'Someone else is going to drown in that river' - Grieving Mandurah mother calls for action

A grieving Mandurah mother has called on the state government to take additional action to avoid another tragedy at a popular tourism location.

The community was saddened by news that Kim Johnston, 22, had drowned at Lane Poole Reserve on January 24, 2018.

The nursing student was pulled underwater, becoming wedged in the rock surface at the Dwaarlindjinaap swimming hole near Dwellingup and died at the scene despite a plucky group of bystanders trying to save her.

Seventeen months since the accident, Kim's mother Stacy O'Shea said she was still coming to terms with the loss of her daughter.

"At the time we were pretty grief-stricken - we still are," she said.

"We have gone through hell and back. We struggle from day to day and are still dealing with the loss."

Lane Poole Reserve is a 50,000 hectare forested park south of Dwellingup, which is popular with tourists and locals, especially in the summer months.

Ms O'Shea said the best way she could honour Kim was to strive for change at the Peel tourism site to avoid someone else suffering the same fate.

"I guess I've had time to think about it now. Since then, I've had meetings with lots of different people," she said.

"Where the crossing is, where she fell in, at that part of the river there are caves and massive undertow. I want them to look into that.

"I want this river looked at. There is massive undertow at both low and high tides.

"Kim fell in and we never saw her alive again. A child could fall in and they'd never be seen again.

"I barely sleep at night because I stress that someone else is going to drown in that river.

"I don't want Kim's life to be unjust. I think about it all the time; her life is unjust because that river is not getting fixed."

A Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) spokesperson confirmed defibrillators had been placed at Lane Poole Reserve since Kim's death, but had yet to be used.

The spokesperson said Ms O'Shea's request for the river bed to be altered would not be pursued, but measures had been taken to make the area safer.

"The department has undertaken a range of steps to reduce risk and increase safety awareness at the site," they said.

"These include familiarising local police and ambulance staff with the site, evacuation exercises with local government, police and ambulance staff and improved risk signage.

"The department lodged a successful application for round 4 of the Mobile Black Spot Program, which will see an additional mobile telephone tower constructed to improve communications within the reserve.

"The department recommends visitors use apps, such as the Emergency Plus or St John First Responder apps, which can assist emergency services to respond to incidents in areas where mobile phone coverage is unreliable.

"The river system is a dynamic environment and as such, alterations to natural rock formations are not possible.

"The department has a comprehensive visitor risk management program that involves regular inspections, risk assessments and signage.

"The department implements this program to ensure the visiting public has a good awareness of the inherent risks that are associated with recreating in a natural environment."

Shire of Murray chief executive Dean Unsworth said the Shire had facilitated meetings between Ms O'Shea and government agencies - and would lend a helping hand again if appropriate.

"As the management of the land is outside the control of the Shire of Murray, the shire trusts that the relevant authorities are undertaking all necessary investigations to support safety for reserve users," he said.

"The shire would be willing to assist with further lobbying of state representatives and agencies at any time."

Another of the issues on the day of the accident was St John's Ambulance officers struggling to find the correct location.

In the panic after the accident, bystanders struggled to articulate the pronunciation of the Dwaarlindjinaap swimming hole, which delayed the authorities' response.

Shortly after Kim's death, Canning MP Andrew Hastie called on local governments to consider changing area names inspired by Aboriginal culture if they were a "syllable soup".

Ms O'Shea said a location identification system, similar to the Beach Emergency Number (BEN) signs established on our beaches in 2017, would benefit the authorities.

The BEN signs were the brainchild of Rick Gerring, whose brother Ben died after a shark attack at Gearies Beach in Mandurah.

With the authorities struggling to locate the injured surfer due to confusion over his whereabouts, the BEN signs have been placed to help emergency responders to zero-in on specific locations.

Ms O'Shea said a system like the BEN signs at Lane Poole Reserve would be beneficial given the trouble St John Ambulance had locating Kim and her family immediately after the January 2018 accident.

However, for the time being, it appears this is unlikely to happen.

Murray-Wellington MP Robyn Clarke said she was aware of the DBCA's initiatives to make Lane Poole Reserve safer - but the installation of BEN signs was "not viable".

"I am aware DBCA has undertaken facilitated familiarisation tours with the local police and St John Ambulance staff, have been undertaking regular evacuation exercises, and installed additional signage in the area," she said.

"Given the thousands of recreation sites across the state's extensive conservation estate, the installation of a signage system similar to the BEN signs is not currently considered viable."

Ms O'Shea said despite some improved measures being implemented since Kim's death, more needed to be done to prevent another tragedy at the site.

"Even if there are warning signs, they have made a cemented path - obviously the water is running across it, but it is what everyone is walking across to get to the other side," she said.

"Even when her body was lying at the side of the river, people were still trying to cross.

"We saw 30-odd people cross that day - they weren't doing anything wrong, they were doing what everyone else does.

"If someone had a car accident at an intersection, they would have that investigated. Why isn't this being investigated? They've done nothing.

"I feel so frustrated - nobody wants to take ownership and make a change."

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