Bright future as Pannawonica locals learn swim teacher skills

10 February 2022

Instructor Cathie Calleja teaching students on the grass at Pannawonica poolTeaching children to Swim and Survive is one of the most important steps we can take as a community to reduce drowning statistics. For this reason, Royal Life Saving WA works hard to ensure all children across our state have access to regular swimming lessons. Sadly, for children in many regional and remote areas this is often not possible due to a lack of swimming instructors available in their region.

This has been true for the children of Pannawonica, an iron-ore mining town in the Pilbara region, 200 km south-west of Karratha. The town used to have its own swim school, but this was closed down due to a lack of staff. Since then Royal Life Saving has occasionally sent a swim instructor into town from Onslow to at least ensure the local children can have some access to lessons. The most recent lessons saw Swim Instructor Sophie Telfer travel from Onslow two days a week for two weeks to conduct Infant Aquatics and Swim and Survive classes. These were so popular they were sold out in just 30 minutes, with many students being put on a waitlist for future programs!

The local families expressed a desire to ensure these lessons were available on a regular basis, so Royal Life Saving worked together with Chanele Lucht, Senior Community Development Officer at the Shire of Ashburton, to arrange a Swim Teacher course, training up locals to become swim instructors for their own community.Swim Teacher students in the water during their course

Royal Life Saving WA Trainer Cathie Calleja travelled to Pannawonica to conduct the course last week, with six people taking part. Cathie says the course generated a lot of interest and support from the local community. “We were super lucky to have town families lend us their kids for some free swimming lessons! Without knowing ages or stages the kids happily joined in on impromptu classes providing not only teaching practice for our trainees but perfect practice on stroke corrections and utilising different equipment. It was all so much fun!”

With the children happy to donated their time Cathie was able to not only complete the training with the six participants but also take them through their practical instructing hours to finalise their qualifications. Now that they are fully qualified Cathie says the brand new swim teachers are keen to bring lessons back to their community. “The kids hadn’t had lessons for more than 12 months, so after waiting for so long, they were really excited that this course has come to fruition. They want to get regular lessons up and running and soon as they can, also conducting in-term school swimming lessons. The long-term goal is to begin swim squads, water aerobics and mums & bubs classes too!”

Royal Life Saving WA Senior Manager Education, Trent Hotchkin, says it’s an exciting time for the town. “The future looks bright and Royal Life Saving is now working with the Shire and newly qualified instructors to re-establish the Swim School so kids will no longer miss out. The river is also a huge part of the area and once it's flowing heavily everyone goes to it. We’d love to see these new instructors also conduct a Respect the River program for the local children.”