"Last Boxing Day, when we saw six people in the water in serious danger, it was action stations.
Then when we heard there might be a child also in the water, the rescue became even more urgent.
The potential for tragedy – on what should be a happy day at the beach - was huge."
- Kaye Norris, volunteer Surf Lifesaver, Windang SLSC.
For many families, Christmas and the beach go hand in hand. Whether it's a barbeque on the sand, heading out for an early morning surf, beach cricket, or a sunset picnic and paddle, Australians are lucky to have this tradition. And we love it.
For Surf Lifesavers, Christmas holidays are our busiest time of year - our resources are stretched to the absolute limit. Volunteer Surf Lifesavers like Kaye Norris and Doug Hockey know this well. Their preparation was put to the test last Boxing Day.
Kaye and Doug were doing a roving patrol on a four-wheel motorbike, almost a kilometre away from the flags.
Although the beach was closed due to rough conditions, Kaye and Doug noticed a group of people in the water, and in serious trouble. They were being swept out to sea.
The beach at Windang, a popular family spot south of Wollongong, meets up with Lake Illawarra to create incredibly treacherous waters at the heads.
This is precisely where the six swimmers were headed. Kaye and Doug knew they didn't have much time to save them.
"We were quite a way from our patrolling area. We knew we had to act fast," remembers Kaye.
"We radioed teammates back at the flags, who started off with the Inflatable Rescue Boat as quickly as they could."
"Then we heard the news – there might be a child lost in the water, too."
Kaye and Doug grabbed the rescue gear they had with them and scrambled down the steep rock wall between them and the beach.
"If it hadn't been for the roving patrol, we think there would have been at least three casualties."
"Due to the strength of the current, and conditions at the bar, they would not have made it back to shore without assistance," Kaye told me.
"I can only imagine how terrified they were as they were being swept out, before they saw us – their faces said it all."
Kaye's husband and Surf Life Saving Illawarra Director Jayson Norris, headed out with Kaye and Doug for the rescue, driving the Inflatable Rescue Boat.
It took three separate trips out into the heaving waves, but they didn't give up. Kaye rescued two of the swimmers, and Doug brought the other four back to safety. And thankfully, the child thought to be in the water was found on the shore.
Kaye, Doug and Jayson's vigilance, perseverance and courage meant that all six lives were saved.