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This was Sharon’s first opportunity in months to spend prime time with Katie. Having travelled overnight on the coach, they had finally arrived at their modest Gold Coast Holiday Resort in South East Queensland.


Sharon, a single mum, had promised her three year old daughter Katie, her first seaside holiday.

Working as a receptionist in one of Sydney’s smaller hotels, it had been a hard struggle for Sharon to save up enough money for this holiday. At 5pm, she would dash across to the childcare centre, collect Katie and maybe pick up a pizza on the way home. And home was a small two-room apartment in a very tired old apartment block on the north side of the Sydney harbour bridge.


Their room on the first floor of the Gold Coast Holiday Resort was at the end of a long open balcony which faced the back of a large new apartment block. The view from the picture window in their bedroom was even worse; it looked down onto a row of overflowing trash bins, lined up against a wall of the backyard of a Chinese restaurant.

This was a depressing start. Sharon had been hoping that Katie would have a room with a sea view; however the sun was shining and they were enjoying the warm weather after experiencing an unusual cold spell in Sydney.



‘Mummy I can’t pull the toilet handle.’


Sharon gave the handle a sharp tug. Nothing happened; she tried several times without success. ‘I’ll have to call reception, sweetheart.’

Ten minutes later, a tap came at the door. Sharon ran to answer it quickly, with Katie in tow. A small man with rounded shoulders, perhaps in his late thirties, stood at the door. He had a pleasant-looking face, but the receding hair on his forehead and an extra large, slightly hooked nose, gave him the appearance of one of Snow White’s dwarfs.


‘I’m Donald Dumas; I’ve come to fix the flush tank, if that’s all right madam?’

Katie stood watching as Donald quickly fixed the flush tank handle. He gathered up his tools and as he stepped past Katie he ran his rough hand through the little girl’s long golden hair. ‘You’re a real beauty young lady.’ He smiled.


Sharon opened the door for him, a little annoyed that he had touched her daughter. You just didn’t know about some men these days, she thought.

‘Thank you Donald, that really was quick. We sure can’t do without a loo,’ she laughed.


As Donald walked out of the door, Katie, clinging on to Sharon’s skirt yelled. ‘Thank you Mr Dumdum.’

As they stepped back into the room Katie giggled, ‘Mummy I really liked Mr Dumdum, he is just like our garden gnome.’



The next day was bright and sunny and so they set off for the beach.  The sand at the top of the beach was already hot under their feet, so they strolled down to the water’s edge to where the lifeguards stood watching the many swimmers enjoying the surf.


Katie ran across to look at their two rescue boats, lined up near the flags. Sharon followed her, laughing, but was more taken with the handsome-looking lifeguards; she had not felt so happy and relaxed since before Katie’s father had been killed in a motor accident three years ago.

‘We’ll go a little farther along the beach where it’s not so crowded, Katie,’ Sharon suggested to her daughter.


They placed their bags a little way up the beach. Sharon carefully rubbed sunscreen all over Katie’s exposed parts, and then on herself. Sharon was tall and slim, with blond hair. If she had wanted, she could have made herself very attractive to men.

But Sharon didn’t care any more; she was still hurting from the tragic loss of Katie’s dad in a motor accident and was determined as a single mum to do her very best for Katie


In their new swimmers and wearing their sun hats, they wandered down to the waters edge. Sharon held Katie’s hand, unsure how Katie would react to paddling in the sea for the first time. She needn’t have worried: for Katie it was love at first sight. She ran backwards and forwards, kicking up spray with her feet and having a splashing competition with her mum.

‘Mummy, that’s Mr Dumdum sitting over there.’ Katie waved enthusiastically into the distance as mother and daughter sat down in a large pool of water left by the last incoming wave.


They sat there for a while allowing the sea to wash over their legs as the water flowed in and out of their pond.

After a while Sharon stood up ‘I’ll have to get my sunglasses Katie, I’m starting to get a headache. Stay where you are. I won’t be a minute.’


What Sharon did not notice, was an extra large wave that was running up the beach as she walked back up the beach to get her sunnies.

Rummaging in her beach bag Sharon found her sunglasses and started to wander back towards the water. Then she suddenly realised Katie was no longer there.


In a blind panic she dashed down to the water’s edge and spotted Katie lying in the water a few yards out. Katie stood up laughing and shouting with the water now up to her waist and was quite unaware of the next wave which knocked her over.

Sharon waded out to retrieve her, expecting Katie to pop up along side of her as the wave brought her in.


To her horror, Sharon saw Katie reappear farther out with the water now up to her shoulders. Wading out as fast as she possibly could, she was now gripped by a sudden fear. Sharon got to within two meters of Katie when another wave swept over them. Again Katie disappeared.

Sharon stood up; the water was now up to her shoulders. Katie reappeared out of her depth just a few feet away. Sharon grabbed her just as another wave broke over them. They surfaced. They were coughing and choking. Sharon tried to scream for help but found it impossible whilst holding on to Katie.


They were now both well out of their depth in the water. Luckily, Sharon was able to swim, but with each wave breaking over them and taking their breath away it took all her strength to keep them from drowning, until they were finally well clear of the surf.

Realising they were caught in a rip, Sharon remembered the warning she had read on the notice board earlier that morning. First, don’t panic. God, she thought, I’m in one hell of a panic.


‘Katie stop screaming…………..need all our strength…. stay afloat……… going…. start swimming……. put……..arms around……my shoulders……… lie on my back.’

I must try swimming across the rip, she remembered, but realised with Katie on her back it was all she could do to keep afloat.


They were now well passed the larger waves and were being rapidly carried out to sea. They had both swallowed large amounts of water and were gasping for breath. No longer able to talk without swallowing more water. The woman and child were just fighting to stay afloat.

‘I’m going… turn over… on….back….babe……come… round…my front.’ Lying on her back with Katie on top of her, Sharon tried to wave her arm, but only succeeded in going under and swallowing more water.


Lying higher up on the beach, Donald Dumas sat up, stretched out his arms and looked around. He seemed to be the only person on this part of the beach. Even the lady and the little girl who called him Dumdum had gone. Their bags were still there, though: perhaps they had gone for a walk?

Donald noticed that a light breeze had sprung up. It had been getting very hot on the beach; this breeze would certainly be welcome.


The waves appeared to be getting larger and were showing white tops as they were caught by the wind. He looked at the waves and then scanned the deep blue ocean beyond the surf. He could see a strong rip running from the beach right in front of him.

Suddenly Donald froze. Way out beyond the rip he thought he saw a head bobbing in the water. He fished out his binoculars, used to identify different species of sea birds; bird-watching being his hobby.


Through the binoculars he saw with horror the woman with the child clinging on to her. Just for an instant she raised her arm, then her head disappeared under the water, to bob up again seconds later.

Donald dropped his binoculars and ran towards the lifeguards, waving his arms and shouting. When at last he was spotted and could see the lifeguard waving back, Donald turned and ran back to where the woman and girl had entered the water.


He knew that the fastest way to get to them was to take advantage of the rip. Donald ran into the waves and started swimming furiously and was soon being carried out by the strong rip tide.

‘Mummy……Dumdum……coming…’ Katie closed her eyes, a smile on her face.


Donald saw that he was now only about twenty metres from them; he tried to wave and shout but only swallowed water. He was getting tired. It was then he felt the sharp pain in his shoulder. He just kept on swimming, the pain grew worse. They were still a long way from him; his tears were swept away in the ocean. Donald noticed it was starting to get quite dark. He felt suddenly very tired. Now it was very dark.

Donald stopped swimming.


The two inflatable rescue craft arrived. One went straight to the woman and child and they were quickly hauled into the inflatable. Sharon slumped in the bottom of the craft whilst one of the lifeguards cradled Katie in his arms as they dashed back to the beach.

The other craft searched up and down the area, looking for the man they had seen disappear as they were approaching the struggling swimmers. There was no sign of him.


Later a full search was carried out for Donald. His body was never recovered. His brave act was recorded in the local newspaper, Donald had no living relations and his brave attempt to save the girls was soon forgotten.

Sharon and Katie were taken to hospital that morning and returned to their accommodation the following day. Their holiday was over and they both wanted to return home.


‘I don’t want to go on the beach ever again, Mummy,’ Katie whispered to her mother. Neither of them wanted to talk about their frightening experience.

It was about three weeks later; they were walking home from the shopping centre, under a clear, star-filled sky.


‘Mummy do you think Dumdum is still looking for us?’

‘No darling, when he saw we were safe and were being rescued, he decided to go to a place where he could watch over us.’ Katie was silent for a while.


‘So where do you think he is, Mummy?’

‘Up there darling.’ Sharon pointed to the sky. ‘He’s one of those stars up there. I expect he is watching over us now.’


They carried on walking home.

They were both crying.

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