b. 1958 Molong, New South Wales.
DATE OF CV ACTION: 03/05/1996 Coffs Harbour, New South Wales.
Allan Sparkes (1958-) was born in 1958 in Molong, New South Wales, the son of Bruce and Marjory Sparkes, who ran a shop in Cumnock. He attended Cumnock Primary School and Orange High School before working as a general farmhand and a shearer in the district. He was very interested in a career in geology, a passion he shared with his father, but was unable to afford the university tuition to study it.
At the age of 19, Allan chose to join the New South Wales Police Force. After graduating from the Police Academy at Redfern, Sydney, he was posted to Darlinghurst Police Station. Life came as a shock in the busy city at first for Constable Sparkes, but he soon saw career progression. In 1983, he was made Detective, graduating near to the top of his class. He later accepted the offer of lecturing to trainee Detectives.
By 1988, he was undertaking major crimes investigations with the South Region Crime Squad’s Special Breaking Unit in Sydney. He was also a member of the elite State Protection Group’s State Protection Support Unit (SPSU), which assists in high-risk emergency situations. He retained this role when he transferred to Coffs Harbour on criminal investigation duties in 1989. Four years later, he married Detective Deborah Swan.
On 8th July 1995, he attended the fatal shooting of two police officers at Crescent Head, south of Coffs Harbour. The gunman was believed to still be in the area, targeting another police officer who lived nearby. That night Sparkes and four other SPSU officers rescued the besieged officer, his family, and others believed to be at risk from the gunman. The gunman eventually took his own life.
Ten months later, on 3rd May 1996, his rescue of Jim Galloway from the flooded pipes at Coffs Harbour took place. Over the following months, Sparkes struggled mentally with reliving this incident and the incident at Crescent Head. He was diagnosed with chronic PTSD and chronic depression, and was medically retired, despite not applying for discharge.
In 1997, he was awarded the Royal Humane Society of NSW’s Galleghan Award for the rescue of Galloway. He was also awarded the New South Wales Police Commissioner’s Valour Award, the force’s highest award for bravery. Now out of the police force, he started up his own bed and breakfast and later established his own marine surveying company. In 2010, he and his family completed a 16,000 nautical mile voyage from England to Australia in their yacht “Sunboy”. In 2016, he was awarded a Commendation for Brave Conduct for rescuing a man who had fallen onto railway tracks in Redfern in 2014.
Allan is now a successful keynote speaker, and a patron and ambassador to mental health and mentoring programs. He is also a member of the Mental Health Commission Suicide Prevention Advisory Panel and the NSW Police Mental Health Intervention Team. In 2017, he was awarded the Medal for the Order of Australia for “service to mental health support organisations, and to the community.”
About mid morning on 3 May 1996, Mr Allan Sparkes rescued a boy trapped in a flooded underground storm water drain following record rainfalls at Coffs Harbour.
Mr Sparkes and a police colleague responded to an urgent call for assistance to rescue a boy trapped in a flooded storm water drain. From the entrance of the drain, an object, believed to be the missing child, could be seen about 80-100 metres along. Tied to a rope, Mr Sparkes entered the drain and was rapidly washed 20 metres along the pipe by the ferocity of the current before realising the rope was inadequate. With a more substantial line, he re-entered the drain even though breathing space in the pipe had reduced due to rising flood waters and his own bulk displacement. Floodwaters washed him some 80 metres downstream before he could establish that the object was only debris. The drain was now almost totally engulfed in floodwater leaving only a small air space and Mr Sparkes was in danger of drowning as frantic attempts were made by his colleague and others to haul him against the flow to the surface. Although believing the child had little or no chance of survival, screams were heard further downstream in a pipe under a section of the Pacific Highway at the junction of six drains. Believing that the child was drowning and had to be rescued by the fasted means possible, Mr Sparkes and his colleague entered the flooded pipe in total darkness without a life line, torch or emergency air supply. As it was impossible to call to the child above the roar of the floodwater, the rescuers separately searched the maze of water pipes. After progressing deeper into the drainage system Mr Sparkes could hear the desperate screams more clearly and believed he had located the boy’s position. It was agreed that his colleague would search at ground level for a manhole closer to the child to facilitate a faster rescue. An ambulance officer then descended into the drains and remained in the flooded junction area to assist Mr Sparkes. Mr Sparkes secured a rope to himself and with the aid of a torch crawled back against the flow, finally making contact with the child and managing to calm him. By this stage Mr Sparkes was 30 metres form the pipe opening and 3 metres underground. Mr Sparkes managed to coax the boy into letting go of debris, and allow himself to be washed down the drain to where Mr Sparkes could grab and secure him. Mr Sparkes then placed the boy in front of himself and they were both washed down the pipe to the waiting ambulance officer. Mr Sparkes suffered lacerations and abrasions to his back and shoulder and cuts to his fingers and feet from forcing his way against the flow. Throughout the rescue Mr Sparkes was aware that he was in grave danger of losing his life as he believed that the whole storm water system was only minutes away from again being totally engulfed with floodwater.
By his actions, Mr Sparkes displayed the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril.
LOCATION OF MEDAL – HELD BY RECIPIENT