What’s in the Water in Australia?

Last week several news agencies reported the death of a man who tried to swim across a body of water that has one of the largest concentrations of crocodiles in the world.  He died, killed by a crocodile.  It was, perhaps, appropriate that the nearest city was Darwin, Australia, and the death reminded me of an article about the unfortunate things that happen when you go in the water in Australia.

Strange and weird things happen in Australia.

Most recently, a young couple took advantage of the recent flooding by rafting down the Yarra River. Interestingly, they were using inflatable sex dolls for rafts, a use, one suspects, not intended by the manufacturer. Predictably, their hopes for a joy ride were deflated when the female lost control of her male doll, and was forced to cling to a tree branch until help arrived.

Passersby, seeing the 19-year old woman in distress, called authorities. Given that the recent floods in Australia have killedmore than 30 people, rescue teams have been sensitive to emergency calls, and they arrived on the scene quickly.

Once they better understood the circumstances of the emergency, however, they seemed none too pleased. Referring to the couple’s actions as “stupid,” Constable Wayne Wilson commented that “having to divert resources to that sort of thing is not ideal.”

Although the young woman was extricated from the river unharmed, Wilson noted that “the fate of the inflatable dolls is unknown” police later released a statement warning that inflatable sex dolls “are not recognized flotation devices.”

Of course, the inflatable dolls had nothing on American tourists Tom and Eileen Lonergan. The Lonergans were two real, live, non-inflatable people who were passing through Australia in 1998 following a stint in the Peace Corps.

Tom and Eileen Lonergan

Tom and Eileen Lonergan

Hoping to SCUBA dive near the Great Barrier Reef, the couple purchased passes with the Outer Edge Company. Their first two dives on their excursion were uneventful. On their third dive, however, they stayed underwater longer than their allotted forty minutes.

Coming to the surface, they may have expected some stern looks from the crew, or perhaps even a scolding by the Captain. What they found was an empty sea. The crew had incorrectly counted the passengers and, thinking that all were aboard, returned to shore—some 35 miles away.

The Lonergans were never seen again, and it took two days for anyone to even realize they were missing. A crew member from the Outer Edge came across some unclaimed luggage, prompting him, perhaps, to blurt, “Hey does this belong to anyone?” Only then did it dawn on the crew that not all of the passengers returned from the dive.

After a massive searched turned up no trace of the Lonergans, a staff member from the Outer Edge apologized, noting “somehow they fell through the system.”

Of course, things weren’t much better for poor Ginger Meadows, a “part-time model” from America who was eaten by a crocodile while vacationing in Australia in 1987. Yachting with a group of friends on the Prince Regent River, Meadows and another woman, according to the Houston Chronicle, “were frolicking in waist-deep water on a ledge under [a] waterfall.” One of the women, it’s not clear which, threw a plastic shoe at the crocodile, apparently to discourage any plans it had of attacking, a tactic that proved spectacularly ineffective.

Ginger Meadows

Ginger Meadows

Meadows made a move for the yacht, but the crocodile grabbed her en route and, according to the author Bill Bryson, “jerked her beneath the water.” She resurfaced with a “startled look on her face” and “went under again and was seen no more,” at least not alive.

Even dead, Meadows was given little peace. Once her remains were recovered, they were transported to the mouth of the river, when (presumably) another crocodile “lunged four feet out of the water and snapped at the body bag, trying to tear it.” The crocodile retreated into unseen depths, but this was too much for a stressed crew, who decided to make haste to the nearest port and allow a larger, tougher vessel to finish the voyage.

Of course, it’s one thing for a minor model to be eaten by a reptile, or for the Lonergans to go missing, or for some inflatable doll that no one’s ever heard of to drift away in a flood, but in 1967 Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt simply disappeared while swimming.

Holt lived near a beach controlled by the Australian Army, and they let Holt swim there without bother.  Out with some friends on December 17, 1967, Holt, according to Bryson, went for “The Swim That Needs No Towel,”  plunging “into the surf. He swam straight out from the beach a couple of hundred feet and almost instantly vanished, without fuss or commotion or even a languorous wave.”

Various theories were proposed for his disappearance. According to the Dallas Morning News shortly after Holt’s disappearance, “[Holt] has in the past been known to swim to isolated beaches to sunbake and has sometimes fallen asleep while doing this.”

Harold Holt

Harold Holt

As days wore on, however, hope for the Rip Van Winkle theory subsided, and rumors swirled: Holt purposefully disappeared to live with a mistress; he committed suicide; he was kidnapped by a Chinese submarine; even an alien abduction theory was floated.

The Coroner called these ideas fanciful, noting that Holt probably just drowned after being carried away by the rip current. Prime Minister Holt was never seen again.

In some respects, however, Holt was lucky. No one will ever remember the girl whose river rafting plans blew up when she lost her inflatable doll in the flood. Her name wasn’t even released to the public. The Lonergans have a facebook page, but they are remembered primarily as a warning to tourists planning Australian vacations, and Ginger Meadows is now largely forgotten. It’s hard to even find pictures of her on the internet, the cruelest fate for a model, part time or otherwise.

Only Holt has a memorial to keep alive his memory. In 1969, fewer than two years after Holt’s death from drowning, the Melbourne suburb of Glen Iris opened a municipal swimming pool in his honor.

Harold Holt Swim Centre in Australia

Harold Holt Swim Centre in Australia

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