Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Swimming lessons of yesteryear

Sticky, mortal subject here in Oz.
An island surrounded by water with most capital cities based near the beaches which are so inviting, (mostly) clean and are covered in roasting pink lobsters with two legs every summer.
And the drownings.
Andrew rightly asked why are kids not being taught to properly swim these days?
Those of us over a certain age were expected to attain a new level of swimming certificate Each.And.Every.Summer.Without.Fail.
If doing swimming lessons through school they were generally scheduled both before and after the Summer hols with kids fully trained in the basics (at least) of swimming thought safe to be unleashed on the long hot Summer hols ahead.
We were made to swim, dammit, there was no molly-coddling bs of 'going at our own pace'.
I can well remember the Caulfield pool, one scene of our lessons, where we had to jump in and get the lessons started, everyone equal in their ability (except those show-off boys who could hold their breath under water for the longest time and won Razzes or Sunny Boys for their talent).
The teachers knew the way to a mercenary feral school kids heart; they'd toss 20 cent pieces down into the deep end and we'd be duck diving after them faster than a rat up a drain pipe. If they were raw recruits straight out of Uni we'd con them into tossing 50 cent pieces which would result in near bloodshed at the antics of acquisitive (rather than inquisitive) students. 
We were made to take at least 5 jumps off the highest high diving board (Olympic standard) at Caulfield pool from grade 4 aged 8/9 onwards, plunging down into the depths like a bullet and then swimming up, up, up towards the light. Soon cured anyone of their fear!
We were pitted against each other in races by the teachers to make us work harder, to try that bit more to do our best under our own efforts, none of this 'all inclusive no one is a loser, everyone is a competitor' bs they prattle now.
Cos the real world is soooo all about inclusiveness without competition or danger... isn't it?
 Grade 6 aged 11/12  over several days we were expected to jump off and slide down a slide off the side of Brighton or St Kilda baths at the deep end, swim our way to a pontoon, climb up it and then swim back.
Then we were expected to climb the slippery metal ladder to do it all again except this time we had to climb in to a kayak tethered near the pontoon and then paddle into shore. 15 times minimum we were expected to leap off, swim,paddle, climb back up and do it all again (we enjoyed it so much we all well and truly exceeded the minimum).
All the while fully clothed, including shoes.
From memory we had to wear our bathers underneath and remove the outer clothing while in the water and stuff them into the plastic bags we carried - simulating entering the water under emergency conditions.
At one point the teachers (not in the water) bombarded us with various things like plastic balls and other floating toys to give us another obstacle to overcome and no, I was not one of those dreadful kids who began throwing the balls back to at the teachers.
The days us grade 6-ers did it it was threatening to storm, the waves were choppy, sporadic light showers kept sweeping over us and the obligatory urban myth about the shark fence having so many holes in it that sharks, stingrays and blue-ring octopi were traded back and forth.
But by God we knew how to swim.


  1. Knowing how to swim certainly is imperative I reckon.

  2. This sounds like fun! Where I went to school there was no such thing. We had the voluntary State Swim scheme at the local beach in summer, but that didn't start up until I was 11 or 12. Somehow managed to not drown myself anyway, even though I spent summers at the beach from dawn to dusk. I think all schools should have compulsory swimming lessons.

  3. Girl, now I want a Razz or a SunnyBoy. Or Saos with butter and vegemite.

    Swimming food.

    Ommm nomm nomm.

  4. Swimming lessons are compulsory in Britain...at least they were when I was a kid. Fortunately, how to escape from a sack isn't part of the curriculum yet, otherwise there'd be no way to get rid of the little b***ards.

  5. Your lessons were full on. Mine, not so much.

    Brian, my partner's school had a swimming pool. Just a normal government school in the north of England.

  6. Absolutely, Cazzie!

    Don't think they're compulsory anymore, River, mores the pity.

    Oooooo, Kelle, Saos vegemite worms!!!

    Used to be compulsory here, too, Brian, sadly it's a molly-coddle world these days.

    Fen reminded me of the training fully clothed on your blog, Andrew, was the best time I remember giving us respect and what to expect in emergency situations.

  7. Must have been a Vic thing.
    My Mum learned to swim in the river running alongside her farm, and learned to surf from her life-guard uncles at Maroochydore ... but no formal lessons.
    My hubby can't swim well - his little school (7 kids) got swimming lessons in the Mary River on the end of a rope. He sinks beautifully.
    We were inflicted with weekly swimming lessons at school which were a complete waste of time. I'm not a fast swimmer so I copped heaps of flack ... but I could swim for longer than anyone else which is ultimately what one needs to be able to do. I have grown to love swimming, no thanks to the school system. It was really my Mum who taught me to swim and surf ... and how to float and paddle enough to get out of a rip.

  8. Gosh. I've never felt so backward in all my life. I cannot swim, and I don't know anything about vegemite and saos.

    *hangs head in shame*

    But, Brian, I can find my way out of a sack. So long as it is not in the water.

  9. I didn't get that sort of swim training as a kid. But I can swim. (I've got even better since I was 40 and started going to swim squads like I make my kids do.)

    Very timely discussion, apart from the tragic drownings. Just had primary school swimming carnival for youngest, and every year I am shocked at all the kids who can't swim a lap. What are their parents thinking? (Plus we do live by the sea!)

    Problem with the drownings in rips is that even people who can swim drown because a) they are stupid enough to swim in a rip, and b) they don't know what to do if they do get caught in one.

  10. My best friend managed to get her swimming certificate by keeping one foot on the bottom while kicking up a storm with the other foot.
    I could not dive head first into the sea or the Melbourne baths where I had my first swimming lessons. I still can't do it, jump and land, no problems but no diving.