Rural populations ‘over-represented’ in drowning statistics, tailored strategies needed in the bush | Ralph-Lauren

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Learn-to-swim courses are too city-centric and should be more tailored to reduce the drowning risk in rural Queensland, a swim club says.

The Secretary of the Alpha Amateur Swimming Club, Danielle Taylor, says a geographic-specific approach for swimmers and swim teachers is a vital missing link in drowning prevention strategies in Australia.

“The national statistics show that rural residents are 65 times more likely to drown in inland waterways than a metropolitan-based individual,” Ms Taylor said.

“I think it’s really important for rural Australia to have not only the events and the capacity to run drowning prevention programs locally, but also to provide a little awareness to the issue as a lot of the metro-based clinics or events that happen don’t actually translate well to the rural areas.”

A young girl smiles at the camera while floating in a pool.
Alexis Woods from Jericho improving her swimming skills and water safety at the Barcaldine Drowning Prevention Program.(Supplied: Aaron Skinn)

Rural water hazards

A Royal Surf Life Saving Australia study in 2019 found children living in rural and remote locations had increased exposure and access to bodies of water.

The danger is not lost on Melissa Barugh from Mendip Hills near Jericho, whose three daughters under the age of four are learning to swim.

A woman and her three young children in swimmers pose for a picture.
Melissa Barugh and her three daughters travelled from her property south of Jericho to improve their water safety at the Barcaldine Drowning Prevention Program.(Supplied: Danielle Taylor)

“We’ve got swim teachers in town and my children do lessons twice a week,” she said.

“I live on a property 40 kilometres south of Jericho and we’ve got dams and water troughs close to the house.

Region-specific drowning prevention events

Parents and children from Alpha, Jericho, Aramac, and Muttaburra, in Queensland’s central west, recently met at the Barcaldine swimming pool for expert instruction by former Olympian Chris Wright and national swim coach Tim Taylor.

The program, designed by locals for locals, provided professional development for the region’s swimming instructors, as well as water safety and CPR lessons for parents and children.

Danielle Taylor said programs like this were very important, whether the student was three months old or an adult.

“However, we do see a large number of children who have never done any type of formal swimming, and [we] really hope this two-day clinic gives them the boost they need, and the water safety skills they need.”

Geography remains the biggest impediment to bridging the gap between rural and metropolitan swimmers.

Kids in pink swim shirts walk into a river
Outback lifesaver programs are being rolled out across the country, this one was held at Wagga Wagga on the Murrumbidgee River earlier this month.(Supplied: Royal Lifesaving NSW)

“We personally, at the moment, supply services as far west as Muttaburra, so that ends up being a 600 kilometres round trip a day for one of our western teachers to go over and provide services,” Ms Taylor said.

“Even in Alpha and Jericho, where we have a well-established program and our kids swim for 38 weeks of the year … compared to a metropolitan centre, those kids are in the water 52 weeks of the year.

“They have a year-round swimming capacity and our kids with the seasonal approach to the pools do suffer.”

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