A 10-year-old boy turned around one day and realised his little brother had vanished from the face of the earth.
The Earle boys, aged 10 and eight years old, had gone out into the White Hills scrub with their older sister and her friend but wandered off looking for adventure.
The year was 1903 and the older Earle boy was about to single-handedly save his brother's life.
Turn-of-of the century Bendigo was an incredibly dangerous place - especially for children, La Trobe University PhD candidate Natasha Joyce said.
"Quite frankly, kids were running around everywhere and there was a lot of water to drown in - much more than you would find anywhere else," she said.
"The industrial landscape and the way mining happened meant every little mine needed its own waterhole."
Ms Joyce has been scouring archives to create a database noting every investigation into a child's death, to shed light on the unique dangers lurking beneath Bendigo's surface.
By its nature, the database is full of lives lost far too soon.
But Ms Joyce has found happy tales, too.
That is partly because in the early 20th century, everyone in Bendigo knew that when a child vanished, the first thing to do was check the waterholes and old mining dams that bruised the landscape.
Past gold rushes had been so intense they had left countless deathtraps littering the city and surrounds.
So the moment the older Earle boy noticed his brother was missing, he knew he had to immediately double back to a dank waterhole he had just walked past.
That is where he noticed the younger child's hat floating on the water's surface.
Boys appear to have had a particular talent for getting into trouble around water on Bendigo's goldfields.
Seventy per cent of the children confirmed drowned in the 40 years to 1892 were male, Ms Joyce's numbers suggest.
That's 217 little lives lost.
Another 25 boys died in falls (compared to four girls), eight were killed in vehicle accidents (one girl died) and eight were killed in animal attacks (compared to one girl) and another eight died from other injuries.
Some might say that reflects on the risks boys might take, compared to girls.
Ms Joyce is not so sure. Her research has shown that when a girl died, they were more likely to be doing a household chore than boys.
Nearly 60 per cent of girls who died in Bendigo had burns, often sustained while cooking.
And when a girl drowned, it was far more likely that she had gone down to the water's edge to get food for the family table, perhaps to get some yabbies.
Boys, on the other hand, often died while playing.
That is, of course, almost exactly what would have happened to the younger Earle boy if his brother had not appeared at that White Hills waterhole.
"Had [he] ran for help, as most children would have done, his brother would have been drowned, and his action, therefore, deserves to be classed as an exceptionally thoughtful and plucky one," the Advertiser said.
It is unclear exactly how deep the hole the Earle boy fell in was. The Advertiser suggested it was deep enough to swallow a child whole.
"Running to the hole, he [the older boy] was just in time to catch the sinking child by the head," it said.
More Bendigo history: Bodies were unearthed at White Hills. What happened to them?
Some waterholes were 400-foot deep mine shafts, others were dams that miners had used to wash dirt off quartz and gold and some were little more than puddles.
It would probably have been impossible to know for sure, Ms Joyce said.
"There was no clear water, anywhere to be found, in Bendigo after the first three or four months of mining in 1852," she said.
The water was so cold it sent the little boy into shock.
But the older Earle knew exactly what to do, thanks to a lesson he had learned at school.
He began rubbing his brother from head to toe, in a technique doctors of the period hoped would get warmth back into their victim's body.
Luckily, the younger child had not swallowed any water. It would be decades before doctors developed modern resuscitation techniques, or fully appreciated how dangerous fluid left in lungs could be.
As it was, the boy gradually revived, "and was soon able to proceed home, wearing his bigger brother's coat and vest", the Advertiser reported.
The older Earle boy may have been praised but the article tells us little about the younger one.
Did his mother bound him up in her arms when the two boys staggered home?
Stories about near-fatal drownings written in the period show a variety of reactions.
"You will literally see some accounts where the kid gets a kick up the bum with a 'what have I told you about playing around water?'"
Some children were sent back out into the world to work or play.
Most, though, were put in front of a fire to warm up, their parents hovering, hoping their child's health would not swiftly take an ominous turn for the worst.
If this story has raised issues for you, call Griefline on 1300 845 745, or Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call 000
Ms Joyce is helping organise a La Trobe University history symposium scheduled for June 23.
This is the latest story in our semi-regular history series, entitled WHAT HAPPENED.
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