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Indigenous Kids Gain Life-saving Skills at Bondi Icebergs

By Nicola Smith on January 28, 2022 in News

Icebergs volunteers with program participants. Photo: Royal Lifesaving Australia

In January, the Bondi Icebergs swim club piloted an Indigenous water safety program in partnership with Royal Life Saving Australia.

Twenty kids were set to participate in the program over two week-long sessions for a 30-minute swim lesson and a 15-minute life-saving skills workshop each day.

However, due to COVID-19 and wild weather, the program was cut short, with the second week now set to take place in the April school holidays.

Lindsay Dawson, the Director of the Bondi Icebergs Club board, said that the idea for the program came from a desire to fill a gap in local services and to give back to the broader community.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids are quite underrepresented in swimming education. I was doing research and discovered that while there are good programs in Western Australia, there’s nothing in New South Wales,” Ms Dawson told The Beast.

The program is delivered in partnership with Royal Lifesaving Australia, which is distinct from Surf Life Saving Australia and works primarily in delivering water safety training and guarding pools and waterways.

Craig Roberts, Royal Surf Life Saving’s General Manager of Drowning Prevention and Education, said that the program is designed to break down barriers to access by providing things like swimmers, goggles and transport to and from Icebergs each day of the program.

“Things like transport costs can be huge barriers to engaging in programs like water safety, so just opening the door can be huge,” Mr Roberts explained.

A bus was provided free from Telfords Bus and Coach, Australia’s largest bus operator, saving the program $4000 in transportation costs.

“There’s been a shift away from Indigenous communities in water safety programming recently, with a greater focus on remote and multicultural groups, but NSW has the largest Indigenous population in Australia so we need to be looking out for them too,” he added.

The program participants come from local areas such as Wooloomooloo and La Perouse, where Royal Life Saving already have relationships with the community through schools and employment agencies.

The participants also range from primary to high school ages.

Males aged 18-25 represent the highest drowning risk of any population segment, a fact that is attributed to a drop in participation in high school swim programs.

Bondi Icebergs launched its internal swim school in 2021, and their instructors along with club member volunteers will run the program.

“I’m hoping that partnering with an iconic venue like Icebergs will help raise awareness of indigenous issues. There are so many indigenous communities close by in the East but we don’t think there are because they aren’t always visible to us,” Mr Roberts told The Beast.

While Bondi Icebergs has typically run community programs for charities such as RUOK? And The Rainbow Club, COVID lockdowns has prevented them from doing community outreach for eighteen months.

Ms Dawson told The Beast that she feels the program is a crucial step in rebuilding the community feel of the club after pandemic lockdowns.

“The winter swimming club does have a real community feel and I think a club where you can come and feel safe is really important at the moment, particularly when that community feel has been broken in some ways by COVID,” she said.

Ultimately, Ms Dawson hopes that the program will extend the privileges of eastern suburbs locals to a broader segment of the Australian population.

“I’m a winter swimming Club member and have an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old who love the water. I think every child should have the chance to learn how to swim and get that social and physical enjoyment that being by the water creates,” Ms Dawson said.