FRIDAY was a great day for Dave Quinlivan, his best mate Gary Jones said yesterday.
After two years of medical troubles – unrelated to the September 2015 shark attack at Black Head Beach that had turned his life of quiet retirement on its head – Quinlivan had just been cleared by the doctors to get his driver’s licence back.
“We high-fived each other after he got the licence,” Jones said.
“He was about to start the rest of his life. He was in the best condition he had been in since the attack. He’d put on 12 kilograms. He’d had a pacemaker put in and that had helped immensely in healing the graft on his leg from the shark bite.
“He knew what that licence meant. He’d get his freedom back. When I picked him up on Friday he had a bit of a cold, when he came out of the doctor’s surgery he said ‘I might have a bit of flu.’
“When I dropped him home about 1 o’clock on Friday he said can we go for a drive on Sunday to get a bit of confidence? When he wasn’t answering the phone or texts on Sunday I went around there at lunch time and that’s when I found him.
“There’s no results back yet from the autopsy but the paramedics said it looks like a heart attack.” He was 68.
David Leon Quinlivan, born in Newcastle on January 29, 1950, was a champion surf lifesaver and long-time fireman who had retired to Tallwoods Village, a few kilometres inland from the beach at Black Head.
As a young man he played rugby union for Merewether Carlton and shot golf off a single-figure handicap. A life member of Newcastle Surf Life Saving Club, Quinlivan joined Black Head in retirement and was heavily involved with both clubs up until the time of the attack. He was also a good boardrider – a “fearless natural footer”, Jones says – and a marine rescue and rural firre service volunteer.
Jones says Quinlivan answered to “Dave or David”, but more often than not he answered to the nickname “Lassie”, which stuck after his first visit to the surf club, brought along by a member who often had his greyhounds with him.
“Someone said who’s this? He looks more like a Lassie than a greyhound, and it stuck,” Jones said.
Quinlivan had three sons – Hayden, Ryan and Lewis – with his former wife, Cherie, before their divorce more than 15 years ago.
Like his father, Leon, Quinlivan rose to be station officer in charge of Cooks Hill fire station, and firefighters will form a guard of honour at his funeral on Monday.
Youngest son Lewis said “some of my best memories are of him taking us there to the fire station all the time when we were young”.
“You probably wouldn’t be allowed to nowadays, but I remember being there with him a lot, and being with him there on fire station open days,” Lewis said.
After years of mentions in the Newcastle Herald’s sports pages, Quinlivan was thrust into a bigger media spotlight after the Black Head shark attack on September 1, 2015.
‘He just came straight across and I couldn’t believe it when he took my leg clean, never chomped the ski or anything,’’ Mr Quinlivan told Herald reporter Dan Proudman after the attack by what he thought was a “teenage” white pointer about two metres long.
‘‘Got it clean. I reckon I was on the ski with him for about 10 seconds at least, because he took another adjustment and got [the leg] right into the corner of its mouth and then he gave me two almighty shakes.
‘‘Shook the head side to side and then stopped because I said to him ‘Look, go away mate, you are killing me’. He paused, looked at me, then endeavoured to do it again but with the weight shift of the shark, his weight was overwhelming and we capsized together.
‘‘We went below the water together and then all of a sudden there was a mass of bubbles, mass of silver and grey where he was flicking around in it somewhere and obviously he let me go and I surfaced on the other side of the ski.’’
Blood streaming from his lower left leg, Quinlivan got back on his ski and paddled towards shore. Attended by locals and emergency services crews, he was taken by Westpac rescue helicopter to John Hunter Hospital, almost dying on the way because of blood loss. He had several operations to reattach his Achilles tendon and other badly damaged parts of his ankle and lower calf, including one where muscle from his right thigh replaced a missing chunk behind his left shin. After John Hunter, he moved to Newcastle Private and then to Manning Base Hospital, where his recuperation continued.
He was still in rehab a year later when another of the area’s retirees, Col Rowland, was attacked in very similar fashion at Bulls Paddock, at the southern end of Seven Mile Beach, south of Forster.
Jones said Quinlivan had endured a lot since the attack but not all of his problems were related to the attack.
He’d been told “in the 2000s” that he had an irregular heart beat and a hole in the heart and that he would probably need surgery at some stage.
“After the attack it was deemed necessary and he had open heart surgery, a replacement aortic valve and a pacemaker fitted last year,” Jones said.
He said Quinlivan had been improving steadily in the first half of last year, but things took a turn for the worse on Monday, July 3, when he was two hours late for a GP’s appointment, and could only answer “Yes, doctor” to every question put to him.
Taken straight to hospital, he did not return home until February this year, seven months later. Jones says Quinlivan was treated for various conditions, including schizophrenia and early onset dementia until a Sydney psycho-geriatrician diagnosed him, correctly, for temporal lobe epilepsy.
He said Quinlivan’s mates from the surf club – Jeffrey Dawson, Neil Milne, Dennis Holmes, Dick Spinks and Geoff Sergeant – did a huge amount to help look after him in the past 12 months.
“Once they got him off the wrong medicines and on to the right ones he got much better quickly quickly after that,” Jones said. “He went from the hospital to respite care at a nursing home, and he was back at his place in February this year, and he was living pretty much a normal life except that he couldn’t drive, and that’s what we were doing on Friday, getting the licence back.”
Jones, who is helping family with the funeral, said the service at the James Murray funeral chapel at Blackall Street, Broadmeadow, at 11.30am on Monday would be “a celebration of life”. Firefighters would form a guard of honour at the service.
Newcastle SLSC president Brad Kinniard said Quinlivan was a life member of the club who was still competing four years ago at the age of 64.
“All of the young people in the club looked up to him,” Kinniard said. He was super fit, super keen and one of those people who never stand back and watch. They have to be in to it. Newcastle’s club colours are black and white and Dave was true black and white, he was passionate about the colours.”
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