A mother has spoken of her ‘unbelievable, all consuming agony’ after her three-year-old daughter fell off the boat the family of 13 called home and drowned – as the family tries to rebuild their life back on dry land.
Zeinboiyah Soetekouw was pulled from the water 100m from the family yacht Sumbawa as it cruised the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, on July 9.
The tragedy led to the self-styled ‘hippie’ family being kicked off the boat over child safety fears and her mother Beccie struggling to readjust to life.
Zeinboiyah Soetekouw drowned after falling off her family’s boat as it cruised the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, on July 9
Beccie Soetekouw (pictured) penned a heartbreaking Facebook post weeks after her three-year-old daughter fell off a boat and drowned
‘Some days are good. Some days I don’t want to be here. Some days I laugh and others I cry so hard, that my body is in pain,’ she wrote this weekend.
‘I see her face in many children. I hear her voice in her little sister.’
Two months after losing her child, Ms Soetekouw said she felt the need to lie about her struggles and pretend she was doing fine.
‘I smile through my pain for those who are not able to carry this with me. I comfort strangers, to make sure they feel comfortable and I share me, in secret,’ she wrote.
‘It is hard to see parents get angry at their little kids, as I want them to know how precious they are.
‘I automatically gravitate to parents [who] have lost. My heart is with theirs. I feel and have felt that shock, that unbelievable, all consuming agony. I feel rage, grief, agony, exhaustion and acceptance all together.’
The tragedy led to the self-styled ‘hippie’ family being forced off the boat over child safety fears and her mother Beccie struggling to rebuild their life
Ms Soetekouw knows she must accept that Zeinboiyah is dead and her family’s life can never be the same again if she is to build a new future
Ms Soetekouw knows she must accept that Zeinboiyah is dead and her family’s life can never be the same again if she is to build a new future.
But she is no longer sure where she, her husband Steve and their surviving children Natasha, 15, Blade, 14, Ryan, 12, Nakita, 11, Alec, 10, Hunter, 8, Amlayah, 7, Yasha, 5, Azanyah, 4, and one-year-old Shakirah fit in the world.
‘Doors are opening, and in that I need to accept that our baby is not coming back and I hate that,’ she wrote.
‘I want to hide. I only want close friends around me and even then, only occasionally. Life will never go back to what it was.
‘I will never be the mum or woman I was before. Life has altered and I am yet to find where I belong in this new world.’
The Soetekouw family (above) of two parents and 11 children were living on board the 43ft (13m) yacht, Sumbawa
Investigations by police, child services, and maritime regulators led to the family being banned from living on Sumbawa as it was too overcrowded.
The second-hand boat also needed thousands of dollars in repairs, maintenance, and upgrades to comply with regulations.
The family would instead need to return to the home they rented out when they left Tasmania in December 2016 to live on the water.
‘All our choices had been taken away from us, as well as our daughter,’ Ms Soetekouw wrote last month.
‘I can’t help but get angry – angry at the situation, angry at the government, angry at myself and even angry at Zeinobiyah.
‘If she hadn’t of died, none of this would have happened.
‘We left Tasmania, and our house to live a new life. Going back, was a backwards step in our book. But we were left with no other choice.’
The family began sailing around Australia from when she was just six months old
The little girl (pictured), who was affectionately called Zobbie by her parents Steve and Beccie, drowned after she fell from a yacht in the Hawkesburry River
However, despite criticism of the couple cramming 11 children on to a small yacht, Ms Soetekouw said her children experience more than others.
‘What other kids get to see whales beside the boat, as they are sailing up the coast. Or dolphins playing at the bow as we move along the water,’ she wrote.
‘What other kids get to see the stars that are lit up like fireflies because there are no lights to dampen them. Or meet the amount of extraordinary people that our kids have met.
‘What other kids get to experience life at its fullest, at it’s most beautiful and at it’s most tragic all in the same place.
‘Our kids live!’
Ms Soetekouw described the toddler as ‘Miss Independent’ in her blog, saying she ‘won’t be helped when she can do it herself. #socapable’.
Last year, on her second birthday, Ms Soetekouw wrote of Zeinobiyah’s 18-month life on board the yacht and how she had grown to love it.
‘Zeinobiyah has learned to sit, crawl and walk on the boat. She has been to a few different ports, seen dolphins, whales and the beauty of the Ocean,’ she wrote.
‘She says things are at the bow or stern. She knows if her life jacket goes on, we are either sailing or going in the dinghy.
‘She has started swimming around the boat in her life jacket as well.’
The toddler spent most of her life aboard a 33-year-old 13m yacht ‘Sumbawa’, travelling Australia with her parents Beccie and Steve and 10 siblings
The family sold almost everything it owned when it moved on to the boat, but with 13 people it was hard to fit everything into the small space.
Everything from food to engine parts, paint tins, tools and supplies like wood and oil littered the floor and couches, and the couple slept beside spare sails.
There was no washing machine so unless they are docked to hit a laundromat, all their clothes were washed with seawater and draped over the side to dry.
The entire cricket team of children all contributed to the many chores needed to keep the boat running and every mouth fed.
Everything was prepared on the yacht’s small stove in a 14-litre pressure cooker, with porridge for breakfast prepared the night before.
The family made shopping trips on shore every three days and went through 2kg of rice or pasta a day, plus 1kg of meat, along with vegetables.