Saviours in the surf
VIVIEN Miller didn't take her eyes off her two children for a second, while they frolicked in knee-deep water on Pippi Beach on Thursday.
When a large wave pushed them out further than she had first realised, she decided it was time for them to get out, with her daughter riding the next wave in.
Her nine-year-old son Robert though had disappeared.
Minutes of frantic searching the water went by, the large waves pushing Ms Miller back at every turn, she began to scream for help.
"I thought the sea had swallowed him," she said.
"It felt like minutes and minutes of looking, and finally a head bobbed up and I could see him."
It was at that moment, that two complete strangers on the beach became her heroes.
Jake Scobie, an Iraq veteran visiting his mother in Yamba while on leave from the army, and Adriaan Den Herder, a visiting backpacker from the Netherlands came together to bring the boy in.
Reunited with Robert on the weekend, Mr Scobie said he first noticed something going on, and saw Ms Miller pointing with Mr Den Herder out to see, and immediately ran down the beach, stripping his clothes and searching the water.
"We spotted him out and the back and we both ran out into the surf," Mr Scobie said.
"We were only chest-deep in the water and it was hard to get out there.
"I was surprised, I guess my training kicked in and we had to make the decision whether to stay there or try and go right out, but we quickly knew having more people out there was going make it worse.
Mr Scobie said when they were within close range of Robert, they could see he was calm, but also quite tired.
"He looked like he was trying to stay afloat in the one spot, but wasn't trying to come forward," he said.
"So we just slowly started to encourage him to come forward bit by bit, and with our support, he started moving towards us, coming closer with each wave."
Finally, Robert came clear of the rip and came to where the two men were, with Mr Scobie picking him up and carrying him out of the surf.
"I brought him back into the shore, where Vivien was waiting just in the shallows, and I gave him to her and she just collapsed," he said.
"Even there, you could still feel the water trying to pull them back out."
Back safely on the beach, Mr Scobie's army training again came to the fore, using his skills as an army medic to check over the boy, while an operator from 000 talked to them on another bystanders phone.
"They asked if he had swallowed any water, and I gave him two squeezes, and after the second one nothing came out, so we knew he was okay," Mr Scobie said.
"I don't think he like the last one, but it was just to be sure."
Ms Miller said the experience had been traumatic for her, with flashbacks of not being able to find him in the surf haunting her in the following days.
"I think I was just waiting to see a body," she said.
And while at the reunion, Robert was putting on a brave face, with typical nine-year-old bravado, Ms Miller said he had been reticent about revisiting the beach soon.
"I thought I'd be alright," Robert said. "I've gotten really good at swimming over the last few months."
"It was really good to see them, though."
Ms Miller said she wanted to praise the efforts of the two men who helped save her son, and said that Mr Den Herder, who had already moved onto the next place on his trip sent her a heartfelt message saying that he had lost his uncle to the surf, so it was a close issue for him as well.
"I just want to recognise what they did. One minute you're on the beach with strangers, the next minute they're absolute heroes."