Australia.

“He wasn’t missing any limbs, so that was a start.

“I don’t really remember seeing any blood. There must have been a significant amount there.”

Mr Mummert, whose surfboard was ripped in half during the attack, made a full recovery after emergency surgery.

Mr Woolhouse said many others had played a role in saving the surfer’s life. He described his own actions as instinctive and adrenaline-fuelled.

“When you have kids, when you have a business, you get quite good at dealing with emergencies,” he told AAP.

“Seeing someone helpless with a five-metre shark trying to gnaw on them, I don’t think there is any other choice … you just have to go.”

It took some time for Mr Woolhouse, a father-of-three, to feel comfortable in the water again but over time, the fear has subsided. The ocean is once more a sanctuary.

Last year, on the anniversary of the attack, Mr Woolhouse drove to Bunker Bay and caught a few waves alone.

“It was something I had to do for myself,” he said.

The list of bravery award recipients includes people who saved others from vehicle accidents, often with the added threat of fuel and fire. Others rescued occupants from burning homes or from other life-threatening situations. Several recipients faced armed intruders.

“No one sets out to be brave. No one really knows how, when presented with a dangerous situation, they will act. The men and women that we are celebrating today acted bravely,” Governor-General David Hurley said in a statement on Tuesday.

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