Life Saving Victoria (LSV) is urging people to think about the hidden dangers of inland waterways during the Easter public holiday weekend.
To highlight the dangers, a water tank filled with 1-tonne of water was recently installed at Queensbridge on the banks of the Yarra River in the Melbourne CBD, with the challenge to try to move the tank – equal to fighting against a strong water current.
“People are often surprised to hear that the Yarra River is Australia’s equal-second drowning blackspot, accounting for 25 drowning deaths from July 1, 2008 – June 30, 2018,” says Dr Bernadette Matthews, LSV’s Principal Research Associate.
People associate danger with surf beaches where large waves and rip currents are more obvious, but it’s often difficult to see the hazards of inland waterways when the water is murky. The flat, still surface of an inland waterway can give a false sense of security.
“Even in seemingly calm waterways there can be strong currents, fast-flowing water and submerged objects such as rocks and tree branches. If you get into trouble, there may be no one there to assist as many inland waterways are not patrolled by lifeguards,” says Dr Matthews.
“It’s also difficult to get out of the water due to slippery banks and uneven surfaces.”
“Over 20 per cent of the total drowning toll each year in Victoria is related to alcohol consumption,” says Dr Matthews.
“Alcohol consumption can cause a loss of balance, poor vision, slowed reaction time, and poor judgment which is a very dangerous combination around water.”
It’s also important to note that it is illegal to swim in the Yarra River anywhere south of Gipps Street in Abbotsford, but there have been 25 drowning deaths in the Yarra River over the past 10 years, with almost half (12, 48 per cent) of those in Melbourne’s CBD.
“In the majority of these cases, the victims were men aged in their 30s, 64 per cent were from culturally and linguistically diverse communities,” says Dr Matthews. “We hope the installation will highlight the danger.”
The water tank installation is now in position at Life Saving Victoria State Centre in Port Melbourne, where visitors and passers-by can view the tank and attempt a push.
Some recent examples of drownings and rescues in the CBD section of the Yarra are here: Body found in Yarra River at Southbank, Two men pulled from Yarra River during rescue in Docklands, Man, 21, jumps in Yarra River to rescue woman in Southbank.
Click here for more information about the Respect the River campaign.