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Bravery award for man caught up in tragic vendetta


For humble country lad Paul, it’s a day he tries hard to forget.

“There’s just sadness on both sides,” he said.

“This award, it’s something I won’t really celebrate for that reason. But it means a lot.”

In January 2008, then 20-year-old probationary driver Brenton David Chaplin was drunk and speeding along a bitumen road in Seaspray when he crashed into a pole as he tried to change radio stations.

His passenger and best friend, Leigh Charter junior, 20, was thrown from the car and died at the scene.

The Chaplin and Charter families had known each other for as long as both can remember. Their hometown of Harcourt North, which lies between Bendigo and Castlemaine, is where the Midland Highway meets the Calder Highway. The children attended the same school and the families were close.

A year after the car crash, as grief snowballed into revenge, Mr Charter’s father Leigh Charter senior armed himself with knives and descended on the Chaplin family property, killing Brenton’s mother Wendy and seriously injuring his father Trevor and brother Cameron.

Paul’s family home was on the same expansive 40-hectare property some 100 metres away from his aunt and uncle’s place.

On the day, Paul, then 20, had been walking over to visit when Cameron rushed past him. Seconds later and armed, Mr Charter followed before wrestling Cameron to the ground and stabbing him in the chest with two knives.

Paul Chaplin in action for the Harcourt Lions IN 2011.

Paul Chaplin in action for the Harcourt Lions IN 2011.Credit: 

Paul ran to intervene, pushing the attacker off his cousin, but as they rolled on the ground he himself was stabbed.

In a desperate attempt to defuse the situation, Paul grabbed the blade of one of the knives, severing tendons in his fingers. He then blocked a further attack with his forearm, causing the offender to lose his balance.

Both men then struggled on the ground until Paul grabbed the offender’s hands. At this point his injured cousin was able to remove one of the knives and hide it under a nearby bush.

Mr Charter then fled the scene and later that day took his own life.

“I didn’t know until the next day what had happened inside the house,” Paul said.

Of the 83 bravery awards to be announced in Canberra on Tuesday, Paul Robert Chaplin will be the only person to receive one of the highest awards – the Star of Courage – for his conspicuous courage shown in circumstances of great peril.

Only about three Stars of Courage are awarded each year.

Governor General David Hurley said he hoped Australians could draw inspiration from the examples of selflessness the latest bravery award recipients had shown.

“Australian Bravery Awards recognise courage and sacrifice. Perhaps most importantly, they recognise people who, in a moment of danger or threat, think of others ahead of their own safety,” Mr Hurley said.

The Chaplin family still run the apple and pear orchard in Harcourt North but Paul, now an electrician, moved away many years ago to Castlemaine with his now fiancee.

He’s a star midfield football player and plans to marry soon.

He said he hoped his bravery award could remind people that in times of despair there could still be a reason to be hopeful.

“It’s a strange feeling as it’s not something I set out to achieve or complete. But I’m proud of the way I acted,” he said.

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