A water education program will start early in the new year that aims to keep Indigenous children skilled and safe in pools, dams and rivers.
Gunida Gunyah Aboriginal Corporation has secured $54,000 to kick off a project that will give children lessons in swimming and boat safety, train up coaches, and teach parents CPR and first aid.
Chief executive officer Jane Bender said the corporation had applied for a state government Water Safety Fund Community Grant because “the stats around drowning are just so horrific”.
“If we can stop one of those drownings, the commitment by government for this is well and truly worth it,” she said.
Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant, who announced the funding with Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson this morning, said the NSW government started the $11 million grants program after “a major spike in drowning deaths across the state”.
“We’ve seen staggering results over the last summer: a 5.6pc reduction in drowning deaths,” Mr Grant said.
“We had 36 – which is 36 too many, and every one of those is a tragedy – and we’ll be certainly looking to drive that number down this summer.”
Ms Bender said she had been affected by a drowning “many, many years ago” and had felt “the tragedy that is felt by all families and community when something like that happens”.
“And it’s an unnecessary tragedy – it can be fixed,” she said.
Gunida Gunyah grant writer Tracey Reid said the teaching and learning would get under way in the new school year for children aged about four to 14 years.
Five people would also be trained as swim coaches “to make it sustainable and keep the program going” beyond the 12 months.
Ms Bender said it was hoped young Indigenous adults would take on those roles.
“They’ll learn great skills, they’ll be able to earn a slight income off those skills [and] they’ll then be able to pass that down generations through their families and community.”
After the 12 months of funding, Ms Bender said, “We’re not 100 per cent sure, but at this stage we’re 90 per cent sure that the $54,000 will set it up and then we will be able to carry it over.”
Mr Anderson said the grants program was part of the government’s “new and creative ways to keep people safe this summer”.
“It’s community groups like that that help bring swimming and general safety skills to more remote parts of our state to help empower people and ultimately save lives.”
Mr Grant said young Indigenous people were “ranked high in the victims of drownings, and that’s why we wanted to get the education into young Aboriginal people and regional communities”.
He said other groups across the region were encouraged to apply.
“We go where the need is and this is based on an application process.”