A reserved sign on a small table at Angie’s Cafe last Thursday morning was a glimmer of hope Kalbarri man John Laverack would be rescued after a windsurfing accident in wild conditions at the bay across the road.
That hope quickly evaporated that afternoon when human remains were found in a desperate land, sea and air search by a team of police, State Emergency Service and Kalbarri Marine Rescue volunteers.
Locals could count on the 72-year-old to be sitting at the beachfront eatery every morning at 7am with a cuppa and a piece of cake, before taking off in his red “run-around dog car” with his border collie-cross Sasha.
Before help could arrive to rescue him, Mr Laverack was swept underwater last Wednesday at midday while enjoying his daily wind surf, as gusts of 75-85km/h and sustained wind speeds above 60km/h swept Chinaman’s Beach, the Murchison Rivermouth, in Kalbarri’s town centre.
The grandfather was a lover of windsurfing and dogs, taking “Sassy” with him wherever he went. She was left waiting on the shore for her owner to return from what the police described as treacherous waters.
But sadly, he never did.
Kalbarri SES manager Steve Cable said the tragedy was another blow for the town, still recovering from the devastating impact of ex-tropical cyclone Seroja, which despite causing incredible carnage, did not take a single life. About two months later, a lesser storm cruelly did just that.
“The community has been through a fair bit recently, and everyone pulls together to looks after each other,” Mr Cable said.
“I think everyone is just feeling quite jaded at the moment.”
The community has been through a fair bit recently, and everyone pulls together to looks after each other...I think everyone is just feeling quite jaded at the moment.
Mr Laverack made the small coastal town his home during his golden years and became part of the furniture over the past two decades.
He’s been remembered as a humble yet eccentric man who was always working to help his neighbours and community.
“He was a bit of a character, he was sort of his own person. He was friendly but kept to himself ... he did up bikes and fixed things for people and he really loved his dogs,” neighbour Ashley van Viersen said.
“His dog was quite well behaved until he arrived (back home), and then she used to jump around and be naughty ... he wasn’t a good trainer but he was a good mate to his dogs.
He was a bit of a character, he was sort of his own person. He was friendly but kept to himself.
“He’s had a couple of dogs he really loved. One died (and) that broke his heart. The one he’s got now is pretty upset he didn’t come back.”
The active ex-council ranger went through his own tragedy not long after retiring when his dog was targeted and shot in the street in front of his home.
Mr Laverack was described by many locals as “fit for his age”, which added to their shock of suddenly losing their beloved neighbour.
“He windsurfed probably every day or twice a day — he liked when the wind was up, which they all do because they go fast,” Mr van Viersen said.
“He normally went down to where the commercial boats are and windsurfed across that part of the river. Why he was up this end, I don’t know. It was unusual for him to be (at the river mouth).”
Mr Laverack could be counted on by everyone to lend a hand fixing anything, from bikes to lawnmowers, and repurposed extra parts to make weather vanes for friends and artistic sculptures for his front yard.
He would go about his business quietly, not expecting any praise more than just the odd coffee in exchange.
“He was quiet but he was a very unique character,” another neighbour, Martin said.
“He made our wind vane for us ... out of bits of old fans and whipper snippers, it has spoons hanging off it ... that was a bit of a hobby, making his little sculptures and stuff.
“His car is very unique, he’s got good cars but he’s also got a run-around dog car, the red Subaru.
“We can hear it coming around the corner and think ‘oh yeah, John’s back’, and pop over to see him and get something fixed.
“We’ll be very (sad) not to see him”
Kalbarri resident Tash Browne said she could not remember a time when Mr Laverack had not been part of the community.
“It feels like he’s just always been here,” she said.
“He would go and get his coffee and cake every morning at 7 o’clock without fail.”
He was also a steward of the environment, advocating to his neighbours to ditch their lawns for a native “rock” garden, and was seen most days cleaning up litter and debris from the beach.
“He’s always here with his wheelbarrow and rake and shovel cleaning the walkway up to the peak where you can sit and look out at the ocean,” Wendy Hunter said.
He’s just such a lovely fellow and wanted to help the town after the cyclone get cleaned up.
“He’s just such a lovely fellow and wanted to help the town after the cyclone get cleaned up.”
Ellen Paxman said Mr Laverack was an “understated” but much-loved character.
“He was a pretty quiet guy but everyone knew him, even if they didn’t properly know him,” she said.
“He actually lived on my street (and) he was really creative as well.
“He was different, but in a good way.”
Earlier this week, after all hope was lost, Mr Laverack’s daughter Kylie Edward posted a simple, poignant message along with a series of photos showing her father’s love of the ocean, his dogs and his adopted hometown.
“RIP Dad, love you will miss you,” she wrote.