Hopes new partnership reopening remote NT pools will improve kids’ health

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A new partnership is helping to reopen swimming pools in some of the Northern Territory’s most popular communities, where children had to resort to swimming in crocodile-infested rivers.

Temperatures in the Roper River community of Ngukurr recently soared above 30 degrees and humidity soared above 80 percent, prompting Gene Daniels, local youth officer for the Yugul Mangi Aboriginal Corporation, to take action.

Mr Daniels said organizing makeshift slips and slides and organizing water balloon fights went some way to making up for the community’s only council-run swimming pool being closed for “almost a year”.

“It’s quite painful for the children because they can’t go swimming anywhere else because of the crocodiles,” he said.

For Gary Hogan and his friends, it was frustrating to have the pool closed, so the slip and slide was a big relief.

“It’s important for us because it’s so hot, we need to cool off a bit,” he said.

But Ngukurr resident Kerryanne Thompson said she was concerned local children were cooling off in the Roper River, on the edge of the community of 1,100 people, despite the many large crocodiles.

“Some kids, like my cousin’s kids, have gone to the river and it’s not safe for them,” she said.

“The pool should be open because it is a safe place for the children to swim, not near the river where the crocodiles are.”

Ngukurr’s community pool was closed for almost a year.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

A young indigenous child, wrapped in a towel, sits cross-legged on the grass.

Local children in Ngukurr had nowhere to swim, so community members organized a slip-and-slide.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

Roper Gulf Regional Council Mayor Tony Jack said the council had been forced to close both the Ngukurr and Borroloola pools, mainly because it could not recruit enough lifeguards to ensure children could be kept safe.

“It was about maintenance issues and the most important thing for us was lifeguards. That’s the risk in running swimming pools for any municipality. You have to have certified lifeguards, which makes it safe, because you don’t want anyone, especially a child “Drowning,” he said.

“So this was the challenge for us, which meant waiting at the pools while we looked at other packages.”

Searching for lifeguards will help reopen facilities

Since the drowning of a child at the Kintore pool west of Alice Springs three years ago, safety and maintenance issues have closed five of the NT’s 18 remote pools.

The swimming pools in Yuendumu and Wadeye are closed, while the community water parks of Minyerri and Lajamanu are also closed.

Since the closures, Roper Gulf is one of many local authorities who have worked with the YMCA to work towards reopening their pools, with the help of qualified lifeguards.

“We have created a model where we hire and train local staff and then support local staff with volunteers,” YMCA NT CEO Matt Feutrill said.

YMCA NT chief executive Matt Feutrill

YMCA NT CEO Matt Feutrill says the organization has been able to recruit lifeguards from its local network.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

He said while local councils in many remote parts of Australia are struggling to recruit enough lifeguards, members of the YMCA staff from across the organization are willing to donate their time to volunteer for a year in remote NT communities .

“The YMCA has a network of aquatic facilities across Australia, with 220 pools, and we recruit from that network,” he said.

“So they come and work with us for six months to a year, and housing and food are provided, but people give their own time, their own commitment, to give back to the community.”

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