Coroner makes water-safety plea

A State Coroner has pleaded for adults to closely watch young children around water after a four-year-old's tragic drowning at Lysterfield Lake. 225477_35 Picture: GARY SISSONS

by Cam Lucadou-Wells

A state coroner has implored adults to closely watch young children around water after investigating a four-year-old’s tragic drowning at Lysterfield Lake in January 2021.

On a hot afternoon, the Doveton girl had been playing with a bucket and spade about a metre away from her family’s picnic rug when her mother noticed she was missing.

Five minutes later, a man carried the motionless girl out of waist-high water just two metres from the shore.

An off-duty paramedic and two other bystanders performed CPR, followed by ambulance paramedics. But the girl died at Royal Children’s Hospital the next day.

The girl, who had not learnt to swim, had died due to “misadventure” during a “momentary lapse of supervision”, Coroner Audrey Jamieson found on 21 November.

“(The girl’s) tragic drowning highlights the inherent risks of water and the need for close supervision of children around water.”

It also showed the importance of “water familiarization” among culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities – something that water safety bodies were “acutely aware”.

The girl and her family moved from Afghanistan in 2019. She had not learnt how to swim, with her mother believing she was “too young to understand”.

According to her mum, the well-behaved girl had previously obeyed a direction not to go into the water alone but only with her sisters who had learnt to swim.

About 35 per cent of drowning deaths in Victoria between 2011-’21 were people from CALD communities.

Adequate supervision, inability to swim, lack of water safety knowledge and perception of risks were relevant factors, the coroner noted.

Jamieson said it was “not at all uncommon” that the girl had gone in the water during a “brief period” while she wasn’t watched.

“It is a fact of life that distractions happen, and that even the most well behaved of children may act unexpectedly, as (the girl) did when she entered the water.

“However, I absolutely implore all adults supervising children around water to remain vigilant, to always be aware of their whereabouts and to be ready to act at any moment.”

Jamieson commended the bravery and selflessness of bystanders who tried to rescue and resuscitate the girl.

In nearly five years up to November 2021, there were 17 unintentional drownings of children aged 0-4 in Victoria.

Inadequate supervision was a factor in 16 of the 17 deaths. Three of them were at a creek or lake.