THE debate over the risk of shark attack in Port Hacking has revived the memory of an 87-year-old tragedy when a boy, 15, died after being attacked while swimming off Grays Point.
Mervyn Allum of Ashfield died after being attacked by a shark on January 3, 1927.
This was Port Hacking's only recorded fatal shark attack.
It followed claims by staff from the former Cronulla Fisheries that the state government had suppressed research pointing to the danger of shark attack in Port Hacking.
The Sydney Morning Herald carried a vivid report on the 1927 tragedy.
Sutherland Shire councillor Phil Blight unearthed the article on Trove, the National Library of Australia website that carries digitised editions of many Australian newspapers going back to the 1840s.
"It's long been a story that a boy was killed by a shark at Grays Point many years ago," Cr Blight said. "I knew about it 30 to 40 years ago but if you talk to people around here, nobody knows about it.
"A lot of people say there are no sharks in Port Hacking but this is rubbish," Cr Blight said. "Some people believe that because of the shallow entrance into Port Hacking that sharks won't come in but this is unrealistic."
Cr Blight believes that from anecdotal evidence the site of the attack was the sandflats on the southern side of Mansion Bay, at the end Grays Point Road.
According to the 1927 report, Mervyn Allum was on a camping expedition with friends at Grays Point, then a popular holiday spot, and had gone in the water at 11.30am where a large number of people were swimming.
"Allum, with several friends, was on the outer fringe of the crowd, in water that reached no higher than his chest. Suddenly a large shark, with its fin showing above the surface, made its appearance a few yards away from the crowd. The fin disappeared from sight, and a few seconds later the bathers heard a piercing scream from Allum."
The shark had seized his leg and struggling frantically, he disappeared beneath the surface. He came back to the surface and one of the other swimmers, Stanley Gibbs, 18, of Hunters Hill, reached him and "punched the shark with all his strength".
They were both pulled under but reappeared after the shark released its hold.
Gibbs started swimming to shore, pushing the injured boy in front of him.
Then, "the shark, apparently eager for more blood, made another dash at the boy and his rescuer."
Before it could obtain another hold on Allum, Gibbs again punched the shark.
They were rescued by a fisherman in a rowing boat. Allum, who was suffering shocking injuries, was taken to St George District Hospital but was dead on arrival.
According to the coroner, he died from shock from the extensive wounds to his thigh and lower leg.
For his bravery, Stanley Gibbs received the Albert Medal, then the highest decoration for gallantry awarded to civilians.
With the establishment of the George Cross, the Albert Medal was discontinued and Mr Gibbs formally became a recipient of the George Cross from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
He died in 1991, aged 82.
See a related story: http://www.theleader.com.au/story/2019891/shark-cover-up-in-port-hacking/
Do you know of other incidents involving sharks in Port Hacking?