Lying on the ground with eight fractured vertebrae, a fractured skull, shoulder blade and ribs, a punctured lung and a fractured nose, cheekbone and eye socket, farmer Alex Ballhausen reached for his mobile phone to call for help.
There was no signal.
That’s when he thought if he didn’t crawl 20 yards to his ute and drive for help, he might die.
It was 9am on March 14 and Mr Ballhausen was working high up on one of his properties, 60km south of Narromine, when he slipped and fell 5m to the ground.
His wife didn’t know where he was, and because they farm 1600 ha by themselves, no one else knew either.
“I actually woke up on my hands and knees. I don’t remember falling on the floor and I think I had a huge gash on my forehead and there was just blood on my sleeve” , said Mr. Ballhausen.
“With the pain, I thought, ‘This is pretty bad’. Obviously family came to mind first. I didn’t know what to do.
“I had two options. I could have been there for god knows how long – it would have been hours – or I had earthmoving contractors employed that day and they were two miles further down the farm. “
Mr. Ballhausen arrived at his ute, opened the door and entered.
He tried calling a neighbor on UHF but was in too bad shape to make it work, so he started the road to the contractors.
“These contractors wouldn’t have left until six in the evening and it was nine in the morning, so I don’t know if I would have succeeded to be honest,” he said.
“I don’t know if the shock would have taken over. I’m not sure. I was pretty damn scared, I can tell you that.”
They started driving towards Narromine and called an ambulance, which met them on the way.
“You see on these medical shows, they roll patients on their side and they feel in the spine, and all I’ve heard them say is ‘Deformity,'” he said.
“I knew there was something wrong there, but when they said that I started crying because I was like, ‘This is it.’
He was taken to Dubbo and then to Sydney where five vertebrae were fused and he underwent facial reconstruction surgery.
After two weeks, he returned to Dubbo for rehabilitation.
Unable to call for help
Talk to Queensland country life from the hospital, Mr Ballhausen said the continuing problem of unreliable mobile phone coverage in regional areas needed to be addressed.
“We should be able to go through our day knowing that if something is wrong, we have confidence that we can call for help,” he said.
“I think it’s getting worse. My housing block is probably only six kilometers from Narromine. I can see the light on the Telstra tower at night, that’s how close we are. But still, it there are dead spots on my farm.”
Littleproud attacks telco
On March 30, Telstra announced that CEO Andrew Penn would retire in September – to be replaced by current chief financial officer Vicki Brady.
A day later, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud took aim at the company, calling on Ms Brady to “stand up” and do more for regional customers whose lives and livelihoods were at risk. threatened by Telstra’s “service failures”.
“Mr Penn has brought telecommunications across regional Australia to crisis point,” Mr Littleproud said.
“It has allowed vital fixed and mobile infrastructure to deteriorate and allowed band-aid solutions to be put in place, despite the terrible impact this is having on Australians in the region.
“I have case after case of Telstra service failures brought to my attention by my constituents in Maranoa and I implore the new incoming CEO of Telstra to take action or there could be loss of life.”
Mr Littleproud said there were also major mobile network overcapacity issues in the regions, leading to rapid deterioration of mobile services and frequent dropouts.
“The situation is frankly at crisis point and I call on Telstra to address and commit to major immediate upgrades to fixed and mobile infrastructure in Maranoa.”
Telstra hits back
Mr Penn hit back at Mr Littleproud, saying it was ‘difficult to have a sensible discussion’ with him.
“He is clearly confused about a lot of things – the difference between landline and mobile, nbn and Telstra, how telecommunications work, who is responsible for what and many of his own government policies,” Mr Penn said.
“I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Littleproud in representing the concerns of his constituents – I commend him for that. And I recognize that we don’t always get it right – I’m happy to deal with that. But it is wrong and disrespectful to our teams across Australia to categorize our service the way he has.This is neither true nor offensive, especially at a time when so many of our people are on the ground and working in harsh conditions due to flooding to keep our customers connected.
Mr Penn said the company provides widespread services across regional and rural Australia, invests billions of dollars and connects more communities than any other telecom operator.
He said the government needed policies and regulations that recognized that telecommunications was a long-term, capital-intensive industry and needed to provide the certainty needed to invest.
Last Friday, Mr. Littleproud announced the federal government’s $1.3 billion budget plans for regional telecommunications, which he says will significantly improve mobile coverage and internet services for local residents and businesses. .
The new investment promises the deployment of “multitudes” of new mobile towers in the electorate, as well as “major” upgrades to nbn networks.
The investment would include a new $811.8 million Connecting Regional Australia program to expand mobile coverage, building on the existing Mobile Black Spot program and regional connectivity program.
Bruised but alive
As for Mr. Ballhausen, the scars will heal, but he will have to make some changes to his lifestyle.
“The [plastic surgeon] at the Royal North Shore Hospital said, ‘Man, it was like eggshells in there,'” he said.
“He was expecting a two hour operation and it ended up being four and a half hours because it was such a mess.
“Orthopaedic surgeons can’t give me a complete answer [on the possibility of a full recovery]no matter how many times I asked them,” he said.
“I’d like to think 90%. I’m quite agile for 51. I’ve always been very proud of that, but I think that agility may be gone now.
“The scars will heal and I think my nose is still bent, but if we bother to straighten it I’ll see.
“Maybe it’s something that reminds me every day when I look in the mirror in the morning: ‘Slow down mate.
His wife Lucinda agrees.
“She’s so happy I’m still here, of course, but she just said, ‘Don’t do it again,'” he said.
“[We have] 4000 acres – and nearly 800 acres of irrigation – and I’m doing it all alone, which is probably silly, when you think about it.
“My wife and I have talked about it and it’s time to slow down and try to find someone [to assist].”
While he recovered, his wife and parents took care of the farm.
“Honestly, she’s a fucking superwoman. Since the day of the accident, she’s been picking up my phone, answering calls and running the farm,” he said.
“We had a lot to do at the time, so I was lucky to have him by my side.
“Also, the strength of a small community is pretty incredible in times like this. I’ve had so many friends stepping up and people offering to help me.”
He is also looking forward to seeing his two children, who go to school in Sydney and will be home for the holidays this weekend.
“I’ve only seen them once since I’ve been in the hospital, which has been difficult. I’m struggling to catch up with them.”
Still a farmer, he is already thinking about what to do at home.
“We’re done irrigating the cotton. We’re starting defoliation this week, but with the spray contractor it’s covered,” he said.
As for the sowing of winter crops, it will have to be a full-time contract this year, as he will not be able to ride in a tractor for at least six to eight weeks.
Mr Ballhausen hopes to be discharged from hospital on Tuesday.
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