HELP FOR THE DROWNING

(Investigator 9, 1989 November)


There used to be a superstition against rescuing a drowning person. If Australians had believed in that superstition we wouldn't have the SURF LIFE SAVING ASSOCIATION and 300,000 of us now alive wouldn't be here.

In 1864 Bohemian fishermen refused to help a drowning man because they believed bad luck would follow.

In his novel PIRATE Sir Walter Scott has Bryce the pedlar saying: "Are you mad ... to risk the saving of a drowning man? Wot ye not, if you bring him to life again he will be sure to do you some capital injury?"

This superstition was common until last century among French and British sailors, among boatmen of the Danube, and elsewhere.

The idea behind the superstition was that a person drowned because it was the will of the gods. If the rescuer succeeded in the rescue then the will of the gods was frustrated. The rescuer would then have to become a substitute and drown later on.

A similar superstition existed against rescuing miners who were trapped in a mine.

The SURF LIFE SAVING ASSOCIATION was founded in 1907 and operates on all popular beaches of Australia. Rescues to the end of 1988 numbered 324,961.

Next time you're drowning and someone big, bronzed and brawny pulls you out, be thankful that he's not superstitious.

If one silly superstition can end in the garbage heap then why not all the others as well?

(M)

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