Joy Symons won an Australia Day award for her swim safety campaign.
Joy Symons won an Australia Day award for her swim safety campaign. Chris Ison ROK010218cswim1

World-champ swimmer honoured for creative safety campaign

WORLD championship swimmer turned playwright, Joy Symons, has dedicated most of her life to swimming and is now on a mission to spread her knowledge.

The Rockhampton woman's dedication to educate children and parents about safe swimming has earned the 36-year-old an honour for her interactive and fun children's play, Billabong Dreaming.

Owner of the Shut the Gate Learn 2 Swim school says she was shocked when her name was called to receive the 2018 Australia Day Community Initiative Award for her work in drowning prevention on January 25.

"I honestly didn't expect it at all but am proud to be among those who benefit the community in any way,” she said.

With two children of her own, Joy knows the importance of teaching young people to swim safety and decided to write a play to share that knowledge.

Filled with quirky comedy and interactive sequences, the play takes kids on a journey from the midst of the outback waterways to the shore of the coastline.

"We used to travel around to each school and present info sessions but it was a lot of organising every year,” she said.

"So last year we decided to write a play in regards to water safety and all the aquatic locations that pose as a risk.

"From dams, rivers, creeks to the public pool and beaches, it's educating kids on all the dangers and teaching parents what they need to consider.”

Although she was a qualified biologist, Joy said swimming was always her priority which led her to the 2000 Athens World Short Course Championships and numerous world cups.

"Swimming took precedence over everything I did though, when my peers were studying I was swimming,” she said.

Joy said her inspiration behind the play was the lack of education in schools about swim safety.

Joy Symons won an Australia Day award for her swim safety campaign.
Joy Symons won an Australia Day award for her swim safety campaign. Chris Ison ROK010218cswim2

"What it came down to was how there was not a lot of schools that have school swimming lessons,” she said.

"To me, that's quite devastating, it should be an exciting and joyful time for kids.”

Joy held their first 45 minute performance at Frenchville State School last year with an "amazing” response.

"There's a lot of child-comedy throughout and we talk about everything from wedgies to naughty seagulls,” she said.

"The kids were amazing, we had some come into the pool so excited about the play with their parents saying they wouldn't stop talking about it.

"Knowing there are so many kids not getting that education at school made me want to create something that schools can access for free.”

The play also educated parents on how to make the most out of their swimming lessons by assisting with commonly forgotten questions to remember.

"It's not just about price, we teach parents to ask about the kind of water is at pools and if there's qualified teachers,” she said.

"Knowing what their kids should wear to lessons is also really important to ask so parents are fully informed and there's minimal issues come lesson day.”

In the wake of News Corp's state-wide push to make swimming lessons compulsory in all Queensland schools, Joy said this move needed to be backed by the entire industry.

"I think it would be very beneficial but whether or not schools can afford it is another thing,” she said.

"That's where we as an industry need to work with Queensland Education Department to push to get those going.”

Since opening her swim school business nearly seven years ago, Joy said she often sees older children come in for help.

"It's really hard for some because the majority of our students are quite young,” she said.

"It can be very embarrassing for older children and they end up not wanting to be there.”

Joy said teaching children to swim at a young age was the key to moving forward.

"Even if parents can't afford private lessons, just getting out to the pool and playing in the shallows will help kids learn their limits,” she said.

Joy said her swim school program focussed on the basics in the water and progressed kids inline with their developments.

"There is a whole science of swimming, great swimming teachers will have an understanding of how the water moves around children,” she said.

Apart of her Billabong Dreaming campaign, Joy has also released a book for parents called 'Sink or Swim: Water Safety and Swimming Lessons Guide for Parents'.

She is also planning to get the play onto the big stage at the Pilbeam Theatre and live stream to schools all around the state.

Adding to the three-tiered campaign, Joy said she had plans to create a podcast for fellow swim teachers.

"This way the campaign would hit all levels in the industry,” she said.

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