Host: Mt Bundy Station
Written by Sue Witham – Owner, Mt Bundy Station.
Almost four years have gone by since we tragically lost our son Ben. I often think when people say that they have “lost” someone, I think “what – down the back of the couch or in the supermarket?”- but no, we lost him in a way that he is never coming back. He would’ve been 21 this year.
We could not speak to each other the day Ben got sick, the fear of opening our mouths and speaking would only make it real. So how can it be that our son, our brother, is laying in emergency fighting for his life? He is strong, he is fit, he is young, and he is Ben.
To tell the full story of Ben’s death is daunting and I am so used to sanitizing it so much it seems trivial. It is still hard to comprehend that a teenager so full of life, so kind, so gentle, so funny and so great can be struck down suddenly with what doctors diagnosed as Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL).
Ben spent his 17th birthday in ICU and passed away a few weeks later. That is the short version. It would take weeks and too many puddles on the keyboard to explain much more. Whilst we were arranging the funeral the live export ban was announced. I cannot thank enough our family, friends, staff, and total strangers who took control of Mt Bundy while we attempted to grasp some form of comprehension as to what had just happened to our world.
It was coming into peak season and the 200+ people in the Caravan Park and accommodation was full. We had spent five weeks in Adelaide fighting for Ben’s life. We had been flown down to Adelaide via the ‘Care flight’ jet from Darwin, we were grateful for the assistance of the Ronald McDonald House for somewhere to live. The trade-off of living in a remote part of Australia is that some health services are just not available and if in need you have to uproot and go to where the treatment is. This was the case with Ben. He was too sick and Darwin could not treat him.
The events that unfolded after Ben’s death could not be written even in a fiction novel. Some final tests were taken just before Ben passed away. The doctors were baffled – they still could not agree on why Ben was so sick. A result of one of these tests was high arsenic levels. This sparked a criminal investigation and the national news had a field day, the coroner was alerted, and Mt Bundy was closed to the public and all staff and guests were evacuated in the middle of the night.
The following debacle was a comedy of errors. All residents, employees were tested, and supposed high levels of arsenic were found, yet no evidence at all was found at Mt Bundy. One week later the powers that be declared they had a false positive result and had misread all the tests and Mt Bundy, its residents, and Ben did not have arsenic and never did. As you may imagine this was a disaster for the business it was too little too late. The damage was done. Not only had we lost our son, we had no income, no tourists, and couldn’t sell any cattle either.
A coronial enquiry 18 months later has proved negligence of the doctor at the hospital in Adelaide.