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Review of Swimming Hole Lists for Melbourne and Victoria
Swimming Hole Heaven in Victoria

Inaccurate, unattributed and promoting illegal swimming: this is my review of swimming hole lists from aggregator websites in Melbourne and Victoria. Before you rely on a Top 5, Top 10 or "Best" swimming hole list, be aware of what is missing, what is misleading and what the risks could be for you. I reviewed seven aggregated swimming hole lists as published by AWOL (Junkee Media), RACV, The Urban List, Red Bull, Beat, and Destination Melbourne.
The Inaccurate and The Illegal:
Three of the swimming hole lists that I reviewed included locations where it is illegal to swim. In its February 2015 article The 8 Best Swimming Holes Near Melbourne, Junkee Media's AWOL website listed Old Hepburn Pool in Hepburn Springs, describing it as an “off-the-beaten-path swim spot” with “even a toddlers pool”. Similarly, in its December 2015 article entitled Melbourne’s Best Natural Swimming Spots, The Urban List also listed Old Hepburn Pool. However, the pool was closed to swimming in the mid-2000s, at least a decade before those articles were written, with threat of a fine from the local council if you enter the water. There is a prominent sign on site (see below), highlighting the local council regulation that swimming is prohibited. According to a local council representative who I spoke to, the main driver for the ban was the difficulty for council to obtain public liability insurance for the site, so if you had an accident in the water, not only could you cop a fine from the local council, but you could also be forced to pay your own medical and rehabilitation expenses.

In its October 2018 article entitled 8 of Melbourne’s most blissful wild swimming spots, Red Bull listed MacKenzie Falls in the Grampians and described it as offering “ample swimming action”. This is despite the Parks Victoria ban on swimming at this location in 2004, some 14 years before this article was published. This ban was implemented after multiple drownings in the pool, and is supported by signs on site, and Parks Victoria’s website, which clearly states that “swimming is not permitted at the falls”. Several drownings have occurred since the Parks Victoria ban on swimming, with the latest occurring at this site on Boxing Day 2018. To their credit, Red Bull quickly removed Mackenzie Falls from its list after I alerted them to this issue.

These three articles all omitted that swimming was prohibited at these sites at the time of publication. If a swimmer relied only on these lists, at best, this would result in wasting time to visit a recommended swimming hole that you cannot swim in. At worst, it could potentially expose the swimmer to legal, safety and financial risks. In each case, additional fact checking of the articles prior to publication through communication with the managing authority of the swimming hole, or checking against a primary source of swimming hole information, would have quickly identified this omission.

Prohibition sign at Old Hepburn Pool Above: An unmissable swimming prohibition sign at Old Hepburn Pool, located prominently next to the walking track to the pool (Order this image)

In addition to these glaring errors of omission, other errors can be identified in several of the eight swimming hole compilation articles that I reviewed, including both typographic errors and information errors. In some cases this is the result of Chinese whispers, where I believe a third publisher has endeavoured to re-word a statement from a second publisher who originally drew from my work, resulting in both incorrect and sometimes hilarious outcomes. These include, for example, describing the swimming pool as the "main attraction" at the Buchan Caves Reserve, implying that a visit to the actual Buchan Caves that the reserve is named after would only be of secondary importance, or Lysterfield Lake, which I described as being "constructed", being termed a "manufactured lake" (but I am not sure from which lake-making factory). As a publisher I understand that occasionally errors can slip through the editing process, especially when a writer and publisher reach into a specialised area of interest with limited background knowledge. As a result, rather than listing errors in these articles, I will focus on the attribution process that I believe demonstrates transparently to the reader that at least some degree of fact checking has been undertaken.
The Unattributed:
Most of the aggregated swimming hole lists that were reviewed for this article did not provide attribution to any primary sources of information, with the remainder only providing attribution to the managing authority of the swimming spot, not the actual sources of information for the article content. Articles without attribution give the reader the impression that the content is all primary researched information, generated solely by the author. For any reader it would be reasonable to ask, where did the information come from? For legal reasons, and in recognition of the efforts made by some publishers to subsequently provide attribution to my website as their source of information, I have opted to not identify individual publishers in this section of my review. However direct quotes from several different individual articles are provided as evidence for this review, with a footnote at the bottom of this article to illustrate that the practice of no or incorrect attribution was common across all of the articles that I reviewed.

To take one simple example from the many I have available, in the 2014 edition of my Guide to Freshwater Swimming Holes in Victoria, based on my technical knowledge as a hydrologist who works in the Victorian water industry, I wrote about sources of contamination in the Yarra River.

From the second edition of my guide, published in 2014: The Yarra River “suffers from the triple whammy of being an irrigation drain, a discharge point for leaky septic tanks, and an urban stormwater drain”.

From an article published four years later by an aggregator website: The Yarra River “suffers from the trifecta of being an irrigation drain, stormwater drain, and discharge point for septic tanks”, without any attribution for this statement.

I highlight this example because it neatly illustrates a writing process by which aggregator websites can be shown to operate, namely to take another source of information, switch some words using a thesaurus (e.g. trifecta for triple whammy), and adjust the word order (e.g. putting septic tanks third in the list instead of second). Under Australian copyright law, such changes are generally all that is needed to avoid being sued for infringement of copyright. Australian copyright law generally only protects against the wholesale copying and pasting of articles, and based on precedent judgements, sets a very low bar for deeming a secondary article to be a new creative work, and therefore beyond legal reproach.

If it is not illegal, why is attribution so important? The importance of attribution is embedded in the code of ethics of journalism industry associations in Australia. For example, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s (MEAA’s) code of ethics states that MEAA journalists should “aim to attribute information to its source”, that they “do not plagiarise”, and that they “commit themselves to honesty [and] fairness”. Unlike some other professions (e.g. engineering in some jurisdictions of Australia), membership of professional institutions like the MEAA is voluntary, so unless an author or publisher happens to be a member of the MEAA, the code of ethics is unenforceable, and authors and publishers remain unaccountable for unethical behaviour.

One of the leading voices globally on ethics in journalism was the late Steve Buttry, who was a journalist, academic and advisor to media organisations in the United States. In his blog, the Buttry Diaries, Buttry rightly points out in his commentary on aggregation guidelines that aggregation by journalists can be both useful and valuable, but that without attribution, publishers undermine the reader’s trust. In his words of advice on attribution:

“Attribution is the difference between research and plagiarism. Attribution gives stories credibility and perspective. Readers are entitled to know where we got our information […] Linking is an essential part of online journalism…which lets people know the full context of the information you are citing.”

Buttry believes that online journalists are reluctant to attribute to primary sources because it devalues their content and drives traffic, and therefore revenue, away from their website. However, Buttry is of the opinion that by attributing sources, readers are more likely to come back to the aggregator website, even if they clicked away from it. This is because it helped them to find the information that they needed, and therefore becomes a more trusted source of information.

Where attribution was provided in the various lists of swimming holes that I reviewed, it was sometimes erratic in nature. In one article, the opening two sentences about a swimming hole on the Yarra River were:

From a 2017 article on an aggregator website: "Laughing Waters is a series of pools separated by miniature rapids on the Yarra River at Eltham. While the native bushland may give the illusion of isolation, this spot is only 30 minutes from central Melbourne."

From my website, published three years earlier: "Laughing Waters is a series of broad, deep pools separated by small rapids along a reach of the Yarra River near Eltham [...] This site is entirely surrounded by native bush, which gives you a rare sense of isolation this close to the city."

Replace the words miniature for small, central Melbourne for city, native bushland for native bush, illusion of isolation for rare sense of isolation, etc. and the two sentences become remarkably similar. When you also consider that the narrative from this publisher about this swimming hole only included four sentences in total, the similarities become even more conspicuous. The publisher did attribute its text about Laughing Waters to the Parks Victoria webpage for Warrandyte State Park, indicating its intent to attribute. The problem is that Laughing Waters is not actually located in Warrandyte State Park, and understandably, there was no description whatsoever of Laughing Waters from the Parks Victoria link provided.

Small but not miniature rapids at Laughing Waters Above: Small but not "miniature" rapids spanning the width of the Yarra River at Laughing Waters (Order this image)

Equally, in a description of Turpins Falls, one aggregator website article opens with the statement that it was “Once home to a swimming club in the 1930s..." but provided no reference for this fact. This is in contrast to my own description of Turpins Falls, published online several years earlier, which states the same fact, but correctly attributes this information to its original source in a Melbourne newspaper published in the 1930s, which I uncovered after a colleague who lives in the region told me a story about the falls' history.

When I approached some of the publishers (not named in this review) of unattributed swimming hole list articles about my concerns, I was pleased to see that senior editors at three publishing houses quickly rectified the absence of attribution to my work, with a fourth publishing house responding shortly thereafter after some additional prodding and a change in personnel. Those four articles now provide a link to my website as per my recommended form of attribution. In doing so, they backed up their claims of being ethical publishers with their actions. Most achieved this with a minimum of fuss, based on mutual respect, and demonstrating clear ethical leadership.
When To Be More Cautious About Relying On A List:
After reviewing these list articles from aggregator websites, I have noticed some indicators of when I believe you should be more cautious about relying on website lists. There is nothing inherently wrong with content aggregation, and I have even produced some inane lists of my own. It is more about recognising the cues that indicate a higher degree of credibility associated with those lists. In the examples cited above, the articles with inaccurate or essential missing content were associated with:

1. Limited to no original photos. If a list article only has stock photos or photos ripped off other people’s social media feeds, then chances are they never visited the site you are reading about, or made the recipe they are describing, etc. Occasional use of legally obtained, attributed photos can be ok, such as that time I dropped a non-waterproof camera into a pool at The Cascades near Darwin, and was never able to recover the photos. But when the majority of photos are sourced from elsewhere, I would be cautious about the authenticity of the article, particularly if it is combined with the absence of primary sources. One of the attractions for aggregator websites for using images from social media is that whilst it is easy to sue for infringement of copyright when a publisher uses one of your images (see Tyler vs Sevin), it is nigh impossible to recover damages or the costs of prosecuting the infringement, unless you can assign a financial value to the image. Whilst social media feeds are of high personal value, they are usually of negligible financial value. As a result, even though the practice is diminishing, I have seen photographs re-published from social media or photo sharing websites, despite fairly clear licensing conditions associated with the photo that are intended to prevent it. Perhaps one day a class action will bring to account the unauthorised re-publication of social media photographs, where it has been used for commercial gain.

2. No attribution to primary sources. As noted above in the previous section of this review.

3. No personal observations. If a writer doesn’t describe what they saw or how they felt, chances are they did not see or feel it first hand.

4. No credentials in the field of interest. Even where an author has demonstrated credentials, the degree to which those credentials are relevant will vary according to the context. For example, given that I am not Fijian, my credibility as a reliable source of information on Fijian swimming holes would be lower than for swimming holes in southern Australia, and locally produced information could be more reliable.
The Alternative:
A better way of creating compilation articles does exist. Freelance writer and photographer Jennifer Pinkerton approached me in 2015 after reading some of my guide to swimming holes in the Northern Territory. She was writing an article for Virgin Australia’s in-flight magazine about top end swimming holes. Her approach was in stark contrast to my experiences in dealing with the larger aggregator websites. Essentially it involved:

(i) corresponding with me before drawing any information from my published material

(ii) adopting a different article layout to my own, creating a new work which showcased her melodic writing style and her personal impressions, but which also brought my expertise to prominence through an interview

(iii) supplementing my information with additional, independent research, and

(iv) providing me with the opportunity to review the article prior to publication, including quotes attributed to me.

(v) In a subsequent collaboration with Jennifer for a Toyota motoring magazine, the publisher valued primary sources so highly that they also published a mug shot and a biopic of the primary information sources.

Florence Falls taken with my other camera Above: One of the few photos of Northern Territory swimming holes that I managed to bring home after dropping a non-waterproof camera into the water (Order this image)

By taking the time to also interview an academic in Darwin, she was able to uncover information that I was not previously aware of, namely that a section of one of the swimming holes had been used as a birthing pool by Aboriginal women. The end product was still a compilation of swimming holes in the Northern Territory, but the writing style, format and content were all different to my own work, showcasing her creative talent, but without in any way diminishing the contribution from primary researchers.

In my view, this is the difference between a parasitic relationship, where an aggregator website takes information with no interaction and gives nothing back to the primary source, and a symbiotic relationship, where both parties work together collaboratively, enabling the aggregator to produce something entirely new and different for mutual benefit.
Swimmer Safety:
Swimming in rivers, lakes and waterfall pools can be risky, particularly for inexperienced swimmers. Of the seven articles that I reviewed from aggregator websites, only one included any reference to water safety by linking to the Royal Life Saving Society website. One article, when originally published, encouraged swimmers to consume alcohol whilst at the swimming hole, before I pointed out to that publisher that, according to the Royal Life Saving Society, alcohol is a major risk factor in drownings at inland waterways. One person drowned at MacKenzie Falls at a time when one publisher's swimming hole list included MacKenzie Falls in the weeks leading up to that drowning.
Your Support:
Websites based on primary research are an essential source of information for the community. Through the operation of my swimming hole website, over the years I have answered dozens of queries from the general public, supported grass roots community campaigns for water safety or to prevent closure of recreational assets, provided information or participated in interviews for several PhD candidates and undergraduate students, and in one instance, I provided information to a tourist information centre when they did not know the answer to a question being posed to them. As a primary content generator, I also support the aggregator websites who rely on, but never pay for, this research.

If you would like to support genuinely independent, primary researched content producers on the internet, here’s how you could do it:

1. Share or like original, creative content on social media. Sharing on social media is a valuable input to search engine ranking, which can mean the difference between a site being visible or disappearing into the ether. Social media buttons for this article are located at the bottom of this page. Likewise if you come across an unattributed list that does not recognise its primary sources, don’t share it.

2. Provide some positive feedback to the content creator. If you really like something, let them know. Positive feedback is always a pick-me-up to keep on creating.

3. Provide links to great content. From my website, I provide links to original creators that I believe share similar values when it comes to content or product generation, such as a guy in the United States on a similar mission to document swimming holes. If you want to link to what you believe is poorer quality content that you do not want to recommend to search engines, use the ref=nofollow tag.

4. Buy an associated product. I’ve had people purchase my Guide to Freshwater Swimming Holes in Victoria, not because they really needed it, but because they wanted to show their support for my work financially. To be clear, I am not encouraging others to do this for me as a result of reading this article, but when unprompted, it was a simple gesture that meant a lot.

5. Make a donation. Some sites offer the opportunity for philanthropic donation. If begging works for The Guardian and Wikipedia, then why not distribute your donation to other websites whose content you enjoy for free. I am also still waiting for micropayments to kick off, but I think I’ll be waiting for a long time.
Special thanks for all of those people who have supported me in generating content to date, and for those family and friends who endured my lamenting about aggregator websites. I’m looking forward to putting down on paper or capturing on video the many ideas I have yet to realise, as well as doing a similar critique for Australian swimming hole lists, so stay tuned…
Given the nature of this article, I would much prefer that you share your comments on social media, rather than sending them to me. However, if you would like to leave me a comment about this article, please fill in the comment box below. All fields are required if you would like your comments published on this website, but for legal reasons, any derogatory comments that specifically name an individual publisher or author will not be uploaded to this website.

Where aggregated swimming hole lists recommend locations where it was illegal to swim at the time of publication, I made those three publishers aware of this issue and/or the associated potential risks to swimmers from the articles in question. The Urban List have only recently been made aware of this, and have not yet had time to provide a considered response to me. As of my last check in 2018, Junkee Media has not amended its article in this regard since I notified them in 2015 of dangers to swimmers in relation to their 2015 article. If and when each of those two publishers respond to me that they have edited or removed those articles, I will make note of it in this article.

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Drawing upon my previously published material without attribution has been an industry-wide practice by aggregator websites, albeit to varying degrees, when preparing swimming hole lists for Melbourne and Victoria. To support this statement, I offer the following illustrative examples for the articles that I reviewed, as first published. For publishers A and B, refer to the examples offered in the text above in the section on The Unattributed.

From the second edition of my guide, published in 2014: “Burrong Falls consists of a series of steps ranging from 1-5 m in height, but stretching more than 20 m in width”.

From aggregator website Publisher C in 2015: “The falls here run over a set of wide stone 'steps', each between 1-5 metres high and more than 20 metres wide”, without any attribution for this statement.

From the second edition of my guide, published in 2014: “At under one hour's drive from the city centre, the Lerderderg River is a rare oasis of native bushland and near-pristine stream on the western fringe of Melbourne”.

From aggregator website Publisher D in 2015: “Drive west from the CBD for about an hour and you'll find Lerderderg State Park, a tranquil oasis of native bushland and near-pristine stream”, without any attribution for this statement.

From the second edition of my guide, published in 2014: “Laughing Waters is a series of broad, deep pools separated by small rapids... entirely surrounded by native bush”.

From aggregator website Publisher E in 2015: “Laughing Waters is a series of interconnected natural pools separated by small rapids...completely surrounded by untouched bushland”, without any attribution for this statement.

From the second edition of my guide, published in 2014: Lysterfield Lake “is arguably the best natural outdoor swimming venue in Melbourne... the quality of water here is generally better than any other rivers and lakes within the Melbourne metropolitan area”.

From aggregator website Publisher F in 2015: “Lysterfield Lake is arguably Melbourne’s best outdoor swimming spot... the quality of water in Lysterfield Lake is better than the other rivers and lakes in Melbourne’s metropolitan area”, without any attribution for this statement.
© Brad Neal 2021. All rights reserved. Swimming Hole Heaven is a registered trademark.