Online forum confronts alarming tide of drowning deaths among Indian Australians, Urges crucial Water safety measures

Some participants shared their harrowing experiences with life-threatening situations on Australian beaches, particularly in rip currents.

In a collaborative effort to promote water safety awareness among the Indian diaspora community in Australia, the Vivekanand Society of Australia, in partnership with Sishu Mandir Australia and the Hemant Govekar Foundation, organized a significant online interaction.

In late January 2024, in Victoria’s Gippsland region, four individuals lost their lives at Forrest Caves beach on Phillip Island. In March, a young man passed away, while two others were hospitalized in critical condition after being rescued from the water near Apollo Bay in Victoria’s southwest. Earlier this month, a father-son duo tragically drowned on the Gold Coast. This marks the third Indian-origin family living in Victoria to face such a heartbreaking fate.

Image: Total number of deaths by drowning in Australia from financial year 2011 to 2023 (Source: Statista 2024)

In the financial year 2023, around 281 people were reported to have drowned in waterways in Australia. The highest number of drowning deaths have been recorded in New South Wales followed by Victoria and Queensland.

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A Summer Drowning Report released by Surf Life Saving Australia noted:

“84% of coastal drowning deaths were male, and regional and remote drowning deaths accounted for 60% of fatal coastal drowning, which is 9% above last year.”

The event featured a distinguished panel of experts including Amrita Jathar from the Hemant Govekar Foundation team, Louise Lambeth, Founder of Deep Water Publishing, Sarah Fettell, a surf lifesaver from Queensland, and Dr. Sandeep Bhagat, Director of Medical Services at Peninsula Health.

Image: Amrita Jathar with her brother Late Hemant Govekar (Source: Supplied)

The session featured a poignant recount by Amrita Jathar, who shared the tragic loss of her brother, Hemant Govekar, on Christmas Day 2017 at Philip Island, Victoria.

Hemant and Amrita, originally from Mumbai, India, were celebrating Hemant’s graduation from the University of Queensland. Ms Jathar observed:

“Hemant went very close to the sand where we were, but in a few seconds, he was pulled away. There were people on the beach who swam close to Hemant, but they couldn’t save him.”

The absence of lifeguards on duty that day, due to it being a public holiday, accentuated the need for greater water safety awareness. Thus, Ms Jathar’s tragedy spurred her to establish the Hemant Govekar Foundation to raise awareness about water safety, particularly among newcomers to Australia’s beach culture.

Image: Louise Lambeth with her book – “Rohit at the river” (Source: Facebook)

Louise Lambeth, a lifesaver in NSW for the last 16 years was inspired by a tragic drowning incident involving a 5-year-old boy, to transition from being a lifeguard to a publisher and children’s author.

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Ms Lambeth’s venture, Deep Water Publishing, focuses on creating storybooks to teach children water safety skills. One of her notable works, “Rohit at the River,” emphasizes the importance of water safety education through storytelling. The story follows Rohit as he learns to stay safe around water at his local swimming pool and highlights the dangers around inland waterways.

Dr Sandeep Bhagat emphasized the significance of incorporating water safety education into a healthy lifestyle. He stressed the importance of teaching children how to call for help and highlighted the ease with which drowning incidents can be prevented through awareness and basic survival swimming skills.

Three in four deaths across Australia occurred at a beach with rip currents which is the number one coastal hazard accounting for 29% of drownings.

Some participants shared their harrowing experiences with life-threatening situations on Australian beaches, particularly in rip currents.

The volunteer surf lifesavers across Australia account for more than 5,700 rescues, 25,000 first aid treatments and 1.3 million preventative actions.

Surf Life Saving Australia notes:

“With more than 1.4 million hours volunteered by surf lifesavers on patrol every year, their actions are estimated to have contributed $1.6 billion economic value to the Australian community during the 2023/24 summer alone.”

Image: Sarah Fettell, from Surf Life Saving Queensland (Source: LinkedIn)

Sarah Fettell, representing Surf Life Saving Queensland, underscored the lifeguards’ role in providing essential survival skills and ensuring beachgoers’ safety.

Ms Fettell encouraged beach visitors to approach lifeguards for guidance on safe swimming spots, emphasising that the water should be enjoyed without fear but with vigilance.

Image: Yogesh Bhatt from Vivekanand Society of Australia

Yogesh Bhatt, the event organiser, reiterated the session’s objective to equip the Indian diaspora community with essential water safety knowledge and beach awareness.

The online session witnessed enthusiastic participation from Indian diaspora members across Australia, highlighting the importance of such initiatives in fostering awareness and promoting safety within the community.

The success of this event through collaboration between various organizations and experts underscores a collective commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of all individuals enjoying Australia’s beaches.

It would be an understatement to say that by fostering a culture of water safety through education, awareness, and community engagement, tragedies like Hemant Govekar’s loss can be prevented.

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