Storytellers – Life Saving in Vietnam and a pictorial journey of Sicily

We welcomed Storytellers Lauren Elder and Jon Attwater to the last meeting for 2015.

Lauren, daughter of our own Denise, gave a most interesting talk about her trip in October to Vietnam. Lauren and her friend Gemma Margiotta, both qualified surf lifesaving trainers and assessors, represented the Manly Surf Club as volunteers to do their part in improving water safety in Vietnam.

Lauren and Gemma

Lauren and Gemma

Lauren explained about the huge problem that exists there with more than 3,000 drownings nationwide, which equates to 9 deaths per day on average. That rate is 10 times higher than in developed countries. To address these alarming statistics there are a number of activities, many Australian based, to implement water safety training. The particular one that Lauren and Gemma volunteered for is run by a group called Ho Tram Water Safety Consortium (HTWSC) and it combines the efforts of NGO’s, businesses and individuals to support swimming training and surf lifesaving.

Lauren spoke of not really knowing what to expect in Vietnam to the sheer joy in the enthusiasm of the locals in learning some new skills. They focused their efforts on a resort which supposedly had trained lifeguards but as Lauren described these guards knew only basic rudimentary skills, and would have little chance of preventing a drowning. Everyone at the resort was roped into attending the lessons, from kitchen, administrators, cleaners and gardening staff, all relishing the opportunity.

Resort Staff

Resort Staff

Prior to leaving for Vietnam, Lauren and Gemma managed to fundraise over $5000 and purchased a spinal board and 8 surf rescue tubes. They sent some of this equipment in advance, the rest they took on their flight, along with photographer come support crew Denise!

Whilst in Ho Tram Lauren felt they resembled traveling vacuum salesmen but only armed with surf lifesaving equipment, mannequins, CPR equipment etc. as they went from place to place. On the day they arrived they attended a swimming carnival and also a charity bike ride. It was all rather surreal.

Apart from sharing this unique opportunity and experience, it was evident that Lauren is a most accomplished presenter (in fact a trainer when she’s back at work and not volunteering) and her passion for her subject shone through to a most attentive and appreciative audience.

After a break whilst the technical aspects of projecting photographs from a computer were addressed by 7/24-hour support Allan Bolton (he plugged the equipment together properly) Storyteller regular Jon Attwater took to the floor.

Flag of Sicilly

Flag of Sicilly

Jon’s first presentation was a pictorial journey of Sicily, the largest island of the Mediterranean, and home to peoples of many cultures. Jon had obviously done an enormous amount of research on his subject. In fact, Jon had first visited Sicily when in the previous year he had organised the Malta swim, and was so intrigued he decided to do a proper visit, this time accompanied by BBC members John Newcomb and Guy Irwin.
According to Jon, they thoroughly enjoyed the architecture, archaeology and culture including wine. He gave no order of preference!

Aeolian Islands Map

Aeolian Islands Map

As in previous presentations it was evident that Jon is fascinated by the flag origins and the warmongering that took place over the centuries. It provides an interesting perspective to what shapes a country. Jon covered background on a range of subjects including the flag of Sicily and its three bent legs which supposedly represent the three points the island itself; Dolmen – which are tomb structures rather like Stonehenge, but as Jon pointed out were in existence a long time prior; Triremes – so-called because of the arrangement of rowers in three
lines down the length of each side of the ship. Concrete archaeological evidence is lacking and scholars debate the exact arrangement; however, from depictions on ancient carvings and pottery and references from classical authors such as Homer, Thucydides, and Apollinus of Rhodes, a wide consensus has been reached; Archimedes of Syracuse – an Ancient Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer and inventor of amongst many other things a flame thrower and giant claw to defend against enemy vessels; Caravaggio – famous Italian painter. Jon sought out his painting the Burial of St Lucy which is now housed in the Santa Lucia Church in Syracuse. In particular Jon was amazed at the lack of security for a masterpiece worth many millions of dollars.

Jon’s second presentation was a colourful look at the BBC’s exciting swims around two of Sicily’s neighbouring island volcanos Stromboli and Vulcano. Stromboli and Vulcano are small islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the north coast of Sicily, and are two of the three active volcanoes in Italy. They are two of the eight Aeolian Islands, a volcanic arc north of Sicily.

Whilst a swim around Stromboli had been done previously by a Brighton (Aust) team, nobody had attempted Vulcano until the BBC swimmers. Jon explained how the islands still regularly explode every few minutes with a significant larva flow in 2014. Stromboli was a 16 kms swim and Vulcano 22 kms. A 90-foot boat was chartered for the swims and was extremely comfortable by all accounts. The water was clear although deep. Jon showed many photos including the support crew doing it tough but provide little detail on the team bonding. A good time was had by all.

Hearty thanks were expended to Lauren and Jon for their most informative and entertaining presentations.