Curriculum leader of outdoor education, Shawn Brogden and his team of Drew Templar, Cuddie Steele and other casual staff called the meeting to discuss the severe bush fire in Meelon, eight kilometres from Dwellingup, where their outdoor education program was planned to take place.
At the 11th hour, it was decided to initiate a bushfire evacuation plan and arrange a modified camp. The educators arrived at the conclusion that despite losing their intended location for the camp, the students could still benefit from an alternative outdoor experience.
“The original decision was ‘let’s get day one of the program going, based at school, and then at least we haven’t made any split decisions about what was going to happen’. We just set out trying to get day one of the program going, looking at the elements of the program that we could do on site at school or locally,” Brogden says.
“When the boys arrived we informed them of what was going on and they were kind of excited and disappointed, but for Year 7s, the excitement of doing something different is almost more exciting than going with the plan, so no matter what happened they were pumped up.”
Brogden says that when you live in a high fire danger area, it is logical to be well prepared for the prospect of fires.
“When we stopped to assess what we were left with if Moray was not available it was quite clear, we have lost the place and sense of attachment and belonging to the environment this gives us, but the rest of the program was still there,” he says.
“It was simply a case of relocating what we did have.”
The educators quickly put a plan in place, calling in favours from local schools who could assist them by lending their rafts, canoes and tents.
“The outdoor ed community, they’re a small community of likeminded teachers,” Brogden says.
“I guess the disadvantage for us was our equipment for the program was now locked down where we couldn’t get to it.
“Because of the facilities that we have, we’ve often been asked by schools to access some of our resources and things and I’m a ‘help anyone out any way I can’ sort of person, so we do.
“So it was just a case of ringing around and seeing who might have what available and being prepared to lend it.”
Brogden says both the staff and students quickly learned that the program can really be done anywhere. The raft building and canoeing activities were relocated to the Swan River, rock climbing took place at an indoor rock climbing facility instead of their ropes course, and the boys camped out on the school oval.
“It was more about just adapting the program to a new location, as opposed to changing the entire program. The outcomes could be as close to what they are for all the other groups who run the same program,” he adds.
Brogden says the boys were still able to cook on fuel stoves, practise the value of ‘leave no trace’ and make out a few stars beyond the pollution of light from the urban environment. They also learned that every school could still offer a unique residential style outdoor education camp.
“All you need is the gumption and the space, there are a great number of resources that sit idle, a tent and oval and a trangia, get your kids outdoors and enjoying, engaging, learning about and in the environment,” Brogden says.
And while the program was not the same without the tall Jarrah trees, the dust and gravel, the eerie river banks and fresh water, it was unique and equally valuable.
“I suppose that’s one of the lessons that we were able to sum up with them at the end of the program was to really reward the way they did adapt and they just rolled with it. There were no complaints – there was this sense of ‘well, we did everything the same in a different location’ and it comes from jumping on the positive.
“Once they started seeing the positive in the experience, that they were unique and they were different, that’s what they really reflected on in the end.
“They said, ‘the best thing was that no one got the program that we got’. They found the positive in that negative experience and that’s what resilience is about.”