7 May 2024

Council wins national award for multicultural approach to water safety

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Wollongong City Council Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery and lifeguards and North Wollongong beach.

Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery with council lifeguards before last year’s patrol season. North Wollongong Beach is the only patrolled beach in the city during autumn and winter, between 9 am and 4 pm. Photo: Keeli Royle.

Wollongong City Council has received national recognition for helping to provide culturally specific water safety initiatives for residents new to the city.

Council won Welcoming Cities’ Award for Change in the local government category. Welcoming Cities is a national network of cities, towns, shires and municipalities which aims to embrace diversity and foster social cohesion.

The awards, in their third year, recognise the progress taken to strengthen social cohesion with newly arrived people to the city so that everyone has a chance to participate, belong and thrive.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said council received the award for successfully developing local partnerships that have worked together to run local water safety education initiatives for multicultural communities.

“In 2012 following a number of drownings in Wollongong, including the drownings of former refugees and international students, council supported the establishment of the Illawarra Multicultural Water Safety Network,” Cr Bradbery said.

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“Facilitated by the NSW Office of Sport, the network brought together key players to advocate for the needs of multicultural communities and deliver water safety programs in the region.”

Through the network, council lifeguards and the community development team worked with aquatic services and community-based multicultural organisations to get water safety information and skills to newly arrived residents.

“While council has offered general water safety programs for the wider community for decades, the network is a way we can better target and refine our safety initiatives to meet the needs of our multicultural communities,” Cr Bradbery said.

“This work is incredibly important as migrants, international students, and refugees are an at-risk community of drowning deaths in Australia.

“We want to make sure everyone is safe when they visit our beaches. That means making sure everyone, especially those who haven’t grown up around the ocean, have access to the knowledge to develop experience so that they have a good time in the water, without getting into trouble.”

Community development worker Vimala Colless told Welcoming Cities that the 2012 drowning of a young Congolese boy off Corrimal Beach prompted council and community to investigate how to improve water safety education for multicultural residents.

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“Wollongong City Council has a Community Development Team dedicated to supporting diverse communities,” she said.

“We’ve always had good players in the community sector, but council can just keep things happening, look at partnerships, strengthen engagement and innovation.

“Collaboration skills and network building are the invisible skills.”

The education initiative has included:

  • Producing multilingual beach safety resources with diverse imagery
  • Targeted information and services for international students
  • Delivering a local government Multicultural Water Safety Network forum in 2019 to bring together community, government and community organisations statewide, to share knowledge, highlight best practice and form new partnerships
  • Supporting the formation of NSW CALD Water Safety Network which continues to support new research, share best practice, and identify needs
  • Partnering with Surf Life Saving NSW in delivering the pilot rock fishing workshops, targeting local and Sydney communities.

The Illawarra Multicultural Water Safety Network continues to operate, and last month held a water safety workshop at Wollongong City Beach.

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