Dad’s mission to save lives 30yrs after daughter’s drowning
A Mackay man whose daughter and niece drowned in the Gooseponds says he will spend the rest of his life fighting to ensure their deaths will not be in vain.
Cousins Annamarie Lange, 3, and Ashley Grech, 2, drowned in the freshwater stream 30 years ago on March 14, 1990 after Annamarie's dad Andreas Lange reported them missing from the nearby family home.
Months after the tragedy, wooden cleats were placed around the Gooseponds in North Mackay at the recommendation of Mackay Coroner Tom Bradshaw.
The Coroner's inquest was told the girls might not have been able to get out of the water because the concrete banks were too steep and too slippery.
But 30 years on, Mr Lange fears there could be another drowning because of what he describes as a lack of maintenance to the cleats and the Gooseponds area in general.
He made an emotional return to the area earlier this week to share his story in the hopes of potentially saving others.
"It's something that I'm going to continue pursuing because yes, it was 30 years ago, but it was my daughter, my niece that perished in here," Mr Lange said.
"I don't want to see anyone else's child end up in the same situation.
"I'll live with it for the rest of my life."
The Mackay resident said there had been a lack of maintenance in the area over the years.
In November 2019, he was heartbroken to find pieces of timber "poking up" out of the water.
When Mr Lange visited the Gooseponds this week, there was rubbish lining the edge of the ponds and thick weeds covering much of the water.
"They need to have a maintenance schedule in place," he said.
"You can't tell me it was maintained.
"And surely they've come up with some sort of way of getting rid of (the weeds).
"When they recovered the girls, reeds were coming out as they were trying to resuscitate them."
Mackay Regional Council development services director Aletta Nugent said there was a regular maintenance schedule in place at the Gooseponds.
Ms Nugent said maintenance of the wooden cleats was carried out every dry season.
"The timber is inspected when water levels drop to a level where they can be examined thoroughly …" she said.
"Last year all the timber components at the Evans Ave end of the Gooseponds were replaced.
"The timber cleats are located on the concrete sections around the Gooseponds as a safety precaution as they are steep and can become slippery due to algae."
The council has also installed 'no swimming' signs in the area.
It controls weeds in the area through a regular program, which involves spraying and removing them.
But Mr Lange said the council's response to his concerns about the maintenance had left him feeling even more disheartened and upset.
He said he tried contacting the council about his concerns on and off for the past five years.
Mr Lange said only after he raised the issue at the January council meeting did a council staff member call him directly to talk about his concerns.
"You go into council and it's like there's a no-care factor," he said.
"You go in there, put in a request and no one could be bothered calling you.
"That's hard for a parent - there's no follow up."
Working through the grief
Apart from Mr Lange's mission to clean up the area where his daughter spent her final moments, he finds solace in the happy memories of cheeky Annamarie.
To add to his pain, Mr Lange lost his adult son a few years ago. He now only has one living child.
"The way I cope with it is, I remember all the good times I had with my daughter," he said.
"She was a happy go-lucky little kid.
"I love working on cars. I would be working on a car and she would be there with me.
"I just try to think about every happy moment.
"Yes, I have lost my daughter. Nothing I can say or do is going to bring her back."
Annamarie would have turned 35 this year.
Mr Lange cannot help but think what her life would have looked like if she never entered the water that day.
"Would she be a doctor, or a solicitor, or a nurse? You wonder what career they would have gone into," he said.
"I just can't dwell on the negatives - I'm trying to look at the positives.
"If I can get the council to do just a little bit - that's another positive, so I can see that (Annamarie's death) was not in vain."
Mr Lange believes his experience with grief is what led him to his current occupation in mortuary transfers.
He is responsible for taking the deceased from hospital and delivering them back to their families before their funeral or cremation.
"Through this work, I'm looking after a family's loved one and taking care of them," Mr Lange said.
Of his grief, Mr Lange said he had found a sense of comfort in knowing Annamarie and Ashley were still with him in spirit.
"I'm not a religious person, but I know they have gone to a better place," he said.