Mandurah family calls for action following tragic Dwellingup death

Time stood still for Stacy O’Shea when she heard news her 22-year-old daughter had drowned.

The mother of three was enjoying a family day trip to Dwaarlindjinaap swimming hole near Dwellingup in the Lane Poole Reserve on January 24, when tragedy struck. 

A confident swimmer, Kim Johnston was with her 17-year-old brother Aaron Johnston in a rapid when the current pulled her underwater and wedged her beneath a rock.

When he realised Kim had disappeared Aaron desperately searched for his sister. 

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Aaron felt her foot after almost being sucked down himself. He immediately tried to save her but struggled against the rapids. 

Calling out to a nearby group, about 10 men created a human chain to reach Kim. 

While bystanders desperately tried to save her, by the time Kim was pulled to the surface it was too late.

Moments later, Aaron’s 15-year-old brother Rhys ran over to his mother and told her Kim had died.

“Rhys ran over and said ‘Kim’s gone’. Time just stood still. It’s that feeling you never want to feel,” Stacy said. 

Aaron said the most distressing part of the horrible situation was the time it took emergency services to arrive at the scene. 

He said while he knew it was too late to save his sister it was “frustrating” that an ambulance took so long to find their location.

According to St John Ambulance Western Australia crews received the triple zero call at 2.06pm and arrived at the scene at 2.40pm, after taking a wrong turn. 

Aaron said part of the reason it took so long for emergency services to arrive was because of a miscommunication of the swimming hole’s name, Dwaarlindjinaap.

According to the family, the cultural name was hard to pronounce and not well known by local authorities.

While they recognised the importance of respecting the local Aboriginal culture in naming locations, the duo said it had the potential of confusing people, especially foreign visitors during emergencies. 

“No one could say that name on the day,” Stacy said.

Now the Mandurah family is calling for more to be done to help people stuck in isolated areas during an emergency.

“We’re not trying to blame anyone. We’re just trying to prevent this happening again, to another family,” Aaron said. 

The pair propose installing universally recognised signage in all national parks, similar to the ones installed after surfer Ben Gerring died near Falcon.

Ben died in a shark attack at Gearies Beach in 2016, and like any grieving family member, his brother Rick has scrutinised the final moments of Ben’s life.

Authorities couldn’t find Ben straight away due to confusion about his location, so Rick worked to officially launch the Beach Emergency Number (BEN) signs.

They include information such as nearby crossroads, emergency phone numbers and coordinates that people could share with rescue services to facilitate locating an emergency.

Aaron said the concept should be implemented in national parks to prevent a tragedy like his sister’s death.  

Rick Gerring in front of a Beach Emergency Number (BEN) sign. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola.

Rick Gerring in front of a Beach Emergency Number (BEN) sign. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola.

Ahead of the busy tourist season and at least by next summer is when the family would like to see the signage up.

They said the Mandurah community had been very supportive of their push for emergency signage and felt it was something people in the region would back.

A spokeswoman from St John Ambulance Western Australia said the concept was a good idea provided people could locate the signs with ease and that they also have the capacity to direct emergency officers to a scene when they arrive.

“Technology such as our first responder smartphone app – which will show latitudes and longitudes – can help guide emergency services in situations such as this one,” she said. 

Time just stood still. It’s that feeling you never want to feel.

Kim's mother, Stacy O’Shea.

The family is also calling on the Department of Parks and Wildlife to investigate their head ranger’s performance on the day and the lack of warning signs at Lane Poole Reserve.

Aaron thanked the bystanders who risked their lives at the scene in an attempt to save his sister. 

He also thanked the Pinjarra Police for their assistance and compassion following the death.

Kim had just finished studying nursing at Murdoch University’s Mandurah campus and was working with a local general practitioner. 

She had a passion for reading and had even started her own Instagram page dedicated to vintage books

A close-knit family, Stacy said her daughter was family orientated and would do anything for her brothers. 

 Dwaarlindjinaap swimming hole near Dwellingup in the Lane Poole Reserve. Photo: Stacy O’Shea.

Dwaarlindjinaap swimming hole near Dwellingup in the Lane Poole Reserve. Photo: Stacy O’Shea.

Stacy said she was pleased police were investigating the suction and flow of rapids at the location. 

The family are in contact with Canning MP Andrew Hastie and will meet with the Shire of Murray next week to discuss the issue.