Community members from the town of Deniliquin came together on Friday 5 May 2023 to pay tribute to a remarkable local legend Hector McLean who more than a century before was responsible for introducing learn to swim lessons to the local community.
Archibald (Hector) McLean or as he was affectionately known as ‘Mr Mac’ held Royal Life Saving certificates and was a proficient swim teacher and coach. He became alarmed by the large number of drownings in local waterways along with the lack of swimming ability amongst the local children.
At the request of community, Hector introduced learn to swim lessons in the summer of 1922. Classes were held at the sandy spot on the Edward River called Brewery Road. From October to March every year daily at 6.30am, Mr McLean undertook swimming lessons to ensure children in the district had the opportunity to learn to swim.
For 24 years he taught on his own, before receiving assistance from local residents and Deniliquin Swim Club members, many of whom had come through Hector’s swimming program themselves. The Deniliquin Rotary Club also became involved, making rolls before and after lessons.
Mr Mac in his wisdom developed a ‘buddy’ system where students were paired up and responsible for each other during lessons. He continued lessons up until his death in 1951, a period of 30 years of selfless and important community service to the children of Deniliquin.
The Deniliquin Swim Club has continued this tradition by offering swimming lessons every January through a dedicated swim teacher team, making it one of the longest running swimming programs in the country.
On November 12, 1972, on the 50th Anniversary of learn to swim classes Hector founded, the Deniliquin community honoured Mr Mac by renaming Brewery Bend, McLean Beach.
At the recent centenary celebrations (postponed from 2022) saw the unveiling of a permanent informative panel at the beach named in Mr McLean’s honour and at site of where this incredible story began. McLean Family members, former students and instructors along with the general community gathered and shared stories as part of the day’s proceedings.
Royal Life Saving CEO, Mr Michael Ilinsky wrote to the family of Mr McLean ahead of the unveiling last week to acknowledge his achievements:
"For almost 130 years, Royal Life Saving has been working to reduce the incidents of drownings and injury in and around our waterways. Swimming lessons are the very foundation of Life Saving skills in our country; It is an essential skill that all Australian children should be privy to. Mr McLean’s commitment to the teaching of swimming in water safety would undoubtedly have provided invaluable water safety skills to countless children in the greater community of Deniliquin during his 30 years of instruction."
"Royal Life Saving continues to focus on reducing the challenges faced in our regional communities, with limited access to swimming lessons for children, and higher drowning rates in our inland waterways. Mr McLean was undoubtedly a trail blazer in this area, showing exemplary foresight to take action and provide a critical service to his community when he commenced delivering these lessons back in 1922. To learn the swimming program, he commenced over 100 years ago still takes place each year, is an outstanding achievement and a testament to his success," Said Mr Ilinsky.
We would like to acknowledge Deniliquin Pastoral Times for their continued coverage of this important story and the impact water safety education has on a community. Their articles formed the basis of our blog.