Thirteen-year-old Piper Stewart loves to swim. But last year, she noticed there were only a few other Aboriginal kids at her small club in the rural NSW town of Griffith.
“Swimming lessons are pretty expensive,” Miss Piper told NITV News. “So I started coming up with some ideas to help other kids afford swimming lessons as well.”
With the help of her Mum, Allison Stewart, the pair started raising money for their charity organisation.
The Stewarts called their fledgling Aboriginal swimming program, Bambigi.
“We live on Wiradjuri Country and Piper was learning how to speak Wiradjuri at the time – Bambigi means ‘to swim,’” Ms Stewart told NITV News.
When kids enrol, they pull on their Bambigi swimming cap: proudly displaying the Aboriginal flag.
“The swimming program offers each child $80 per term for six months,” Ms Stewart said. “When we took our first group in – our goal was to pay for 20 children’s swimming lessons.
“To reach 80 children already - at 18 months – that’s rewarding.”
A swimming start
Just last year, 10-year-old Kaiden was classed as a non-swimmer. Unable to afford swimming lessons, his mother Sam Simpson was relieved when he was accepted into the Bambigi program.
"If we were anywhere near water, I was always very anxious because the thought of my kids not being able to save themselves was scary," Ms Simpson said.
“This year, he competed in every race at his school swimming carnival and did amazingly well. He wouldn’t have had that without Bambigi.”
Ms Simpson’s youngest son, 5-year-old Connor, was also accepted into the program.
“He was absolutely terrified of water - he would scream if he knew we were going to a pool,” said Ms Simpson. “Now he loves the water – he’s up the deep end, a normal kid splashing around with his friends.”
A skill for life
According to the Royal Life Saving Society, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are four times more likely to drown than non-Indigenous Australians.
Swim teacher Deb Della Franca sees Bambigi as a gift for Griffith kids. She says that water survival and safety skills gained by children who undertake the program are vital.
“There are many channels that run through town; you’ll watch the kids jump in off the road,” Ms Della Franca told NITV News
“The little ones, they watch the older kids do it, you’ll see them jumping in off the bridges not knowing what’s under that water or that it’s moving.
“If they were to fall in, it would be nice to know that they have the ability to float, get back to the edge …the difference that it has made to the kids is definitely fulfilling.”
Kerrilee Philp panicked when her 9-year-old announced that she was going to compete in the school swimming carnival.
“She hadn’t done much swimming!” Ms Philp told NITV News. “Because Piper is so advanced in swimming and competes, I asked if she could spare some time to show my daughter, Lijanah a few pointers.
“They trained her for three weeks and she ended up going into the relay - her relay team won and she also won the 25-metre freestyle.
“Bambigi has honestly been the best program to come out of Griffith for a very long time.”
In July, Piper will lead a Swimathon that aims to raise enough funds for Bambigi to continue to grow. She will swim non-stop for 3 hours, completing laps alongside the kids who have learnt to swim through her program.
“The feeling that you’ve given back to the community – it’s enjoyable to see how far they’ve come,” she said.
Her mother agrees.
“I get excited when parents send me videos and say my child couldn’t swim a length of the pool and now look what they can do,” Ms Stewart said.