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Swimming Pools and Australian Children

Swimming in a public or private pool, dam or creek is a given in my region of Australia. It was and is a part of growing up.

After all, it gets pretty hot here. Five months of the year.

Learning to Swim in Australia

Aussie kids receive mandatory swimming lessons at school.

It has been part of the school curriculum since around 1968, a rite of passage. Everyone learnt to swim. If the school didn’t have a swimming pool, students travelled to a public pool or nearby school for lessons. If you lived in the country, you might learn to swim in the local river or dam.

There was a pool in my backyard when I was a child. ALL the surrounding neighbours had a pool, as well.

That might seem like a luxury, but necessary in the hot and humid tropical summer in the years before home airconditioning was standard equipment.

Swimming Pools in Australia

Our earliest swimming pool wasn’t fancy. I remember splashing around in a wading pool – a weird thing made of khaki canvas with low sides and metal poles supporting it. It may have been a recycled ex-army parachute. But it did its job.

Selected neighbours had fancy in-ground cement and marbelite pools and we were envious of them. They were beautiful and you could dive into them and sit on the sides. We thought they were rich!

I was five years old when my parents levered up installing an above-ground pool. A structure about 3 feet high, with corrugated metal sides that you could never sit on, lest they bent and break. The pool was lined with thick blue plastic. White plastic pegs held the liner in place. A smaller version of that pictured.

If the plastic liner tore, the pool would leak and parents would not be happy. There was no filter in our pool – my parents couldn’t afford one, so after a week or so of swimming around, the pool water would turn green and begin to grow algae. It would then be drained, and the pool scrubbed clean.

Swimming Pool Accidents

One very hot summer day in the Christmas school holidays, my friend and I were dropped off to swim at the 25-metre public pool, by my slightly absent parent.

Keen as mustard to cool off, I dived off the side of the pool close to the shallow end. And Ouch! I hit my nose on the concrete on the bottom of the pool. I emerged on the surface moments later, feeling slightly dazed and with a large bruise across the bridge of my nose. Two black eyes appeared soon after.

I don’t remember any lifeguards being present at the public pools in those days, but there was a rather rotund lady volunteer in the canteen selling lollies and ice-creams, who might have heard of C.P.R, but it’s highly doubtful she would have been any help, if my neck was broken. Thankfully, I was lucky.

What a stupid thing to do!

To my credit, I only did it once and ensured the water was deep enough for diving from then on.

Not content with trying to maim myself in a pool, on that occasion, I was 11 or 12, and visited a friend who was the envy of the neighbourhood. She had one of those fancy in-ground concrete pools. There was no on e home when I arrived at her house, but as pools were not required to be fenced at that time, I invited myself in for a cool dip in her pool, while I waited for her to come home.

I swam alone. It was no big deal. Or so I thought.

I had a brilliant idea to practise diving backflips off the deep end. (At least I had learnt to dive at the deep end by this time).

I had done a few flips and was gaining confidence at mastering this new skill.

With the next dive, I summoned all my strength and threw myself up to somersault backwards in the air. Unfortunately, I had not propelled myself backwards far enough from the pool edge and as I came up in the water, I scraped my nose on the rough concrete sides of the pool. Later it came to me that I could have drowned if I have concussed myself if I had somersaulted one inch closer to the side.

I was lucky, again.

Swimming pools are lovely to cool off in, especially if you don’t have air-conditioning in your home, but can be deadly if children are left to swim unattended. As this account of a near-drowning pool incident explains.

For many of my adult years, I lived without aircon in the house and when it came to owning my own home, we installed a fibreglass in-ground swimming pool. (One in which it was safe to dive and sit on the side).

Australian Christmas in Summer

I’d spend a large part of my day in my swimming ‘togs,’ as they call them here in Queensland, jumping in and out of the pool periodically to cool off. It made summer bearable – and on year, the family spent much of Christmas day in the pool! Christmas can be so hot and water polo is a lot of fun in the pool! Santa was always be so thoughtful to bring pool toys like these:

pool
We never wore sun protective sun shirts like these kids did!

I wanted my own children to benefit from having access to a swimming pool in their backyard and I also wanted them to be confident in the water. They had swimming lessons before they started school. The owner of the local swimming school felt strongly that any child who had a swimming pool in their backyard needed to learn how to swim and FAST. He was wise.

Pool Fencing in Australia

The increasing incidence of children drowning triggered the introduction of pool fencing laws. The laws become more and more draconian over time. But with good reason. The incidence of children drowning in backyard pools decreased, until this year.

Sometimes the pool fencing compliance was checked by Council. A neighbour of ours erected a new boundary fence which intersected the corner fence post of our property. Even though the existing and new fence was six foot high, said fence had a rail on the neighbour’s side.

It was perceived a child could then use that railing to climb up and over into our pool. Council directed us to install another pool fence inside our existing boundary fence to become pool fence compliant and prevent an accidental drowning.

It was costly, but necessary.

Supervision of Swimming Pools and Trampolines in Australia

When it comes to supervision of children in pools and trampolines, I don’t mind admitting I was Nazi-like. Every child I knew who had access to a trampoline sustained a broken arm from bouncing on a trampoline at the same time as another child. That rebound bounce could catapult the light frame of a child in the air and onto the hard surface below, breaking a limb in the process. Not one child sustained an injury from our trampoline – “one at a time,” was my rule or else they would be booted off. I was also Nazi-like when it came to swimming pool supervision of children.

And just as well.

A 2.5-year-old daughter of a friend was visiting us on a play date with my own daughter. She was a knowing child, with older siblings. This particular day, I was watching the girls play in the backyard. I watched incredulous as the visiting girl picked up a large plastic garden chair, carried it over to the pool gate, stood on it, reached up and pulled open the child-proof latch of the pool gate giving her entry to our swimming pool.

I intervened immediately, but this showed me the speed at which an accident might occur. Crucial seconds can exist between life and the potential death of a child when you have a swimming pool.

There is no substitute for supervision when it comes to pools and safety of children.

This incident showed how essential child-proof fencing and swimming lessons are, but also that it wasn’t so bad being a Nazi-like backyard pool supervisor.

It is not always great to have an accessible swimming pool.

Only in the teenage years, did I dare to walk away from watching the kids in the pool for a minute or two. It might have been part of the reason why they stopped going swimming when they reached 15 years. Sick of the eagle-eyed Mum watching them!

Reasons not to Install a Backyard Swimming Pool

The installation of home air-conditioning also seemed to make the pool somewhat redundant.

Once you kids grow up, it is usually only Mum who swims in the pool. Children love swimming until they reach early high school after which girls will sun-bake BESIDE the pool and not actually swim in it. They don’t seem to want to get their hair wet, or something?

Pools take maintenance.

You need to clean them, remove leaves and check filters and most importantly, ensure the chemical concentration – pool alkalinity and chlorine levels are in the right balance, or else the water quality will deteriorate. Being a saltwater pool, ours was easier to maintain and much less expensive than a chlorinated pool, but the M.o.t.h. grew to hate the regularly weekly maintenance.

It is part of the reason we moved to the Home by the Sea, a home without a backyard pool.

springbrook

Drowning Deaths of Australian Children in Swimming Pools

Backyard pools are still a very popular item for homes in this state, albeit they are now smaller plunge and lap pools rather than 10 metre numbers, which are next to useless, for swimming laps. Despite the fencing regulations and awareness of drowings, the annual stats for child death by pool drownings have increased for the first time in 25 years.

The National Drowning Report for 2022 states:

15 drowning deaths occurred in children aged 5-14 years, a 7% increase on last year and a 36% increase on the 10-year average, perhaps a reflection of children missing out on swimming lessons

rlssq.com.au/national-drowning-reports/
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48 thoughts on “Swimming Pools and Australian Children”

  1. The answer is swimming lessons once the child is two years old.
    Almost all cities in the Netherlands and many other countries there are canals that are level with adjoining footpaths or roads. One can just walk or drive, cycle straight into the water. No barriers or fences.
    Just imagine if they had to be fenced off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes indeed. A fence doesn’t ensure total safety. Swimming lessons and supervision I think, to factor in those that may be able to swim but for some reason panic or cannot surface. ( for example if the water is extra cold, it can paralyse the breathing muscles and one can still drown). Or in flooded rivers, a strong swimmer may still drown. Vigilance is the only thing absolutely necessary. The lakes here are not fenced either. Neither are the dams on farming properties. Too expensive. And Children drown – so the answer is supervision.

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  2. Wise words Marsha and this also made me laugh as I’ve had similar experiences. I remember the swimming lessons at school in the UK, going on a bus 30 mins away, communal changing rooms and the chlorine so strong it took your breath away. I also jumped into a pool when I was about 8 and sprained my ankle so badly.
    We had to make our pool wall higher the other year because regulations had changed.
    Hopefully my daughter will get the kids lessons soon.
    Merry Christmas and safe swimming πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Alison, (it is Amanda here btw!). Now that you mention it, the public swimming pool are rife with the acrid chlorine smell. Thirty minutes is a long way to drive. I guess there are not so many pools to access in the UK. I am glad that they prioritise swimming lessons there as well, even in their colder climate.
      Re your ankle, I did that exact same thing in a pool as well. And that was as an adult, not as an 8 year old!
      Those changing regulations are a pain, but necessary – it is obvious some kids are genetically closer to monkeys. They can climb over the highest fences! Do you have a pool now?
      Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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        1. Blame auto-correct on your phone. It comes up with some doozies on mine. I am slowly learning to proof read better.
          All good though.
          I want a fan of swimming lessons at school either, as the levels of chlorine would be so high, some of the girls’ hair would turn from blonde to green.

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          1. Did the changing rooms have those horrible wooden slats?
            In answer to your question we do have a pool and my husband cleans it, refuses to get a pool man in. It’s not one of his favourite jobs!

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  3. Great post that brought lots of memories back for me. Ouch to your pool escapades, not nice!
    I nearly drowned when I was about ten. We were in a river and I stepped into a deep hole, over my head. Fortunately my brother was close and threw me a tyre. It scarred me. And my parents, emigrating from the mountains of Italy, weren’t savvy to swimming lessons etc so we never had lessons. I only learnt to swim as an adult when I met my future husband (a scuba diver at the time). We made sure both our kids could swim at a young age!

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    1. Thanks Miriam and it is lovely to know that I triggered some old memories for you. Even though you didn’t have those early swimming experiences. Well done learning to swim as an adult, Miriam. And that after you had the river hold scare. Well done! Swimming is a life skill that is useful at any given time! You probably are a better swimmer than me, now. I know what to do but my body is like a lead weight in the water and I am excellent at belly flops! I am sure your kids don’t belly flop like I did/do…..

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  4. Cooling off is great, but swimming has never appealed after compulsory swimming lessons at school – sounding just like Alison’s experience. How anyone thinks shoving your head under highly chlorinated water will be a pleasant experience is beyond me. Luckily I developed a verucca – then called African foot rot – and was excused attendance for the duration.
    We did not install swimming pools when we ran gites in France as we did not want accidents or deaths on our conscience and seeing the lack of parental supervision common with our holidaymakers that woud have been a possibility.

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    1. I hear you, Helen. When I think about swimming as an act of shoving one’s head under chlorinated water, I do wonder why anyone likes it? I wasn’t fond of school swimming lessons myself as the high levels of chlorine would make my sinuses run and irritate my eyes. Naturally, I avoided school swimming carnivals like the plague, preferring to stay home ‘sick,’ and study fur the day. My daughter contracted veruccas – plantar warts on her feet from the floors in the school pool change rooms. Horrible things that made walking painful for her. And they stubbornly persisted for all her school years, too. Our home salt-water pool converted salt to chlorine, so was much gentler Andaman the body and sometimes beneficial on the sinuses and skin. In there you could splash, swim laps, loll about on inflatables and cool off and not have to put your head under if you didn’t want to do so. As my boys were fixated on the computer, even in the early I.T. days, it was a great way for then to get some exercise and have fun with friends away from the screen.
      Supervusing a few kids in the pool was enough for me. I would not have wanted a pool with holidaymakers around. Good call. You would have likely had to play lifeguard dsy and night and I doubt you would have had time for that?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sorry your daughter had the dreaded veruccas too…luckily mine went off in about a year and father kicked up stink with the headmistress about the hygiene at the baths and refused to allow me to continue swimming lessons.
        As for holidaymakers! At one house there was a large well which had a heavy oak cover. We went over to check that they had everything they needed on their second day and found the parents sunning themselves on one side of the house and three boys nearly rupturing themselves to try to shift the well cover in the garden. Parents completely unconcerned…..padlock fitted the same day.

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            1. There is a super book by Susie Kelly ‘Swallows and Robins’ about holiday letting in France. I know Susie and what she relates is all too true, told with humour and good nature.

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  5. We had one of those backyard above ground pools. It was a great family activity to put it up every summer and we couldn’t wait for it to fill. Our little grandson has been going to weekly swimming lessons since he was seven weeks old. He’s very confident in the water now but I know my daughter is vigilant with him anyway.

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    1. Ah yes the anxious waiting for the pool to fill with the garden hose! Fun times.
      It is very wise that your daughter remains vigilant despite the grandson having swimming lessons, Carol. It pays to be so.

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  6. Many (most?) of the kids I grew up with took backyard swimming lessons (called that because the lessons were given in someone’s backyard swimming pool). Although we never had a pool, it was important to know how to swim properly. Of course, getting into the pool is a different skill… I still have a scar under my chin from the stiches I received from not doing it correctly when I was about 6 or so.

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  7. Pools are great, if you’re a kid. I used to envy my neighbor for having one in their backyard, although I never had the gumption to go diving in without their say-so.

    My high school was administered by Franciscan nuns whose convent was a repurposed 1930’s luxury hotel. One of the hotel features was an Olympic size swimming pool, complete with fountains at one end and a diving platform at the other. Our changing rooms were built-in cabanas and I remember the strong smell of chlorine as we all clambered in to change. It was always nicer getting into our dry swimsuits than getting out of wet ones & changing back into our uniforms. I wonder why πŸ˜‰ Now the smell of chlorine and sunshine take me back to school days filled with swim drills & competitions.

    As you say though, backyard pools are a nightmare for adults with kids. Even without kids, the maintenance! In Canada, outdoor pools don’t make sense- ten months of the year it’s not even usable. Although those who have, usually make them heated. Crazy extravagant.

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  8. Pools are great, if you’re a kid.

    My high school was administered by Franciscan nuns whose convent was a repurposed 1930’s luxury hotel. One of the hotel features was an Olympic size swimming pool, complete with fountains at one end and a diving platform at the other. Our changing rooms were built-in cabanas and I remember the strong smell of chlorine as we all clambered in to change. It was always nicer getting into our dry swimsuits than getting out of wet ones & changing back into our uniforms. I wonder why πŸ˜‰ Now the smell of chlorine and sunshine take me back to school days filled with swim drills & competitions.

    As you say though, backyard pools are a nightmare for adults with kids. Even without kids, the maintenance! In Canada, outdoor pools don’t make sense- ten months of the year it’s not even usable. Although those who have, usually make them heated. Crazy extravagant.

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    1. Furthermore, getting changed after swimming was like doing a rubik’s cube puzzle with clothing. There was the girls who stripped bare, unashamedly flaunting their nakedness and the girls who tried to surreptiously slip clothing on or off under a towel or an exterior piece of clothing.
      I remember the struggle. Even in the heat, it was tricky and socks were the worst to put on afterwards. No wonder veruccas flourished!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He He. Changing room traumas. In school we were all shy & hid behind the curtains in the stalls. If all the stalls were taken, then it’d be the showers and if all of those were taken, then it’d be the clumsy shuffle with the towels. You’re right, putting on socks was the worst. School days!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Very informative post about swimming pools in Australia, Amanda. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences of swimming when you were younger. You did have some close shaves there in the pool – and didn’t seem like any of them deterred you from swimming. Swimming pools in backyards can be dangerous and as you mentioned, the child-proof latch can be undone anytime in a matter of seconds. And you never know when someone may get their head stuck under water no matter how shallow the pool may be. Supervision like an eagle eye hawk sounds like the way to go.

    I spent most of my formative years in Singapore and Malaysia, and having your own pool in the backyard is unheard of here. If I wanted to swim, I had to go to the public swimming pools or the pool in the apartment complex if it had one. I do find it odd Australians feel it’s a good way to cool off in the summer in the pool. On one hand I see why, that the water cools you off. But on the other hand that also involves being under the hot sun, with the exception of public swimming pools that have shade. Best wishes for the year ahead, Amanda.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your wishes for 2023. Going swimming in the heat of summer is a bit of a contradiction, Mabel but then, have you felt how cold the pool water is to swim outside of the summer months? It’s freezing! We could not get into our backyard pool for a dip after Easter and before October, each year. Although some visiting Norwegian friends did swim in September. I suppose the cold didn’t bother them as much as the thrill of swimming in the back yard – that experience was more enticing. Have a wonderful 2023.

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      1. That is a good observation, that the pool water is really cold outside of the summer months. I also notice that the beach tends to feel really cold when the wind blows and it’s not summer. It sounds like your Norwegian friends find Australia pretty warm. Here in Melbourne, September is still very cold and winter-like – not the best kind of weather for a dip in the water.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. September can be mild here with surprisingly clear sunny skies.
          You are right about the beach in the wind. Not the nicest place and I am not keen on being sandblasted!

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            1. It certainly feels like sand blasting, Mabel. Its almost a stinging sensation on the open beaches.
              A very relaxed Christmas New Year, for us, Mabel. Are you planning any celebrations for New Year?

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            2. Always good to have sunglasses on at the beach when it’s a windy day. Don’t like the sand hitting my eyes.

              I think it will be a quiet one for the New Year. Very relaxed and taking time out for a break 😊

              Liked by 1 person

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