As lighthouse keeper George Waters looked out across a calm ocean from Bathurst Point Lighthouse on 12 December 1912, he decided it would be the perfect day for fishing. Accompanied by his 18-year-old daughter, Florrie, they hopped into a small dinghy and began rowing out to sea.
They neared Monday Rock and attempted to cross a passage between Rottnest Island and Roe Reef. It was a spot notorious for breakers that formed suddenly. George tried to time the crossing and was about halfway across when a large wave broke over the boat and swamped it.
George and Florrie fell into the water. The dingy rose to the surface upside down, and they both took hold of the keel. George was 55 years of age and unable to swim. Florrie was a strong swimmer and went to help her father. She held onto him, and they both held onto the boat.
Wave upon wave formed and rushed over them. George would lose his grip, and Florrie would swim after him, bringing him back to the upturned dinghy. When the boat ended up on top of her father, Florrie would dive underneath it, bringing him back to the surface.
For quite some time, they remained in the ocean, battling the waves and attempting to stay afloat. George was tired and told his daughter to save herself. Florrie refused. She held her arm around his waist and kept him above water. As her strength waned, she asked him to hold onto her leg while she stripped off her heavy clothes.
Watching their struggle from the shore was their wife and mother, Amy Waters. When she saw the boat swamped by the waves, she rushed to Constance Pym, the wife of the chief signalman, for help. Constance phoned her husband and told him what had happened.
Another witness was Mr Arthur of Guildford. He also ran for help, and on his way back, he grabbed a couple of washing lines. With the lines in hand, he waded into the ocean and struggled over the reef.
Meanwhile, Mathew Pym arrived in another dinghy and was within 20 yards of George and Florrie but found it too difficult to get any closer due to the breakers. Even the steam launch, which arrived soon after, struggled to reach them.
Mr Arthur, however, continued persisting with the washing line and was eventually within throwing distance of the pair. Having grasped the line, Florrie tied it around George’s waist and Mr Arthur pulled him to shore. No longer needing to hold him up, she reached the reef and collapsed. Florrie was badly bruised, while George suffered bruises, cuts, exposure, and shock.
Everyone commended Florrie’s “pluck and determination” to save her father from drowning. In recognition of her bravery, the City Council established a shilling fund to raise money to present to her as a gift. As word spread across the country, ten men in Sydney read the story while eating lunch. They were so impressed that they each contributed a pound and wrote her a cheque for £10. They left it at the office of The Sun newspaper, who later forwarded it to the Mayor of Fremantle.
On New Year’s Day in 1913, a function took place on Rottnest Island. The Governor, Sir Gerald Strickland, gave a short speech and presented Florrie with a purse of 15 sovereigns donated by campers and visitors. Mr Glaskin responded on behalf of the family, and the gathering ended with cheers for the heroine.
In February, at the Fremantle Town Hall, Florrie was presented with another purse of sovereigns on behalf of Fremantle residents. People crowded the hall, eager to show their appreciation. When she took to the stage, they cheered warmly, and when she left, they gave a rendition of ‘For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’
Desiring to give Florrie a fitting reward for her bravery, the Mayor of Perth sent the details of the shilling subscription fund to country towns across the state. As each town clerk received the letter, notices were placed in relevant newspapers providing the details to make donations. In May 1913, at the Theatre Royal in Perth, Florrie was presented with an illuminated address and a purse of sovereigns on behalf of Western Australians.
As well as the monetary rewards, the Premier, John Scaddan, put forward Florrie’s name to the Royal Humane Society. A charity dedicated to recognising acts of bravery, in September 1913, the Premier received confirmation that they were awarding her a certificate of merit. In the following year, it was presented to her by the Governor, Sir Harry Baron.
She was, as some newspapers reported, “The Heroine of Rottnest” or a “Modern Grace Darling.” The story and her photo were printed in several papers across the country. While one journalist from the Sunday Times was sceptical of the rescue story, no one else seems to have paid them any attention. The public desired a heroine, and Florrie answered the call.
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- 1913 ‘GATHERING AT THE PRESENTATION TO MISS FLORRIE WATERS. WHO RECENTLY RECENTLY HER FATHER FROM DROWNING AT ROTTNEST.’, Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), 10 January, p. 30. , viewed 27 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37952504