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“As we were driving back to Canberra, we heard a news story about a shooting at Monash University. And my husband said to me, ‘You know, your brother works at Monash University. Maybe you should ring him [and] make sure he’s OK’. He was not OK.”
“On one of those nights when I was waiting there in intensive care, I had this moment of thinking: ‘If that was me in there and I died, what would people say about me at my funeral? What have I done in my life?’,” Nicole Lawder, Liberal MLA for Brindabella, says.
In October 2002, Nicole, now 53, was away for the weekend in the Blue Mountains with her husband, Peter Badowski. The car radio was on.
“As we were driving back to Canberra, we heard a news story about a shooting at Monash University. And my husband said to me, ‘You know, your brother works at Monash University. Maybe you should ring him [and] make sure he’s OK’.”
At the time, Nicole’s brother, Lee Gordon-Brown, was a lecturer at the University. He was not OK. Listen to our podcast, or keep reading, to find out what happened next.
Before tackling gunman Huan Yun Xiang and then restraining him with the assistance of a student, Alastair Boast, Lee was shot twice – once in the in the upper left arm and just above the knee on his right leg. Nicole says it was the latter injury that did the damage.
“The bullet travelled, came in and hit the bone, travelled all the way up and lodged in his hipbone.
“So it destroyed a lot of tissue and nerves and all sorts of things on its way up the bone and into his hipbone,” she explains.
Lee had complications, including a staph infection.
“At one point he got a particular condition which meant that the circulation to his lower leg was cut off, and the result of that was that his calf muscle died,” Nicole continues.
Although Lee’s injuries have led to ongoing medical issues, Nicole says he’s fortunate to be alive.
“We are very, very lucky. There were two young men who lost their lives, and there were five people, including my brother who were injured in that terrible shooting. So it was a tragedy, very much so for those families,” she says.
Like many tragedies, the ripple effect is vast.
“Any event like that has ongoing effects for the individuals, and for the families in the wider communities. You imagine how the other students in the building, let alone the classroom, felt at that particular time,” Nicole says.
Reflecting on the way this terrible moment more than a decade ago changed her life, Nicole says the impact has been profound.
“It really brings it home to you that on any day at work or anywhere else, something might happen and your loved one might not come home.
“When my brother was shot it made me re-assess my life, and I decided to work in the community sector – firstly the disability sector, where I learnt Auslan, and then in the homelessness sector.
“And every day I felt like I was doing something to help people. Over time, this led to an interest in politics, and here I am today.
“It also sparked my support of gun control, even though I grew up with guns in the family home. I am not anti-guns, but am in favour of gun control,” she says.
These days life is quieter. Nicole and her husband, enjoy spending time with their five children, 12 grandchildren and a Dalmatian fondly called “Kenny the Wonder Dog.”
Despite sharing this traumatic part of her family’s history, Nicole as someone with a predisposition to be “fun-loving”. She confesses to a passion for an eclectic mix of hobbies: cheese making, basket weaving (yes, you read that correctly), drinking pina coladas, watching the cult TV series Game of Thrones and accessorising her outfits with bright scarves and brooches.
Nicole’s current life in politics is busy but she still volunteers regularly for Ronald McDonald House and my local Community Fire Unit.
“I think that everyone can do something for their community in some way, particularly volunteering…it can be something small and grassroots and still really have an impact,” she says.
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