Walgett Pool Day: Community-led solutions to improve Aboriginal child safety



TYPE Prevention Centre News

Focusing on water safety, nearly 400 people gathered at the pool to swim, talk, play and focus on the wellbeing of their young people.

The Walgett Pool Day was led by local Aboriginal community-controlled organisations as a fun and positive day for families to be together and safely enjoy the pool. Almost 400 people attended, with free entry to the pool for a day of yarning, talking about what Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS) Goonimoo Mobile Children’s Services will be delivering next year, barbecue, salad, fruit, iced water and the chance to win a family pool season pass.

Injury is the leading cause of death in Australian children. Programs targeting parents of young children offer an opportunity for engagement and improving health literacy around injury prevention throughout children’s lives.

Programs also need to target community-level factors that affect injuries like the physical environment and policies. Change at this level requires community buy-in; relationship-building and events like the pool day build good will and positive associations with the program.

Parents are really keen to get involved to keep their kids safe. They have ideas about what can be done at a community level and they’re also keen to learn more about what they can do to prevent injuries.

Tara Smith, Goonimoo Child Injury Prevention Educator


Working closely with local community groups, the Child Injury Prevention Program (CHIPP) has been developed as a community-led project and will be delivered through the existing supported playgroup Goonimoo run by WAMS which works with other local children’s services. This leverages existing knowledge and expertise about local service delivery and the relationships with Walgett families attending this well-established organisation.

“We’ve been having lots of informal yarns with parents during playgroup about the sorts of activities they want to do. We also held some formal research yarning groups with Nellie and Mel from UNSW at Goonimoo, with WAMS health personnel and other local children’s services,” said Amy Townsend Manager of Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service’s Goonimoo Mobile Children’s Services.

“We asked parents what sorts of injury issues they are concerned about and the topics they’d be interested in covering next year,” said Amy.

Parent involvement key to child safety

The involvement of parents is key to the success of the program and research shows it’s an effective route to reducing child injury.

A child and adult enjoying themselves at Walgett Pool. Aly wears a red and yellow inflatable ring in the shape of a bird around his waist.
Two visitors enjoying a day out at Walgett Pool. Image © 2019 Dharriwaa Elders Group

“Parents are really keen to get involved to keep their kids safe. They have ideas about what can be done at a community level and they’re also keen to learn more about what they can do to prevent injuries,” said Tara Smith, Goonimoo Child Injury Prevention Educator.

“They also want to learn first aid – things like CPR and first aid for choking and snake bites – because we’re often a long way from help out here. Snake bites are a big issue in our community, so this is a priority area. Parents are keen, and always encouraged to have a say about the sorts of activities they want to do at Goonimoo’s playgroup ,” said Tara.

Tara has been working with Goonimoo for several years as a qualified educator, prior to which she was an Aboriginal Health Worker at Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service. Tara’s focus in 2020 is on delivering and refining the CHIPP program. Tara is currently studying to become an Aboriginal Health Practitioner.

“I’m learning a lot about child injury. For example, I’ve just been to Sydney to start the Austswim Teacher of Swimming and Water Safety course so we can do ‘parents and bubs’ water familiarisation play sessions at the pool next year. Aboriginal families don’t really have access to these sort of water activities in Walgett at the moment,” said Tara.

Tara also co-presented about CHIPP with Dr Melanie Andersen at the Australasian Injury Prevention Network Conference in Brisbane in November.

Walgett Pool Day

Walgett is situated at the junction of the Barwon and Namoi rivers, and the community has a healthy respect for the importance of water safety. CHIPP’s focus on water safety in term one was the result of community consultation.

People enjoying Walgett Pool. Some are in the water while many others sit on the edge under a long blue shade stretching the length of the pool.
The crowd enjoy Walgett Pool. © 2019 Dharriwaa Elders Group

Walgett’s pool has always been a strong focus for the community to come together, exercise and get some welcome respite from its long, dry summers, particularly now that the rivers are very depleted due to the drought.

“The CHIPP team has yarned with parents about what they’d like from the program, and about injury prevention in general, over the past few months. The Walgett Pool Day was a great opportunity to reach families to promote Goonimoo and the CHIPP program. We also had a few good yarns with the pool manager about water safety, existing and previous swimming programs at Walgett and the pool-based playgroup next year” said Dr Melanie Andersen from UNSW,  a key investigator on the Prevention Centre project.

“The turnout was great and we think that was a result of a long period of promotion by Goonimoo and combining forces with Yuwaya Ngarra-li and Dharriwaa Elders Group so families had transport to and from the pool. The pool was packed with children and families having a ball and cooling down on the 38oC day. We spoke to many people about the program and we’re looking forward to seeing them at the parents and bubs swimming sessions in 2020,” said Dr Andersen.

Community organisations key to success

A long line of people queue in the hot sun for an ice block from a stand.
The ice block line. Image © 2019 Dharriwaa Elders Group

The success of the Walgett Pool Day is down to the strong local Aboriginal community-controlled organisations who collaborated to bring people together.

“Yuwaya Ngarra-li – the partnership between Walgett’s Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG) and UNSW, were doing their annual community data gathering day with children and young people. Because the CHIPP program was introduced to Walgett through the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership, we decided to combine our resources,” said Wendy Spencer, Project Manager with Dharriwaa Elders Group and Yuwaya Ngarra-li (Dharriwaa Elders Group’s formal research partnership with UNSW Sydney).

“WAMS, DEG, Yuwaya Ngarra-li and the CHIPP team all contributed resources including staff time, food, accommodation, transport, sun-safety giveaways like hats and sunscreen and other resources to make the day a success. We were also pleased that Mission Australia kindly ran the barbecue and the Police Citizens Youth Club provided the music. I was really pleased with the happy good vibe of the day where we had the opportunity to provide some good food, free entry and a fun family time at the pool to cap off a difficult year for everyone in Walgett,”said Wendy.

The day was such a success that Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service will hold two additional community pool days this summer to promote community-building, togetherness, health and wellbeing and as a forum for health promotion activity.

“CHIPP will begin again in earnest next year at Goonimoo, aiming to start off in term one at the pool with parents and bubs water play sessions. The program will focus around activity and play,” said Dr Mel Andersen.

“So, for example, while Goonimoo staff teach parents water familiarisation activities to do with their kids that build water skills, staff will also yarn about drowning prevention. Each school term will have a different injury prevention focus, including sport and physical activity, home safety and road safety.”

Walgett community tips for child water safety

  • Close and constant active adult supervision is the key, even in shallow water
  • Drowning is quick and silent
  • Teach swimming and water safety as early as possible
  • Talk to your children, explain the potential for danger but have fun

Read more

All images © 2019 Dharriwaa Elders Group