Vale Sheree Hurley, you’ve left us too soon

Sheree Hurley and I, Museum of contemporary Art.

Sheree Hurley and I, Museum of contemporary Art.

I’m devastated today to learn of the death of my friend Sheree Hurley. I first met Sheree at Prince of Wales hospital, and she completely changed my life. It was a month or so into my rehabilitation, and I was struggling to imagine how to live with my stupid broken body. Sheree, with her beautiful red hair and confident smile, wandered into my room with Jade, her stunning black Labrador. We talked about my injury, and I learned that hers was similar (C5 quadriplegic), and then she went on to describe her independent and fascinating life, and it gave me new hope. Her regular visits were one of the few highlights of my seven-month hospital stint.

We kept in touch when I left hospital, and would get together regularly for coffee in the city. Six months ago I interviewed her and recorded her life story. I will write it up sometime soon, but I’m just not ready to do so now. It’s enough to say that Sheree lived an amazing life. As a peer support worker, I have no doubt she gave hope to countless people struggling to come to terms with spinal cord injury. Working for spinal cord injuries Australia, she organised the first SCI independence Expo in Homebush. She developed videos and other resources directed at helping people with sci get on with their life. she was also an active volunteer with Australian support dogs, and after finishing with SCIA was involved in a project to build  respite  accommodation. More recently she worked at Royal rehab in Ryde, as a recreational officer – helping rehabilitating people find ways to enjoy themselves.

I did mention her in my memoir, and perhaps that recollection is enough for today:

23 November 2012 (Friday)

Today was pure joy; a sunny spring day spent in the city with Sheree Hurley. We have met up a few times since my leaving the hospital. She is a great encouragement, and it’s refreshing to spend time with someone who understands my day-to-day experiences. What I especially love about her company is her contentedness. She doesn’t ignore or deny the difficulties of living with SCI, but neither does she let them keep her down. On the contrary, she leads a full and mostly happy life, and I find her sense of well-being contagious.

We met up at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) at Circular Quay. The day was warm but Sheree’s crip-circulation and thin frame had her rugged up for winter, wearing a jumper and jacket, a purple scarf, and a woollen beret, out of which flowed her shoulder-length auburn red hair. The MCA cafe is on the top of a modern styled building, looking over the Quay to the Opera house, Harbour Bridge, and beyond. We ate on the balcony, which today was awash with sunlight. Friendship, conversation, sunshine, and food in such a location, along with a black Labrador that draws the attention of all and sundry; on days like this, life isn’t half bad!

While conversation was the real reason for our get-together, the ostensible purpose was to watch a film, The Intouchables. Sheree was a little reluctant, saying that “I haven’t seen a film for years.” I found this hard to fathom, but I promised that she would enjoy herself. The French subtitled film tells the story of Philippe, a C3/4 quadriplegic with no movement from the neck down and, his carer Driss, a poor black, paroled migrant – each in his own way “untouchable,” the former a pitiable paralytic and the latter a despised African. [The journal goes on to talk about the movie – which is irrelevant for this blog].

Obviously, the story resonates with the experiences of Sheree and I, and she left the cinema surprised to have actually enjoyed a movie. After coffee we said our goodbyes and I thought about the fun that I’ve had today. I’ve spent so much time down in the dumps, and I wonder whether I have found one of the keys to pleasure; friends and film.

Vale Sheree. I can’t believe you’re gone. I am missing you already.


goodbye Sheree, I will miss you.

goodbye Sheree, I will miss you.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • Sam
    May 21, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Sorry to hear about her death Shane, she sounds like the type of personal who is truly exceptional. I hope your own experience and wisdom will provide other people with the same comfort that she provided you.

  • Elly
    May 21, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    I remember the day she came to College when you were coming back to work. She gave a talk to all your peers about working with someone with SCI. Jade her dog, which was always so beautifully behaved, broke with the norm and rolled around the floor with childlike glee. Sheree apologised for her spontaneous frivolity explaining that Jade LOVED carpet!

  • Wendy Harris
    May 21, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Hi Shane, I attended Sheree’s funeral this morning and as you could imagine the tributes to her were abundant as were those in attendance. ‘Standing room only’ would be a misrepresentation as there was no standing room left in the chapel, mourners stood in the door openings. That in itself speaks accolades for this lovely lady. She will be missed by many: family, friends, work colleagues and the wider spinal community. A positive role model for and representative of people with a spinal cord injury. It was so untimely and so sad. She was spoken of highly today during the service and her parents, brother, nieces and other family would have been ‘chuffed’ with not only the sincerity of the words but the sincerity of their tears. Sad loss.
    Wendy Harris
    Would love to catch up with you Shane

    • Shane Clifton
      May 22, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      dear Wendy, thank you so much for letting me know how the funeral went. I can only imagine that it was both a celebration of an amazing life, and very sad. Unfortunately I learned about the funeral too late, so missed attending. I would be very open to catch up, Shane


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