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No. 50 (March 1965)
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THE PROBLEM OF MAORI DROWNINGS

Dominion President, Maori Women's Welfare League.

without water, man could not survive. At the same time, though, water can be a killer. Last year in New Zealand, 113 people lost their lives in the water — and 19 of them were Maoris. The Maori population ratio is about one in 14, but this drowning rate is about one in six. It is a serious cause for concern that so many of these tragedies should involve our Maori people.

Seven drownings last year occurred in the sea. One man drowned when he tried to rescue one of his children who was being swept out to sea on an inflated rubber raft. The father, a non-swimmer, got into difficulties as he reached the raft and his wife swam out and rescued the child. Two spectators swam to the father's aid and pulled him to the beach, but he did not respond to resuscitation attempts.

Rubber Rafts Can Be Death-Traps

Inflatable rubber rafts can be death-traps, especially the cheap variety which are intended for camping, not for surfing. Even quite a small wave can roll them over.

The following principles for ensuring safety in small boats should be observed at all times:

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Use your boat only where it will be safe. Any boat under 16 ft. should not leave sheltered waters.

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Don't overload.

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Be fully equipped. All boats, even those with motors, should have oars and rowlocks, a baler, anchor and rope, spare bungs, and life jackets for everyone (which should be worn).

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Watch the weather. If it looks threatening, stay ashore.

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Don't abandon ship. If your boat capsizes, stay with it.

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Always wear a life-jacket.

Five drownings last year occurred in rivers, another two in creeks. A boy who was playing by the riverside was seen to slip and fall into the water. He was wearing gum-boots. Rubber-soled footwear is not suitable for use in wet or slippery conditions, as it does not provide a firm grip. One should be especially careful when wearing gum-boots in water.

The phrase ‘not seen again’ is one which appears again and again in drowning reports. An instance is that of the 15-year-old Maori boy seen swimming out to a pylon in a river. He was washed downstream and was not seen again.

Rivers Are Dangerous Places

Don't under-estimate the power of a river current. Unless you're a powerful swimmer it's wisest to stay close to the bank, and never swim alone. You can't tell when help will be needed, should your foot wedge in a hidden snag, or a sudden cramp seize you.

A thought-provoking aspect of the Maori drownings last year is that, of the 18 victims whose age is known, nine were children under 10 years old, and four of the remainder were younger than 20.

Adult Supervision Would Save Lives

This is a tragic story indeed. Over the past two months, four out of five people who were drowned in this country were aged under ten, and in most cases their deaths could have been prevented. By far the safest method of avoiding tragedies like these is to keep young children away from water. This of course is not always possible, but in most cases adult supervision could have saved the child's life.

One vivid example of the great risks to which young families are liable is that of a Maori girl, aged 18 months, who was discovered drowned in a fish pond in the front lawn of her home. The girl's parents were inside the house at the time of this tragedy, when they heard a child outside asking about ‘the doll in the fish pond’.

A four-year-old boy died through falling from a tree into the river, and an eight-year-old girl drowned when she slipped from a log on which she was trying to cross a stream.

In another drowning accident, a Maori boy

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aged 6 got into difficulties while playing in a canal. His sister, two years older, went to his aid. Not only were her attempts to save the boy unsuccessful, but she herself was not seen again.

Children Should be Taught to Swim

Cases such as these show the need for parents to carefully watch children playing in or near water.

Children should be taught to swim as soon as they are old enough to learn and, as an additional measure that may save someone else's life, they should be taught rescue breathing. Even more important, every parent should learn rescue breathing, for it could mean the difference between life and death for his child.

It is the duty of every parent to:

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Watch children of all ages when they bathe or play near water, and keep them away from ponds, creeks, canals, sheep dips, and all other water hazards near their homes;

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See that children learn swimming and water safety;

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Take the trouble to learn water safety and rescue breathing themselves.

Children can learn swimming, rescue breathing, and water safety at school and at learn-to-swim classes conducted by swimming clubs. Those who belong to St. John Ambulance, Junior Red Cross, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides will be taught rescue breathing.

Free Booklet on Rescue Breathing

Parents can learn about water safety and rescue breathing in several ways. There are demonstrations at shows and at other places; clubs or associations can borrow films from the National Water Safety Committee, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington; and by writing to this same address, anyone can obtain a free booklet telling how to practise water safety and do rescue breathing. A free booklet is also available on safety in small boats.