The day joy came to Mt Disappointment won’t be forgotten
William Callaghan was singing about trains when he was found, unaware that hundreds of ordinary Victorians had been drawn to the search to find him.
Ben Gibbs discovered him, shoeless in deep bush, after trekking 20 minutes off a track into an unsearched area.
His solo find was an "amazing result", said Inspector Christine Lalor of Victoria Police, who went on to praise the outpouring of assistance which had jammed the roads at the search staging point at Blair's Hut.
Hundreds of people turned up to help at Mt Disappointment, north of Melbourne, since William, a 14-year-old with autism, dashed off while walking with his father and brother on Monday afternoon.
Their generosity of spirit was a collective thing. Some had to be turned away.
Many of them brushed aside questions about their being there with a cover-all explanation: they just had to come.
Among them was Kilmore's Corbin Mundy, riding a horse, who explained that horses cover a lot of country fast.
Julia Cowan, founder of Search Rescue Dogs Australia, was there with four labradors.
"One dog is the equivalent of 40 humans," she said.
Four players from Whittlesea Football Club took Tuesday off work to join the search. As one, James Behan, told reporters: "It's the least we can do."
They blended with more conventional search crews from the SES, CFA and the police search and rescue squad. The search had continued non-stop, night and day, since William was reported missing.
It blended high technology, such as aircraft thermal imaging scanners, with creative ideas.
On Wednesday, Thomas the Tank Engine music played through the bush. Nearby homeowners were urged to place food of William's liking, such as feta cheese and Vegemite, on their porches.
William is food-oriented, his mother explained, and she speculated that he might enter a home out of hunger.
Penny Callaghan spoke of her "beautiful" boy's resilience.
Insp Lalor, too, was cautiously optimistic early on Wednesday, reiterating that "we are throwing everything at our search again today".
William doesn't speak, shies from loud noises, and doesn't like shoes. On Monday night, the coldest in Victoria this year, temperatures in the gullies of Mt Disappointment had probably dipped below zero.
William had never camped before, or even spent a night alone. He was without food or water. Clad in trackies and a hoodie, he was ill-prepared for freezing temperatures.
The bush, regrowth from the Black Saturday fires of 2009, was especially thick, hampering search efforts both from the ground and air.
On Tuesday morning, as ice from the night still flecked the grass, bushwalkers, families with dogs and motorcycle and quad bike riders turned up at the base camp to assist.
They searched through Tuesday night, which was a few precious degrees warmer than the previous night.
On Wednesday morning, day three, a chance discovery was thought to lift hopes and hone the search area. William's shoes had been found, according to two volunteers who had been "bush-bashing" through the search area, though this find was not officially announced at the time.
Gibbs, from Research, had visited the region since he was a kid. He calls it his "kind-of family mountain". Ashes from Gibbs family pets and people are scattered there.
He started his solitary search from the bottom of the mountain. He followed a thin track and veered into the bush near the hill top, noting where the search tags ended. He was not far from where William had disappeared on Monday.
He spotted the boy, standing, after about 20 minutes of trekking away from the track.
Gibbs later described a scene that belongs in a movie, music soaring in skin-tingling relief, of a "peaceful" boy who stood quietly with his hands over his ears.
Gibbs, a father, spoke to the boy about "Diesel", a Thomas character, and gave him chocolate, socks and a jacket, before carrying him off to the track.
Gibbs was later mindful to avoid singular credit, heedless of immediate calls for his recognition as a national hero. Instead, he said that "everybody" had found William.
Originally published as The day joy came to Mt Disappointment won't be forgotten