The time, Christmas 1993 and we are on holidays at Sawtell near Coffs Harbour. Each year for the last five years we have come here for a break for both ourselves and our children. Enjoying a relaxing atmosphere and the surf and being able to read a decent book while catching up on some sleep. We are fortunate to have a tent that can hold all five of us with comfort and each year we set up camp in the council caravan park at Sawtell. In the caravan park there is an island of camping space set amongst the different roads that runs throughout the park. It has gentle slope that runs down to the showers and amenities and is populated with a mass of trees. This area is not suitable for caravans but rather for those who wish to pitch a tent.
It was during one of our many visits to Sawtell Beach that two of my children were almost drowned. We had not long arrived at the beach when my two youngest children Clint and Jessica ran off into the surf. As always they knew to only surf between the flags but on this day there was a severe rip running out to sea right in the middle of the flagged off area. I can still remember looking out towards the ocean and seeing both Clint and Jessica desperately trying to stay afloat as they were dragged out to sea by the rip. I immediately took off and raced into the surf, swam into the rip and followed them out to sea. After a minute or so of swimming I was able to catch up with them and encourage them to hang and not panic on as help would be coming.
By the time that the lifeguards had noticed that we were in trouble we would have been at least 200 yards from the shore. One of the lifeguards sprang to attention grabbed his board and paddled out to where we were. On reaching us I was able to help the children onto his board and see them off as the lifeguard paddled back to shore. It was a close call and I was immediately mindful of the story I had seen on television just prior to going on holiday. There had been a young father in Sydney who had swum out to rescue his children only to drown. Fortunately his children were saved but unfortunately he lost his life.
I imagined the headlines in the next day's paper as reading "farther enters surf to rescue children and drowns". The significance of what had happened made me draw upon my knowledge of the surf from when I was a young men in the surf club at Windang on the New South Wales southcoast. We were taught never to try and swim against a rip but rather swim across it to quiet waters. Even if this meant being taken out further from the shore it was possible to be able to swim to a quiet area of surf and then start back towards the shore. It was this knowledge that stopped me from panicking because at the time I was terribly unfit as far as swimming goes because over the preceding 15 years I would have only entered the surf a handful of times.
As I tread water wondering what I should do I noticed some board riders surfing off further down the beach. I decided to swim towards them and after a short while one of the board riders heard my call. With his assistance I was able to reach the shore and safety. By the time I reached the shore I was pretty well puffed out and out of breath, my muscles ached and my breathing was rapid. I looked up the beach to see my two children in the company of their mother and the lifeguard that save them. On approaching the senior lifeguard he said to me that he was sorry that this had happened and that he had told the junior lifeguards to move the flags further along the beach away from the rip and that somehow I had forgotten to do so.
My only concern at this time was for my children and their safety and I quietly gave thanks to our Lord for their lives and my own. The only time before this that one of my children's lives had been threatened was when my daughter Jessica was about 3 1/2 or four years of age. She had been a very precocious child and loved to run around in bare feet. On one particular day she ran to the front of our property where I had my horse in one of the yards and entered into the yard with the horse. My wife was hanging out the washing when she noticed Jessica missing. Just a moment before she had seen her in the laundry but fortunately upon noticing she was nowhere to be seen she turned and looked towards the front of our property.There in the horse yard lay our daughter unconscious. Alison immediately grabbed her and drove off to Tamworth Hospital where Jessica was found still to be unconscious with the imprint of the horses hoof on her face. Fortunately she survived this encounter with a minimal amount of damage to a person.
As I contemplated the possible loss of both Clinton and Jessica at Sawtell on this day I was reminded of how fragile life is. I became very conscious of the fact that I could have lost them both and it impacted me emotionally as never before.
The next day my three children went off to attend a beach mission run by Scripture Union in the caravan parkwhile Alison and I remained at our tent. Each year they had attended the sessions and had enjoyed the company of other children in the caravan park. However this particular night one of the boys started to pick on my eldest son because he wore glasses and in frustration my oldest son lashed out and punched him. Alison myself were sitting quietly in our tent when Jessica and Clint came running and screaming Ben is in trouble. Both Alison myself immediately took flight and headed off towards the Scripture Union camp. Here we found a young man fighting with my son and he had him on the ground kicking him in the face and on the body. It turned out that this young man was the elder brother of the boy who had been teasing Ben because of his classes and he had decided to exactsome vengeance.
Upon coming on the scene I was immediately taken back to the previous day when I almost lost Clint and Jessica. My first reaction was not my usual reaction which would have been to grab a young man and push him out of the road. However on this particular day only desire was to take my family out of harm's way. I stood there shouting at him to stop what he was doing when he turned and decided to try and take me on as well. I found myself fighting the urge to take my own vengeance with what happened but a small voice inside me stopped me from doing so. I was able to finally pacify the young man and extract my children from the area back to our tent. The events of the past two days had built up within me and I feared for the loss of my children. After this I found myself in deep conflict with my emotions asI had always taken my children's safety for granted. As a result we decided to pack up our camp and return to Tamworth to seek medical attention for my eldest son. We spent that evening driving back from Coffs Harbour to Tamworthand the next day we took my eldest son Ben to the doctors for a check up.There were marks from the young man's shoe that were plainly visible on the side of his face and on his chest.
The doctor informed us that he was lucky that they had not broken any bones in his face despite the bruising and inflammation. Upon returning home from the doctors I had thoughts of calling the police and having charges laid but I decided to leave well enough alone. I knew that it had only being the Lords intervention in this matter and also in the events at the beach that had saved my children's lives. This whole situation caused me to ponder my responsibilities as a father, carer and protector of my children. I had never before felt the weight of parenthood so greatly as I always been the one to go to work and provide the financial needs of the family leaving the day to day affairs of the house and family to my wife. Despite my relationship with the Lord I was challenged by this whole affair and sought to understand what meaning lay beneath it.
At this time Alison myself were packing up our house and making ready to move to Sydney to study at the Baptist Theological Collegeat Eastwood. We were due to start studying in February so we spent the rest of our holidays packing our possessions and moving out of our home. It would not be until the day that we finally travelled to Sydney to start a new life that the events of this Christmas would come back to haunt me.