The Cross of Valour

The Cross of Valour is Australia’s highest bravery award and Australia’s highest civil Award. It is awarded for ‘acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril’. The Cross of Valour was instituted in the Australia’s Honour and Award System in 1975 and since that time, only 5 awards of the Cross of Valour have been made.

Allan was awarded the Cross of Valour in September 1998 by the then Governor General, Sir William Dean AC, KBE, KC, for his role in the rescue of a small boy who was swept 600 meters down a flooded stormwater pipe in Coffs Harbour in 1996.

His colleagues, crucial to saving the life of the little boy, received commendations as well. Detective Senior Constable Gavin Dengate SC, APM, VA, was honoured with Australia’s second-highest bravery award, The Star of Courage (SC), while paramedic Michael Marr BM received Australia’s third-highest bravery award, The Bravery Medal (BM).

Allan and Gavin’s bravery during this rescue was also acknowledged through the presentation of the highest award for bravery within the New South Wales Police force—the Police Commissioner’s Valour Award (VA).

Allan’s citation for his Cross of Valour medal:

About mid morning on 3 May 1996, Sparkes, a Detective Senior Constable with the New South Wales Police, rescued a boy trapped in a flooded underground storm water drain following record rainfalls at Coffs Harbour.

Sparkes and Detective Senior Constable Gavin Dengate responded to an urgent call for assistance to rescue a boy trapped in a flooded storm water drain. From the entrance of the drain, an object, believed to be the missing child, could be seen about 80–100 metres away. Tied to a rope, Sparkes entered the drain and was rapidly washed 20 metres along the pipe by the ferocity of the current before realising the rope was inadequate. With a more substantial line, he re-entered the drain even though breathing space in the pipe had been reduced by the rising flood waters and his own bulk displacement. Flood waters washed him some 80 metres downstream before he could establish that the object was only debris. The drain was now almost totally engulfed in flood water, leaving only a small air space, and Sparkes was in danger of drowning as frantic attempts were made by his colleague and others to haul him against the flow to the surface.

Although believing the child had little or no chance of survival, screams were heard further downstream in a pipe under a section of the Pacific Highway at the junction of six drains. Believing that the child was drowning and had to be rescued by the fastest means possible, Sparkes and Dengate descended into the flooded pipe in total darkness without a life line, torch or emergency air supply. As it was impossible to call to the child above the roar of the flood water, the rescuers separately searched the maze of water pipes. After progressing deeper into the drainage system, Sparkes could hear the desperate screams more clearly and believed he had located the boy’s position.

It was agreed that Dengate would search at ground level for another manhole closer to the child to facilitate a faster rescue. An ambulance officer, Michael Marr, then descended into the drains and remained in the flooded junction area to assist Sparkes. Sparkes secured a rope to himself and, with the aid of a torch, crawled back up the flooded drain.

Exhausted from his ordeal, Sparkes dragged himself against the flow, finally, making contact with the child and managing to calm him. At this stage Sparkes was 30 metres from the pipe opening and 3 metres underground. Sparkes managed to coax the boy into letting go of debris, and allow himself to be washed down the drain to where Sparkes could grab and secure him. Sparkes then placed the boy in front of himself and they were both washed down the pipe to the waiting ambulance officer.

Sparkes suffered lacerations and abrasions to his back and shoulder and cuts to his fingers and feet from forcing his way against the flow. Throughout the rescue Sparkes was aware that he was in grave danger of losing his life as he believed that the whole of the storm water system was only minutes away from again being totally engulfed with flood water.

Cross of Valour Citation—Allan Sparks