Bush Nippers, youth education and SES insight: how to tackle the Murrumbidgee’s growing death toll | Video

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: After two tragic drownings within just a few weeks, the SES is starting its own campaign to help improve safety in our river. Picture: Les Smith
MAKING A DIFFERENCE: After two tragic drownings within just a few weeks, the SES is starting its own campaign to help improve safety in our river. Picture: Les Smith

The formation of a ‘Bush Nippers’ group at Wagga Beach has been touted by many as the solution to Wagga’s spate of river drownings.

It follows a call to action from the NSW SES Wagga unit, who appealed to residents via social to share their suggestions as to how curb the Murrumbidgee’s growing death toll.

Potential solutions included stationed lifeguards and security cameras, however, almost all agreed safety education was the key area of concern.

Need for “river awareness”

Wagga occupational therapist Aley Harvey works with disabled residents and believes a hands-on training program must be implemented to ensure people are adequately prepared for inland waterways.

“We need some kind of program where kids and adults are learning about safety at the beach and on the water,” she said.

“The act of swimming requires different bodily function and a strong skill set in itself but swimming in rivers is even more dangerous than the ocean.”

Wagga resident Damien Castle suggested river awareness lessons run in a similar fashion to standard swimming lessons but expressed concern over potential costs.

“I (also) believe the admission cost at Oasis is excessive and needs to be reviewed,” he said.

What’s on offer?

Surf Life Saving NSW operates a ‘Beach to Bush’ program which runs for a week in November where volunteer lifesavers tour regional and rural NSW conducting surf safety presentations for primary school kids.

NIPPERS: Metropolitan surf life saving programs such as City Nippers have been emulated as Bush Nippers in regional NSW centres.

NIPPERS: Metropolitan surf life saving programs such as City Nippers have been emulated as Bush Nippers in regional NSW centres.

This program reaches almost 10,000 children each year and has visited Wagga in 2005, 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2015,

However, calls for local river safety groups are growing and Orange City councillor Jason Harding has tipped the Bush Nippers program as the right fix for Wagga.

“We’ve ran the Bush Nippers program for about ten years now and it’s been really successful,” he said.

“It caters from kids aged five to adults and the key is that it doesn’t teach swimming, it teaches water awareness and safety.”

Bush Nippers is just the tip of the iceberg for Cr Hamling, who is currently drafting a proposal for water safety education to be taught as a compulsory subject in schools.

“I’m trying to pitch a motion for basic water education to be taught at K and grades 1 and 2,” he said.

“Swimming lessons are taught in schools but that should come after water education, in my opinion.”

SES to take charge

Wagga’s SES is another group taking action on water safety following the spate of tragic deaths.

SES local controller Daniel Mahoney said his team will be making five short videos demonstrating how witnesses can help struggling swimmers using every day objects.

“This is about assisting people when they get into trouble – not just from the water, but also for people on the banks that can actually do something to help out,” Mr Mahoney said.

“If someone does get into trouble, this is a good way to assist them with some items you will already have on you if you're camping or at the beach or by a dam.

“We don't want to move away from prevention – we always believe that prevention is best – but, unfortunately, sometimes accidents do happen, so we want to give people the tools to act in those situations.” 

The SES’s first video demonstrated how to use an esky as a flotation device. 

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