Yanchep: Bravery on our beaches

Scott Jessamine and Johnny Heesters with Governor Malcolm McCusker and Tonya McCusker at Government House.
Scott Jessamine and Johnny Heesters with Governor Malcolm McCusker and Tonya McCusker at Government House.

Yanchep volunteer surf lifesavers Scott Jessamine and Johnny Heesters will never forget the opening day of the 2012 abalone season.

Stormy weather, a strong rip, 1-1.5m swell and breaking waves were a recipe for disaster for abalone fishers at Yanchep Beach Lagoon on Sunday, November 4.

Between 7am and 8am, the two patrollers were in and out of the water rescuing 12 people, two needing hospital treatment.

Despite their best efforts in ‘atrocious’ conditions, a 20-year-old Malaysian national Beng Keong He drowned, his body never recovered.

The Royal Humane Society of Australasia recognised the men’s heroism with bronze medals for bravery presented by Governor Malcolm McCusker last Friday.

Deputy State Coroner Evelyn Vicker, in her report on the death, commended the two for their ‘remarkable efforts to rescue people from the surf at considerable risk to themselves’.

Mr Heesters, a police sergeant, said he and Mr Jessamine, a truck driver, were ‘slightly embarrassed’ at being singled out for the prestigious award.

‘But we very humbly accept it on behalf of all volunteer lifesavers around Australia who put themselves at risk to save others every weekend without any formal recognition,’ he said.

The Yanchep Surf Life Saving Club president said things had changed since that fateful day ” lifesavers now worked in targeted patrols, their response ‘tailored’ to conditions on the day.

Liaison with such agencies as Surf Life Saving WA (SLSWA), Two Rocks Volunteer Sea Rescue and City of Wanneroo rangers boosted resources as needed.

In her report, Ms Vicker recommended SLSWA, local government and Fisheries work together ‘to maximise safety concerns alongside desirable fisheries management’. Ms Vicker said it seemed appropriate that specific people have power to provide ‘on the spot’ beach closures in risky weather during abalone season.

However, based on information to hand, she could not make a specific recommendation without further talks between the parties.

‘The difficulty will always be policing those powers and the provision of penalties,’ she said.

‘A compromise may be the provision of local council rangers to relevant beaches to assist the lifesavers. Lifesavers could then have input to the decision making but not be involved in the policing and penalties while they maintained their vigilance on the provision of safety.’