Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pools Project

Background

Swimming pools in remote Aboriginal communities have significant roles to play in reducing many of the challenges faced by these groups including social and emotional wellbeing issues, poorer health, a lack of community cohesion, high rates of school absenteeism and unemployment.

The Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pools Program (RASPP)

The program was started in 2000 to address these challenges and now works with six remote communities in the north-west of WA. Employed pool managers live and work in the communities for nine months each year to deliver safe, efficient and effective aquatic facilities and programs. RASPP is managed by the Royal Life Saving Society WA and funded by the Housing Authority and BHP Billiton.

The Communities

The six RASPP pools are located in communities within the Gascoyne, Pilbara and Kimberley regions in the north-west of WA, varying in population with between 150-700 primarily Aboriginal residents. All exhibit great diversity with uniquely ingrained history, cultural practice and language groups that cement local identity. Each community has high rates of acute and chronic illnesses with local services providing a range of individual and community preventative health programs.

Research Questions

This study builds on previous research conducted by the Telethon Kids Institute which explored the health benefits of having swimming pools in remote Aboriginal communities in WA and looked to answer the following questions:
  1. How does having a swimming pool impact on the wellbeing (health and social) of remote Aboriginal communities?
  2. What barriers exist to pool use across all age groups in the community and how can they be addressed?
  3. Does the school-pool reward system and the use of the pool by the school help young people to overcome barriers to school attendance?
  4. Do children and young people who often miss out on school still make use of the swimming pool and derive benefits?

Innovative Research Methods

Research was conducted in three of the six communities involved in the Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pools program using innovative research methods suitable to Aboriginal communities including:
  1. Yarning – 27 interviews conducted with 40 community members to share their thoughts of and experiences with the pool
  2. Photovoice – 49 school aged children took 109 photos (including captions) of what they liked, found interesting or didn’t like about the pool
  3. School-Pool data – school and pool attendance data was tracked for 48 school aged children in the communities to determine whether the pool was a good incentive for school attendance

Key Results

  • Swimming pools were a valued asset to these communities
  • High rates of attendance at the swimming pool, particularly among children
  • Health Benefits – improved hygiene, reduced rates of infection, increased levels of physical activity, improved nutrition
  • Social Benefits – reduced crime and anti-social behaviour, improved community cohesion, improved employment and training opportunities
  • Improved swimming and water safety skills
  • Improved school attendance, particularly among primary school aged children through implementation of the No School No Pool policy

Research Outcomes

The results of this study highlight the positive impact that swimming pools can have in remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia and provide justification for the expansion of the RASP program into more Aboriginal communities around the state.

Dissemination

The Royal Life Saving Society of WA has presented this research at the 2014 World Conference on Drowning Prevention in Malaysia and the 2016 Australian Health Promotion Association Conference in Perth.


Remote Pools Research Report cover page image