THE recognition has been a long time coming.
In September 1983, veterinarian and mariner Peter Kerkenezov was at sea off Ballina when tragedy struck.
"We were doing work for the Coast Guard. The police asked me to go to sea," Dr Kerkenezov said.
The skipper was asked to escort two vessels into the port.
"And I asked two other guys in the Coast Guard if they'd join me, and it would be a dangerous project ... they agreed to come."
He took a licensed fishing vessel out and disaster struck.
"The wave was probably a 15-20 foot (5-6m) wave, picked me up and pitchpoled me and we rolled upside down."
"One bloke was washed away. I never saw him again."
Another man was stuck in the capsized boat.
"The other guy, I heard him banging inside, and anyway I went under the boat and figured out where he was. And he came out."
Dr Kerkenezov said the man who died was picked up about 15km out to sea the next day.
The master mariner said for years it was difficult talking about the tragic event.
And after he was honoured at the Australian Bravery Decorations on Tuesday, he played down his own courageous actions.
At the Investiture Room in Government House, Brisbane, Governor Paul De Jersey presented the medal to the Ballina man.
"After observing that the two vessels were navigating safely towards the port, he began to turn his boat around when it was struck by a massive wave, causing it to capsize," the official citation read.
"Still inside the submerged wheelhouse, Dr Kerkenezov managed to escape out through the wheelhouse door."
The citation said Dr Kerkenezov dived into the dark water several times and helped drag the surviving man up onto the vessel's hull from where they were later rescued.
Dr Kerkenezov was awarded for displaying "considerable bravery".
The Governor presented the awards to 20 people from across Queensland and northern NSW. -NewsRegional
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