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:
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.
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.
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 lessonsrlssq.com.au/national-drowning-reports/