The story started with a drop toilet.
And it ended with six SES vehicles, a boat, three fire engines, an ambulance, several police cars – and a man clinging to life.
The sky was pitch black when it all kicked off on Sunday night.
Heavy rains had flooded some of Mick Mason’s paddocks, and the creek near his Braidwood property in New South Wales was gushing at a ferocious speed.
The 33-year-old horse trainer knew how powerful the flood water could be – his own dog had been swept away a week earlier.
About 10.40pm, Mr Mason stepped outside to use the drop toilet before bed when he heard an unusual noise.
“It sent chills down my spine,” he told The New Daily.
“I thought it could be a calf or something washed down the creek, so I stood there for a few seconds and I heard the noise again.”
Curious, Mr Mason pulled on his wet-weather gear, drove his ute down to the flood water and began looking around.
“Every time I shouted, ‘Hello is anybody there?’ it would take 10 to 15 seconds to reply,” he said.
“I even started mooing at the thing because I thought it’s got to be a calf.”
Just as he was finishing dialling Triple 0, Mr Mason’s partner Kristen came running over and said she saw a man in the creek hanging on to a tree.
“It was just this white face. You couldn’t make out any features – no eyes or mouth or anything,” he said.
“Only after, we found out he’d been in there for about an hour and a half.”
The fire engines were the first to arrive, then the SES with a boat, and then police soon after.
“I just stayed in the water talking to him, making sure he kept responsive,” Mr Mason said.
“He was going downhill so quickly, and a lot of plans were running through my head of what we were going to do if he passed out.”
The pair had a lasso ready to throw to the man in case his limbs gave way and he let go of the branch.
“It was incredible – the power of this water is beyond any capability of any human,” Mr Mason said.
“If you try and swim one metre across the current, you’ll be 25 metres down the creek before you know it.”
After the SES arrived, the emergency service workers launched their boat into Mr Mason’s paddock and rescued the man about 12.45am.
“His temperature was 30 degrees,” Mr Mason said.
“Twenty minutes later he absolutely would have died.”
In a year marred by bushfires, floods and a killer pandemic, Mr Mason said he felt particularly grateful to the emergency services workers that night.
“There wasn’t one person there who wasn’t risking their own lives to save that man’s life,” he said.
“We can’t wait for 2021 to come because we’re a bit sick of this year like everybody else.”