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Water safety in the bush: strategies for addressing training needs in remote areas

Submitted: 29 August 2007
Revised: 3 April 2008
Published: 14 May 2008

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Author(s) : Beattie N, Shaw P, Larson A.

Nicole BeattieAnn Larson

Citation: Beattie N, Shaw P, Larson A.  Water safety in the bush: strategies for addressing training needs in remote areas. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2008; 8: 855. Available: (Accessed 17 October 2017)


Context:  This article describes a unique, remote, water safety-training program delivered to 11 remote Australian communities during 2006-2007. The program, known as ‘Water Safety in the Bush’, was developed by Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health in Geraldton Western Australia in consultation with the Commonwealth Government Department of Health and Ageing, and the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia.
Issue:  Program description: Drowning and near drowning are major causes of childhood death and injury in rural and remote Australia, making improved water safety awareness and skills a public health priority. Water Safety in the Bush employed a flexible, community development model to meet the special requirements of remote and isolated communities. The model had three elements: coordination by a local organisation; a water safety instruction program based on a Royal Life Saving Society of Australia curriculum adapted to meet local priorities; and strategies for sustainability. Program evaluation: In the delivery of the program a total of 873 children and 219 adults received swimming and water safety instruction; 47 adults and older children received first-aid training; and 38 community members became AUSTAWIM (the Australian Council for the Teaching of Swimming and Water Safety) accredited instructors. Project evaluation showed parents and community organisations were very satisfied with the program which met a real need. Parents and instructors gave evidence of children’s increased skills in water safety, swimming ability, life-saving and water confidence. Training programs with greater contact hours showed greater skill gains. Sustainability strategies included accreditation of local AUSTSWIM instructors, the erection of water safety signs, sourcing of continuing funding, and the introduction of water safety theory into the school curriculum.
Lessons learned:  Flexibility was the major success factor. Within the parameters of minimum guidelines, communities were encouraged to choose the timing, venue and delivery mode of the training to ensure the program was best suited to the local community. Community ownership was achieved by requiring that local organisations design and implement the projects. Designing programs that addressed local constraints ensured high participation rates. A number of challenges were also identified. Not all community organisations had the capacity to take on the coordinating role, and struggled to effectively deliver a sustainable program. Other models may be needed for these communities. Accessing appropriately qualified water safety instructors in local areas also proved difficult at several of the sites. Further, designing standardised outcome evaluation strategies that could be implemented across all participating sites was problematic.
Implications: Remote and isolated communities have a pressing need to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for water safety and survival. Standard training programs, which in the case of swimming and water safety instruction are generally run in two-week blocks, are often not feasible. Models for delivering training, which give resources and power to local organisations to find innovative ways to meet their priorities, build capacity and ensure high participation rates.

Key words:  community development, training, water safety.

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