RELUCTANT HEROES: Adam Whitehouse and Graeme Spillman were awarded for their bravery.
RELUCTANT HEROES: Adam Whitehouse and Graeme Spillman were awarded for their bravery. Jacob Carson

'Too many kids can't swim': Bay hero speaks out

THE man who risked his life to save two drowning boys at Tin Can Bay last year believes the heartbreaking outcome of losing one could have been avoided.

One year ago on February 12, a gorgeous sunny day turned to tragedy when nine-year-old Riley Cheetham and his friend were sucked out into the channelled waters off Norman Point.

When Gympie truck driver Adam Whitehouse stopped to dip his toes in the bay's usually calm waters he was met with a panicked mother rushing into the water where two boys were battling against an insidious current.

She was yelling that one of the boys couldn't swim, Mr Whitehouse said.

It's just one part of the horrible day that has stayed with Mr Whitehouse; a day that has made him a firm believer in the importance of children knowing how to swim.

 

Riley, who tragically drowned at Tin Can Bay.
Riley, who tragically drowned at Tin Can Bay. Contributed

"I've seen too many kids that don't know how to swim," he said.

"(If they could swim) one life could have been saved and the other three lives wouldn't have been put in danger."

He said complacency was a problem when it came to water safety.

"Parents think it's alright because they're in shallow water or they rely too much on floaties.

"There would be far less drownings if everyone knew how to swim."

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One year ago, Mr Whitehouse himself was seconds from drowning at Norman Point.

He had swum out to the struggling boys and in trying desperately to keep both floundering boys afloat in the open current, he began to lose himself.

"When you have no adrenaline and fight left in you - you give up," he said.

 

HUMBLE HEROES: Adam Whitehouse and Graeme Spillman, the two men who rushed to help the drowning boys in Tin Can Bay.
HUMBLE HEROES: Adam Whitehouse and Graeme Spillman, the two men who rushed to help the drowning boys in Tin Can Bay. Jacob Carson

That's when Tin Can Bay boatie Graeme Spillman reached Mr Whitehouse and the boys in his tinnie.

"Another half a second later and he wouldn't have been able to save me," he said.

"When you're drowning, it's not painful, it's more panic," said Mr Whitehouse, a former trawler operator who has had more than one brush with death in the ocean.

"I think if I wasn't taught as a young child I probably wouldn't be here."

Mr Whitehouse said it should be as much part of the curriculum as other activities.

He said CPR and water safety should also be made compulsory in Queensland schools.

He said mandatory tests to grade swimmers at school could be used to determine which students need support, with government funding used to subsidised extra lessons.

"People should be more vigilant around the water.

"It can be a nice thing but a deadly thing.

Mr Spillman agrees that compulsory school swimming lessons in Queensland schools would help children become comfortable in water and learn how to react when there is nobody around to help.

"It's the panic you usually drown from," he said.

"I've fallen i dams and creeks when I was six or seven years old, bust I could swim."

Gympie Times


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