More than 2,000km and a dramatic gulf in language and lifestyle separate Sydney from the dusty desert settlement of Kintore, in central Australia. But the two came together last week when a collection of 44 traditional dot paintings by Aboriginal artists was auctioned at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, a graceful neo-classical building overlooking Sydney Harbour. The A$900,000 ($5.1 million) raised by the auction will be used to build swimming pools in two remote Aboriginal settlements, one in Kintore and another on the far north coast of Australia at Maningrida. Devoting money to swimming pools in communities that lack such fundamental services as banks, schools and clinics may seem a bit odd. But it reflects a growing realisation that pools can help solve two of the biggest problems facing Aboriginal children - truancy and poor health. An increasing number of Aboriginal towns have introduced a strict 'no school, no pool' policy under which children who fail to turn up for class are not allowed to swim. The programme has drastically improved school attendance - which can be as low as 15 per cent in communities ravaged by alcohol abuse, petrol sniffing and unemployment. Regular swimming also helps combat skin complaints, and ear and eye infections. 'Kids we haven't seen for ages are coming back to school,' said Jemma Nganbe, the acting principal of a school in Wadeye, the Northern Territory's largest Aboriginal community, which built a pool last year. 'In the past we had a huge number of kids with sore ears and eyes. The pool has made them well again. It's been very successful.' Proponents of the scheme want the federal government to build more swimming pools in Aboriginal settlements, particularly those in the desert, where dusty, dry conditions play havoc with children's health. They are also needed in coastal communities, where children who swim in the sea risk being attacked by saltwater crocodiles or stung by the deadly box jellyfish. Supporters of the policy dismiss suggestions that it is racist or heavy-handed. 'It's an initiative which, in most cases, comes from the communities themselves,' said Bob Beadman, a former head of the Office of Aboriginal Development in the Northern Territory. 'It's only white do-gooders in leafy suburbs who criticise it. It's not discriminatory - it applies to white kids as well.' Aborigines die 17 years younger than other Australians, on average. Improving the health and education of the next generation can only be a good thing.