Meredith Booth in The Australian, 22 December 2014,
ADELAIDE survivors Emily Sharp and Michael Hill will mark the tsunami’s anniversary in the same Sri Lankan beach guesthouse, owned by the same couple, from which they miraculously swam on Boxing Day 2004. They’ll be sharing the “humbling experience” of their survival and put a landscape to the story for their sons Finnley, 9, and Orlando, 5.
Ms Sharp was six months pregnant with Finn when she and her partner managed eventually to escape to hills behind the village of Wijaya, south of Galle. “We were running through the courtyard while the bar was being ripped and chairs and tables were flying everywhere. Our first instinct was just to run upstairs,’’ she said at the time.
The couple, with two Australian friends, tied bed sheets together to rescue two naked tourists clinging to a coconut tree who had been sleeping in their beachside bungalow moments before.
Ms Sharp and Mr Hill slept overnight in a nearby schoolhouse before spending 36 hours by empty roads looking for transport north. They were eventually evacuated by military aircraft to Colombo after locals took them on a 10km trip through the jungle to an air force base.
“I’m very grateful we survived, knowing that we got to come back to Australia and everything was normal while we left people in devastation. There was some survivor guilt,’’ Ms Sharp said. “Back then, we always said we’d return but as the years went on it was a combination of things and not being ready.”
Ms Sharp said the experience had given her respect for the “fragility of life and the value of humanity”. “Everybody has their own story but … the thing for us all to learn is real humility,’’ she said. “For me, it’s almost whatever you do in life you have to make it matter. Don’t take it for granted. It’s about valuing your own life and your actions, not just going through the motions.”
Her reflection on the anniversary was about healing and a celebration of survival. “For Finn, because he knows he was in my stomach, he knows a bit of the story so hopefully it will put a landscape to that. There’ll be faces and people and names.
“I’m hoping it will be a beautiful experience and that he doesn’t have to be fearful.”
While the experience no longer dominates her thoughts, Ms Sharp said she still got a pang inside for people caught up in traumatic events, such as the Lindt cafe siege in Sydney last week. The family will spend part of their holiday visiting a village where an orphanage is being built by two British men who, along with their two other siblings, were orphaned on the island 10 years agO.
VIDEO FOOTAGE = see http://www.tsunami2004.net/tsunami-video-footage/