Inspirational Survivors
Cynthia Banham


When I got the news, in January this year, that my PhD thesis had been approved for award, there were two people – apart from my husband and my parents – who I immediately wanted to tell. They were Dr Fiona Wood and Dale Edgar.

Eight years ago I was involved in a plane crash and suffered extensive burns (full thickness burns to 60 per cent of my body). I also lost both my legs. Fiona and her team saved my life, and Dale kept me moving – he helped me sit up for the first time, and took me for my first ride in a wheelchair out the front doors of the Royal Perth Hospital.

Today, I have a three-year-old son, Leo. He just started pre-school this year (he is not quite convinced yet that it is a good idea). I am doing a 12-month post-doctoral fellowship at the Australian National University, working under Professor Hilary Charlesworth, who supervised my PhD. The thesis, which took me about 4 and a half years, was in the area of international human rights law and politics. It looked at how liberal democracies responded when their citizens alleged they were tortured in the war on terror. It might sound like a crazy topic now, but I was a lawyer before I was a journalist, and the war on terror dominated my days reporting national security and then foreign affairs and defence for The Sydney Morning Herald. I also teach undergraduate students journalism at the University of Canberra one day a week.

None of what I have achieved and accomplished since the crash would have been possible without the love and support of my amazing husband, Michael.

Life is not easy. Walking, with the use of prosthetics, is incredibly important to me, to my being able to work and teach, as well as to feeling good about myself. However just recently, because of an ongoing infection in one of my legs, I was told I have to go back to using the wheelchair again – I won’t be able to walk at all for a while. It was a bit of a setback, but it is OK. Despite what happened to me in 2007, I know I am incredibly lucky to have the life, the partner, the child, that I do. I keep as active as I can, swimming and doing Pilates every week. Kayaking on beautiful Jervis Bay on the NSW south coast is an especially favourite pastime.

When I got my PhD results – the thesis passed without revisions – I emailed Fiona and Dale pretty much straight away, because I wanted to show them how far I had come since those dark days in Perth. To demonstrate that their efforts were worth it, that the life I have now only exists because of them, that their work is incredibly appreciated. Not that they needed proof – but I wanted to let them know anyway.

Cynthia and Leo

Photo: Cynthia with her son Leo

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