Border Mail Column, Wednesday 24 October, 2012
A splash of water hits the concrete at the poolside and dries in a nanosecond.
It’s the early 1960’s and we are all lined up in 90 degree heat (the temperature is still measured in Fahrenheit) ready to receive our certificates acknowledging we can swim 50 metres and float for two minutes.
Swimming lessons were an integral part of the school program for almost every child of my generation: affordable for all families whatever their financial status.
But many children are leaving primary school without these skills and although unfathomable to contemplate in a country where swimming is considered a national past time, lives are being lost.
These are not just the lives of the young; the toddler that manages to bypass the safety gate and drowns in the family pool.
According to Royal Life Saving Australia (RLS) in 2011-2012 drowning in the 15-24 year age group increased by 25 per cent and 86 per cent of this group were males.
Many drown while they are swimming, boating or fishing with friends in the nation’s rivers, dams and at beaches, but the RLS believes the drownings are linked to them not being taught essential swimming skills at an earlier age.
We have had our share of drownings in our region in dams, backyard swimming pools and in the Murray and every year teens are warned about the dangers of jumping or diving from bridges into waterways.
These risk-takers are the more visible, but there are other risk factors that can increase a person’s chance of drowning including age, gender, socio-economic status, underlying medical conditions, skill level and agent factors such as the consumption of drugs and alcohol.
It’s those who fall into lower socio-economic groups that are of real concern because they are some of the people for whom ‘swimming and water safety is not accessible, not a priority, too costly or who are simply unaware of the benefits of programs such as Swim and Survive.’
In its report ‘No Child to Miss Out: Basic swimming and water safety education – The right of all Australian children’ the RLS is calling for a reinvestment in the long standing school based and vacation programs and has launched a national petition through a Facebook page to gauge the level of feeling about the issue.
Another at risk group is refugees, and funds from the YMCA organised VicSuper Murray Marathon are being used for the New Arrival Water Safety Program designed to reduce the risk of drowning of newly arrived refugees in the Albury Wodonga region and delivered by Life Saving Victoria.
With a five year commitment in our region for the settlement of 250 Bhutanese refugees, the program aims to educate children and adults about water safety and also to help them with their transition to community life.
Two hundred and eighty four people drowned in Australian waterways between July 1 2011 and June 30 2012 and while this represented a one per cent drop on the five year average according to RLS CEO Rob Bradley it was ‘incredibly disappointing’ and the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012 made ‘bleak reading’.
With the official start of Summer just six weeks away and our waterways full and inviting after healthy Winter and Spring rainfall, the reminder from the RLS that 60 per cent of drownings happen outside the cities is timely.
But with the increase in drownings among young males continuing to increase at a rate Mr Bradley describes as ‘phenomenal’, getting the message through to this group that considers itself invincible represents a challenge of Olympic proportions.
You can sign the No Child Should Miss Out On Learning to Swim and Survive petition here. http://on.fb.me/XwpoMy