Canberra family of man who drowned on Christmas Day track down rescuers

Sue Lillywhite was reading on the shores of Lake Ginninderra when she heard the screaming.

The book belonged to her long-time partner, Peter Trueman, a present from his daughter unwrapped that very Christmas Day. Now, he was out swimming with Ms Lillywhite's eight-year-old grandson Janardan, only she couldn't see him anymore and Janardan was screaming for help.

Family and friends remember Peter Trueman who drowned at Lake Ginninderra on Christmas Day. From left: Partner Sue Lillywhite, daughter Asha Trueman, 8-year-old grandson Janardan Lillywhite, best friend David Gould, and daughter Skylee Trueman.

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

"My grandson went underwater and there was no Peter," Ms Lillywhite recalls.

"Instinct kicked in and I just ran in fully clothed. By that stage my grandson had managed to get over to the platform.

Peter Trueman, pictured with his partner of 13 years Sue Lillywhite.

Photo: Sue Lillywhite

"He was saying 'Peter's in the water', but I couldn't see him. Then he said 'no, he's under the water'."

Ms Lillywhite managed to pull her partner up to the surface and over to the platform. His lips were blue when onlookers rushed to haul him from the water and start CPR.

A nurse also swam out to help. She had been at the lake with her family, and helped escort Janardan back to the shore.

Mr Trueman, 53, died before paramedics could arrive. On New Year's Day, Ms Lillywhite began a search to find and thank those who came to his aid.

Sue Lillywhite and her grandson Janardan were at Lake Ginninderra on Christmas Day when tragedy struck.

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

"They must have been traumatised," she said. "I never got a chance to thank them properly."

Within days, she had managed to find almost all of those who rushed to help via social media, except one man who performed CPR. She now hopes to meet them all in person.

A keen swimmer, Peter Trueman also had a particular love for nature and animals, his family said.

Photo: Sue Lillywhite

At his funeral on Thursday, Mr Trueman will be remembered by family and friends as a kind, intelligent man "loved by everyone".

"He was an IT guy, he collected books and board games, he had about fifteen bookshelves," Ms Lillywhite said.

"So a total geek, but even though he was quiet, people just loved him. He could strike up a conversation with anyone."

Long-time friend David Gould said Mr Trueman had had a huge impact on his life.

"He introduced me to my partner, he even helped pay for [my] house," he said.

"For me, besides being a great was also very weird, as my father died on Christmas Day in 2011."

On Wednesday, family, friends and former colleagues from across the country were pouring into Canberra to pay their respects, Mr Trueman's family said.

His death has been ruled as a drowning by police, after water was found in his lungs. The Coroner is currently investigating.

"He was a good swimmer, he was very fit and healthy, he could have had a small stroke out there," Ms Lillywhite said.

It is the first drowning death in the ACT over the holiday season.

Mr Trueman leaves behind two daughters, Asha and Skylee, as well as four sisters, two brothers and many nieces and nephews.

Qualified in physics and mathematics, he moved to Canberra from Tasmania more than a decade ago and worked as an IT contractor for the federal government, most recently at the Department of Infrastructure.

But his dress sense sometimes caused a stir in the public service, Ms Lillywhite said.

"He went to work on his first day at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in his cargo pants...[with] all his bits and bobs in the pockets, so they had to have a quiet word."

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