Father Liam recognised for bravery to save surfer

You may not expect a priest to surf, let alone rescue someone attacked by a shark 100 metres offshore, but Father Liam Ryan, Chaplain at St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospitals has just been recognised with a national bravery reward for that very feat.

23 Mar 2022


Father Liam, along with other rescuers, was recently announced as a Bravery Award recipient by the Governor General.

He was recognised for displaying considerable bravery during the rescue of 28-year-old surfer Phil Mummert, following a shark attack at Bunker Bay, Western Australia, on 31 July 2020.

Father Liam said he felt very honoured and grateful for receiving the award, but really acted on instinct.

“I was holidaying down south with my best mate Jess Woolhouse and his family, and we decided to go for a quick surf at Bunker Bay,” Father Liam explained.

“We had not been in the water long and were paddling back out to catch our second wave, when I noticed the dorsal fin of a five-metre great white shark surfacing next to a surfer.

“The shark lunged at the surfer, biting into his surfboard and lower leg, tipping the surfer into the water.

“It was very surreal, the surfer was floating in the water and surrounded by lots of tiny bits of his surfboard.”

Phil was able to shove half of his broken surfboard into the shark's open mouth. The shark continued to circle with the injured man fending it off.

Father Liam said after initially screaming for help, it dawned on me that I was the one who needed to provide the help, so my mate and I paddled out to Phil and we were also joined by another surfer, Alex Oliver.

“As we approached Phil, we could see that the shark had bitten his leg very badly and we paddled as fast as possible the 100 metres back to shore, while he lay injured and bleeding on a longboard,” he said.

“Others came and helped us on the beach and provided support until a rescue helicopter arrived an hour later and took him to Bunbury Hospital.

“Phil was very lucky, we later found out that the shark just missed his main artery. You might call that luck but I like to think it was providence.

“Two years later we have all since become close friends and regularly catch up.”

All three rescuers received the Bravery Award. They were also awarded the 2021 Surf Life Saving WA’s annual Coastal Bravery Award.

Father Liam is based at Saint Brigid’s Church in Midland.