Wiluna is a regional Western Australian town that boasts a population of about 700, and is situated on the edge of the desert at the gateway to the Canning Stock Route; one of the most isolated tracks on earth.
There is one pub, one motel and one swimming pool, which is now proudly managed by Lester Ball and Shelley Haynes. In the off-season, Lester and Shelley work at Belmont Oasis Leisure Centre in Perth, a 12-hour drive from Wiluna.
This is Belgravia Leisure’s first season managing Wiluna Community Pool. The outdoor pool is open free of charge as a public service by the Shire of Wiluna.
Lester describes the demographic as diverse, with a combination of Indigenous communities living side by side with mining and local government families.
“Our visitors are mostly transient, with kids and families coming irregularly,” he said.
“In summer, it’s too hot for the schools to run sports on their ovals, so they bring the kids to the pool to cool off and teach them how to swim.”
As Wiluna Community Pool is a free-entry facility, the school teachers taught the children how to swim.
“We soon realised that while the school teachers were trying their best, they weren’t qualified swim teachers,” Lester said.
Lester and Shelley are both qualified to teach Belgravia Leisure’s swim program and have stepped in as swim teachers, but have had to make significant adjustments to tailor to their demographic.
“These kids are already confident in the water and they have no fear, and my goal is to teach them to be safe in the water,” he said.
“We get in the pool with the kids, make it fun and keep them moving, and we teach them as many new things as possible in one lesson because they often don’t come back for weeks or months.”
Lester has previously worked as a Swimming Pool Manager in the Royal Life Saving’s Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pools Program (RASPP), a program primarily funded by the WA Government.
Indigenous groups have been identified as a demographic at a high-risk of drowning and non-fatal drowning in Australia. Aboriginal children drown at a rate two and a half times that of non-Aboriginal children.
“The kids come to Wiluna Community Pool because they know it is a safe place,” Lester said.
“We hold monthly barbecues and bring out the inflatables and the kids love it, it helps to keep them active and engaged.”
Wiluna Community Pool also hosts regular mums and bubs days in partnership with Ngangganawili Aboriginal Health Service, and has even hosted a water baptism for the growing local Fijian Seventh Day Adventists community.
Wiluna in Martu Wangka – the language of the local Mardu – translates to ‘windy place’. The town’s population swells during NAIDOC Week and the local pool is a thriving community hub in summer.
Belgravia Leisure’s management saw over 1,200 visits in the first five weeks of opening, compared to almost 700 the previous year.