He can still smell the gasoline. The burning of the skin, filling his nostrils. The heat ripping through his lungs as the flames engulfed his body.
He was six years old, the school bell had rung after lunch.
And it had just been set on fire.
It has been 25 years since a stranger entered the grounds of Cairns North State School and, carrying a can of gasoline and a lighter, approached little Jandamarra O’Shane.
O’Shane was behind his friends as he had a drink before heading back to class. The next few seconds would change his life.
The man, now known to a nation reeling from the brazen and baffling attack as Paul Wade Streeton, approached and threw the fuel at him. He then set the boy on fire.
Screaming, O’Shane walked through the school until Principal Michael Aitken put out the flames.
The attack on October 10, 1996 made national headlines.
The child was rushed to Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, with burns to 70% of his tiny body.
“I couldn’t believe it until I saw the fire on my arm, and I was just shocked,” he said over the phone from Cairns.
âFire was all around me at one point when I was running. I noticed it was a little hard to breathe, because you breathe this heat.
âI was actually in the schoolyard, we were playing where the infiltration zone was. The bell went just to get back to class, and my classmates sort of got lost in an off-limits area, then I was like, okay they went there, I’m just going to have a drink and come in in class, I hope I will see them there.
“Next thing I know, I’m on fire and running around the middle of school.”
O’Shane is contemplative as he speaks, memories of confusion and pain distinct despite the decades that have passed. He pauses as he thinks, choosing his words carefully.
He says his mother was reluctant to send him to school that day.
âI felt really sick the day it happenedâ¦ but I had a new toy and just wanted to go show myself,â he says.
Innocent naivety almost cost him his life.
O’Shane’s injuries were so extreme that the Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Queensland was called in to help the nurses, who were distraught with the boy’s suffering while his bandages were changed.
In the hospital, he heard conversations between his parents, doctors and nurses, as well as words of encouragement between fits of unconsciousness. The vagueness around what really happened.
Questions floated in the air about his recovery. What would it look like? Could it be possible?
âWhen I was in the hospital my lungs collapsed, but I think maybe it was because I lay so long,â he says.
“A lot of these things happened when I was unconscious too, so I wasn’t really aware of what had happened to me then.”
The biggest question that hangs over O’Shane is why Streeton chose him.
âI used to think about it a little bit, but now I got to the point where I have to let it go and accept that it was me, and that it was random or else I’ll end up going crazy,â he says, his voice firm and unshakable.
Streeton remains at Wolston Correctional Center in Brisbane and is serving a life sentence.
O’Shane, now 31, may never know why his attacker chose him, but he wants the chance to ask.
“I would like to ask him where his mind was that day, just getting to know him as much as I canâ¦ just to have a little connection.”
O’Shane struggled for years with people looking at his scars.
Years of pushing back negative thoughts.
Years of trying to figure out why a person would do such a thing to a child.
But he stays positive and laughs remembering how the paparazzi followed him as a child.
He is now studying music and hopes to write and produce songs. In recent months, her partner has given birth to her second child, Ava-Marie.
Several years ago her son Raupena turned six and O’Shane says the memories came back to him.
“When my son was six, it was really strange, the feelings I was having.”
O’Shane’s voice becomes low.
“I was looking at him and I thought it was at that age that I got burned, and I couldn’t imagine something like that happening to my children.”
âIt really showed how strong my parents were at the time.
“It changed my life so much that I’m still figuring out how it really changed.”
O’Shane has since been diagnosed with hemochromatosis – excess iron in the blood, which is common in burn patients from multiple transfusions – and his skin and scars gradually tighten.
âIt affects my bones, and then there’s pressure from the skin, which adds to that, and I’m just trying to deal with it,â he says.
“As you get older and get a little more frail, you can really feel [changes] with my skin, because I haven’t had an operation for so long.
Remarkably, O’Shane forgives Streeton.
But there is also a vivid memory that will not leave him.
âEvery day is different,â he says. âBecause I developed PTSD as a result of the incident, there are certain things that I cannot see, or there are certain smells that I have smelled since day one that I could smell at random.
âI was telling my partner the other day, there is a smell that I smelled during the day that I can smell cars.
âIt unsettles me a bit. If I’m feeling happy or having a good day, I might see something or smell something like that and it puts me, I don’t know, like I’m disengaged from everyone else.
Despite the unwanted attention of the media intrusion and the people viewing his scars, O’Shane says he feels blessed.
âI had so much support from all over Australia, which is really moving, and it’s just a wonderful thing to see letters and gifts from all over the place, and it really cheered me up at that time. -there, âhe said.
âThere were times when there were reporters trying to sneak into the hospital, and things like that.
âFunny thing is paparazzi followed me when I was younger and it was a bit of a shock, you know. I didn’t really see what the problem was.
âI can look back now and laugh about it. “
His parents, he says, were the people who pulled him back for fear that notions of darkness linger.
âSometimes it can be very emotional for mom. It was for me before, but it’s not really something I want to fear too much.
Each year they mark the day of the attack and reflect on what happened.
“As much as what’s done is wrong, from the moment it happened I’ve always told people that I forgive him, which I do, and I just want to get to know him a little bit,” says O ‘ Shane.
It’s a surprisingly pragmatic outlook, and he remains firm on his decision years later.
He says he got forgiveness “pretty quickly”, and that it was made easier because he was a child at the time.
âFrom the moment I woke up from my coma, I had negative feelings towards him. But it wasn’t long before my parents pulled me out of the woods and told me that I couldn’t think and feel like this – “it’s going to eat you up inside”.
They also told him that desperation would hamper his recovery, “so if you want to get out of here quickly you have to have a positive attitude and not focus on anything that is going to bring us down.”
âThey said, ‘You’re still here, you’re still alive and you’ve proven him wrong. The best thing you can do is forgive him and keep moving forward. “