Water safety plea

Harpreet Singh Kandra, a community volunteer, is calling for more water safety awareness while stressing the need for swimming lessons. Picture: Supplied

By Violet Li and Aap

A prominent Cardnia Shire community leader has stressed the importance of water safety awareness following the deaths of six people from the local Indian community.

Clyde residents Dharmvir Singh, 38, and Gurjinder Singh, 65, drowned after leaping into a pool at a Gold Coast hotel to try to save the younger man’s child on Sunday 31 March.

The shocking news came only two months after Victoria’s worst drowning incident in almost two decades where three Clyde North residents – Kirti Bedi, 20, Suhani Anand, 20, and Jagjeet Singh Anand, 23 – and Reema Sondhi from India, drowned during at Forrest Caves Beach on Phillip Island on Wednesday 24 January.

On 12 January, Cranbourne East man Sahil Panwar, 25, was swept out to sea in the vicinity of the Bourne Creek Trestle Bridge at Kilcunda Surf Beach when he was trying to retrieve his sunglasses in the water.

The Officer Sikh Temple Gurudwara Siri Guru Nanak Darbar held a voluntary prayer service on Thursday 4 April for the shattered families of Dharmvir and Gurjinder.

Harpreet Singh Kandra, a community volunteer who helped organise the prayer service, said they tried to build a bit of water safety awareness in the community on the day.

“A lot of people in the Indian community do not know swimming, which is not good. We did tell people that it’s good for everyone to learn to swim,” he said.

“If you can’t learn swimming, you need to be extra careful with water when you are on a holiday.”

He said there was a need for the media and the community to build up awareness on a wider scale.

“When news is new, people remember it and people can relate to it. But once the news dies down, people again get used to their lives,” he said.

“I have spoken with a few community leaders, and I don’t think it’s a problem in the wider community.

“Again, we are using the opportunity to make the community aware of water safety and the need for us to learn swimming.

“People come here when they relocate from other countries. They learn driving because driving is an important skill to have here, and we are stressing that swimming is also an important state skill to acquire.”

Holt MP Cassandra Fernando said she was deeply heartbroken about the recent drownings of Dharmvir Singh and Gurjinder Singh, which followed other drowning incidents that have taken the lives of people from the community.

“Every life lost is one too many,” she said.

“When I heard about the incident that took place on the Gold Coast, I could not help but reflect that I had only recently attended the funeral of the four people from the Indian community who lost their lives at Forrest Caves Beach.

“It’s important to drive more awareness about being safe in and around the water.

“While swimming lessons are often a staple in Australian schools, it is important that this is not the case around the world. Similarly, while we’ve been taught to ‘swim between the flags’ since childhood, not everyone is aware of this.”

Ms Fernando said she was currently in discussions with a few Indian community organisations about the steps they could take to improve water safety awareness.

The drowning of two men from Melbourne’s Indian community has also prompted a plea from lifesavers to inject more cash into multicultural water safety programs.

Multicultural communities are five times more likely to drown when swimming and the Indian community is particularly vulnerable, according to Life Saving Victoria.

Following the tragedy, the state’s peak water safety body said urgent action was needed to better support multicultural communities around water, with 28,000 migrants arriving in Victoria each year.

Philanthropic organisations and local governments have been forced to fill gaps in funding, Life Saving Victoria’s diversity and inclusion advisor David Holland said.

“We’re at the stage now where (programs) won’t operate without the generosity and the assistance of the State Government,” he told reporters on Friday 5 April.

‘‘We’re pretty much tapped out.”

Life Saving Victoria wants to develop the water skills of as many African, Asian, and Middle Eastern people as possible so they can work as pool lifeguards, swim teachers, and volunteers.

“For people who can’t come to the beach and learn, we’ll go to their classroom, church, sporting clubs, community centre, homework group and we’ll deliver (programs) there,” Mr Holland said.

Victorian Minister Vicki Ward said the State Government had spent more than $400,000 on supporting multicultural community water safety awareness.

“We will continue to work with our communities and… with our swimming industry to see how we can continue to help keep Victorians safe,” she said.