Staying safe by the river
by SANDI MILLER
6th February 2023
THE YARRA is a large part of life in Warrandyte, so when the weather gets hot, our river becomes a popular place to swim, paddle, and have fun in the water for locals and tourists alike.
However, it is important to know the risks when swimming in nature.
Tragically, people drown each year in lakes, beaches, rivers, waterfalls, and bays across Victoria.
The dangers of swimming in the Yarra were brought home recently when the search for a man who vanished after telling his friends he was going swimming in the river ended in tragedy.
Frank Mellia was visiting Warrandyte with friends at Taroona Reserve, Warrandyte, on January 14, when the 39-year-old left his friends to head towards the river at about 3pm.
When he did not return, his concerned friends later tried to find him before contacting police to report him missing.
Police and SES searched through the bush and used inflatable paddleboards to comb the water.
The police air wing and divers also assisted in the search.
The following Monday, Victoria Police confirmed he had been found dead.
Staying safe by the river
On January 19, 2023 — about the halfway point of summer, the Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll recorded that 43 people have drowned across Australia since December 1, 2022.
The majority of people who have drowned are men aged between 18 and 64 years.
With another month of summer to go, Royal Life Saving (RLS) is urgently warning people to stay vigilant around water and emphasises that drowning can happen when we least expect it.
Royal Life Saving Chief Executive Officer Justin Scarr is pleading with people to exercise caution around water, even if they are familiar with the environment and confident in their knowledge and skills, especially men.
“Sadly, we’ve seen a number of people drowning when attempting to rescue family members and when swimming alone,” Mr Scarr said.
“This summer, 43 families and communities have lost a loved one to drowning — one drowning is one too many.
“The leading activities at the time have been swimming, boating, and kayaking.
“These deaths have occurred at both inland and coastal locations.
“We urge people to consider their safety around the water by checking the conditions, being aware that weather and water conditions can change quickly, knowing your limits, avoiding alcohol, and wearing a lifejacket.
“If you see someone in difficulty, go and get help and alert emergency services as soon as possible.
“We want everyone to have a great day out and come home safely,” he said.
It is important to be aware of the risks and stay safe.
Whether you’re swimming, boating, or even just relaxing on the bank, there are many hidden dangers that you may not be aware of.
The Yarra is famously known as the upside-down river due to its muddy waters that hide many dangers beneath the surface.
Especially following the recent flooding events, there are many submerged objects that can prove to be very dangerous.
It is important to be aware of the dangers and always take care around water.
Remember that water conditions that may have been suitable one day can change hourly with the current.
There are no lifeguards along the river, and many people enjoy swimming in secluded spots, meaning should someone get into trouble, there may not be anyone there to assist you.
RLS has provided the following tips for staying safe while enjoying our river:
- Strong currents and fast-flowing water.
Check the current by throwing a leaf into the water to see the speed it travels. If you get caught in a current, float on your back feet first, and go with the current — don’t panic.
- Submerged objects such as rocks, snags and tree branches.
Check the depth of the water and look for submerged objects using a stick. Don’t jump or dive into the water. Enter the water slowly and feet first.
- Slippery banks and uneven surfaces.
Unintentional falls into water are a significant risk.
- Changing seasonal patterns and floodwater.
Make sure you check the weather forecast and water conditions before venturing out. Never drive through floodwaters.
- Cold water.
Water temperatures in rivers, lakes and dams can drop to freezing in winter and cause cold water shock if you fall in.
Know your risk factors
According to data collected by RLS, rivers and creeks claim more lives each year than any other type of waterway in Australia.
Drowning in rivers and creeks:
- 25 per cent of drowning deaths occurred in rivers/creeks
- 37 per cent of drowning deaths in rivers/creeks involved alcohol
- Most deaths involved people aged 18 to 45 years
- 81 per cent of all drowning deaths in rivers/creeks were male
- 72 per cent of people lived within 100km of where they drowned
What happened immediately prior to drowning:
- 21 per cent of people were swimming and recreating
- 18 per cent of drowning deaths were due to an unintentional fall
- 11 per cent of people were boating
Statistics from 2019/20 indicated that of all the drownings in Victoria during that period, 15 per cent were due to unintentional falls into the water.
This is a particular risk factor in children aged 0 to 4 years and people aged 65+ years.
Falls also play a part in alcohol and drug-related drowning incidents, as well as those where people have misjudged the hazards, such as uneven or slippery banks, strong currents and submerged objects.
Of drowning deaths in Victoria during that period, unintentional falls into water accounted for:
- 75 per cent of children aged 0 to 4
- 15 per cent of people aged 65+
- 11 per cent of children aged 5 to 14
- 10 per cent of men aged 25 to 64
- 7 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24
Plan to survive
Simple safety measures can make all the difference between a great day out and a tragedy; RLS has a list of tips to help make your day on the river safer.
- Take a phone with you.
- Let someone know where you’re going and when you will be back.
- Check conditions before entering the water.
- Never swim alone.
- Do not overestimate your ability and underestimate the dangers in rivers.
- Actively supervise children around water.
- Enter the water slowly, feet first.
- Take care around crumbling riverbeds and slippery edges.
- Avoid underwater obstacles such as rocks, branches, and rubbish.
- Take care when walking on unstable or slippery riverbeds.
- Avoid crossing flooded waterways.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs around water.
- Wear a lifejacket when boating or using watercraft.
- Learn first aid and CPR, so you’re prepared if an accident is to happen.
It is not just in the water that you should be alert.
Recent flooding events followed by dry conditions have seen several trees fall over as their shallow roots let go in the changing soil conditions, often without warning.
A man was airlifted to hospital on January 28 after a falling tree hit him as he picnicked with friends at Normans Reserve.
North Warrandyte CFA and Ambulance Victoria attended the scene in Bradleys Lane, North Warrandyte, and transported the man to a waiting helicopter.
The chopper landed at Warrandyte Reserve around 6pm, interrupting the 1st XIs match against Wonga Park.
Warrandyte 1st XI Captain Ben Taylor told the Diary they were in their 70th over when the helicopter began circling overhead.
“It became pretty obvious it needed to land on the oval, so we pulled up stumps to make way for it,” said Mr Taylor.
Members of Warrandyte CFA were on hand at the oval to support the ambulance crews and facilitate vehicle access to the oval.
While it is wonderful to be out enjoying our State Park, remember the dangers both on the water and on land.
In the case of an incident, phone emergency services on 000 and use the emergency markers along the river to provide an accurate location.
Alternatively, download the emergency plus app on your smartphone for assistance providing your exact location and contacting appropriate help.