Ken Beeton farewells man who saved him from drowning more than 70 years ago at Taree

It was the early 1950s and Ken Beeton was just a toddler when a young boy saved him from drowning in the Manning River in northern New South Wales.

“My time could have been up, but some young fella came along and rescued me,” Mr Beeton said.

“He tells me that he grabbed me by my red hair and yanked me from the river and I ran off.”

Now, more than 70 years later, Mr Beeton has said a final goodbye to the hero who saved his life that day, after managing to reunite with him much later in life.

A long-awaited reunion
It was 1951 when a nine-year-old boy, Ken Gibson, heroically pulled Mr Beeton, then aged about 18 months, from where he had fallen into the river behind the Beeton family’s country pub at Taree.

It was an event always remembered by both families, though they didn’t exchange details and were not in touch again after that day.

It left Mr Beeton wondering and longing for the chance to find his rescuer and say thank you.

In 2020 Mr Beeton was finally reunited with Mr Gibson, who was then aged 79, after enlisting the help of MidCoast Stories researcher, Janine Roberts.

The pair met in Newcastle, where Mr Gibson lived, where they chatted and laughed like old friends.

“When I met Ken, it was just like we’d known one another forever,” Mr Beeton said.

“It didn’t feel like we were strangers or anything, he was such a good person to know and so easy to get along with.

“I used to have flashbacks during the night, and I don’t have them anymore … so I think meeting Ken helped settle my mind.”

From that point, Mr Beeton and Mr Gibson enjoyed keeping in touch and shared an easy camaraderie.

“We had a close friendship … we made meetings and met up and Ken wasn’t able to travel [due to poor health] so I travelled to see him, and we enjoyed those times every time we met up,” he said.

“We could leave our conversation and take it back up again quite easily.”

Ms Roberts said it was extremely rewarding to see the friendship that formed between the two Kens.

“I thought tracking down Ken Beeton’s rescuer was going to be an impossible task, so when I found Ken Gibson there was excitement and relief. I felt amazing,” she said.

“I knew what it meant to Ken Beeton to find Ken Gibson … it was beautiful to connect two people who needed to be connected in this life.”

A final goodbye
Recently, Mr Gibson passed away after an extended period of ill health.

Mr Beeton said he was sad to say goodbye to the man who saved his life so long ago, but it wasn’t a sombre moment.

“Ken was always up for a joke, and just a happy person,” he said.

“The last conversation I had with him was just like old times, it wasn’t feeling sorry for each other or anything like that.

“The last few words he said to me made me laugh, something only Ken would say.”

Unravelling mystery behind reward
When Mr Gibson rescued Mr Beeton, Mr Beeton’s father was filled with gratitude, and presented the then young boy with a war service badge as a reward.

At their initial reunion, Mr Gibson returned the badge to Mr Beeton, who has since found out a bit more the origins of that special keepsake.

The badge had been awarded to his father during World War II, when he was serving in Darwin as part of the Civil Constructional Corps, a labour force created to organise military construction works.

“Dad was there when the raid was on in Darwin … Dad said the communication tower went down and they had to erect an emergency tower, which they did,” he said.

“The commanding officer at the time couldn’t give them a war medal as they weren’t soldiers, so Dad was given this badge.”

Aware the badge was not one commonly seen during the war, and was probably simply all that was available to present to his father at the time, Mr Beeton recently investigated further and contacted the National Library of Australia.

“It was actually a 1901 badge for the Federation of Australia,” he said.

“I am glad to hold onto it for my father’s memory and it also reminds me of Ken now.”