Pilbara Water Safety Forum

17 May 2019

Royal Life Saving WA's inaugural Pilbara Water Safety Forum was held yesterday at the Wanangkura Stadium in Port Hedland. 40 people attended the forum, which was designed to bring together water safety advocates across a range of government, community and local industry groups to discuss water safety issues in the Pilbara region and create a plan to save lives into the future.

Alfred Barker and Linda Doogiebee-Dridi presenting the keynote address at the Pilbara ForumThere has been a 29% increase in the number of drowning deaths in the Pilbara region over the past decade. Many of these deaths have happened at inland waterways, and while people are taking part in activities enjoyed by locals and tourists in the region including fishing, boating and adventure activities. This presents a unique challenge for water safety authorities.

Over the past ten years there have been 46 fatal and non-fatal drowning incidents recorded in the Pilbara region with males, toddlers and young people aged 15-24 at greatest risk. Aboriginal Australians are twice as likely to drown in the region than non-Aboriginal Australians.

Royal Life Saving WA has been active in the Pilbara for a number of years, working with partners including BHP, the Department of Communities, the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, Healthway and the Town of Port Hedland. We manage a number of remote aboriginal swimming pools in the region, conduct swimming and water safety classes and more recently have taught local youth swimming and lifesaving skills through the Talent Pool program. These activities have built important relationships in local communities across the region, developing the capacity of Pilbara adults and children to safely participate in water activities and pass on the skills they've learnt to their families and communities.Peter McCarthy from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, presenting at the Pilbara Forum

Royal Life Saving WA CEO Peter Leaversuch says while these activities have built a strong foundation, there is still much more to be done. “WA’s regional areas continue to be over-represented in drowning deaths, with a drowning rate 3.7 times higher than the Perth metro area. Local understanding of this serious and preventable issue is crucial, and the Pilbara Forum has enabled local stakeholders to be part of the solution.”

The forum included a keynote presentation from Alfred Barker – Kariyarra Senior Elder with the Bloodwood Tree Association, Pilbara Aboriginal Voice Co-Chair Linda Doogiebee-Dridi, and Royal Life Saving National President Cameron Eglington. Attendees also heard from a range of local and national speakers who set the scene for discussion on drowning trends, aquatic participation and water safety challenges facing the Pilbara. These included:

  • Justin Scarr - CEO, Royal Life Saving Society Australia
  • Lauren Nimmo – Senior Manager Health Promotion and Research, Royal Life Saving Society WA
  • Camilo Blanco – Mayor, Town of Port Hedland
  • Simone Fountain OAM – Regional Manager Pilbara, Department of Local Govt, Sport and Cultural Industries 
  • Di Leverett – Coordinator Regional Services – Department of Education
  • Phil Scanlan – Regional Director, Department of Transport 
  • Peter McCarthy – Superintendent Pilbara, Department of Fire and Emergency Services
  • Tony Butler – Manager Facilities, Town of Port Hedland
  • Tim Turner – Project Manager Talent Pool, Royal Life Saving Society WA

Attendees conducting group discussions at the Pilbara ForumThe afternoon session then saw attendees work in groups to discuss water safety in the Pilbara region. There were important ideas and insights shared into the current gaps in the water safety and drowning prevention, key drowning challenges and aspirations and goals for the future. Royal Life Saving will now work to formulate these ideas into a Pilbara Water Safety Plan, which will guide future water safety priorities, strategies and initiatives in the region.

Royal Life Saving would like to thank all of those who attended the forum and looks forward to continuing to work closely with our partners in the region to enable Pilbara locals to safely participate in water activities across the range of locations available to them in this unique part of Australia.