A child never drowns on their back, says Penny Elder from Elders Swim Centre, as she teaches Hervey Bay’s Chayce Ind, 3, water safety techniques.
A child never drowns on their back, says Penny Elder from Elders Swim Centre, as she teaches Hervey Bay’s Chayce Ind, 3, water safety techniques. Karleila Thomsen

Lessons that could save lives

IN THE wake of three tragic drowning deaths in the state within a week, Fraser Coast parents are being advised to enrol their children in swimming lessons at the earliest age possible.

Babies as young as four months old can be taught about the basics of how to swim and become comfortable in water at the Pialba-based Elders Swim Centre.

Owner and Royal Life Saving Qld Trainer of the Year for 2009 Penny Elder says she was devastated when she heard of the three recent deaths.

On Monday morning, a 22-month-old boy disappeared from his family home at Cooroibah, on the Sunshine Coast, and 15 hours later his body was pulled from a dam on the property.

Last Friday, a two-year-old girl drowned in a dam at Tallegalla, west of Brisbane. The Monday before, just west of the Fraser Coast, a two-year-old boy drowned on a farm at Eidsvold.

The three toddler deaths in one state in one week have prompted calls for more government funding into water awareness campaigns and Premier Anna Bligh to hold talks in rural communities on improving dam safety.

Ms Elder, herself a mother of two, says her number one advice is for parents to start their children swimming as early as possible.

“My role, I feel, in the community is to make people aware of how to become a lot safer in and around water and about prevention.

“My number one rule is swimming lessons, as well as supervision, to be educated around your pool and know resuscitation. And don’t stop swimming lessons just because it’s winter.”

Ms Elder says enrolling children into lessons from four months trains their central nervous system, beginning the process for them to grasp how to swim and reach for safety.

For the past 25 years Ms Elder has been teaching swimming and with her husband, Marcus, holds free talks on water safety in Hervey Bay schools.

She agrees more funding for drowning prevention campaigns will help the problem but says there is no point in rolling out more projects if parents cannot afford swimming lessons.

“I think it would be great if the government subsidised swimming lessons, whether they be school swimming lessons or private ones,” she said.

It costs about $40 for a student in a Fraser Coast public school to attend a term of lessons, including the cost of the school bus, says Ms Elder. Although the price is affordable for many, she believes some children from lower socio-economic families miss out.

When asked if home owners on properties with dams should fence in their houses, so not to allow access of young children to dams, Ms Elder says: “If it prevents one drowning it’s worth it.”


Monday 22nd: 22-month-old boy drowned at Cooroibah, on the Sunshine Coast

Friday 19th: Two-year-old girl drowned at Tallegalla, west of Brisbane

Monday 15th: Two-year-old boy drowned at Eidsvold, west of the Fraser Coast

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