real life

'The day my daughter almost drowned.'

My daughter almost drowned a few days ago.

We were in a fully fenced backyard swimming pool. I was in the pool enclosure, making an adjustment to my son’s goggles when I heard what sounded like a gasp for air.

I looked up and watched my daughter drowning.

At first I was confused. She wasn’t the world’s best swimmer but she could swim. I’d set her up as usual on the step of the backyard pool with her pool noodle and her kick board. I was right there in case she needed me. My children can swim but aren’t very confident so I tend to stay close just in case, particularly when we are in an unfamiliar pool as was the case that day.

I didn’t comprehend the danger she was in at first because if she just reached out she’d be able to grab one of her flotation devices. If she just stepped forward she’d be on the step and be able to stand up above the water.

Jo and her daughter. Image supplied.

As she was going down a third time I ran up the side of the pool and jumped in fully clothed. I grabbed her and dragged her to the side of the pool where we stayed for 30 minutes cuddling.

It turned out that she'd fallen off the step before she was ready to swim and had tried to turn around to get back to the step but panic had set in. Later that afternoon my friend's little girl almost went under due to a case of over-confidence in the pool and then the little dog fell in, swam to the side but couldn't get out of the pool because her little paws were too short. My son jumped in and rescued the dog.

Backyard pools are bloody dangerous, not just for children who aren't the best swimmers but even for older children like my son who is 11 and does a forward flip into the pool whenever he thinks I'm not looking. The problem with pools is that it takes just seconds for serious damage to be done, one mouthful of water for CPR to be needed.

As it stands, drowning is still the leading cause of death in children under five in Australia and that's not even taking into account the children left permanently damaged by near-drowning incidents. If it were any other cause - a food product, a toy - we would be yelling our heads off to ban the bloody things. Anything responsible for that many deaths in Australia each year would be considered too dangerous for us to handle.

However because it is the sacred Aussie backyard pool, nobody wants to come to the obvious conclusion that they are just too dangerous.

Backyard pools are so dangerous not just because kids are good at getting around safety measures but because drowning rarely looks like drowning. Article continues after this video.


We try and do the right thing. We get a proper pool fence, we supervise our children, we ensure our children learn to swim, however despite all of our best efforts, child drownings are still occurring. It's not that we aren't good parents, it's just that the task of keeping children safe around water is just too complex.

There are cases of children sneaking into pool enclosures, of climbing through, of being on the floor in front of us one second and at the bottom of the pool the other, of silently slipping under the water before parent's eyes, seemingly swimming but actually drowning, playing games where they try and hold their breaths...

Just last year an "alarming" increase in drowning deaths in children under five was reported. The Royal Life Saving Society's annual drowning report recorded 271 deaths due to drowning, with 26 of those preschool-aged. That reflected a 30 per cent increase from the previous year.

If we were to take into account the drowning deaths and injuries from this summer we'd be faced with even more alarming statistics. Doesn't it seem that every few days reports of another child drowning death is being reported on the news?

It's an easy fix. Get rid of backyard swimming pools. If backyard swimming pools didn't exist, we'd save hundreds of Australian children's lives each year.

Jo's kids at the beach. Image supplied.

Why is it so outrageous to suggest this? Is our culture so water-logged that we would continue to defend backyard swimming pools despite this devastating loss of life?

Amy Peden from The Royal Life Saving Society told the ABC that the huge jump in drowning deaths is "disappointing".

"Children under five are actually the age group that is most at risk of drowning and the majority occur in and around the home - commonly in home swimming pools."

We can still swim at public pools and at the beach were supervision seems to be more effective. There's also the added level of safety thanks to the excellent supervision lifeguards provide at public pools and our most popular beaches.

I'll never own a home with a pool, that's for sure. It's just too much of a risk and there are too many children in my family to justify a backyard pool, no matter how "unAustralian" that may be.