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January 2021

Cameron and Sam Bloom at home with magpie

The true story behind Penguin Bloom – a ‘raw and authentic’ representation of disability

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This article originally appeared on SBS News. Click HERE to see the original.

By Jennifer Scherer

An accident in Thailand left Australian Sam Bloom paralysed. The unlikely arrival of an injured magpie helped her recovery. Her story has now been made into a film and is opening up a conversation about the representation of acquired disability on screen.

“Cam and I have always loved travelling, so we thought we wanted to take the boys overseas,” the 49-year-old told SBS News at her home in Sydney’s northern beaches.

“We were about four days into our holiday and one of the kids spotted a stairway up to an observation deck, so we all went up.”

They were staying in a tiny village near the ocean, and from the two-story balcony, the tropical vista stretched as far as the eye could see.

To this day, Sam wishes she had never seen that breathtaking view.

“I leant on a railing and it had dry rot,” she said.

As the safety barricade fell away, so did Sam, falling six metres onto the concrete below.

She shattered her spine at the T6 and T7 vertebrae, fractured her skull in several places, and lay in a burgeoning pool of blood – but she would not remember a thing.

Sam and Cam Bloom at their living room table reminiscing.

The couple reminiscing about times they travelled the world together. SBS News, Jennifer Scherer

“I don’t even remember going up the stairs. My first memory was probably a day or two after and my mum and sister flew over.”

“I remember saying to them ‘what are you guys doing here’ and that was my first memory, I had no idea where I was.”

For Cameron though, that day will be forever etched into his memory.

“It was an incredible shock,” the 49-year-old said.

“It was visually horrific and incredibly scary because none of us really knew whether Sam would survive.

“Just for the boys to see their mum laying there gasping for breath and bleeding, it was something you never forget.”

None of us really knew whether Sam would survive.


Three weeks later, Sam was flown home from Thailand and she began a gruelling path of rehabilitation.

“The doctors [in Thailand] just kept saying ‘it’s spinal shock’, so I just assumed in six weeks I’d be back to normal,” she said.

“[In Australia] I had an MRI and that’s when the doctor came up and so bluntly said, ‘you’ll never walk again’. I think I spent the first month crying.”

Coming to terms with her new reality, Sam fell into a depression, grieving an old life and an old sense of self that would need to be remoulded.

“For Sam, it was really difficult just facing the reality of being back in her home that she loved and being in the wheelchair,” Cameron said.

“Sam just became incredibly depressed and felt isolated.

“It was around that time that we found Penguin and there was this incredible change of atmosphere in the house.”

Meeting a magpie

It’s hard to believe, but Penguin, a young, injured magpie, would become an important part of the Bloom household, and Sam’s next chapter.

The family took in the ball of black and white fluff after it had fallen out of its nest. It was fragile and needed care, giving Sam a renewed sense of purpose.

“For the first year I almost felt like I was under house arrest, I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t drive I was stuck at home,” Sam said.

“Having Penguin here for company and companionship was just amazing.

“She would always be on my lap or on my shoulder, she was with me all the time so I would talk to her continuously … whinge to her, I should say. She was the perfect listener; she was never judgemental.”

Cameron, a photographer, documented the family’s relationship with the bird, which was later made into a book written alongside author Bradley Trevor Greive.

“We always had hope that we’d help Penguin get strong enough to live a free life and be released into the wild,” Cameron said.

“Sam’s recovery is more mental than physical, and around that time, Sam started getting back into exercise again.

“There was a real shift, when Penguin arrived on the scene everything changed, for the better.”

It’s this adjustment to life with an acquired disability that is captured in the film Penguin Bloom, starring Naomi Watts, and released this month.

The film portrays Sam’s life before and after her accident.

“It’s a big responsibility because you’ve got to play that story in the most authentic, responsible way,” Watts said at a recent junket.

“Getting the script right was super important, telling the story from Sam’s perspective but how it connects to the family and how the bird became the glue.

“To find that balance of hope, to find that balance of courage and how one family repairs, that’s a great story to tell.”

Getting it right

With the representation of disability on screen a key to getting the story right, Sam was involved in the film’s production to ensure her realities weren’t glossed over.

“I wanted it to be raw and authentic, no sugar-coating,” Sam said.

“I remember when I came home, you think ‘I’m the only one’, and it’s lonely. I think grief is quite lonely.”

Sam Bloom on set.

Sam on set: “She [Naomi] captured the essence of exactly how I was feeling, the anger, the frustration, sadness, feeling guilty as a Mum – but also happiness.” Image: Cam Bloom

To help the cast and crew gain an understanding of her situation, Sam offered an invaluable insight.

“Sam Bloom kept a diary that was really very personal and was only ever for herself – and she shared it with us,” said director Glendyn Ivin.

“In some ways, that was the real key to knowing what it was like to be in that situation, to be in a depression and have a physical disability that she had found herself with.”

The film’s sensitive portrayal of what it’s like to live with a spinal cord injury has received praise.

Tom Elphick, 26, was in Portugal with friends five years ago when he dived under a wave and hit his head on a sandbank, resulting in a C5 spinal cord injury. He was an aspiring professional dancer and had just landed a dream job at a prestigious dance company.

“I wasn’t able to dance anymore, having been so in command of my body it was so foreign to not even be able to lift my arm or move my finger,” he said.

“I didn’t know how to deal with that.”

Tom Elphick was 21 at the time of his accident in Portugal.

Tom Elphick was 21 at the time of his accident in Portugal. Supplied

Tom hopes the release of the film will give more people a greater understanding of what it is like to live with a spinal cord injury.

“This movie is showing all of the layers that come with a spinal cord injury and sometimes these people are on top of the world and they are kicking goals and really making strides in their own rehabilitation journey, and sometimes they just can’t get out of bed,” he said.

“For people with a spinal cord injury [the film is] a way of sharing their every day with everyone else.”

This movie is showing all of the layers that come with a spinal cord injury.


Tom is an ambassador for SpinalCure Australia and hopes the movie will serve “as a beacon of hope”.

“I think for someone with a spinal cord injury, it’s really cool to see that on screen … I want to get in touch with a story and I want to relate to it.”

That view is supported by Joanna Knott, chair and co-founder of SpinalCure Australia.

“Spinal injury is an ongoing mourning process because the individual has lost how their body was and the independence they had before. They have to adjust to a whole new life,” she said.

“Relationships with people need to be re-navigated and that’s complex.

“I think that the movie shows that it is possible to have a great life despite having a spinal injury and it helps people understand a little about the impact of a spinal injury on a person and a family.”

For Sam, she too hopes the film raises awareness of what the journey is really like.

“It’s not just the fact you can’t walk, there’s so much more to it,” she said.

“Penguin is kind of a vessel for telling my story.”

Sam, went on to be part of Australia’s para-canoeing team and often credits Penguin with saving her, during the time they had together.

Sam was in Italy competing, waiting for her husband Cameron to join her when that chapter would end, two years after they first took the bird in.

“It was really weird … the night before he left with the boys, she flew away,” she said.

“She came at the perfect time and left at the perfect time.”

Penguin Bloom was released in cinemas on 21 January.

Penguin Bloom IG Giveaway Terms and Conditions

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Penguin Bloom Instagram Giveaway Terms and Conditions

To be eligible to enter, individuals must reside in Australia. 

To enter, individuals must follow @realpenguinbloom and @penguinthemagpie on Instagram, like the competition post, and tell us why they want to see Penguin Bloom using emojis, as well as tag a  friend in the comments section of the competition post. Information on how to enter and prizes form part of these Terms and Conditions. 

Participation in this promotion is deemed acceptance of these Terms and Conditions.

1. Entry is open to Australian residents aged +18 years.

2. The Promoter reserves the right, at any time, to verify the validity of entries and entrants (including an entrant’s identity, age and place of residence) and to disqualify any entrant who submits an entry that is not in accordance with these Terms and Conditions or who tampers with the entry process.

4. Multiple entries per person are valid during the promotional period.

6. Promotion commences 09:00 AEST on 13/01/21 and entries close 11.59 AEST on 16.01.20. The judging will take place at 46 Myola Rd Newport, NSW 2259. Winners will be notified via private Instagram message. The Promoter’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into unless otherwise stated.

7. This is a game of skill.

8. The prizes must be claimed by the winners within one week of being notified. In the event that a winner fails to claim their prize by responding to the Promoter’s email or message through Instagram, the prize will be forfeited and the Eligible Entrant who submitted the entry judged to be the next best will be offered the prize.

9. If any prize or part of any prize is unavailable, the Promoter, in its discretion, reserves the right to substitute any prize with a prize to the equal value and/or specification.

10. There are 3 x prizes to be won and they each include the following;

i. 1 x copy of each book (Penguin Bloom: The Odd Little Bird Who Save a Family, and Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong) 2 x in-season cinema tickets to see Penguin Bloom.

11. Prizes are not transferable or exchangeable and cannot be taken as cash, unless stipulated otherwise.

12. Total prize pool is valued at $300 AUD RRP.

13. To use prize winners must abide by the following instructions: present pass at the ticket box and you will be entitled to one ticket per unique code for one session only of PENGUIN BLOOM (PG). Valid even with “No Free Tickets” restriction. Not valid on cinema discount days, Saturdays after 5pm or Public Holidays. Not valid with any other offer. Not valid at Village Cinemas for Gold Class, 4DX or special events. Not valid for Special events and screenings, Gold Class, V-Max, 4DX, Boutique, Event Junior or Premium seating concepts at EVENT Cinemas, Greater Union, BCC and GU Film House Cinemas. Not valid at Moonlight Cinemas or Skyline Drive Ins. Not valid at HOYTS Xtremescreen, HOYTS DBOX, HOYTS LUX, HOYTS Special Events. Not valid at Reading Cinemas for Gold Lounge, Premium, Titan XC, Titan Luxe or Special Events. This offer is unavailable during unexpected system outage periods. Not for re-sale. This ticket must be taken as offered and is not exchangeable, transferable, or redeemable for cash. Seating subject to availability. Not valid for 3D/Real D sessions.

14. If this promotion is interfered with in any way or is not capable of being conducted as reasonably anticipated due to any reason beyond the reasonable control of the Promoter, including but not limited to technical difficulties, unauthorised intervention or fraud, the Promoter reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to the fullest extent permitted by law (a) to disqualify any entrant; or (b) to modify, suspend, terminate or cancel the promotion, as appropriate.

15. Nothing in these Terms and Conditions limits, excludes or modifies or purports to limit, exclude or modify the statutory implied guarantees/warranties as provided under the Competition and Consumer Act including the statutory consumer guarantees under the Australian Consumer Law or the Trade Practices Regulations, or similar laws in the State and Territories of Australia (“Non-Excludable Guarantees”). Except for any liability that cannot by law be excluded, including the Non-Excludable Guarantees, the Promoter (including its respective officers, employees and agents) excludes all liability (including negligence), for any personal injury; or any loss or damage (including loss of opportunity); whether direct, indirect, special or consequential, arising in any way out of the promotion.

16. Except for any liability that cannot by law be excluded, including the Non-Excludable Guarantees, the Promoter (including its respective officers, employees and agents) is not responsible for and excludes all liability (including negligence), for any personal injury; or any loss or damage (including loss of opportunity); whether direct, indirect, special or consequential, arising in any way out of: (a) any technical difficulties or equipment malfunction (whether or not under the Promoter’s control); (b) any theft, unauthorised access or third party interference; (c) any entry or prize claim that is late, lost, altered, damaged or misdirected (whether or not after their receipt by the Promoter) due to any reason beyond the reasonable control of the Promoter; (d) any variation in prize value to that stated in these Terms and Conditions; (e) any tax liability incurred by a winner or entrant; or (f) use of a prize.

17. The Promoter collects personal information in order to conduct the Promotion and may, for this purpose, disclose such information to third parties, including, but not limited to, prize suppliers and as required, to Australian regulatory authorities. Entry is conditional on providing this information. The Promoter may, for an indefinite period unless otherwise advised, use the information for promotional, marketing and publicity purposes including sending electronic messages or telephoning the entrant. Entrants should direct any request to access, update or correct information to the Promoter. All entries become the property of the Promoter.

18. The personal information collected through the Promotion may be used to contact you regarding the Promotion and may also be used in order to improve our business activities.

19. The Promoter is Cameron Bloom Photography (ABN: 95 082 291 316) of 46 Myola Rd Newport NSW 2259

20. By entering and participating, entrant agrees to hold harmless, defend and indemnify Instagram from and against any and all claims, demands, liability, damages or causes of action (however named or described), losses, costs or expenses, with respect to or arising out of or related to (i) entrant’s participation in the Promotion, or (ii) entrant’s participation in any prize related activities, acceptance of a prize and/or use or misuse of a prize (including, without limitation, any property loss, damage, personal injury or death caused to any person(s).

21. This Promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Instagram.

Photographs by:
Cameron Bloom
All Rights Reserved