|Title||Embracing cultural diversity within Surf Life Saving Australia|
|Publication Type||Conference Paper|
|Year of Publication||2007|
|Authors||Fitzgerald, J, Giles, C|
|Conference Name||World Conference on Drowning Prevention|
|Publisher||International Life Saving Federation|
|Conference Location||Porto, Portugal|
The beach is a common point of recreation for all Australians. Families flock to the beach on the weekend to picnic and to enjoy the sun, the sand and the surf. The traditional family holiday also occurs at the beach, whether you come from a coastal suburb or from the centre of Australia. Many Australian couples also marry on the beach. The beach has become an important part of the Australian psyche. The Australian surf lifesaver has also become synonymous with the beach and in particular with safety at the beach. The surf lifesaver has become an Australian icon, respected by all.
As such, the events that occurred on Cronulla beach on 4 December 2005 generated anger within the community. This incident occurred between a number of local surf lifesavers and a number of Muslim youths. It is alleged that this incident was started by an exchange of words and ended with a physical altercation. In response to this incident, a large group of men and women gathered in the surrounds of North Cronulla beach on 11 December to show support for the local community. This gathering has become known as the Cronulla riots.
On the Same Wave is a program that aims to provide support to young Australians of all backgrounds, particularly young Australians of Middle Eastern background, to engage Surf Life Saving around Australia. The partnership also aims to achieve greater harmony between all beach users and promote a culture that the beach is there to share. It further aims to develop inclusive practices within SLSA and individual surf life saving clubs to more effectively recruit members from a broader population demographic.
In delivering On the Same Wave, SLSA is not only meeting the cultural needs of the organisation, but also showcasing a practical example of SLSA as a lead organisation of social change in the Australian community.
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A recent independent review of the National Museum of Australia Surf Life Saving Travelling Exhibition (travelling to each state during 2007 in celebration of 100 years of Surf Life Saving in Australia), by a Research Fellow in history at University of Queensland, began with the following introductory comments.
“After 100 years the most astonishing thing about the surf lifesaving movement in Australia is that it is currently at the vanguard of some critical areas of social change in Australia. That an association of about 113,000 volunteer members who adopted at their inception a military-style model of organization, and who only admitted women to full membership in 1980, is capable of leading major social change in Australia is a subject worthy of further analysis. (Stell, 2007)
Through these comments, the reviewer recognizes the valuable role Surf Life Saving is playing in leading the way in embracing social change; a role that will provide benefits across the Australian community. Embracing cultural diversity is one element of the social change agenda engaging Surf Life Saving Australia in its pursuit of organisational change.
The Australian Beach Context
The beach is a popular recreational destination for Australians. The beach plays an important role in the makeup of the Australian psyche. It is a destination of preference that epitomises the rites of passage for many within the Australian community as they move through life: they honeymoon at the beach, they take their families on holidays to the beach, they find refuge at the beach in Australia's heat, and they move residence to be near the beach.
The issue of cultural diversity on Australia's beaches involves sharing and participating in the beach experience. The question emerges, “On whose terms does that sharing and participation take place?"
The Australian surf lifesaver has also become synonymous with the beach, and in particular with safety at the beach. The Australian surf lifesaver has become a national icon. In 2007 Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) celebrates 100 years as a water safety organisation. Over that time, SLSA has remained essentially a white, Anglo-Celtic organisation. Today, the Australian community enjoys a high degree of cultural diversity, and if SLSA is to maintain its relevancy as a community based organisation, then it needs to reflect a membership base that is more representative of the Australian community.
An incident at Cronulla on 4 December 2005 generated a wakeup call to both SLSA and the Australian community. The incident occurred between two local surf lifesavers and a number of young Australians of Middle Eastern appearance. It is alleged to have started as an exchange of words and ended with a physical confrontation. In response to the incident, a large group of men and women gathered in the surrounds of North Cronulla beach the following weekend carrying Australian flags and voicing support for local surf lifesavers.. The resulting civil disorder became known as the Cronulla riots. The Australian beach lifestyle had become a focus of community tension.
This paper addresses the issues of diversity and inclusion within SLSA, with a particular focus on cultural diversity and ethnicity issues arising as a consequence of the Cronulla riots. It provides a discussion of the steps taken to consult with the community, the challenges faced in ensuring SLSA's acceptance and understanding of cultural diversity, and addressing SLSA's image to reflect that acceptance and understanding to the Australian community.
Ethnicity and Surf Life Saving - A Historical Perspective
Surf Life Saving Australia has in excess of than 113,000 members in 305 clubs around the coast (Surf, Life, Saving, & Australia, 2006).
For its first seventy years, almost without exception, SLSA was the preserve of white, Anglo-Saxon males. It was not until 1980, when females were finally admitted as fully-patrolling members, that SLSA organisation opened itself up to significant social change as an organisation. Women now make up in excess of 40 per cent of the SLSA's 120,000 membership.
The popularity of the 'nippers' movement (i.e. boys and girls between the ages of five and thirteen) since the late 1970s has been another source of social change as SLSA opened itself up to children and their families. Today there are more future volunteer lifesavers in training (ie. 'nippers') than there are active patrolling surf lifesavers.
These two significant changes to SLSA's demographic makeup over the past thirty years help to chronicle a changing perception of the organisation opening itself up to an increasingly wider Australian demographic. But there is still a way to go. In a country where 24 per cent of the population was born overseas (Australian, Bureau, of, & Statistics, 2006)and 26 per cent of persons born in Australia had at least one overseas-born parent (Australian et al., 2006) SLSA membership has yet to be representative of this demographic profile. The reasons are complex, and include both 'perceived' and 'real' barriers to entry to Surf Life Saving in the eyes of both members of the community and members within SLSA.
The iconic image of the Australian surf lifesaver - "tanned, blond hair, blue eyes, and able to swim through huge seas" - is a long way from the reality of surf life saving today. This perception of a surf lifesaver poses a barrier to many members of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. To qualify as a fully qualified patrolling surf lifesaver, a candidate must pass a series of tests involving basic theory, first aid and resuscitation, surf rescue skills and a basic physical fitness assessment as part of a Bronze medallion. In reality, there are many other patrolling duties, such as first aid, resuscitation and radio operation, which do not require the holding of a Bronze Medallion.
In 2000, SLSA recognised that SLSA's membership demographics were not representative of the wider Australian community. It commissioned research that focussed on perceptions of surf life saving in the ethnic Australian communities.
Overall, this research found that there was a high rate of awareness of surf clubs and surf life saving among ethic Australians'(Big Picture Consulting Group, 2000, p.5). But it also identified barriers to joining including friendship circles and physical restrictions including the inability to swim.
As a result of the Sound the Sirens research, SLSA adopted the engagement of broader ethnic groups as one of its key strategic objectives. Innovative programs were developed by a clubs including one at Scarboro Surf Life Saving Club prompted by a drowning of a young Vietnamese Australian male. The Scarboro SLSC (Western Australia) developed a program involving international students from the Perth Modern School. Students from Afghanistan, Belgium, Burma, China, France, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Sudan, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Yugoslavia were invited to a series of ' At The Beach'. After two years, the program resulted in seven students obtaining their Bronze Medallion. One of the key lessons from the Scarboro experience is that, for its program to succeed, consistent effort and commitment was required.
Unfortunately, a lack of access to the financial resources necessary to provide national support for a greater engagement of CALD communities was a limiting factor. This changed following the events at Cronulla in December 2005.
On the Same Wave
The On the Same Wave (OTSW) program is an initiative of Surf Life Saving, the community and both local and national government and was commenced in July 2006.
The OTSW program provides support to young Australians of all backgrounds, particularly young Australians of Middle Eastern background, to become part of the beach experience, and to engage with Surf Life Saving around Australia. The partnership aims to achieve greater harmony between all beach users and promote a culture that the beach is there to share. It further aims to develop inclusive practices within SLSA and individual surf life saving clubs to more effectively attract members from a broader Australian population demographic.
The OTSW program commenced with focus group consultation in South-Western Sydney. Participants in the focus groups came from a diversity of communities, with the majority being Australians from Middle Eastern and Lebanese backgrounds.
Key findings from the focus groups included:
Despite the large number of focus group participants who said they would not be surf lifesavers, 60% indicated that they would be interested to learn skills associated with lifesaving.
This latter finding was an important influence in the design of the OTSW program and resulted in an emphasis being placed on general beach awareness and surf safety, and less of an emphasis on recruiting surf lifesavers. The outcomes of the program were refocussed to the number of people involved in beach visits and basic surf safety lessons. To support this core of the OTSW program, it was agreed that other strands in the strategy would include:
The evolving program
With information gained from the initial focus group consultation, the On the Same Wave program was developed with a number of strands. The approach taken was met with a willingness from communities and school groups to learn more about beach safety and surf lifesaving. As a result, surf awareness programs were delivered extensively and were reinforced with information about further courses (such as the SLSA Bronze Medallion) and membership opportunities within surf life saving clubs.
The following specific programs were delivered and continue to be delivered:
The OTSW strategy reflects not only the need to engage with the community, but also to build a culture of change within SLSA and its clubs that acknowledges and embraces cultural diversity within Australian society. This need was addressed through the delivery of cultural awareness training and the development of a cultural awareness DVD. These measures moved towards engaging clubs in cultural change. Sustaining such change provides SLSA with a significant challenge to ensure that On the Same Wave creates sustained change.
Outcomes (June 2006 - June 2007)
The OTSW program has achieved a number of outcomes in its first year. These outcomes include
Challenges for SLSA
As a result of the On The Same Wave experience, three major challenges present for SLSA within the context of embracing cultural diversity.
An Inclusive Organisation
In addressing the challenges outlined above, SLSA is embracing cultural diversity within a wider Inclusion Strategy perspective. A number of issues relating to cultural diversity are seen as being applicable across other forms of diversity (i.e. gender, age, sexuality, physical disability, etc). The Inclusion Strategy enunciates a set of basic inclusion principles that relate across a range of diversity challenges.
Key inclusion principles are :
Over the years, SLSA has responded to diversity challenges over the past thirty years. The acknowledgment that SLSA needed to open its doors to more diverse sections of the Australian community can been demonstrated through the:
The OTSW program and its focus on embracing cultural diversity is a continuation of SLSA's journey towards being an inclusive organisation within a changing Australian society.
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