Rescue - The Ballad of Bernard O’Reilly

© Lionel Euston 2003

Winner, 2010 ‘Oracles of the Bush’, Tenterfield, NSW.

In 1937 a plane flying across the Lamington Plateau on its way from Brisbane to Lismore did not arrive, but the official search was concentrated in the wrong place.  This is the story of a man of courage who was in the right place at the right time.

For his efforts he is remembered today as a legend.


The plane had hit the mountain and four men died that day

But one of the survivors, a Pom called Jim Westray

Set off to bring back rescuers, he brought no help at all

He fell and died a lonely death beside a waterfall.

Bernard O’Reilly listened to the storm that raged that night

Then later read the theories about the Stinson flight

How it had flown down the coast to dodge the storm and rain

If that was where they're searching then their efforts were in vain

A week later at Green Mountains, O’Reilly thought it strange

Down near Kerry they had seen it, then he twigged “It’s on the range

It was headed for Lismore with four ranges ‘cross its course

So he packed a few supplies and then he saddled up his horse.

With bread and onions, tea and sugar and a billy in a sack

He’d live lean in the forest till he managed to get back

He rode down to Bithongabel, about four miles, maybe more

Then set off on foot into the scrub where none had gone before.

A day later from Mt Throakban he saw a patch of brown

Three ranges further over, was that where the plane came down?

Soon visibility was cut to just ten yards or so

How he ever kept a true course I’m sure I’ll never know.

The country he was battling was a wild and rugged place

With tangled thorn vines ripping at his hands and arms and face

Steep and rugged mountains, broken cliffs and precipice

Cut by mighty tree-clad gorges that were rough and treacherous.

It was nine days since the crash, how could anyone survive

But he heard voices on the mountain, there were people still alive.

He pushed on towards the summit through the undergrowth and then

In the blackened scrub he found two tattered, torn and weary men.

Was it bushcraft led him to those men – or was it fate?

He looked down at John Proud and thought, “For this bloke I’m too late.

I reckon that he's done for even though he’s now been found.”

Because on his wounded leg maggots were crawling round

He boiled up a brew, but there was no food for a snack

Then he set off down the mountain following in Westray’s track

If he couldn’t bring back rescuers his efforts would be wasted

That would be a far more bitter pill than any yet he'd tasted.

Down the roughest gorge he’d travelled he found where Westray fell

And further on where he had died in his own private hell

Jumping recklessly on slippery rocks, he risked his life and limb

If those blokes were to be rescued it was still all up to him.

He finally reached some locals and told them what he knew

and they organised the district to accomplish a rescue

O’Reilly took a doctor in and despite his lack of sleep

Hacked the trail and carried stretchers, then finally fell down in a heap.

Years ago I was at Lamington with a mate, we’d done a walk

And we met Bernard O’Reilly there, and had a talk

He was an old man in his seventies, the mountains still his home

A humble man, for us a legend – he stood out on his own.

He didn’t wait for others when something needed to be done

Just set out himself to do it, and in the end he won.

I think he’d probably tell you that God must have been on side

But, without his dogged courage, those two blokes would have died.