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!

14 comments:

Nick said...

Not so much of a survival skill here but certainly a useful one. I learnt very early on at prep school and swam every day in their outdoor (often freezing) pool. How that girl could have drowned with so many other people around is astonishing. What the f*** were they all doing?

Miles McClagan said...

I was incredibly lucky to see the Rolf Harris "Kids lerve wadder" video at an early age, and learned to swim...not dive, and to be honest, not swim well, but swim nonetheless...

Ces said...

It is very sad to hear and read about children drowning especially in the company of adults. I can see why too, they don't watch their children and I saw a baby kissing the water for more than two minutes while the father was busy chatting. The children rescued the baby. When my children were babies, I put them on the pool with their swimming diapers. I also taught them not to urinate in the pool (unlike nasty parents and children). We sent the older one to swimming lessons. Later they had diving lessons. When they learned to swim and float I released them to their father who taught them the different strokes since I only know freestyle and butterfly and these days with my fat ass, I just float. Now my kids are better swimmers than me. Even though I grew up in an archipelago surrounded by the sea and ocean, there were frequent drownings due to rip currents, drop offs and "holes". I alsmost drowned in the island of Antique during my rural heath nursing internship.

Thriftcriminal said...

Ours have been in pools from 5 months. The eldest has had lessons once a week for a couple of years and is now getting to the point where she is fairly competant and enjoys the water. It's a group lesson, so they tend to progress in occasional spurts of improvement.
I remember as a kid in a somewhat amateurish summer camp we used to head down to a bend in the river Suir to swim. Imagine that now, 40 kids being allowed by their parents to pile into a fair sized river supervised by 4 adults? Plenty of kids pretended to be in difficulty for a laugh, and one day I saw a girl who seemed to be doing the same. Actually she was out of her depth and quite scared so I grabbed her hand and swam backwards pulling her back to the shallows. Never told anyone that before, almost forgot about it.

In less noble behaviour we got changed to swim in an open field beside the river, I used to run around flashing the girls on this occasions, not a terribly impressive sight.

Quickroute said...

Very sad. I learned at the local school pool. We used to brave the freezing Atlantic on summer hols - Not like the warm Aussie waters at all

Bimbimbie said...

I hated learning to swim at the local municipal swimming baths, hated getting my face wet, wouldn't let myself even try a sit dive for fear of sinking all the way to the bottom. I can swim in a pool but no way the sea. I think it's great the likes of Laurie Lawrence teaching mums with tots the stay alive program.

Miladysa said...

What a sad tale! That poor little girl! :[


[BTW, Stockport's about half an hour away]

laughingwolf said...

agreed, going near water, no matter what its depth, precludes knowing how to swim

but then, infants have been known to drown in less than one inch of water... face down :(

i was not all that strong of a swimmer, but kept at it til i managed one half mile, even if at my own pace

Baino said...

Nick that's true but I guess summer holidays for many still involve going on the continent with resort pools etc. Stunning isn't it? Gasbagging and not paying attention!

Miley, ha most Aussie kids don't even know who Rolf Harris is! You must have seen it in the old dart! I once swam at Wineglass bay in Freycenet national park . . .bloody freezing!

Ces, it is indeed. Ours start out pretty young but I don't think they really 'click' until about five or six years of age. Even in my own pool, I've never left children under 10 in there without adult supervision with or without floatation devices. Well done on the pee training! Ah but how do you KNOW? And what is it about getting older that you can float with your head perpendicular to the water (more ballast perhaps)

Good move thrifty (training the kids not flashing). Swimming in river's here is for the tough, you never know what lurks beneath. Actually, I'm not a strong swimmer any more and the surf scares me a bit . . .more of a dip to get wet/cool kinda person.

Quickie it's gotta be HOT for me to take a dip but our pool is unusually warm, it's in full sun most of the day and the pebblecrete gives more surface area to heat so pretty damn nice around Christmas! We used to swim in Wales during our summer hollies whilst my mum put up a wind break and made tea on a Gaz stove! Unthinkable!

Bimbimbie you're not alone. I don't care either way but the surf is a bit buffety. I like to feel the bottom. Um in the nicest possible way.

Very sad given the supposed level of supervision Miladysa . .I was born near Stockport, in Romily. Lived there until we moved when I was 11.

Megan said...

One of the first things my mother taught me (once I finally learned to swim) was how to properly avoid and-or navigate rips & undertows...

Just hearing about the number of persons in and around that pool makes it easy for me to believe that someone could get 'lost' in the shuffle.

That's a helluva lot of people.

Baino said...

It is Megan which is why it's hard to find out exactly what happened. A combination of poor supervision and a little girl who perhaps bit off more than she could chew to be with her friends. I still hate rips. I'm definitely a paddler rather than a swimmer in the surf! (Then I'm always a bit suspicious that Greenpeace might turn up and try to rehabilitate me to deeper water if you know what I mean!)

Miles McClagan said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwBObT_P-to

I advise anyone concerned about water safety to listen to Rolf and how much kids lerve wadder...warning, contains chest hair...

Ropi said...

Well 2 of my friends have relatives in Australia. I am sure it has much more worth to go there than a few centuries ago when it was the Brits "prison island". Maybe one day I will get there somehow.

Baino said...

Miles that's a classic, I've never seen it! (then he looks awfully young and chiselled - well his beard's nicely trimmed!)

Ropi, not a bad place but no Roman Ruins I'm afraid! More your natural wonders!