'It's pretty well a win-win': The beach safety lessons in the outback that inspire careers


Ocean safety is an important lesson for all Australians, but for those who live a long distance from the beach it's a tough one to learn.

When Andrew Henry stops for petrol on a remote outback highway, he's used to locals wondering what he's doing.

"It's a question we get asked a lot," he says.

That's because he's usually ferrying a team of Surf Life Savers, kitted out in the familiar red and yellow.

This trip they're headed to Amata, a small Indigenous community in the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands, in far northwestern South Australia.

It's about as far away from a beach as you can get in Australia.

The team is part of the 'beach to bush' program, developed after studies showed people who live a long way from the beach were more at risk of dying in waterways.

"Generally we find most people go to the beach at some point in their life, and we want to make sure people are ready and understand the dangers when they do that, be that next week, next year or in 10 years' time," Mr Henry says.

A report published by Royal Life Saving looked at 13 years of data on drowning deaths collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and found the drowning death rate was 1.7 times higher for those in rural and regional communities, compared to their urban counterparts.

With its desert climate, where summer temperatures regularly climb above 40 degrees, Mr Henry says the visit to Amata has multiple purposes.

"There are dangers with all sorts of waterways, and we are not only about the beach, we are about all waterways," he says. 

"There are also currents in pools and rock holes."

Ken Hamilton is the manager of the pool at Amata where the training takes place.

He says water safety awareness could be improved in the community.

"At the moment it isn't good,” he says. “I'm the only qualified person [currently in the community], so that's why it's really great that Surf Life Saving are here, to help train up some of the locals."

That could soon change.

As the Surf Life Saving SA team arrives in Amata, four young women come out to meet them.

Jasmine, Maria, Sarah and Roshanna are keen to learn new skills.

"We're doing the lifeguard training… keeping the children safe in the pool,"  says Jasmine.

Like most people in Amata, Jasmine speaks English as a second language.

She sees lifeguard training as a community service, but also a pathway to employment in a town where there are very few jobs.

"It gives locals an opportunity to get a qualification which could lead to employment in Amata," Mr Hamilton says.

"It's also a real benefit for the community as well, because the more locals we can get trained, the longer hours we can open the pool for.

"It's pretty well a win-win situation for everyone."

And one that could ultimately save lives.

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