Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Danger of a Childhood Game We've All Played

Swimming and having fun in the water is part of summer in Australia for many of us. Besides being a great way to cool down on a hot day, swimming is an excellent all-over body workout for people of any age; it tones and strengthens muscles, builds endurance and cardiovascular fitness, improves flexibility, helps us to maintain a healthy weight and reduces mental stress.

Teaching our children to swim is a high priority life skill for most parents and I well remember the sense of relief when all three of my boys achieved a competent level in the water.

Last month on the 29th January in Wollongong, twelve year old Jack MacMillan drowned in a metre of water in his family’s backyard pool. Jack was a very capable swimmer who loved being in the pool; at the time he was swimming under the supervision of his mother. What could possibly have gone so wrong?

Jack had been enjoying a game most of us have participated in either as children or adults; seeing how many laps he could do while holding his breath and swimming underwater. His mum noticed he had stopped swimming and was lying motionless on the bottom of the pool. Initially thinking he was just mucking around, she quickly realised the situation was much more serious but by then it was too late.

Jack MacMillan died from shallow water hypoxia also known as shallow water blackout (SWB).

Shallow water blackout occurs when the swimmer loses consciousness due to a severe lack of oxygen to the brain. Under normal circumstances our natural inclination to breathe is caused not from a lack of oxygen but from an increase in the levels of carbon dioxide in our bloodstream.

Prolonged or repetitive breath-holding or hyperventilating decreases the amount of carbon dioxide circulating through the bloodstream, slowing down the body’s natural urge to breathe. With a decreased desire to breathe, the underwater swimmer mistakenly believes they are able to hold their breath longer than they safely can. Starved of oxygen, the swimmer loses consciousness without warning and drifts towards the bottom of the pool. With the loss of consciousness the body reacts automatically and recommences breathing, filling the lungs with water. Quietly, without fuss or drawing attention to themselves, the swimmer very quickly drowns.

Prior to hearing the news story on the MacMillan family’s tragic loss of their son Jack, I had never heard of shallow water blackout.

While today may be the official end to summer, locally our warm climate can see us enjoying our swimming well into April. Take the time to talk about shallow water blackout with your family and friends and raise the awareness of the danger of prolonged or repetitive breath-holding in water. One lap down the pool holding your breath might not do you any harm but ongoing laps holding your breath underwater increases your chances of suffering from a potentially fatal shallow water blackout.

More information can be found on the website:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Black Caviar Returns

Farmer Bill has been a member of the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) at Flemington since 1972 and still loves a day the races. Knowing how much both my parents enjoy watching a good horse race, chauffeuring them down to Melbourne for a day of metropolitan racing was on my list of goals for 2013. When Black Caviar’s trainer, Peter Moody announced she would be racing in Melbourne on the 16th February I started planning a day trip to Victoria’s capital.

Black Caviar is a brown six-year-old thoroughbred mare; winning every race she has ever entered and has become an Australian equine heroine, following in the hoofsteps of legendary horses like Carbine, Phar Lap, Kingston Town and Makybe Diva.

She was famously flown to England last year to race in front of Queen Elizabeth II at Royal Ascot in June. I’d been lucky enough to be there that day as Black Caviar battled it out to win (in a heart-stopping moment) by the smallest of margins in the 1200m Diamond Jubilee Stakes. She appeared tired and worn out afterwards and like many other people, I thought her racing days were over and I had witnessed her final race.

Last Saturday she made her spectacular return to the racing world and Farmer Bill, Granny and I along with over 27,000 other race goers, made our way to Melbourne’s Flemington Race Course to watch a moment of history unfold. She was entered to run in The Black Caviar Lightning Stakes, a straight race of one thousand metres, renamed in 2012 in her honour.

Her transformation on Saturday was nothing short of miraculous as she entered the Mounting Yard looking relaxed and supremely fit. Her well-muscled frame is 16.2 hands high or 164.6cm to the top of her shoulder and she looked every bit the champion.

Watching thoroughbred horses on the final leg of a racetrack is a sight to behold, each one straining to outrun the other and every muscle fully stretched. Black Caviar made it look easy as she glided down the straight. Her enormous strides seemed effortless and she passed the winning post two and a half lengths clear of her closest rival in a time of 55.42 seconds, breaking a course record that had stood since the mare, Special had won the Lightning Stakes in 1988.
Black Caviar has become the first horse in history to win the race three years in a row since its inception in 1955 and it took her phenomenal racing career to twenty-three wins from twenty-three starts. Rising seven years in August, my only wish is that when she does retire, she retires uninjured and undefeated.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bureaucrats and Birthday Cakes: How germs keep us healthy.

Last week it seemed to me that the fun police at the helm of our nanny state had gone into overdrive when I heard a news story about banning birthday cake candle blowing at childcare centres. Who were the mental giants behind this and were my taxes funding them? I wondered. After some brief research I discovered the original news story had been somewhat sensationalised. (Who’d have thought?!)

It turns out, Australia’s peak body for supporting health and medical research and developing health advice for the Australian community, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) have released some new guidelines. (Bear in mind the NHMRC’s mission statement is: Working to build a healthy Australia…)

Their new guidelines, titled “Staying Healthy”, are aimed at preventing the spread of viruses and diseases among children in early childhood education and childcare services. One of the guidelines (see below) suggests to avoid spreading germs, children should not blow out candles on a birthday cake to be shared with friends.

1.2.2            Celebration cakes and blowing out candles
Many children like to bring a cake to share with their friends on their birthday. Children love to blow out their candles while their friends are singing ‘happy birthday’. Cakes and candles may also be brought into the education and care service for other special occasions. To prevent the spread of germs when the child blows out the candles, parents should either:
            provide a separate cupcake (with a candle if they wish) for the birthday child and enough cupcakes for all the other children
            provide a separate cupcake (with a candle if they wish) for the birthday child and a large cake that can be cut and shared.

It was at about this point I ran screaming from the room and wondered how the human race was going to survive for another generation.

No parent likes it when their child is ill. Not only is it upsetting and worrying to see your child unwell, it causes considerable inconvenience to the working parent. However, childhood illnesses are a fact of life and I believe, play an important role in a person’s long-term health.

From the moment we are born we are exposed to disease causing viruses and bacteria. Our immune systems are constantly put to work identifying the various strains of diseases and then working out how best to overcome any current illness (if we have one) and protect our bodies from future attack. Once children start attending childcare or school, their exposure to illnesses increases and quite naturally, in the early years, they often have increased periods of being sick.

While it is frustrating and upsetting for parents, not to mention miserable for the child, these periods of relatively minor illnesses are strengthening the child’s developing immune system.

I suspect our immune system operates under a “use it or lose it” arrangement. If we are over-protected against minor germs (like those that might lurk in the icing of a delicious chocolate birthday cake that’s just had the candles blown out by some random three year old), we will have little or no defense against more serious germs.

If the NHMRC is serious about working to build a healthy Australia, then I would hope their focus would be on building strong immune systems as well as minimising infectious diseases.

- Annie Barr
I don't know about you but there's a risk I'm willing to take!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Trip to Melbourne to see War Horse

Last Wednesday as we began the final week of the summer school holidays, the boys and I enjoyed a day trip to Melbourne to see the National Theatre of Great Britain’s production of War Horse. This colossal theatrical production is currently being shown at the State Theatre in Melbourne’s Arts Centre.

Motoring through city traffic is not my idea of fun so we drove as far as Bendigo and then caught the train to Melbourne. By happy coincidence as the boys and I entered the second carriage we ran into former district local, Susie Wood, also on her way to Melbourne. Susie and I talked nonstop and the two-hour train ride passed quickly.

A short walk and tram ride transported the boys and I into the middle of the city for a quick, early lunch before the show. I’m always amazed at the sheer number and variety of food outlets in the city; how do they all survive? We covered French, Italian and Japanese cuisines with Henry having a toasted croissant, Max and Sam choosing focaccias and I opted for sushi.

From the city we caught a tram on Swanston Street, across the Princess Bridge spanning the Yarra River, to the Arts Centre. Trams have been operating in Melbourne since 1885 and are a quick and easy form of public transport to get around the city.

The State Theatre is underground at the Arts Centre and opened to the public in 1984. It has seating for 2,085 people and one of the largest stages in the world. Once we’d found our very comfortable velvety seats in Row J of the stalls and sat down, I turned to the lady next to me and asked if she was from Melbourne? No, as it turned out she wasn’t. Her name was Mary and she lived on a dairy farm at Cohuna… proving yet again, just how tiny the world is.

For the next few hours we sat enthralled, watching the enormous production of War Horse with its actors, life-sized horse puppets and puppeteers. Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel, the story was adapted to theatre and premiered in London in October 2007 as well as being turned into a blockbuster movie directed by Steven Spielberg and released in December 2011.

War Horse tells the story of friendship and the extraordinary connection between a horse named Joey who is raised on a farm in the English county of Devon and his owner, farm boy, Albert Narracott.

At the outbreak of the First World War Albert’s father Ted sells Joey to the army where he becomes the mount for cavalry officer Nicholls. After Captain Nicholls is killed in action, Albert, still distraught at losing his horse, becomes determined to join the army, to find Joey and bring him home. Albert enlists underage and at sixteen, he descends into the hell of WWI trench warfare.

Theatre combines storytelling with 3D at its best. The story is portrayed vividly with spectacular sound and lighting. The puppeteers made the life-sized horse puppets move so realistically, we in the audience almost forgot the horses were puppets.

After the show it was time to catch the train back to Bendigo and then drive home to Barham. A big day out we all thoroughly enjoyed.