It was on nightfall when three-year-old Jack broke away from his distracted mother and slipped into the bush that borders his isolated Avondale home.
He had no light source, no understanding of the dam that lay in the middle of the 17-acre property and – after a while – no shoe on one of his feet.
He did have a friend at his side though.
Six-year-old poodle cross Tilly was a slip of white fur against the darkness, as night set in. For almost an hour, boy and dog trod a calm course through the quiet, bush blackness.
Meantime, the private road leading to Jack’s home lit up red and blue, with 20-30 emergency service workers, search dogs and helicopters with infrared search technology brought in to find the missing boy.
Jack’s mother Maryanne Land welcomed the first sounds of help arriving, about 15 minutes after Jack vanished. Her mind raced with chilling possibilities.
“We’re not the only property here that has a dam. Every property has a dam so it was highly likely he could have stumbled across one of them,” she told the Mercury.
“I thought of every scenario; that he’d fallen in the dam, that he’d gotten bitten by a snake, that he’d hurt himself or fallen under a log.”
“I didn’t know which direction he’d gone – it was just so frightening.”
Jack, a triplet, slipped away about 5.45pm Wednesday, soon after he, his mother and his sisters, Samantha and Madeline, arrived home after a trip to the doctor.
The triplets made their way to the front of the house while Ms Land was briefly distracted by a shattered bottle of medicine.
When she went to bring them inside Jack – a notorious wanderer, sick with a cold and conjunctivitis – was gone.
“I said, ‘where’s Jack, where’s Jack?’, and Madeline pointed down that way and Samantha pointed that way,” Ms Land said, gesturing towards the dam, in an opposite direction.
Jack was missing for more than an hour before a police officer, Bruce Porter, noticed he and Tilly beside the private roadway, about 1.2kms from home.
Ms Land believes Tilly led her son to the road and was heading home when they were found.
Jack was returned to the property in a fire truck, looking tired and a little bewildered.
His exposed foot was wrinkled and wet, and Ms Land wonders if he made it to the dam. He will not tell her, yet.
“As soon as I saw him it was just wonderful,” she said. “It was just great. Because I was just thinking the worst the whole time, because he’s so little,” Ms Land said.
“I don’t think he really knew what was going on; I think in his mind he was just going for a walk.”
Ms Land paid tribute to the swift and large-scale response from emergency services.
Later, Tilly enjoyed a spaghetti carbonara dinner and a night under the covers, as reward.
“We love Tilly. As far as the kids are concerned, she’s their little sister.”
The story Toddler, dog wandered together as search effort mounted at Avondale first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.