Story and photos by Karyn Redmond
Joy Symons is a fierce advocate for water safety education, and her message is about to be livestreamed into classrooms around Queensland from Rockhampton’s Pilbeam Theatre.
Though she has long retired her racing goggles, Joy cemented her name in the swimming history books in 1998 as the Australian Women’s 100m Freestyle Champion at just 16 years old.
Fast forward 20 years and Joy’s determination is focused on saving lives through awareness, starting with our youngest citizens.
Billabong Dreaming, an original stage play penned by Joy and fellow local swimming teacher Erica Nolan, will be performed before a live audience at the Pilbeam on Thursday, September 20, and simultaneously broadcast to various primary schools around the state.
Written with an early childhood audience in mind, Billabong Dreaming follows the adventures of Cookie, a kookaburra, and his friends as they educate eight year old Jamie about water safety.
“Billabong Dreaming was performed to a limited audience last year, but because we need to keep pushing the water safety message, we’re going bigger and better in 2018,” Joy said.
“In September 2017, Billabong Dreaming was performed for 752 primary school students at Frenchville State School and the audience, by all reports, really enjoyed the show.”
Since its humble debut 11 months ago, Joy secured endorsement for the play from the Royal Life Saving Society of Queensland and Australia’s national swimming teacher training and water safety organisation, AUSTSWIM.
Joy also applied successfully for a Regional Arts Development Fund Grant from Rockhampton Regional Council, which means the play is free of charge to its audience.
“The cast of Billabong Dreaming really bring the characters to life; the funding received ensures they will be paid award wage for their time and talents,” said Joy.
“We have been working with local musicians, craftsmen, actors and Aboriginal Elders to bring this to schools.”
Producing Billabong Dreaming was a huge step outside her comfort zone, but when it comes to water safety awareness, Joy is relentless in her pursuit.
“There is so much more to swimming lessons than just teaching children the correct stroke, or how to control their breathing,” Joy said.
“Water safety techniques, safe entry and exits, currents, it is all relevant, and we incorporated as much as possible into Billabong Dreaming.”
With a team of local residents on board in all facets of the production, Billabong Dreaming’s Pilbeam Theatre debut is an opportunity to showcase the talented cast and crew to a statewide audience.
Rockhampton based actor Mick Donnellan will reprise the role of seagull Tully when the cast takes to the stage.
Mick, who has a Diploma of Performing Arts from CQUniversity, said the subject matter had increased his own awareness of water safety.
“I’ve learnt a heck of a lot; Billabong Dreaming has opened my eyes and I hope it gets awareness out there,” Mick said.
“If I can stop kids from drowning because they remember the words of a gigantic seagull, I’m good with that.”
The play features six aquatic scenarios that apply to children all around Australia.
“If we, as a community, want to reduce drownings, then we need to start at the beginning - teaching our children how to be safe around water, be it in the backyard pool, the beach, public swimming pools, or rivers and creeks in the bush,” Joy said.
Interested schools can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about Billabong Dreaming.