Pipalyatjara: swimming pool

First posted on 29 July 2007 under Pipalyatjara.
This article has been updated and archived.
Tags: swimming pools


Beginning in 2004, the Commonwealth and State Governments announced plans to build swimming pools in five Anangu communities (Amata, Mimili, Pipalyatjara, Watarru and Yalata). Only four of the pools were subsequently built.

The Pipalyatjara pool first opened for business during the summer of 2007/2008.

The Paper Trail

On 7 June 2005, the Premier of South Australia and the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister announced plans to build and operate a swimming pool at Pipalyatjara on the APY Lands.[i]

The joint announcement stated that the pool would operate under the ‘no school, no pool’ program and that they hoped it would be in use by early 2006.

On 2 February 2007, the Commonwealth and State governments and Pipalyatjara community signed a Shared Responsibility Agreement (SRA).[ii] Under the terms of the agreement:

  • the Commonwealth Government agreed to provide $2.5 million for the construction of the pool
  • the State Government agreed to meet the recurrent costs of the pool over the life of the pool and to provide various in-kind support
  • the Pipalyatjara community agreed (among other things) to:
    • form a pool management committee, comprising community, school, clinic and homelands representatives
    • work with the school and TAFE to develop policies for the management of the pool, including training, maintenance and out of hours use
    • ensure pool manager, lifeguards and maintenance staff are recruited and appropriately accredited
    • develop a roster of accredited staff so that the pool is open for use and while it is open, ensure appropriate standards are met
    • commit to taking increasing responsibility for the management of the pool with the aim of taking on full responsibility within four years
    • encourage other communities to use the pool.

The Agreement also set out eight key milestones, including:

  • the establishment of a swimming pool management committee (by 31 July 2007)
  • the employment and training of a pool manager and ancillary staff (by 31 August 2007)
  • that the pool be operational for swimming (by 28 September 2007)
  • the inclusion of swimming in the school curriculum as a fitness activity (by 8 March 2008).

In March 2007, the State Government reported that construction of the pool was due to commence that month. It also stated that it expected the swimming pool would be “ready for use for the summer of 2007.” According to the Government:

The Pipalyatjara swimming pool will follow the same project schedule that the Mimili swimming pool and Amata swimming pool used and will be the same size as the other pools. … there will be opportunities for Anangu to be employed with the construction of the pool.[iii]

On 2 June 2007, the State Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation announced recurrent funding of $160,000 per annum for the operation of the Pipalyatjara pool. The Minister indicated that the funding would cover the “management, training, equipment and maintenance of the facility.”[iv]

As of 29 November 2007, the physical construction of the pool had been completed and the pool manager had arrived in the community to take up his position.[v] The following month, the State Government reported that the pool was finished, “open for use and ready to take some of the sizzle out of the long hot summer ahead.”[vi]

Training and employment

On 21 December 2007, the Paper Tracker sought information from the State Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology (DFEEST) on the swimming pool management training that APY TAFE was providing on the APY Lands.

In a reply dated 29 January 2008, DFEEST stated:

APY TAFE does not deliver training in swimming pool management. APY TAFE’s role is to coordinate Pool Management Training with Community Schools and the Royal Life Saving Society of South Australia.

There are swimming pools located at four community schools [including Pipalyatjara] … Each community has a Swimming Pool Committee who are responsible for selecting students to be trained … APY Lands Community Pool Management Committees have had limited expressions of interest from within the community for pool management training.[vii]

DFEEST indicated that as of 29 January 2008, no Anangu from Pipalyatjara had completed Pool Management Training.[viii]

Monitoring the pool’s impact

On 10 September 2008, the Hon Sandra Kanck MLC (Democrats) asked the South Australian Government for an update on the impact of the ‘no pool, no school’ policy in Pipalyatjara and two other APY communities. Specifically, Ms Kanck asked the Government to provide:

  • a comparison of the school attendance rates in the pre and post construction period, and
  • information on any “measured health outcomes.”[ix]

Responding to this request in early February 2009, the State Government noted that:

  • the Pipalyatjara pool had not been open long enough “to gather any meaningful data”,
  • the school attendance rate at Pipalyatjara had risen from 57.8% in 2000 to 70% in 2007, and
  • while the three swimming pools located on the APY Lands appeared to be having “a positive impact on the health of children in communities” it was “still too early to provide any conclusive data.”[x]

By 2010, however, school attendance in Pipalyatjara had fallen back to less than 60%.[xi]

On 18 August 2010, the Paper Tracker asked the State Department of Education and Children’s Services for information “on the extent to which the enforcement of a ‘no school, no pool’ policy [had] increased school attendance” in Pipalyatjara during those periods when the swimming pool is operational.[xii]

In a reply dated 9 November 2010, the Department advised the Paper Tracker that it had:

not at this stage carried out an evaluation into the effectiveness of the ‘no school, no pool’ policy in regard to increased school attendance.[xiii]

No improvement in ear health or school attendance

In October 2012, the findings of a three-year federally-funded study on the effect of swimming pools on the ear health of Anangu children were released.  The study – conducted between 2009 and 2011 – included hearing and ear health assessments of more than 800 Anangu children.[xiv]

Among the key findings, the study found that the swimming pools located in Pipalyatjara and three other South Australian Anangu communities had “no measureable benefit for ear health and hearing in school-aged children. There was also no relationship between the presence or absence of a swimming pool in a community and school attendance.[xv]

Notwithstanding these findings, the study concluded that swimming pools in remote communities have an “undisputed and important role … for recreation, physical activity and for … learning how to swim.”[xvi] As such, it recommended that:

swimming pools in Indigenous communities continue to be promoted as a valuable community resource for their broader benefits to physical health as well as social well-being. [xvii]

Click here to download a copy of the study’s full report (file size: 1.74MB)

This article has been archived and will no longer be updated.  It will, however, remain accessible online as a source of background information for anyone wishing to undertake further research on this issue.

[i] Rann, M. & Vanstone, A. 7 June 2005, “Third Pool for APY Lands,” Media Release.

[ii] Australian Government. 2 February 2007, “Pipalyatjara Pool – Pipalyatjara,” Shared Responsibility Agreement, AMIS Agreement No. 218.

[iii] Government of South Australia. March 2007, “Mimili, Amata and Pipalyatjara Swimming Pools,” South Australian Aboriginal Lands Bulletin (version 21.03.07).

[iv] Weatherill, J. 2 June 2007. “Strengthening Aboriginal Communities Centre of $3 Million Package,” News Release.

[v] Information provided by Pipalyatjara school staff during phone conversation with J Nicholls, 29 November 2007.

[vi] Government of South Australia, 2007, “On the Lands: a newsletter for APY communities,” December 2007/January 2008 edition, p1.

[vii] Cunningham, B. 29 January 2008. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[viii] Cunningham, B. 29 January 2008. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[ix] Kanck, S. 10 September 2008, “APY Lands, Swimming Pools,” Hansard, Legislative Council, Parliament of South Australia, p27-28.

[x] The response continued: “Anecdotal reports from teachers and swimming pool staff certainly indicate a visible improvement in the skin and general health of children in the three communities during the summer season.” See: Gago, G. [February 2009] “Legislative Council: reply to question without notice. APY Lands Swimming Pools” Note: a copy of Minister Weatherill’s reply to Hon S Kanck’s questions was faxed to the Paper Tracker on 6 February 2009 by an assistant to Ms Kanck. As of 19 February 2009, this response had not been formally incorporated into the official Hansard record of the Legislative Council.

[xi] Martin, G (DECS). 17 February 2011. Letter to S. Marshall MP.

[xii] McDonald, P. 18 August 2010. Letter to C. Robinson (DECS).

[xiii] DeGennaro, G (DECS). 9 November 2010. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xiv] The research project was triggered as a direct result of a much smaller 2003 study undertaken in remote Western Australian communities that found swimming in chlorinated pools reduced the prevalence of ear disease in children. See, Deborah Lehmann et al, ‘Benefits of swimming pools in two remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia: intervention study’, (2003) 327 British Medical Journal 415.

[xv] Sanchez, L. 7 October 2012. Letter to J. Nicholls.

[xvi] Sanchez, L. et al,  2012. An evaluation of the benefits of swimming pools for the hearing and ear health status of young Indigenous Australians: a whole-of-population study across multiple remote Indigenous communities, Adelaide: School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Flinders University, pages iii and iv.

[xvii] Sanchez, L. et al, 2012. An evaluation of the benefits of swimming pools for the hearing and ear health status of young Indigenous Australians: a whole-of-population study across multiple remote Indigenous communities, Adelaide: School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Flinders University, page iii.

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