Annette Swann from Mackay, Queensland, Australia, was nine-years-old when she suffered life altering burns
A mother who survived an explosion at a BBQ is now embracing the cruel childhood nickname ‘burnt face’ and hopes to forgive the man responsible.
Annette Swann, 52, from Mackay, Queensland, Australia, was nine-years-old when she suffered life-altering scars after a man poured highly-flammable methylated spirits onto a low-lit barbecue fire at her mother’s work Christmas party in 1974.
She said the the cannister explosion happened in ‘slow motion’ as she was struck by flames as she shoved her brother Ken, 11, out of the way.
She suffered 30 per cent scarring to her upper body and face, that has required more than 40 surgeries.
She battled vicious name-calling throughout school, from ‘burnt face’ to ‘monster’ but later found strength through husband Jason, 45, who encouraged her to love her scars and herself.
The mum-of-three decided to embrace the vicious insult ‘burnt face’, even using it for the title of her memoir as a way to own the once-demeaning comment.
Annette Swann is now embracing the cruel childhood nickname ‘burnt face’ and hopes to forgive then man who was responsible for the explosion
Annette said the moment the cannister exploded happened in ‘slow motion’ as she flung her brother Ken, 11, out of the way before she was hit by the flames
Now she’s hoping for closure by meeting the man – her mother’s co-worker – who caused the explosion and hopes to get the chance to forgive him in person.
Annette, a business marketing manager, said: ‘In hospital, I remember seeing myself for the first time, I was being bathed and while the nurses held me up, they didn’t notice the mirror.
‘When I turned into it, I first thought there was a painting of some horrible-looking creature. But then I realised it was me and it was horrific.
‘School was the most traumatic thing, the kids would look at me like a freak and whisper. In class I used to hide my face behind my workbooks.
‘I called my book ‘Burnt Face’ because that was the taunt I used to get.’
Annette, a business marketing manager, said: ‘In hospital, I remember seeing myself for the first time, I was being bathed and while the nurses held me up, they didn’t notice the mirror
Her husband Jason (together at 1999 wedding) was also a massive influence when he empowered her to see beauty beyond the depth of her skin
She says husband Jason (pictured together in 1994) has supported her and made her help her to love her scars whereas before she would constantly hide
Annette recalled one particularly horrific experience from when she walked home from school with a friend one day.
‘Boys on bikes were riding around us, calling me “burnt face” over and over again, until I ran away, I didn’t stop running until I got home.
‘It was the name I constantly got and thought you know what, I’ll own that name now.
‘While I still have my struggles at times, I have learned to love myself and my scars, so it no longer holds any power over me.
‘The thing I now want is to be able to forgive the man who caused the fire, it would be great closure for us both.
‘He has had to live with this his whole life, either blocking it out or struggling with it too.
‘I’ve healed a lot and don’t blame him for what happened, I know it was an accident and would like to meet him.’
Annette is pictured with Ken the brother she pushed out the way of the fire in 2016
Annette said she has now come to terms with the incident and loves herself, thanks to her husband Jason
Annette (at her wedding in 1999) says husband Jason has supported her and made her help her to love her scars
Annette sustained the burns at her mother’s work Christmas party in 1974, she and her brother Ken were sitting on a log fence.
When the explosion occurred, she threw herself further into the blast by pushing Ken out of the way with ‘super woman’ like strength.
Annette said: ‘The main vivid memory I have is seeing the liquid pouring slowly onto a low-lit BBQ flame and after that it was like a movie in slow-motion.
‘I remember being rolled in a blanket, opening my eyes and seeing a flame, I blacked out and only came to on the way to the hospital.’
Annette was bullied throughout her school years, called burnt face, ugly, monster and more (pictured six months after incident in 1975)
Annette suffered burns to her neck and face, requiring surgery and a two-month hospital stay, where she received skin grafts twice a week – after pushing brother Ken out of the way
Annette suffered burns to her neck and face, requiring surgery and a two-month hospital stay, where she received skin grafts twice a week.
‘The methylated spirits caused my body to swell in intensive care, I remember the first night I was in hospital I was so disorientated I didn’t know I was burned,’ she said.
‘The next morning, I could hear people but not open my eyes, my face had swollen to the size of a basketball.
‘My mom said I looked like “the Creature from the Black Lagoon”, she was horrified by what had happened, I looked like a monster.’
Annette penned a book detailing her experiences to try to help others and in it thanks her mum Marlene now 72 who was pivotal to her recovery and confidence
She said encouragement from her mother Marlene, 72, had also helped her face her struggles.
‘My mum is a very strong woman, she helped me to find my inner-strength by not allowing me to hide and making me go out in public,’ she said.
‘My mum always told me to ignore any comments or stares, she reminded me I am beautiful on the inside and out and that my scars would heal.
‘She taught me to stick up for myself, I’m thankful she gave me so much strength and confidence.
‘She blamed herself for a long time until reading my book, in which I say how grateful I am to her.
‘I believe that has helped her to overcome her trauma as well.’
Future-husband Jason was also a massive influence 25-years-ago, when he empowered her to see beauty beyond the depth of her skin
Her husband Jason was also a massive influence, when he empowered her to see beauty beyond the depth of her skin.
‘My scars traumatised me for so many years, I used to push people away because of it and with people I was dating, I would always wake-up before them to put on some make up,’ she said.
‘My husband was the first person to see me without makeup, he walked in on me while I was putting it on and I remember cowering while I tried to hide.
‘He told me “I love you, for you”, and in that moment I realised he loved me no matter about the scars, and thanks to that I was finally able to start loving myself.’
‘My scars traumatised me for so many years, I used to push people away because of it and with people I was dating, I would always wake-up before them to put on some makeup’
‘My husband was the first person to see me without makeup, he walked in on me while I was putting it on and I remember cowering while I tried to hide,’ Annette said
Annette spent 10 years writing her memoir Burnt Face, she intends on publishing a sequel and hopes it will help other burn survivors.
Since its release six months ago, she has become a Goodwill Ambassador for a South African support group called The Campio Burns Group.
They assist survivors in the region and raise awareness of burns abuse and accidents, with a strong emphasis on child and gender abuse in the South African context.
‘The main thing is to love yourself, the scars will heal and things do get better,’ she said.
‘I want to inspire the parents and carers as that’s where the burns survivors will draw their strength and love.
‘They are the backbone to shaping us into who we become and are incredibly important.’