Geoff Helisma |
A dog called Flip, an international tourist and a man visiting his mother in Yamba have combined to ensure a nine-year-old boy didn’t drown at Pippi Beach, Yamba.
On Thursday afternoon, April 26, Robert Miller and his 10-year-old sister, Lily, were standing in the water at the Dolphin Park ‘dog beach’ when a wave unexpectedly washed them into deeper water.
The children and their mother Vivien had travelled from their home at Woodford Island to spend some time at the beach with Flip.
“One minute the kids were frolicking in knee deep water – the next, a freak wave swamped them and dragged them out of sight,” Vivien says. “My daughter managed to get herself to safety, but my son was taken further out to sea.
“I quickly realised [Robert] was in grave danger and I was not strong enough to take on the crashing waves, so I started calling for help on what is an unpatrolled stretch of beach.”
Meanwhile, Dutch tourist Adriaan den Herder was relaxing on the beach, writing up his daily travel diary entry. “The dog came to us on the beach and started lying down,” says Adriaan. “We wondered what was going on and saw the mum run into ocean, screaming … then understood someone was missing.”
Adriaan ran into the water but, at first, couldn’t see Robert due to the swells stacking up in the channel. “Then, about 30 metres in front of me, I saw the boy, but with the high waves and current I could not get closer,” he says.
As this was happening, another man, Jake Scobie, 22, an Australian Defence Force soldier based in Brisbane who was visiting his mother, Gail, in Yamba, arrived on the scene.
Jake, his mother and her dog were walking back to their car when he “saw Vivien and Adriaan running out” into the water.
“I couldn’t really see what was going on,” Jake says, “then I realised someone was missing.”
Standing next to Adriaan in water as deep as they could go without losing their footing, they kept watchful eyes on Robert.
Jake discouraged Adriaan from swimming out, telling him “it’s not worth ending up with two bodies, which would be much worse”.
Both Jake and Adriaan praised Robert for the way he handled the situation. “He looked calm, but tired, trying to keep afloat,” says Jake.
“He was really calm,” says Adriaan, “and then he came a little closer as the other guy [Jake] arrived.
“So we tried to get as close as possible – I was scared I would see him drown in front of my eyes.
“We could not do anything; it was all up to [Robert]. I felt really bad not being able to get any closer.”
Adriaan says Robert was “washed in on the back of the waves, which I thought was really smart – it was a surprise that a little boy, just nine, acted really older”.
“It was a really scary moment and when he finally got to us he was tired and cold.
“We grabbed him and his mum was there and we were all reunited.”
Jake estimated that Robert was at the sea’s mercy for about seven minutes.
Robert says he was standing in knee deep water, “then I just got sucked out”.
“I was trying to swim back and I was worried about getting swept out and I got stung by a blue bottle” he says. “But Adriaan and Jake helped me in.”
Vivien says Robert spends a lot of time playing with Flip in their pool and thinks this is where he became adept at treading water.
“It is times like this that human courage and kindness shine through,” she says. “These two complete strangers will now have a place in this mother’s heart forever.”
The Independent tracked Adriaan down – and spoke to him by phone while he was in Nimbin on his road trip north to Cairns – through his Instagram account and his father’s dredging and transport group in the Netherlands.