Where there’s a William, there’s a way

It requires a certain degree of bravery to turn on the nightly news these days, because news generally seems to be about bad and unfortunate things happening to people.

This is why – when there’s a good news story – we here at NDSP believe it’s an excellent idea to savour and celebrate every detail, and if there’s things we can learn while celebrating, so much the better.

Here’s a story that, no matter how many times we retell it, gives us all the good feels!

OK, so it’s a Monday, early June, 2020, in the absolutely gorgeous but extremely cold bushland of Mount Disappointment, about 70 clicks north of Melbourne.

We’re talking super densely-wooded landscape here, indeed the name “Mount Disappointment” originated from the first European explorers to summit the 800 metre peak back in 1824, hoping to catch a view of distant Port Phillip Bay – but unable to see anything because of all the trees.

“Well, that’s a disappointment,” one explorer said.

“That’s what we should name this place,” the other replied.

And history was made. True story.

Anyway, it’s almost 200 years later, it’s June, and a young fella named William Callaghan becomes lost after running ahead of his dad on a bushwalk.

The 14-year-old isn’t dressed for the two freezing nights in the bush he would go on to endure. He doesn’t have food or water.

Will also has autism and is non-verbal.

The search for William begins. It’s one of the largest co-ordinated searches in Victoria’s history, with 500 police and volunteers involved. But what’s truly epic about this effort is that from the word go, the police and volunteers personalise their search methods around Will.

Essentially, the nature of the search effort is driven by listening to Will’s mum, Penny Callaghan, and some of Will’s teachers – people with a personal and professional understanding of autism.

And so rather than shouting for William, searchers sing instead; locals are asked to play Will’s favourite music (Thomas the Tank Engine); and barbecues are put on so – If the lad’s nearby – the aroma will encourage him to follow his nose to safety and a sausage.

As well as amplifying positives, the team are also briefed to minimise sensory stressors. For example, while the sound of a search helicopter’s thumping rotors would be music to the ears of many lost in the bush, for Will, it might be unwelcome, and cause to take cover.

For two days, however, despite everyone’s best efforts, there’s no sign of William.

The breakthrough comes on day three, Wednesday, just before lunch, when William’s shoes are found, which helps the team narrow the search area.

Not long after, rescuer Ben Gibbs, a deadset legend of a fella, finds William. Standing alone and barefoot.

Ben, a local in the area, who knows the tracks and gullies of Mt Disappointment like the back of his hand, is cutting his way through some thick bush – following an instinctive hunch that Will might be a bit more downhill than expected. “I was breaking my way through the bush, and then he was just like about 15 metres from me just standing there, just really angelic.”

Ben – who’s been singing as he searches – gives Will socks, a jacket and a hat as well as some chocolate before carrying him some of the way back to safety and the loving arms of his family. And as part of the personalised nature of the search, engages Will in friendly conversation about some of his favourite things as they return to civilisation.

As Claire Thompson – a friend of Will’s mum – says:

“Ben’s a really lovely gentle person, so he was the right person to find William, he just took all the pointers on, he was talking about his special interests, which helped William feel relaxed. He didn’t startle him.”

An interesting thing to note about Will – after spending two nights exposed to weather the police were describing as ‘deadly’ – is that he is found in remarkably good health.

Simone Griffin, a family friend of the Callaghans, who has also worked with children with autism believes William’s personal characteristics may have helped save him.

“He runs hot, so often doesn’t need to wear lots of clothes, he’s also on the go and likes to move all the time, he also doesn’t need much sleep and lives in the moment, so was likely not stressing about the future,” she says.

She also says some of these characteristics are common in children with autism.

Ms Griffin is also full of praise for the rescuers, who armed themselves with the best understanding of William and autism, in order to shape their search efforts.

And how’s this for thoughtful: at the end of it all, rescuers wait for William to leave before they celebrate with a loud cheer.

Quite frankly, this story is enough to make us break out in a loud cheer ourselves. Such a stirring example of how when people with experience and knowledge of autism are listened to, and their advice is followed, magic happens.

Mount Disappointment surely didn’t live up to its name this day!

NDSP is a NDIS registered provider specialising in NDIS Plan Management. If you are a NDIS Participant looking for the right Plan Manager, CLICK HERE to get in touch with our friendly team today.


More news


Recent Posts

About Us

NDSP is a NDIS registered provider, specialising in Plan Management. We are here to manage your NDIS funds on your behalf. Our experienced staff are highly skilled and ready to help you!

Follow Us