How a stranger saved a toddler from drowning
WAITING for his takeaway fish and chips, a former Northern Rivers local went for a dip in the Brunswick River he'll never forget.
Nige Smith, who lived in Lismore back in the 80s, was cooling off in the popular family swimming spot on a scorching afternoon last Tuesday when he watched a "purposeful" little toddler walk down the stairs toward the water.
The confidence exuded by the little girl, who Mr Smith described as "the size of a bread loaf" with "Shirley Temple blonde hair", gave him assurance she could swim.
It was when the girl didn't resurface Mr Smith, 62, said a safety mechanism that came with decades as a registered nurse kicked in and he frantically swam towards where the toddler had gone under. .
As he searched for the little girl in the weedy waters, Mr Smith made the split decision to swim in the direction of the current.
Seconds later, he found the little toddler, who he later discovered was named "Neah", nestled within seaweed.
"It was like one of those dream sequences in a movie, there was all of this green stuff floating around and then there was this wafting, mass of big blonde curls," Mr Smith said.
He seized Neah in his hand, shot to the surface and rushed for the stairs - where she regained conciousness when she "spluttered and screamed".
Mr Smith tried to comfort the distressed toddler and helped her back on her feet at the popular swimming spot opposite the Hotel Brunswick.
Bystander, Victoria Carrington, of Bowral, watched the drama unfold at the waters edge.
"I sort of saw him at the edge with the little girl and the kid started crying and that's when people started running over to them," Ms Carrington said.
Mr Smith said a small crowd of about 15 gathered around the pair when Neah's mother rushed over toward the pair, teary and frantic.
"Mum was a really competent lady, who was truly shocked that she got away from her when I saw her," Mr Smith said.
A short time late, Neah had made a full recovery according to Mr Smith, who said "she was a very dynamic, beautiful little girl, running around and all of that, very excited."
Reflecting on what he called his "neah-miss", Mr Smith said the outcome could have been very different if he didn't swim with the current.
"If I had been googling off in the other direction, the kid would of gone because she was moving with a little bit of current under the water," Mr Smith said.
He recommended to Neah's mother, who he said was holidaying in Australia with her daughter from New Caledonia, to take the youngster to a doctor as a precaution.
Knowing Neah was safe and sound, Mr Smith left to retrieve his fish and chip and had a beer to calm his nerves.