Surf life savers warn migrants about dangers as drownings increase

surf life saving clubMore than 270 Australians drowned in 2018-19, with nearly half of those deaths over summer. According to the Royal Life Saving Society’s national report, released on Monday, more Australians are drowning as the country faces record high temperatures. There were 276 drowning deaths in 2018-19, a 10 per cent increase from the previous financial year.


Just two years after Alex Chang arrived in Australia from South Korea barely able to swim, he became a volunteer surf life saver at Sydney’s Tamarama Beach. “I never ever thought about it. I watched a TV show – or movie – about some Baywatch or something … but that’s very different to who I am now,” the 40-year-old told SBS News.

“I normally work in an office, living in the city… But now I’m living in the beach culture.”

 

Alex Chang is a lifesaver from Sydney.
Alex Chang is a lifesaver from Sydney.

Mr Chang is committed to helping other migrants become surf safe, with programs run through his Surf Life Saving club. He said even simple things like swimming between the red and yellow flags, can be confusing for people new to the country.

“Maybe this is a very basic thing in Australia, but all other countries probably are not aware that that’s what the flags mean.” Mr Chang said when he saw the flags for the first time, he thought it was a sign the surf was “dangerous”.

 

With drownings increasing - people are being warned not to become complacent.
With drownings increasing – people are being warned not to become complacent.

Drownings increase in Australia

According to the Royal Life Saving Society’s national report, released on Monday, more Australians are drowning as the country faces record high temperatures.

There were 276 drowning deaths in 2018-19, a 10 per cent increase from the previous financial year. Over the three summer months alone there were 123 drowning deaths, a 17 per cent increase compared to the 10-year average.

Surf life savers warn risky behaviour around waterways and poor swimming ability continue to impact drowning rates. “Last summer was particularly bad on our waterways,” Royal Life Saving chief executive Justin Scarr said.

There were 122 coastal drowning deaths in 2018-19, which combines beaches, rock or cliff locations and offshore, marking a 14 per cent increase from 2017-18. Nearly 90 per cent of the people who drowned on the coast were male, with alcohol and drugs a big factor, Mr Scarr said.

Hotter, drier weather would lead to more people in the water and it is important Australians practise water safety, he said. “Unfortunately, more people in the water means more people at risk of drowning,” he said.

Migrants make up a quarter of drowning deaths

In the past 10 years, 27 per cent of people who drowned were born overseas. Stacey Pidgeon from the Royal Life Saving Society, told SBS News that while the number of drowning deaths has dropped in the last decade overall, there are certain groups which have pushed these latest numbers up.

“This year we have seen a trend in people from multicultural backgrounds – both across the country and with coastal drownings,” she said. The report listed those from Taiwan, Sudan, South Korea, Nepal and Ireland as the emerging communities at risk.

 

 Rishi Acharya from the Nepalese Australian Association.

Rishi Acharya from the Nepalese Australian Association.

Rishi Acharya, from the Nepalese Australian Association, is calling for more tailored multicultural programs to avoid future tragedies. “At the moment, all the resources are either in English, so some of the content may not be appropriate or may not be understandable,” he told SBS News.

“If the resources are developed for targeted multicultural communities, that would be good.”

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