Swim and Survive for children in the Mid West

9 February 2016

When Graeme Rulyancich arrived in Mount Magnet in October last year, to start his job managing the Mount Magnet Memorial Swimming Pool, he quickly became concerned about the level of swimming skills he saw in the children there. Graeme says “During my first day on the job I had to pull two 8 year olds out of the pool as they began to struggle in the deep water. I wondered why 8 year olds didn’t have enough swimming skills to be able to keep their head above water and at least get themselves to the edge of the pool, so I started asking around.”

What Graeme found out was that the last time swimming lessons had been held in the town was a Vacswim program two years ago. This was concerning because not only was it a long time ago, but Vacswim tends to only reach a sub-group of parents who actively enroll their children in the program.

Graeme decided to see whether he could arrange in-term swimming lessons for school children in the town. “I made contact with some swimming teacher friends and managed to find 3 who were willing to come up to Mount Magnet to help run the program. I also met up with Royal Life Saving CEO Peter Leaversuch at the LIWA conference in Kondonin and he offered to provide $3000 from Royal Life to help fund the program, while the Education Department offered to provide the swim teachers with the standard wage for the lessons.”

After some negotiations between Royal Life Saving Society WA, the Education Department, Contract Aquatic Services, who run the pool, and the local schools in Mount Magnet and Cue, the program got underway, running from the 3rd to the 15th December last year. 25 year old Sharaine Howson, 19 year old Kira Digwood and 18 year old Zoe Barker travelled to Mount Magnet from Perth to teach the classes.

About 80 children took part - 60 from Mount Magnet, and 20 travelling from Cue 80 kilometres away. Graeme says the response was fantastic, “I was told the school attendance was the highest it’s ever been at that time of year, because coming towards school holidays some of the parents tend not to send their kids to school, or the kids just don’t bother turning up. For Cue 20 kids was most of their primary school. They travelled down during the last period of school, did their lessons from 2.30 to 3.30 and got home before sunset.”

The children didn’t only receive swimming lessons, but also vital water safety information including basic first aid and resuscitation skills, a lifeguard skills fun day, and Royal Life Saving Society’s Don’t Drink and Drown message. According to Graeme “there are a few issues around here with alcohol and drugs so we try to push those messages at an early age, and it was great to have those resources from Royal Life.”

Graeme says the program has had a marked impact, not only on the children’s swimming abilities, but also their general interest in swimming. “Before when the kids used to come to have a swim they would just muck around, but now they come down and swim a few laps before they start playing with their friends. During the program we even had kids coming to practice their swimming strokes the day before their lesson, which made me think that I’d like to start a swim club up here to try and increase the quality of swimming in the town.”

The hope for the future is to see the program repeated, to ensure the children have regular access to swimming education. Graeme says “Ideally I’d like to have people in town that are qualified swim teachers or lifeguards so we can have a self-sustained program here and provide jobs for local townspeople. Hopefully next year the program will go ahead again and the Shire will really get behind it so it can continue for many years to come.”

kids swimming in the Mount Magnet pool with instructor looking on