Corowa Free Press

Silent Depths: prioritising water safety this summer

By Adrienne Hartnett and Emma Prior

Locals keen to cool off as the mercury rises this summer are being urged to play it safe around the water after a recent report from Royal Life Saving Australia revealed 281 people drowned in Australian waterways in the last financial year, with more affected by non-fatal drowning injuries.

It comes off the back of last summer’s deadly season for our own region where 16-year-old Shepparton boy, Jack Bird sadly drowned following a boating accident in Lake Mulwala in mid December.

A large-scale multiagency search commenced, led by Victoria Police and NSW Police, with assistance from specialist VicPol search and rescue divers, VicPol Water Police, NSW Marine Area Command and Corowa VRA.

Sadly, five days later following a comprehensive search, Mr Bird’s body was located in Kyffins Reserve Bay.

Further south, a five-year-old girl died after being pulled from Lake Nagambie on December 27. The following month, a man was pulled unconscious from a waterway in Urana and subsequently died.

In their 2023 National Drowning Report, the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia and Surf Life Saving Australia raised drowning rates in older adults as a growing concern. Shockingly, 77 per cent of drowning deaths were male, and 57 per cent were over the age of 45 years.

While the number of drownings in children aged under five was 33 per cent below the 10-year average in 2022-23, there had been a continued rise in drownings in older adults.

Seventy-five adults aged 65 and over drowned in Australia in the last financial year, 19 per cent above the 10-year average.

While 59 per cent of the people who drowned in 2022/23 resided in major cities, the drowning rate was 1.77 times higher for those living in outer regional, remote, and very remote areas.

With a long hot summer ahead, the research has promoted urgent calls to keep water safety top of mind when planning a day in or near the water.

The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting higher-than-average temperatures across Australia from early September and into 2024, which is more reason to be proactive with water safety.

Federation Council Mayor Pat Bourke encouraged residents to stay safe around the beautiful local waterways this summer, as well as other locations.

“Wherever you’re swimming, please make sure you check your environment carefully,” Mayor Bourke said.

“Is the pool properly fenced? Are water hazards clearly marked? And are there boats in

the area?

“I highly recommend viewing the Royal Life Saving Society’s water safety tips, available online at .

“We can never have too many reminders on how best to keep our precious family and friends safe near water, especially at this time of year.

“Let’s enjoy all our public pools, and waterways this summer, but let’s keep an eye on each other at all times. We want everyone to stay safe this summer.”

The dark underbelly of the Murray

Over the past decade, the Murray River has stood as both a haven for recreation and a silent witness to tragedy. The National Drowning Report 2023 highlights a persistent concern- the Murray River remains the deadliest river in Australia with an average of two people drowning on the border each year.

While the Murray has remained on top of the list, the Yarra River, Hawkesbury River, Murrumbidgee River and the Swan River have also accounted for the rest of the top 5 deadliest rivers in Australia for the past 10 years.

Despite continued drowning prevention efforts targeting visitors to inland waterways, especially rivers, the overall rates of drowning at inland waterways remain unchanged. Inland waterways continue to account for more than one third of total drowning deaths in Australia, and men continue to account for more than 80 per cent of drowning deaths at these locations.

A greater awareness of water safety and practical tips for swimming and recreating in and around rivers and lakes in Australia, with a specific focus before and during the summer for all communities is recommended.

Corowa volunteer rescue diver Peter Wright OAM continues to issue warnings to locals not to be complacent around the Murray River and other inland bodies of water this summer.

“There will be drownings this summer, it’s just a matter of when, not if it will happen,” the rescue diver of 44 years said.

“The river is beautiful but it’s deceptive. The people most at risk are the ones who are unaware of the dangers.

“There is no tragedy like a drowning where the parents and family are on the scene. There’s the utter devastation and shock because they couldn’t believe it could happen to them. It does happen, and sadly it will continue to happen.

“The only way to minimise these tragedies from occurring is to be aware of the risks.

“Areas where people thought were safe last summer, might not be safe this summer.

“Drowning can happen in a matter of seconds to minutes, especially in the river where you can’t see below the surface. You have no

idea where they are, and the situation can become disastrous very quickly.”

Drowning risk triples when children turn one

Royal Life Saving research indicates that drowning risk triples when children turn one. Over the past two decades, 222 children aged one have lost their lives to drowning, constituting 40 per cent of all child drownings under the age of five.

Royal Life Saving’s CEO Justin Scarr said the need for constant vigilance as children become more mobile and curious.

“Parents need to be aware of this heightened risk and stay vigilant,” Mr Scarr said.

“As children become more mobile, they are curious and unpredictable. It is vital you keep constant watch and restrict access to water around the home. We are reminding parents that ‘Kids can’t help themselves around water, you need to keep watch.”

Drowning rates for children aged 0 – 4 years have reduced by 59per cent over the last 20 years, but drowning remains one of the leading causes of accidental death for this age group. Tragically, there are an average of 27 child drowning incidents every year, with 40per cent of these deaths aged just one-year-old.

Knowing the risks of child drowning can help prepare parents and carers for their vital role in preventing child drowning. Parents and carers are urged to ‘Keep Watch’ by actively supervising children around water, restricting access to water, teaching children water safety skills and knowing how to respond in the case of an emergency.

“This is the time of year to check your pool fence and gate.” Mr Scarr said.

“If there is a lapse in supervision, a correctly installed and regularly maintained pool barrier can prevent your child from drowning. It is important that pool gates are not propped open for any reason. Always check you’ve locked the pool gate behind you and restrict children’s access to outdoor areas without adult supervision.”

The impact of child drownings

Andrea Wakefield knows too well the devastating impact children drowning has on a family after her 14-month-old drowned in a backyard pool in 2013. This year marked the ten-year anniversary of her daughter Shelby’s drowning. Since the tragedy, Andrea has been a Royal Life Saving Keep Watch ambassador working to prevent drowning deaths of children under five years of age in all aquatic locations.

Andrea says this year has been harder than others.

“We realised Shelby would be leaving primary school this year to start high school, a reminder of milestones Shelby never got to make,” she said.

“Whilst the emotions are still there, they continue to sink further into the back but are never gone,” Andrea said.

Now the grief serves as a reminder of how lucky they were to have Shelby in their lives, even if it was for a short period of time.

Andrea’s one hope is that Shelby’s death can help raise awareness so that other children’s lives can be saved. “We know that something terrible happened to us and we’re never going to get over it, but at the same time, we want to make the best of that and tell the story of what happened so that people become aware of how it can be prevented. As we head into summer, please be aware, be present and most of all enjoy all the little moments you have with your kids.”

Knowing the risks of child drowning can help prepare parents and carers for their vital role in preventing child drowning. Parents and carers are urged to ‘Keep Watch’ by actively supervising children around water, restricting access to water, teaching children water safety skills and knowing how to respond in the case of an emergency.

Royal Life Saving Australia’s ‘Keep Watch’ public awareness and education campaign has been running for more than 25 years.

Learn to swim

The Corowa Aquatic Centre offers an extensive Learn to Swim Program for children, adults and NDIS participants. Residents are encouraged to find out more on these programs by visiting www.corowaaquaticcentre., or by contacting our friendly staff on (02) 60334401.





McPherson Media