Dreamworld worker relives Rapid River ride accident

A man who witnessed one of the most horrific accidents at a theme park has built his life around restoring hope for people who have been through dark times just like him.

Michael Clancy had been working as a supervisor in guest services at Dreamworld for three years when tragedy struck on October 25, 2016.

He was in a meeting when he got a call that something had gone horrifically wrong on the Thunder River Rapids ride. He couldn’t have prepared himself for what he saw.

“What we saw there were things – in a way I was glad I was there because I saved someone else from having to go through it. There were visuals that will haunt me forever,” Michael told news.com.au ahead of his appearance on SBS Insight’s tonight.

He said it wasn’t just the bodies of Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett and Roozi Araghi, who were killed when a water pump failed and flipped over the raft they were in, but witnessing a husband’s devastation at losing his wife.

It was getting his staff to move children away to the ice cream stand so they wouldn’t see what had happened.

He said taking the statement of a firefighter who was in the raft behind him reduced him to tears, forcing him to step away for a moment.

“It was just unreal. I can still tell you what those four people wore — the T-shirt colour, the brown shorts — where the injuries were, where the blood was running into the water, what the woman’s husband was saying, the sound of the helicopter,” he said.

“Remembering it isn’t my issue. Forgetting it is.”

After taking statements and helping clear the park, Michael eventually returned to his office to find 4,500 emails. It was filled with members of the public begging to cancel their membership because “you kill people”.

Michael, although in no way responsible for what happened that day, felt a tremendous amount of guilt and continued to work at the theme park, owned by Ardent Leisure, for three months.

“I felt a legitimate and honest obligation to be there for my staff. I couldn’t just leave them high and dry,” he said.

“I put myself on the front line as best I could and I dealt with the escalated complaints and the escalated phone calls and emails to my staff that they couldn’t deal with.”

He said some of those calls and emails included death threats. One person jumped the counter, trying to drag Michael over it. Another person waited by his car.

“I remember one guy phoning up, he wanted to cancel his member ship. He said, ‘I know where you live. We’re going to kill your family like you killed theirs’. That kind of stuff, I gotta tell you, It’s hard to cope with,” he said.

“At the time, I was still trying to do the right thing and it was part of my guilt just trying to fix it. Just trying to make it right for my staff.”

But, without expecting to, three months after the heartbreaking tragedy, Michael walked into his boss’s office and declared he couldn’t do it anymore. He told the same thing to Human Resources.

Michael had never suffered from any kind of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. But, one day while driving, he thought he was experiencing a heart attack. He couldn’t breathe, his chest was tight, in pain, shaking and sweating. He rushed to the hospital and they told him it was anxiety. So, he went to his GP to get a referral for a heart specialist, who said the same thing. He got two more opinions before he accepted it wasn’t a heart attack but anxiety.

He went to various different therapies and at one point was put on 29 different tablets for him to cope with everything. None of it worked. He found solace in art therapy and, on the way to a session, saw a variety of different birds. Michael decided he wanted a bird, and found Archie the parrot advertised.

“I couldn’t not get him because he was – and still is – the most peculiar looking bird you’ll ever see. He’s like a Dr. Seuss character with a long beak and crazy feathers,” he said.

Michael visited Archie before deciding to take him home and the bird was all over him, and he knew he had to bring the bird home.

Michael said he loved his wife and children but Archie’s squawking was the reason he had to physically get out of bed everyday. They spent so much time together that Michael even went to Bunnings with Archie on his shoulder.

It was from that moment Michael knew his purpose and decided to get a handful of bird to breed them so he could give away their babies to others who may need help finding a reason to get out of bed.

Parrots for Purpose, Michael’s non-profit charity, was born from that moment. He’s now helped close to 950 people be matched with birds. He’s delivered them all over Queensland and New South Wales.

In October 2022, Michael set up a warehouse he affectionately calls The Nest, where he and his team set it up so they could not only look after the birds but for people to come and just spend time with the birds. They hold workshops for disadvantaged children and teenagers, people with mental health issues and various disabilities, returned soldiers and people recovering from trauma. They even get everyone to participate in creating art.

“It was my whole intention with The Nest to create an unintrusive safe, non labelled environment for people that could just come in and be themselves without fear of discrimination, or disability or being looked at or and just to feel part of something,” he said.

“So we’ve created a really strong community there that we have coming through The Nest in any given week we can have 270 people and some stay for five minutes some stay for five hours.”

In November, Parrots for Purpose were deemed an official charity and they get referrals from psychologists and psychiatrists for people to try this unique form of therapy.

But Michael’s work isn’t done. He’s recently teamed up with Steve from Combined Wellness Solutions, a physiological treatment facility for people with neurological injury and complex disabilities.

The pair are decking out a couple of semi-trailers with both of their services and taking them to regional Australia.

“We’re trying to get agreement where if we are there for 30 days, and 50 people come through, we set up the infrastructure to support these people,” he said.

“And these are areas where the suicide rate is through the roof. There are people we’re not going to leave high and dry.”

Insight’s episode ‘Guilt’ will air on SBS tonight (Tuesday 26 March) at 8:30pm and will be available to stream on SBS On Demand.

You can find more information on Parrots for Purpose here. If you’d like to donate you can do so here.

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