Thursday, September 25, 2008
Teach Your Children Well
Australia is the world's largest Island, surrounded by water. We have amazing beaches, harbourside or all around the coast. Wild wonderful places where you 'swim between the flags' or at your own peril. Famous Bondi Beach being one of the most rippy beaches on the coast is a perfect example of the need to be water savvy with the highest rescue rate in Australia (largely due to tourists who cannot identify a rip or take unnecessary risks with the ocean).
Our population is concentrated around the coast. We have 47 Olympic sized swimming pools, and God knows how many public pools, backyard pools, lap pools and spa's. Anyone flying into Sydney on the usual QF2 at 7am will see a hoard of red roofs and backyard pools, their blueness dotting the landscape of even the most humble back gardens . . .they're no longer a status symbol here but a standard accessory to pretty much any home built since 1970. There are above grounds, built-ins, marble sheen, pebblecrete and plastic lined . . .swimming is part of our culture. Every town has a public pool. Every school has a swimming programme and every Australian child learns how to swim . . or do they . . .
I well remember my days as a child I learned to swim 'indoors' at Stockport and Hyde Swimming pools. Even at 9 or 10 years of age, we used to catch the bus (alone with no adult supervision) and spent Saturday mornings at Marple Baths and munch cheese and onion crisps on the top layer of a double-decker on the way home. Stinging chlorine eyes and cold wet hair but invigorated by a morning of splashing and play.
We were taught to swim at a very early age and long before emigration was on the agenda. I was never sure why, perhaps my parents thought it a distraction on cold Cheshire mornings, perhaps preparation for summer holidays on Oxwich Beach in South Wales.
When we came to Australia at 11, 9, 8 and 2 it was vital that we learned how to swim from a survival perspective and many Saturday mornings were spent at Nunnawadding Swimming Club gaining our Bronze medals and Life Saving Certificates which involved rescuing a rubber brick and a life sized dummy whilst fully clothed!
When mine could talk, literally at 3 years of age, I dragged my sorry ass out of bed at 7am to plonk them into swimming lessons at Baulkham Hills Public pool - mainly to teach the kids how to survive if they fell in, attain their 50 metre badge or just flummox around to remain buoyant. Clare objected violently due to persistent asthma attacks yet is now a beach baby who loves the surf. Adam pootled about sploshing with his head raised high out of the water and that puff puff desperate doggy paddling thing but finally reached his 50 metre certificate. Now he dangles fearlessly on a boogie board watching the dolphins beneath him when we play at Hawks Nest in the Summer.
Whilst we didn't have a pool when the kids were young, others did so teaching them how to swim is an absolutely essential skill.
Armani Dirani, a student at Cambridge Gardens Public School, drowned while on an excursion to Glenbrook Swim Centre in the Blue Mountains on December 15, 2006. She was swimming with 200 other children in the public pool. I don't remember it being reported at the time but the inquest is all over the TV news this week (it's sad how long it takes for these things to be explored and resolved).
How an 8 year old could drown in the company of friends, schoolmates, 4 lifeguards and 15 teachers in attendance seems amazing. It appears on the surface that the little girl herself may have circled the 'can swim 20 metres' portion on her permission slip and perhaps had an attack of bravery without the skill to swim in the 'big pool'. Either way, the fact that nobody noticed her flailing and drowning seems incredible. It appears that 3 of the four lifeguards who traditionally sit on high stools like those the umpires of tennis matches occupy, were overwhelmed with the demands of the tuck shop and left their posts to assist. What the 15 teachers were doing remains to be exposed. I'm saddened no actually I'm devastated, that a little girl with too much confidence tackled the 'big pool' with all these supervisors around yet paid for it with her life. Whatever the reasons, there will be blame. . . and whilst I feel deeply for her family and their terrible loss, they should have taught their kid how to swim!