After more than 60 years, the Bush School Learn to Swim Club is closing.

Established as a non-profit community organisation, the BSLTS Club has taught vital water safety and swimming skills to over 10,000 children as it closes its doors in 2021.

The BSLTS Club comprised fully trained instructors and helpers teaching beginner to advanced swim skills to infants and primary school children (aged four to 12).

R. The BSLTS Club in action at Wahroonga Public School (the Bush School) pools.

As the Club consisted solely of volunteers, it was able to charge about a quarter of the normal cost for swimming lessons, making lessons as accessible as possible for kids in the community.

In 2020 classes were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic and this year the Club has made the inevitable decision to close after a huge community effort of more than 60 years of operation.

Club President Bob Howe OAM, who taught swimming at the Bush School for over 46 years, says he is sad the Club is closing and cites decreasing demand as a key reason for the closure. Annual enrolments once averaged over 300 however they have steadily decreased over the past 15 years to be less than half of this number in 2019 and this, along with other challenges, leaves the future of the Club unsustainable.

“It is a real pity, as we missed it a great deal last year, but it is timely. The Club was formed to meet a need in the community and it’s no longer required. We are exceedingly proud of the contribution we have made to this community. I wish to extend my thanks and praise to all our volunteers who have participated over the years. We know we have saved lives and there’s nothing more important than that,” says Bob.

The Club had 12 trainees in 2019 and currently has 21 long-term volunteers, including Club Secretary and Treasurer Carolyn Cross and Senior Instructor Helen Hanlon who’ve given 43 and 47 years to the Club respectively.

In several cases, volunteer swim teaching became a family affair. Chief Instructor Frances Simpson-Lee, who taught swimming for over 36 years (with a break in the middle to become one of the rare female Sydney Grade Cricket Umpires!) was joined by her daughters Liz, Cath and Margie and later her granddaughters, Emily, Katie and Rachel, who all became long-term instructors.

People such as Max Begg, Robin Byrnes, John Collins, Bob Germaine, Barry Heath, and Wally Shand have become known to thousands of children, their parents, and grandparents, as they volunteered over so many years.

L. Frances with some of her grandchildren who were swimming instructors: Emily Moore, Katie Wright and Rachel Wright.

The school community built the Bush School’s pools in 1958 and 1965. A learn to swim club, called the Saturday Swim Club, was formed soon after to teach local children to swim. In 1974, the name changed to the Bush School Learn to Swim Club and more structured classes were organised.

Lessons were conducted on Saturdays at Wahroonga Public School (the Bush School) from November to March every year. The children attended from a wide area inclusive of Brooklyn and Cherrybrook to St Ives, and one family even travelled from as far as Bathurst claiming the caring community atmosphere was unmatched elsewhere.

The Bush School Learn to Swim Club taught invaluable water safety skills to thousands of children and trained a significant number of teenagers to teach swimming as a vocation. All of its volunteers should be proud of their involvement, praised for keeping the Club running for so many decades and know that their participation has left behind a legacy of water-safe swimmers.

The Bush School Learn to Swim Club acknowledges current long-term volunteers:

John Collins

Carolyn Cross

Annabelle Fairbairn

Megan Featherston

Bob Germaine

Helen Hanlon

Bob Howe

Lauren McGrath

Chris Markham

Sarah Marten

Cath Moore

Emily Moore

Chris Seddon

Christy Seddon

Frances Simpson-Lee

Betty Teague

Richard Teague

Natasha Wilson

Katie Wright

Liz Wright

Rachel Wright