'A great idea': Inland lifesaving leader endorses ACT patrol plans
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'A great idea': Inland lifesaving leader endorses ACT patrol plans

The co-captain of what is believed to be Australia's only inland lifesaving club has endorsed plans to set up a similar service in the ACT after a recent drowning.

Royal Life Saving ACT is hoping to run a pilot program for lifesaving services at the territory's inland waterways next summer and plans to take a formal proposal to the ACT government in the coming months.

Canberra woman Michelle Love, pictured swimming at Casuarina Sands with her children Jazmin, 12, Axel, 6, and Jayden, 16, has welcomed a proposal for lifesavers to patrol the ACT's inland waterways.

Canberra woman Michelle Love, pictured swimming at Casuarina Sands with her children Jazmin, 12, Axel, 6, and Jayden, 16, has welcomed a proposal for lifesavers to patrol the ACT's inland waterways.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

The plans were revealed after 35-year-old Canberra man Toby Jamieson drowned at Casuarina Sands, a popular swimming spot on the Murrumbidgee River, while swimming with his family on January 3.

Mildura Lifesaving Club co-captain Ben Mollison said that would be "a great idea" for the ACT, pointing out that Australia's rivers, creeks and streams were statistically more deadly than beaches.

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Royal Life Saving Australia statistics for the 2017-18 financial year show that 61 people fatally drowned in rivers, creeks and streams, compared to 46 at beaches.

But while beach patrols are commonplace across the country, the only inland area that has a lifesaving service is the Victorian city of Mildura.

"[The statistics] are quite concerning because rivers are so long and even in Mildura where we do have [inland] lifesavers, we can only patrol a little section," Mr Mollison said.

"There are patrols on every beach, pretty much, so it's pretty sad [that there aren't more inland lifesavers in Australia].

"I think it would be pretty well worth it [for the ACT] to give it a go, pick the waterways that people are most likely to go to and start there."

Royal Life Saving ACT chief executive Cherry Bailey said Casuarina Sands would be an obvious starting point for a pilot program in the capital, with a possible expansion to Lake Burley Griffin and Lake Ginninderrra.

She said a volunteer-based service would be the most sustainable option, but that it could also draw on qualified lifeguards who worked at Canberra's swimming pools by offering them training and development opportunities.

"It's still up in the air at the moment as to what role Royal Life Saving would play, what role the ACT government would play, what it would cost to set it up and how many lifesavers you would need," Ms Bailey said.

Mr Mollison said the Mildura club, which had about 12 volunteer lifesavers, focused on preventing people getting into trouble.

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They had not yet performed a rescue this summer after carrying out two or three last summer.

Mr Mollison said rescues generally involved people who were accustomed to swimming in other environments, but who weren't aware of the different threats inland waterways posed.

"They’re mainly to do with people swimming across the river," he said.

"They don’t take into account the current and they think, ‘The width of this river’s 50 metres and I can swim 50 metres in a pool’.

"By the time the current comes into effect, it becomes more like 100 metres because they’re trying to swim against it."

The Mildura club's training officer, veteran lifesaver Greg Rhodes, said the murky water in inland waterways caught many swimmers unawares.

"You can't see what's under the water in terms of things you might get snagged on, or trees and logs, and there's often a current that you can't see."

Canberra woman Michelle Love welcomed the news that the ACT may soon have inland lifesavers.

"When we came out here about midday, there was only one couple here and I was actually a bit apprehensive to leave the shoreline," she said as she swam with her three children at Casuarina Sands.

"As more people turned up, we've ventured out a bit further.

"Even though my kids are quite confident swimmers, having a lifeguard would be great because it can be a bit scary in a big, open body of water like this."

Blake Foden is a reporter at the Sunday Canberra Times. He has worked as a journalist in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

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