As the iconic Sydney Opera House celebrates its 50th birthday on 20 October 2023, the Sydney Morning Herald recently paid tribute with a compelling article showcasing 50 pivotal moments in its illustrious history. One such moment, fondly dubbed "Sydney's Biggest Stunt Set," harks back to the January School Holidays of 1977 when teachers from the Department of Sport and Recreation and the Royal Life Saving Society organised learn-to-swim classes in a Clark Rubber above-ground pool specially erected on the Opera House forecourt. The aim was to emphasise the vital importance of providing every child with the opportunity to learn to swim, and to address the alarming drowning statistics of the time.
Fast forward nearly 50 years, and the issue remains as pertinent as ever. Various factors, including the pandemic, inflation rates, staff shortages, and changes to programs such as the First Lap, have impacted access to swimming lessons. The recently released 2022/23 National Drowning Report reveals 281 lives have been lost in Australian waters.
The 2022/23 National Drowning Report paints a concerning picture for New South Wales, with 107 drowning deaths occurring between 1 July 2022, and 30 June 2023. This figure represents a 13% increase compared to the 10-year average, which is deeply troubling.
Moreover, NSW continues to have the highest number of drownings in Australia, almost doubling the rates of Queensland and Victoria, and tripling the rates of Western Australia. It's worth noting that residents in regional and remote areas, as well as those in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas, are at higher risk of drowning, highlighting the need for more accessible swimming lessons and water safety education.
Swimming is not only a joyous recreational activity but also a vital life skill. The ability to swim not only saves lives but also opens doors to a healthier, more active, and safer lifestyle. It empowers individuals to confidently participate in aquatic recreational and sporting activities while ensuring their safety in and around water.
A startling statistic from Royal Life Saving reveals that 75% of children stop swimming lessons before the age of nine, and 40% of 12-year-olds fail to meet the benchmarks.
As we celebrate the 50th birthday of the Sydney Opera House and reminisce about the "Sydney's Biggest Stunt Set" in 1977, it is essential to remember the enduring importance of swimming lessons and water safety education. The 2022/23 National Drowning Report is a stark reminder that we cannot afford to let this issue slide. We must strive to ensure that no child misses out on the opportunity to learn to swim, and we must work collectively to reverse the concerning trends in drowning statistics.
With summer fast approaching and higher temperatures predicted, more people will be drawn to waterways and swimming pools. Let us keep water safety at the forefront of our minds and actively work towards achieving the goals set out in the National Swimming and Water Safety Framework. No child should miss out on the chance to enjoy the benefits of swimming and, more importantly, the lifesaving skills it imparts.