Depending on which way you walk, you can go as close as 25m from the small demountable buildings that serve as the class rooms at Wooli Public School as you head down the Wooli beach. The coastal walk is quite literally right in their backyards. So how was it possible then that it did not occur to us until two weeks ago that the local kids might like to walk the Yuraygir Coastal Walk too? So at the suggestion of their Principal, we absolutely agreed we must arrange to take them on an excursion and discover together the ‘treasures in our backyards’.
In no time we came up with a plan to make this happen. We looked at the tides, thought about logistics and selected a date. We also dragged in the wonderful Ben Garrett to assist us. As well as being a father of two children at Wooli Public School, Ben is an ex- work colleague of Gina and I, and has also taken on many a Discovery Ranger tour with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. ’Disco Rangers’ are those wonderfully enthusiastic people that turn up at NPWS campgrounds and other places across the state, to take interested campers on mini tours where they learn about local environments.
There had been significant rains in the lead up to our chosen day, so none of us really expected the clear day to materialise that the weather forecasters promised. But there it was, a perfect Winter walking day with whales in the distance.
The children arrived in two groups, with Gina walking the older kids North though the sublime headland walk from Wilsons Head to Diggers Camp, and Ben and I leading the younger kids South on the beaches around from Diggers back to Boorkoom, where we met in the middle for a break, and later switched roles.
Collectively over the morning, we used all our senses to discover what was there on the day. We found things living in nooks and crannies we had never before laid eyes upon. We used binoculars to check out things in the distance. We stopped to listen for birds and frogs. We tasted things. We grasped objects and held them up. We studied and left things were we found them. We slowed down to explore the minutiae, but also took time to consider the big picture. We talked about the concept of a species, of totems used by Aboriginal people, of ecological communities and interconnectedness. This was a morning of exciting discovery.
The kids asked many questions and between them had many answers too. Some kids were obviously more exposed to nature than others, but they all seemed genuinely keen to discover and learn more. This was confirmed when one boy yelled “Mister, I’ve found a new species!” as he studied the diversity in a tiny patch of headland vegetation.
We had not planned to lean heavily on messages about threats to ecology, but when we talked about the Beach Stone Curlew and how few breeding pairs are left on NSW’s beaches, these kids seemed to consider it most reasonable that we should all play a role in protecting such vulnerable shorebird species from loose dogs. And they seemed pretty happy to know how special the National Park is and that it helps protect a range of species that are on the brink elsewhere.
We look forward to seeing what project work comes out of our visit to Yuraygir, including I expect, some fantastic artwork down the track. The visit was very successful for the teachers and kids, and there is enthusiasm by the Principal to do it again.
For our part, we learned lots from these kids, including what they do and don’t know about their local environment already. But we learned that they think it is a pretty special place, and as more adults from far and wide come trekking through their backyard as they grow up in years to come, we feel sure this will be reinforced, and hope they will feel a positive sense of custodianship.
We also think they gained a very positive sense about the value of walking in the outdoors.
And we cannot help wondering if we could do similar walks with some of the other small schools in the area as well. Stay posted.
Feel free comment and share your experiences or get in touch.