19 September, 2022

Railway yard shunting accident leads to children’s book

A SERIOUS head injury more than 50 years ago has been the catalyst for New Zealander and Upper Caboolture resident George Hetherington’s latest book release, as well as other writing interests.

Upper Caboolture resident George Hetherington has enjoyed book writing, singing and playing guitar, since suffering a serious injury at the age of 20.
Upper Caboolture resident George Hetherington has enjoyed book writing, singing and playing guitar, since suffering a serious injury at the age of 20.

The name of the children’s book, ‘Shunta the Sheep’, came about after George was involved in a shunting accident at the Wellington rail yards in New Zealand back in 1971 when he was 20 years old.

“I was in intensive care for about two weeks,” he said.

“My whole face was paralysed, and I couldn’t even close my eyes.

“I was inside the rail wagon near the door when the rail wagons were shunted.”

George said he was knocked off balance, pinned up against the locked open door by the unlocked sliding door, and suffered a fractured skull.

“I had blood coming out of my ears and nose, and was ambulanced to hospital, where I spent two weeks in the intensive care ward,” he said.

“The next morning, I noticed I couldn’t move the muscles in my face, I couldn’t even blink.

“I asked the doc, ‘How long am I going to be like this?’

“He said it might never come right.”

George said he still couldn’t fully function the right side of his face, and that “that’s why half of my forehead is wrinkled”.

“I couldn’t go out because I had double vision,” he said.

“I had masking tape around my glasses to stop anything getting into my eyes.

“I was off work for more than a year.”

Unable to do much, George turned his hand to poetry and would sometimes write poems at 1am, 2am or 3am.

George left school at the age of 15, after his early childhood was spent on Mokohinau Island where his dad was a lighthouse keeper.

“I liked the island atmosphere. I didn’t like being closed up, or alienated,” he said.

After writing many poems, George bought a guitar and developed an interest in music, composing more than 40 songs.

For about 20 years he has enjoyed singing and playing his guitar at various places, mostly in New Zealand’s capital city.

George released a CD titled ‘Rhythm of the Soul’, containing 11 original songs including ‘Don’t close the door on me’.

“Ironically, I did have a door close on me,” George said.

“‘Storybooks in Heaven’ is a song I wrote after a young girl lost her life.

“I wrote ‘You Tell Me and I Tell You’, with the help of my youngest daughter Cherie when she was eight years old. Cherie is 44 in October.”

George also self-published two books of poetry, titled ‘My Thoughts Shared’ and ‘Pages of My Mind’.

“The poems are mostly slices of my life, some are from moments of deep observation for nature, or of precious times spent with my children growing up, and other events that have fired up my imagination,” he said.

George also published a novel titled ‘A Pit of Embers’, which was a drama about an orphaned child – an heiress – who is enslaved.

George also wrote a comedy play titled ‘By the short and curlies’, and said he hopes to see it performed on stage one day.

In addition to his creative works, George worked in shearing gangs and in freezing works, before becoming a truck driver.

After suffering a back injury and a spell off work rehabilitating himself, George drove Sump Trucks and was exposed to toxic fumes and chemicals.

“We were pumping toxic waste liquids, everything from paint thinners to pure chlorine,” he said.

“We didn’t wear masks in those days.

“My immune system took a hammering from all the toxic fumes, and I had various treatments including weekly saunas to get the metal toxins out of my body.”

George later became a shuttle driver, and ran his own business. His first marriage lasted 40 years, and produced two daughters.

George’s life took another turn when he attended his dad’s funeral in Wanganui. There, he met Jenny, and they formed a connection after learning that their fathers were shipmates at sea.

George took a trip to Memphis with Cherie to see Graceland, as they were huge Elvis Presley fans. They toured Tupelo (where Elvis grew up) and Nashville.

“When I returned home, Jenny suggested we move to Australia,” George said.

“We chose to live in Upper Caboolture as Jenny has family nearby.

“So here we are, together with Jenny’s great granddaughter Peighton, who starts college next year.”

George wrote his children’s book and named it ‘Sherlock the Sheep’, and submitted it to a number of publishers.

After receiving a favourable reply from Austin Macauley Publishers, George decided to change the book title upon discovering there were other books named ‘Sherlock the Sheep’.

“So I had to come up with something original,” he said.

George described the sheep in his story as mischievous and someone that chased geese, cows and sheep, and also learned to play the bagpipes.

George came up with the name ‘Shunta’ because there was no other ‘Shunta the Sheep’, after searching on Google.

“At the end of the day, what better name could I have chosen after my horrible shunting accident,” he said.

After submitting children’s stories for more than 40 years, George said he “finally made it”.

George said he liked to encourage people around his age to never give up, and to “put themselves out there, for personal growth and/or leaving their mark on the world, and creating a legacy for their children”.


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