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Thursday, December 1, 2011
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Serious fun: Juniors from St Matthew's Catholic School enjoy splashing around in the Rangitikei Active Pool as part of
the Swim for Life programme.
Photo: LAURA WALTERS
Free swim lessons take off
By LAURA WALTERS
As New Zealand s drowning rates
rise and the focus is taken off swim-
ming education in schools the river
district turns its focus to water
safety programmes for school chil-
Marton mother Mary-Anne Ill-
ston s 22-month-old daughter
Hannah Thomsen drowned in the
family pool at the start of the year.
Ms Illston was charged with man-
slaughter in April, but a Wellington
High Court threw out the charge
The mother of a blended family of
16 said she always watched the chil-
dren in the pool. However, the day
Hannah drowned Ms Illston had
gone inside to attend to another
child. All the children had got out of
the pool, but Hannah must have
fallen, or got into the pool when no-
one was looking, she said.
Ms Illston said it was impossible
for any parent to watch their chil-
dren every minute of every day.
There s no magic answer, she
We are good parents.
We are not out there doing any-
thing to hurt our children.
She believed it was important to
educate children about water,
especially in New Zealand.
And temper their confidence
around water, with respect.
People need to learn to respect it
more, she said.
Ms Illston said it was important
to still allow children to experience
life, and not wrap them in cotton
Her young children were back in
the pool, and at swimming lessons.
It s really sad that the school
pools have been closed by regu-
lations, she said.
However, Ms Illston said people
needed to be aware that it was
sometimes difficult to spot a
I think the one thing people don t
realise is that drowning is a silent
Ms Illston said she did not have
the answer to stopping children
But she said water safety was
important in New Zealand where
there was always a pool, lake,
beach, or river close by.
Ms Illston said her husband Les,
and their tight-knit family supp-
orted each other through the ordeal,
and remembered Hannah fondly.
Like Ms Illston, Water Safety
New Zealand and the Rangitikei
District Council recognised swim
safety as an important part of keep-
ing children safe in a country that is
surrounded by water.
The three pools throughout the
district, with support from Sparc,
Sport Wanganui, and the Rangitikei
District Council, expanded Water
Safety New Zealand s free swim-
ming programme to include all year
4 to 8 children in Rangitikei.
Each child from a decile 5 or
below school gets 10 free swims to
teach them the essentials in water
Rangitikei District Council senior
policy analyst Denise Servante said
600 children were signed up for the
programme which ran throughout
We are a river district. We
should be able to support our chil-
dren learning to swim, she said.
The funding package added up to
$35,000, and covered transport to
get children to the pools.
Ms Servante said the district
council planned to continue the pro-
gramme in coming years.
She said Rangitikei was the only
district in the country that offered
free swimming lessons to children in
We have had an absolutely fan-
tastic response. All the schools are
Water Safety New Zealand chief
executive Matt Claridge said a lot of
drownings in New Zealand were
The national drowning toll for
this year until October was 102.
That s why we emphasise the
importance of safety as the first
priority for all water based activity,
At some point something
untoward or unexpected will hap-
pen. If you ve neglected basic safety
considerations you are increasing
the likelihood of an otherwise minor
event escalating into something
Mr Claridge said if there was not
a shift in attitudes the nation would
continue to be faced with an ever-
increasing annual drowning toll.
Water Safety New Zealand s
Swim for Life programme was
designed to address a dramatic
decline in swimming ability of New
Zealand youth, he said.
The Rangitikei Mail goes online
A full copy of the Rangitikei Mail
can now be read online, in a digital
On the day of printing, regis-
tered digital subscribers will be
emailed to say the latest paper is
available to read. Subscription is
This is fantastic news for both
our local readers and those outside
our district or overseas who like to
keep in touch with local news and
event, says Sandra Crosbie,
Rangitikei Mail editor.
In addition to our latest stories
being available on our Facebook
page, the digital edition allows for
all news stories and advertise-
ments to be read internationally. It
means anyone with an interest in
the district can be kept up todate.
We strongly encourage those in
the district to continue sharing
their news and events with us and
look forward to continuing to
develop the paper.
The link to register for the online
edition is: stuff.co.nz/manawatu-
welcomed to our district. PAGE 5
bring festive spirit to all.PAGE 13
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