The normally arid Jigalong Aboriginal Community this summer will ring out to the sounds of splashing water and the squeals of delighted children.
The Pilbara community was out in force today for the official opening of the community’s aquatic centre by Housing and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dr Kim Hames.
With the temperature around 40 degrees they had to be content with just splashing their feet, as it will be a few more days before the Health Department gives the all clear on the pool’s water tests.
The 25m swimming pool is the latest initiative designed to improve environmental health at this remote Aboriginal community.
“This is not just a water playground but part of an overall environmental health package to improve the health and wellbeing of these children,” Dr Hames said.
“Also, through a No School, No Pool policy it is expected school attendance and educational achievements will be improved.”
Jigalong is one of three communities to get an aquatic centre, which includes a 25m pool, wading pool, kiosk and manager’s house at a cost of $1.3million. The other two communities are Burringurrah and Mugarinya at Yandearra.
Dr Hames said the Telethon Institute of Child Health was carrying out a 12-month research study into the health and social benefits of swimming pools on the Jigalong and Burringurrah communities.
“There is anecdotal evidence that ear, eye and skin diseases improve with regular swimming in a clean environment,” he said.
“Although the data has not been collated from the research teams initial visit before the pools were open, it has been documented that up to 67 per cent of Aboriginal children suffer ear disease causing impaired hearing.
“If the installation of a pool can cut that back with the resulting improvement to health and educational opportunities, it is money well spent.
“Until now, a visit to a pool for the Jigalong community meant a four-hour round trip to Newman on a gravel road.
“Alternatively, children used to swim in a nearby creek for the few weeks of the year it contained water - a dangerous practice which could lead to sickness and even drowning through lack of supervision.“
Dr Hames said statistics from the Northern Territory reported that 93 per cent of drownings among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were in open waterways, water holes and dams.
The Royal Life Saving Society is providing an accredited pool manager for Jigalong and the other two communities. The role of the managers will also be to train people from the community to take over as pool managers and lifesavers.
Jigalong has undergone massive change in recent years since Dr Hames chaired a working party in an effort to find ways of normalising essential services and improving the living standards of Aboriginal people in remote communities.
What resulted was the Aboriginal Communities Strategic Investment Program and the environmental health package. Jigalong was one of the first demonstration communities under the ACSIP program.
The environmental health package includes sealing internal roads to reduce dust, greening the community and the option of a swimming pool.
Media contact: Sandy Gater 9424 7450