When she strolls her local beaches in Melbourne, Bernadette Matthews can witness first-hand how her groundbreaking research is helping to keep beachgoers safe in the water.
As principal research associate at Life Saving Victoria, Dr Matthews has pioneered new programs to protect everyone from the most seasoned swimmers to young children and new migrants.
“When I see our lifesavers on the beach and people who are volunteers doing patrols, they really inspire me to keep doing the work that I do and hopefully I’ll be able to help them,” she said.
Dr Matthew’s programs include information sessions for international students and targeting students at primary schools, where they can adopt attitudes to water safety that last a lifetime.
Her extensive work is now being used to save lives around the world, including programs as part of Life Saving Victoria’s water safety partnership in Sri Lanka.
Dr Matthews joined the Surf Life Saving movement 14 years ago after time as a research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine.
“I really liked the idea of being able to help people and being able to put the findings from my research into practice,” she said. “I see kids, or anyone really, going through our education programs and (I can see) the difference it makes in their lives, not just in skills and knowledge but in confidence.”
“Particularly looking at some of the programs we do with children, I’m seeing the amount of fun they’re having while they’re learning.”
Although anyone can learn water safety at any age, Dr Matthews said there were huge benefits to targeting people at the right life stage.
“What we know from the research is that childhood is the ideal time to be teaching education programs, and that’s the time we know we can create long-term behavioural changes,” she said.
“We do know we can be effective with migrants to Australia, especially making sure we get the timing right with that as well.”
Under Dr Matthews’s guidance, Life Saving Victoria has also targeted international students at orientation and migrant resource centres to reach new arrivals as they’re settling into life in Australia.
“A lot of our programs, from a multicultural perspective include programs for university students that are delivered through their orientation programs, we also try to go through migrant resource centres to get to participants as they settle in.”