John Tognolini’s father, Vic, taught his sons the importance of swimming from an early age, encouraging them to complete 10 laps each of freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke every day.
“My dad was a World War II veteran and he actually swum out during the evacuation of Crete with two blokes tied to him on a rope,” Mr Tognolini said. “They got to a small boat and got taken up by a British warship.”
Mr Tognolini passed on a passion for swimming to his daughter Rachael, who was three years old when she first splashed about in the outdoor pools at Katoomba Sports and Aquatic Centre.
But Mr Tognolini, who at the age of 59 swims up to four times a week, fears some children may be denied the opportunity to learn to swim under a proposal by the Blue Mountains City Council to close some of its aquatic facilities.
“All the outdoor pools are well loved and valued by the community as beautiful, peaceful outdoor neighbourhood spaces where they can bring their families to both relax and exercise,” Mr Tognolini said.
The council’s draft Open Space and Recreation Strategic Plan, which is on public exhibition until January 15, proposes the closure of some swimming pools at the Katoomba, Lawson and Blackheath aquatic facilities.
A council spokeswoman said the Blue Mountains had more public swimming pools than many other councils, with aquatic facilities also at Springwood and Glenbrook.
She said the pools were ageing and did not meet modern standards.
“It is proposed that we maximise the use of pools in good condition and retire assets in an aged condition,” she said.
“This approach would retain the five swim centres, however offer less individual pools in each location. It also looks at creating additional indoor facilities, extending the pool season, heating pools, as well as creating other water play spaces like splash pads.”
But Mr Tognolini, a high school teacher and spokesman for the Save Katoomba Pool group, said: “Increasing the distance and cost travelling to affordable resources amplifies economic and social inequality. Unnecessary burden will be placed on those who can afford it least.”
Kirsty McKenzie, a member of the Katoomba RSL Swimming Club, said the closure of the outdoor 50-metre pool in Katoomba threatened the viability of the club.
David Tobin, the president of the Lawson Amateur Swimming Club, said the smaller swimming pools threatened with closure were vital for helping non-swimmers to overcome a fear of the water.
“Of particular concern to me is the impact the proposed closures will have on teaching kids how to swim – both formal swimming instruction and also on giving kids an opportunity to familiarise with the water in shallower depths before they take to the big pool,” he said.
The council’s proposal to close some of its aquatic facilities comes as a report by the Royal Life Saving Society – Australia found that a single visit to a public pool leads to health benefits worth nearly $27 per person.
The Economic Benefits of Australia’s Public Aquatic Facilities also found that public swimming pools produce $2.8 billion in health benefits each year in addition to their value as places of recreation, community and aquatic education.
Almost 40 per cent of Australians classed as “physically inactive”, meaning they do less than 60 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.
But the report suggests an extra visit to a public swimming pool each week would shift most “inactive” Australians to “low activity”, cutting their risk of lifestyle-related disease by 16 per cent and saving more than $4500 per person in the form of better health, reduced medical costs and improved work attendance each year.
“We knew going in, that swimming was a great way of keeping active, but we were shocked to find out just how effective even a single weekly swimming pool visit can be in cutting the costs of physical inactivity,” said the report’s author Dr Paul Barnsley.
“Now we need to make sure that everyone is in a position to take advantage of those benefits – if we don’t find the money for pools we’ll end up paying for it via the health system.”
Source:The Sydney Morning Herald