Hayden Bousfield teaches kids to swim in the outback

The Wilcannia kids.
The Wilcannia kids.

When the temperature hits 50 degrees Celsius at Wilcannia in north western NSW, the locals head straight to the Darling River to cool off. But the majority of residents can’t swim.

Hayden Bousfield, 22 of Springwood and a swimming teacher from Nepean Aquatic Centre, has just returned from Wilcannia having delivered a two-week intensive program to the local Indigenous community.

Home to 600 people - 520 of whom are Indigenous – the lack of swimming skills is a generational problem: parents can’t swim, so kids don’t learn. St Theresa’s Community School principal, Paul McCabe, is trying to address the community’s lack of swimming ability, and approached Mr Bousfield about delivering the program.

Mr Bousfield began working with 28 Aboriginal children enrolled at the school, from five to eight years old. By the end of the two weeks, the top groups could freestyle with correct technique for 100 metres.

“It was all about filling the kids with confidence – despite being keen to learn, many would get to chest deep and just freak out, and run to the edge or steps of the pool,” he said. “Some of the children were pretty wild, so it was hard to calm some of the children once they panicked, and difficult to bring them back into the lesson.

“We had meltdowns, very colourful language, and I came away with many new insults, many of which I couldn’t previously imagine. 

“But they were all gorgeous kids, colourful characters, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.”

The swimming program also helped enormously with school attendance. Attendance is usually around 50 to 65 per cent of students, but while swimming lessons were part of the daily curriculum, attendance jumped to nearly 100 per cent.