As the sun rises over Byron Bay, surfers paddle out beyond the break. Every now and then, a swell draws in a perfect set. From the shore, Mitch sets up his drone camera to capture bird’s eye footage as his friends ride waves back towards the beach. Watching the drone footage, Mitch can still feel the ocean pulsing through his veins.
Shooting aerial photography of his friends at Byron Bay's beaches is one of Mitch’s favourite hobbies, which he is slowly transitioning into a career. He grew up in the seaside town, catching waves and the sun’s rays alongside his surfer pals.
He was previously employed as a fly-in fly-out worker in Western Australia, which meant he could travel back and forth to Bali at his leisure – a surfer’s dream – before moving there permanently and settling down with his wife and two children.
Surfing every day, watching pink sunsets and building sandcastles with his son and daughter – it was the life he had always pictured.
In September 2013, a motorcycle accident in Bali changed everything. Mitch doesn’t remember much. His only recollection is his bike being struck from behind and his body hitting the asphalt.
He woke up days later in a Gold Coast hospital before being transferred to Brisbane and being admitted to the Princess Alexandra Hospital spinal unit.
Mitch sustained a c4/c5 incomplete spinal injury – permanent damage resulting in tetraplegia. His spinal cord was not severed, meaning he still has sensation in his legs and limited movement in his upper body. He feels lucky to still have some movement.
For 18 months, the spinal unit became Mitch’s home. He underwent months of physical therapy and had a few setbacks along the way. He grew close to the nursing and medical staff, and formed new friendships with patients undergoing similar rehabilitation.
Unable to return to Bali, Mitch moved to his family home in Banora Point, south of Tweed Heads, to receive support from his mum while he adjusted to life post-accident.
Alongside his mum, Just Better Care has been supporting Mitch since he was discharged in early 2015. His friends and community also rallied around him, making his return home slightly easier.
“My family and friends were really supportive and helped in any way they could,” Mitch said.
“But I wanted to take on activities that didn’t involve therapy and talking about the accident.
“One day, a friend asked me if I wanted to give his drone a go. I thought that because of my hand injuries I wouldn’t be able to do it, but he encouraged me to at least try.
“I was always into photography before my accident. I loved travel photography; I always carried a digital SLR with me, but it was just a hobby.
“We went to the local jetty at Kingscliff and I realised it was pretty easy, and it snowballed from there. The drone was also crash proof, which was handy,” he laughed.
Having grown up close to the water, coastal cliff faces and the rolling ocean are Mitch’s favourite locations to shoot, and when you look at his images, it’s easy to see why.
“Byron is the best place to photograph, because I can capture shots of the boys surfing and catch up with the crew at the beach.
“I’ve grown up around the ocean, so one of the hardest things post accident is getting used to not surfing and being in the water every day. At least with the drone photography I can still get a lot closer.
“I went on a cruise recently to the South Pacific for 10 days and I got some killer images there.”
Mitch still faces tough days. His long-term recovery will take time, but he is happy to fill his days with shooting new locations, catching up with friends, and sharing his positive outlook with those who are also having a tough time.
“Everyone has bad days, and I had a pretty negative outlook for a long time, but then I decided that wasn’t good enough,” he said.
“You should always give something a go at least once, and then if you don’t feel comfortable, stop, but don’t give up before first seeing what is possible.
“I’m so glad that I got out and gave something new a go, and now I love it. Photography is such a massive part of my life now, and a hobby that is slowly turning into a career.
“You can’t change what has happened, but you can change where you’re headed. Find what is possible.”
Mitch’s positive outlook on life led to his position as brand ambassador for Just Better Care’s Gold Coast campaign Year of Possibilities.
Find out more about Just Better Care.