The good-natured ribbing that flits back and forth between Aaron and Jack Murphy is typical of brothers everywhere. However, there is depth behind the banter, as they know only too well how close they came to being just one, rather than two.
Both Griffith University graduates – Jack, 24, completed dual degrees in Civil Engineering and Business Management this year, while Aaron, 26, graduated in Exercise Science in 2016 – the brothers also have formidable sporting backgrounds honed while growing up in Tasmania.
Previously elite performers in surf lifesaving and kayaking, when Aaron and Jack chat about past competitions they palpably convey the fierce commitment that once drove their preparation and performance. Nevertheless, the event that resonates most is one unconnected with sport, but which would test them like nothing before.
Having moved to the Gold Coast in his late teens to train at the Northcliffe surf club under legendary ironman coach Pat O’Keefe, on New Year’s Eve 2008 Aaron was leaving the club after training when he was struck down on the Gold Coast Highway by a drunk driver.
“One second I was the fittest I’d ever been. The next second I was broken,” says Aaron.
Brother Jack and parents Vance and Robyn were at home in Tasmania when they took the telephone call and tried to absorb the gravity of the news about their 18-year-old brother and son.
“It didn’t sink in at first,” recalls Jack. “It’s surreal and unexpected. I shut down; tried to shut myself away from the truth of it. I didn’t know what else to do.”
‘It was almost a fortnight before we knew for sure that he was going to live’
By the time the family rushed to the Gold Coast and were at Aaron’s bedside, the news was no better.
“It was roll the dice. The prognosis was that Aaron might not make it through the night,” says Jack. “It was almost a fortnight before we knew for sure that he was going to live. I’d watch the monitor showing the pressure inside Aaron’s brain. You’d cheer as the pressure dropped, then panic when it rose again.”
This agonising uncertainty continued until 13 January, the day that mum Robyn squeezed Aaron’s hand … and he squeezed back.
“That’s supposed to be a really strong indication of recovery,” says Aaron, who ultimately would spend almost a month in a coma and three months in hospital. Yet far from acceding to that initial prognosis that he might not survive, he has defied it in so many ways.
For example, just seven months after leaving hospital Aaron competed in the gruelling Coolangatta Gold – “he might have won if he’d worked a bit harder,” jokes Jack.
Then the brothers went on to achieve national and international success in kayaking, including competing at the World University Games in Russia in 2012.
“I’d be at the back and Jack would be at the front, which just goes to show that the big brother doesn’t always get all the say,” says Aaron, who was a member of the Griffith Sports College while studying at University.
The sporting fire still burns within Aaron, having turned his competitive attention to ironman and half-ironman triathlon. The bantering brothers are also putting their Griffith qualifications to good use.
Aaron is building his coaching/mentoring qualifications with an eye to elite athletic coaching, while Jack is focusing on a business career that has already seen the launch of an innovation for the property sector.
“It’s an online rental rating platform called Nestler and it rewards and promotes good quality tenants and property managers through ratings and reviews. We’re seeking business partnerships and collaborations in the hope of eventually taking it Australia-wide,” says Jack.