Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

September 9th 2010
Five year old survives "death trap" fall

Fall surviver Acacia with her mum Gail Last Friday, five year old Acacia Cooper of Picnic Bay had an awful and very dangerous experience. She accidentally fell into a 2.5 metre deep sewerage storage tank at the back of the Arcadia Surf Lifesaving Club at Alma Bay.

Acacia and her family and friends had been enjoying an afternoon party on the grassy slopes that lead down from the Island’s popular park to the creek that runs into Alma Bay. The parents were packing up while the kids scampered off to explore the area next to the half basketball court. Just metres away there is a rather grand set of steps which lead up to the rear of the club and a barbeque area. Just to the left of the stairs is a square arrangement of piping that, to any young child, might say, “come climb on me”, and that is just what Acacia and her little friends did.

At the same time Wendy Hamilton, Acacia’s auntie, wondered out loud if they should check on the kids but, according to Acacia’s mum, Gail Hamilton, “...answered her own question saying, ‘It’s the back of the Life Savers - kids play here all the time.’” She’d barely drawn breath, when, Gail said, “We heard a scream”.

Acacia and Gail at the sewerage storage tank

The adults were quickly on the scene to find Acacia in the most wretched of places. It seems one of her mates had found the lid to the sewerage tank with either no screws or old rusty ones that allowed him to lift the plastic cover off with one hand. As he investigated the lid and the opening beneath, Acacia hopped off the railing towards the partially open cover which slipped out of position and in she went.

With enormous good luck the fall did not appear to injure Acacia in any way. But, according to Gail, she fell on to her back into about six or eight inches of sewerage which ended up all over her. Again, by sheer good luck, there was enough oxygen in this dangerous confined space to keep young Acacia alive. Yet another great stroke of luck was the fact that auntie Wendy just happened to have brought a length of rope for the kids to play with. She quickly fashioned a loop and lowered it down to Acacia who had the presence of mind to follow instructions and put the loop under her arms. She was quickly hauled out to the great relief of the family and, without, it appears, having suffered a potentially infectious scratch or ingesting any sewerage.

The site was close to the half basketball court and stairs lead up to it

Gail soon had Acacia under the beach shower then home for a big bath. Afterwards she contacted the Magnetic Island Clinic where the doctor advised that the little girl should have a tetanus shot. “Acacia is completely well - apart from the risk of Guardia, hepatitis A and B, and cryptosporidium,” said Gail.

Gail soon found out that the tank, which had been installed by Townsville City Council about ten years ago in anticipation of full sewage services being connected, was emptied by Island contractor Rob Allen, who had pumped the tank out just two days before. Rob told Magnetic Times that although he had pumped out the sewerage he always used another, purpose-built, hole for the job. Rob couldn't confirm if screws were in place on the cover or not but had noticed loose screws on the lid in the past and that, “after parties people have removed them.”

Gail contacted Rob. “I begged Rob to screw it down,” she said. Rob promptly contacted Island plumber John Bennett who, confirmed with Magnetic Times that he went to the tank and that, “the screws were rusted” and that he replaced them with new screws.

Magnetic Times sought comment from Arcadia Surf Life saving Club and team Captain Steve Mills told Magnetic Times, “We are sorry that the incident happened” and “thankful that nobody was injured.”

“WHS (Work Health & Safety) is investigating and we have been co-operating with them.

“It’s unfortunate that this has occurred and we are working with other stake holders to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

The location of the tank, while appearing to be very close to the Arcadia Club house, is not, according to Steve Mills, on the land which has been leased by the Club from Townsville City Council.

“It belongs to Council” said Steve Mills, “You should be talking to them,”

Yesterday, Magnetic Times contacted Cr Dale Last, Chair of the Community Safety and Health Committee of Council, who, on hearing the news described the modern septic tanks as, “death traps”.

Cr Last told Magnetic Times, shortly after, “The (Departmental) Director is organising to send a plumber (either yesterday afternoon or this morning). The plumber will need to come from here (Townsville). We need to make sure it’s childproof.”

Cr Last went on to say, “If people have a septic tank, for goodness sake, check and make sure it’s childproof.”

Gail Hamilton is hoping for a personal apology from all parties involved and is concerned that, “the legislation requiring safety isn’t strong enough. I’d like to make sure it doesn’t happen again. There used to be heavy concrete lids and now a five year old kid can remove one with one hand.”

Story & photos: George Hirst

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

Five year old survives
September 9th 2010
thats an incredibly lucky little girl. I cannot believe that we can have lids on death traps like that that are so easy to lift off. Erwin
Sylvia Hayes
September 9th 2010
What great presence of mind from the family and friends to effect such a rescue. Thank goodness for the happy ending to this story. Wish you all the best, Alicia, it will be a funny story when you're older!

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Readers comments
Syl Hayes In reply to Fair raises $15,000 for school
What a wonderful outcome for the school! I had a great time face-painting with Luke and Sasha, met lots of kids and parents,scored some great books at the Trash n Treasure stall, and even remembered to vote. Everywhere you looked people were enjoying themselves...such a tribute to the organisers. Well done!
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