Amazing pool managers celebrated on International Womens Day

8 March 2017

Today is International Women’s Day, a day when people across the globe celebrate social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Royal Life Saving Society WA is fortunate toimage of an Aboriginal girl wearing a lifejacket in the water and smiling at the camera have many amazing, talented and courageous women taking on roles across our organization and across our vast state.

Three such women are Jacqui Forbes, Bernie Egan and Tracye Sykes, who manage 3 of our remote aboriginal swimming pools across WA’s Pilbara and Kimberley region. In a role traditionally taken on by men these women have excelled and built incredible relationships with the families and children in their remote communities, which has in turn seen scores of children learn vital Swim and Survive, lifesaving and first aid skills who may otherwise have missed out.

Jacqui Forbes, who manages the Yandeyarra Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pool, initially thought this role in remote WA would only last a year, but seven years on she still loves her role despite its unique challenges! 

“There are so many facets and dimensions to the role. It is not so much a job but more a lifestyle choice, and one that you can keep growing in. I have learned not to get despondent if things don’t go exactly the way I plan - the weather, family events and cultural commitments are all elements that contribute to living and working in a remote community. One big dust storm and you’re suddenly faced with a day of pool vacuuming and leaf cleaning. I focus on what I can do even if it is make a small difference to one person each day. I have learned to be very organised especially in the wet season when you need to have weeks of food and chemical supplies on hand to be prepared for when the Yule River starts to flow and you can’t get out to Port Hedland.”

For Bernie Egan, who manages the Bidyadanga Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pool, she took on the role as a next step in her career. “I was working as an assistant pool manager and was ready to take that next step. The opportunity to work in a remote pool seemed like an attractive challenge that would help me grow as a pool manager. This is a job with a lot of responsibility as you are the lifeguard, the cleaner, the gardener, the swim teacher, a security guard, a social worker – it’s a very diverse role!” 

However, the role has become far more than just a job and Bernie has been accepted as a loved and respected member of the local community. “One of the most rewarding parts of this job is when you get back from winter break and the kids run up to you and call out "Bernie, when’s the pool open?" I take that to mean, "Bernie we missed you and it’s good to see you back and we are really looking forward to the pool re-opening". I have some kids who call me mum and there’s a secret handshake that I have with some of the teens.”

a group of seven women in the water completing swim instructor training in NewmanTracye Sykes manages the Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pool at Jigalong, and says this job is so very different from any other position she’s held before. “Of course the remoteness is the biggest factor, being away from family and friends for such a long period of time every year is sometimes difficult, but having the opportunity to experience local community its culture & environment has been a pleasure and very rewarding. Like kids everywhere the children here love their swimming pool and genuinely appreciate the learning opportunities they have through the RLSSWA Swim & Survive program. The kids really try hard to achieve in their swimming lessons & are a pleasure to teach. The pool is a safe hub for all people in the community to come, sit on the grass, swim, cool off and chill out. It is a happy relaxing environment which I am proud and happy to be part of.”

These three women have done such an incredible job in these communities over a number of years to the point where local women and children are working towards future opportunities to walk in their footsteps, and it’s something they are trying to encourage where they can. Tracye says “In the community where I work men had held the position of Swimming Pool Manager since the pool’s opening, so for years the position had been seen by local girls & women to be a job for men only. They were quite surprised to see a woman arrive to take on this role and I feel it has had a positive influence on the young girls & women, opening their minds to opportunities that may exist for them.”

In Bidyadanga Bernie Egan says a local woman has already been employed to take on a very important role at the pool. “I have a local lady who works for me at the pool and has really stepped up in the role of communicating pool safety messages with the locals, really highlighting that the rules at the pool are for everyone regardless of race. She has also stepped up and taken on the role of winter maintenance. I would love to see her continue her training at the pool to full lifeguard status.”

Jacqui Forbes is keen to see more young people in Yandeyarra build their skills to take on future roles in that community. “The pool’s been operating for the past 16 years we are starting to see year 10, 11 & 12 girls who have been brought up with the pool programs come through the School Work Experience program. Last year we had our first pupil complete her Bronze Medallion and First Aid courses, and we've offered her employment when she is ready. My hope is that over the next 3-4 years there will be a strong group of girls who we can mentor to go through their training together completing AUSTSWIM, Bronze Medallion, Lifeguard and First Aid courses. In the interim it is about encouraging them to keep up the love of swimming and keep going to school!”

In Jigalong there are already young people taking on roles at the pool. Tracye Sykes says “RLSSWA employs 2 local young people in the position of "Pool Officers" - one young lady & one young man who are both currently studying year 12. Jasmine who has recently become a Pool Officer has also undertaken an AUSTSWIM Teacher of Swimming and Water Safety course and will soon complete her practical teaching hours. She will also gain her Bronze Medallion this term which will lead her into the RLSSWA Life Guard course. There is much support & opportunity here in community for her & others to teach the local kids Swim & Survive lessons and to continue learning all aspects of pool operations if she chooses to do so.”

Royal Life Saving Society WA thanks these three amazing women for their commitment to making a real difference in the communities they are working in, and for the way they take on the challenge of working in regional WA with such passion and determination. We appreciate the sacrifice they make in working so far from friends and family for nine months of every year, and wish them all the very best for the rest of the season!