Something was not quite right. Richard Davies was on Lilli Pilli Beach on the South Coast in February 2021 when he saw Graham Anderson in the water with his daughter.
Graham, 61, who has multiple sclerosis, had gone into the water, leaving his crutches on a nearby rock. Not realising how low the tide had gone, he was swept out to sea in a rip.
“I know the tides pretty well,” Graham said, “but I must have misjudged them this day because when I dived in, I got sucked down like a bit of flotsam because of my disability. I was a champion swimmer when I was at school, but this thing [MS] steals that from you.”
Richard Davies, 43, was on the beach with his wife and three children when he spotted Graham in distress. He could see his daughter supporting him and heard her yell out for help.
Richard said he looked around on the beach to see who could help, and the next thing he knew, he was running down the beach and diving in to save Graham.
“It’s just something you do,” he said.
“You don’t really think about it at the time. I did look around to see if there was anyone else who could help but I couldn’t see anyone so I raced in.”
He said Graham was in a rip and was being quickly swept out to sea. “I didn’t really think what I’d do once I got to them, I just knew I had to go in.”
Richard said he got to them “pretty quickly” and managed to keep Graham afloat before swimming them both back to shore. His father, Peter, who was also on the beach, helped, “so we all lived to tell the tale”.
“Graham said I saved his life, but it was just something you do. He did give me a big kiss on the cheek, though, and a giant hug.”
Richard, the co-principal of Belle Property in Canberra, said he had surfed most of his life so he didn’t really think the rescue was a big deal – until afterwards.
“Some people later may have thought I was reckless not to go in without a buoyancy device, but there was nothing there at the time. And I guess I was a confident enough swimmer to go in.”
Graham said after the rescue, he wanted to do something to publicly thank Richard for saving his life.
“I started thinking about what I could do, so I looked up bravery awards and I found the Governor-General’s awards.
Earlier this year, Graham was notified by the Governor-General’s office that his nomination had been successful and on Tuesday, 18 October, with his family present, Richard received a Commendation for Brave Conduct from the Governor-General, David Hurley, at an investiture ceremony at Government House, Canberra.
Richard said he had no idea he had been nominated.
“I kept it on the down-low for a while,” he said. “But because my family was with me when it happened, and they said they were proud of me, well, that was just wonderful.
“At the time, you don’t think these things are so significant but going to Government House, well, it was pretty special for all my family.”
For Graham, it was the least he could do, he said.
“I don’t know if I would have drowned that day, but I do know I was helpless and was floating face down on my way to New Zealand.”
Has the near-tragedy put him off surfing? No, says Graham, but he is now never without a leg rope so he’s always got a flotation device close at hand.