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Plans to reopen Roper River community pools will benefit child health

Rhiannon Clarke -

In the Roper River community of Ngukurr the local council-run pool which has been closed for almost a year is set to reopen soon.

Children have been forced to swim in crocodile-infested rivers, a major safety concern, in the absence of the pool.

Yugul Mangi Aboriginal Corporation's youth officer Gene Daniels has partnered with a new organisation to reopen the pools in some of the Northern Territory's hottest communities.

While makeshift slip and slides and water balloon fights have provided some relief, they are not a substitute for a proper swimming pool.

Gary Hogan and his friends have found the slip and slide to be a great relief, but Ngukurr resident Kerryanne Thompson is worried about the safety of children who are swimming in the Roper River.

The Roper Gulf Regional Council Mayor Tony Jack has said the council had to close the pools due to maintenance issues and a shortage of certified lifeguards.

"It came to maintenance issues and the big thing for us was lifeguards, that's the risk in the running of pools for any council," Mr Jack told the ABC.

"You've got to have certified lifeguards making it safe, because you don't want anybody, especially a child, drowning.

"So this was the challenge for us, meaning we had to stall on the pools while we looked at other arrangements."

Following the tragic incident of a child drowning in Kintore pool, located west of Alice Springs, three years ago, a total of five remote pools out of the 18 in the Northern Territory have been closed due to safety and maintenance concerns.

The closures have affected the pools in Yuendumu and Wadeye, as well as the community water parks in Minyerri and Lajamanu.

In response to these closures, Roper Gulf and other local governments have collaborated with the YMCA to enlist the expertise of their qualified lifeguards in order to work towards reopening the pools.

Community members in Ngukurr organised a slip and slide as an alternative to the pool.

(Image: ABC Jane Bardon news)

In the wake of a devastating incident where a child drowned in Kintore pool, situated west of Alice Springs, three years ago, concerns regarding safety and maintenance have led to the closure of five out of the 18 remote pools in the Northern Territory.

"We've created a model whereby we are employing and training local staff and then supporting local staff with volunteers," YMCA NT chief executive Matt Feutrill said.

Local councils in numerous remote areas of Australia have faced difficulties in hiring an adequate number of lifeguards.

Staff members of the YMCA from various branches are eager to offer their time as volunteers in remote communities in the Northern Territory for a duration of one year.

"The YMCA has a network of aquatic facilities throughout Australia, with 220 pools, and we're recruiting from that network," he said.

"So they come and work for six months to a year with us, and accommodation and food expenses are provided, but people give their own time, their own commitment, to giving back to community."

He said getting remote Indigenous community pools reopened was particularly important.

"Aboriginal children are two and a half times more likely to drown than non-Aboriginal children so the development of water safety skills is very important," he said.

"Another great thing about operating pools in remote communities — where it is very hot — is that there is an incentive-based around the pool to increase school attendance.

"So it's, 'yes you went to school that day, yes you can come to the pool'."

The Ngukurr community pool was closed for almost a year.(Image: Michael Franchi ABC news)

In addition to its ability to control skin infections like scabies, eye infections, trachoma, and ear infections, Mr Feutrill highlighted that chlorinated water offers other health benefits.

"All of those conditions early in life lead to chronic problems late in life including kidney and heart failure, loss of sight and loss of hearing," he said.

"The pool in Kintore hasn't yet reopened, the community is still grieving, but I am in contact with the health clinic there and the rate of infection for children has skyrocketed since the pool closure.

"So that community really needs to have that pool reopened."

The YMCA is working towards a plan to reopen Wadeye's pool, and it has now been able to reopen the Borroloola and Ngukurr pools.

Mr Jack said local kids were excited by the reopening and students would again start travelling to use the pools from schools in surrounding areas.

"All the communities around, like Minyerri, Hodson Downs and Urapungu schools will be able to use the pool at Ngukurr, and with Borroloola, the Robinson River school kids will be able to use that one too, so hopefully we'll get really good health outcomes right across the region," he said.


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