Migrants embrace Australian beach culture and safety | Asia Pacific

Migrants embrace Australian beach culture and safety

Migrants embrace Australian beach culture and safety

Updated 29 January 2013, 21:40 AEDT

For many visitors and migrants to Australia, a trip to the beach is high on the sight-seeing list.

But, the latest statistics from Royal Life Saving Australia show those trips often end in tragedy.

Almost a third of all drownings on the coast involve people born overseas.

In Victoria, life savers are trying to cut that risk by running beach safety programs for different ethnic groups.

Correspondent: Samantha Donovan

Speakers: Tial Hnem, Burmese refugee and swim group leader; Sally Eastwoord, life saver; David Holland, manager, Life Saving Victoria; Imtiyaz Saperi, life saver, pool attendant and former Afghan refugee

DONOVAN: It's a sweltering day at Edithvale Beach on Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay. A group of Burmese refugees is about to head out into the glistening blue water from the life saving club rooms.

Life saver Sally Eastwood is giving them their instructions through an interpreter.

EASTWOOD: So we've got two more activities. So we go back into our two groups.

(Tial Hnem speaking in Burmese)

Burmese refugee Tial Hnem has been living in Australia for nine years.

She's leading this group of 25 women and children, most of whom have spent between two and four years in refugee camps in India and Malaysia.

TIAL HNEM: For some people this is their first time they ever seen the beach in their life so they were really happy.

DONOVAN: Tial Hnem says for many Burmese just wearing a swimsuit can be a challenge.

TIAL HNEM: We never do bathers, to wear bathers in Chin State. There is no beach to go in Chin State. Even myself, when the first time I went to the beach, I see them, you know, I feel uncomfortable.

DONOVAN: Does a day like this, learning a bit about being at the beach with the life savers help the Burmese community adapt to life in Australia do you think?

TIAL HNEM: A lot because when our children will be grown up or even if they're parents, they don't speak English, it's very hard to find out things. What is dangerous? What kind of things they need to be careful of? So especially this program was very good for our community.

DONOVAN: David Holland manages Life Saving Victoria's multicultural projects. He says learning about water safety is understandably a low priority for recently arrived migrants and refugees.

HOLLAND: With all that they have to contend with in their countries of origin and when they come here, it's probably very low on the hierarchy of things that they need to deal with, which makes this program all the more important because I guess we throw a welcome to these groups and provide a very, very rare opportunity for them to actually come down the beach.

DONOVAN: Life Saving Victoria is running about 75 water safety programs for different ethnic groups this summer. And all up for the year about 11,000 migrants, refugees and international students will take part in a program.

David Holland says the organisation wants to see more people from ethnic communities getting involved in life-saving.

HOLLAND: Swim teachers - fantastic role models for the groups. You can go to a leisure centre, you can go to a beach, you can see somebody from your community and that's a very, very warm and welcoming feeling and we want that for our aquatic facilities and life saving clubs to be more inclusive and more reflective of the community.

It's one thing me giving the messages. How powerful is it when one of their own are delivering the water safety messages?

DONOVAN: David Holland proudly points to a young life saver who's in the water helping the Burmese children learn about water safety.

Five summers ago, young Afghan Imtiyaz Saperi couldn't speak a word of English and was in one of these courses with people from his own community. His father had fled Kabul in 1999 and after a stint in a detention centre waited six years for his family to join him.

Now Imtiyaz Saperi is a fully fledged life saver and pool attendant. But he says doing the life saving training wasn't easy.

IMTIYAZ SAPERI: Oh, to be honest, it was pretty hard for me because I couldn't speak English properly. I didn't have any mates who were doing it with me. I didn't have any role models to follow and I didn't have anyone to speak to while I was doing the course.

In the water I couldn't swim so I was trying my best to get it through. Yeah, so some difficulties.

DONOVAN: Has getting involved in life saving and learning to swim and being at the beach a lot made it easier to get used to life in Melbourne and make friends?

IMTIYAZ SAPERI: Oh, seriously it has. Like, I go around, I speak to everyone, I make new mates, new friends every day. I speak to a lot of people in Life Saving Victoria who, you know, can help me with other stuff.

Like I'm an instructor now, kind of the money I get from here, which helps me pay for my schooling and for the car, for the petrol and I've been working with my community more, kind of more with the Afghan community because a lot of them, they come from overseas. They don't know how to swim. They don't know how to speak English. So I kind of help them get through with the problems because that was the same thing which happened to me.

So, when people hear your story, you know, where you're from and how you came here, they get to kind of learn from me and kind of, you know, inspire people and make new friends every day. So it does help in a way I reckon.

DONOVAN: Are people interested in your story?

IMTIYAZ SAPERI: Oh, they are but I don't brag about it much. I don't go around telling people about, you know, my story much but sometimes when I do they actually get a shock. They're like, "Oh, good job." I'm like yeah, no worries.


Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.