Planning school camps and trips to remote locations can be among the most stressful tasks for educators, who must juggle logistics challenges, unfamiliar locations and the unpredictability associated with caring for young people.
That’s why familiarisation programs such as those offered by Tourism NT are so useful when it comes to making hard choices so much easier. By giving teachers the chance to experience all the things a given region has to offer, they can be confident their new school trip will be a success.
Ten teachers from Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra were lucky enough to visit Central Australia in July this year, witnessing the historic and cultural delights of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Watarrka National Park and all the iconic sights the region has to offer.
From Travancore School in Melbourne, Kate Tyndall found that her participation in each of the experiences on offer over the six-day trip gave her “a better indication of the outcomes, rather than reading about them online or in a brochure,” she said.
“Meeting the activity leaders has also given me more confidence in reaching out to them in the future to discuss potential school trips,” said Kate.
The educators were afforded a tour of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta cultural centre, and were also given a guided tour of the extremely scenic Kings Canyon rim early in the trip. However, there were also visits to Alice Springs telegraph station, Earth Sanctuary, and Alice Springs Desert Park. Potential camp locations were scouted at Ooramina station before lunch at the Royal Flying Doctors Service HQ.
“Not only was it a great professional opportunity, but I also appreciated the ability to meet other teachers in a different setting, which gave us the ability to reflect and discuss school trips and planning,” Kate explained.
For David Sherwin from Fort Street High School in Sydney, the standout highlight was a heartwarming cultural experience.
I have so many fond memories from the trip, but camping overnight with Jungala Kriss and his family just outside of Standley Chasm was a real treat,” David said.
“I think it would also be unfair not to mention our visit to see Brolga at Kangaroo Sanctuary. His passion for animal welfare and the care of injured kangaroos was inspirational.”
In his capacity as a social sciences teacher, David found the opportunities to learn more about Indigenous culture and the traditional owners of the region a core aspect to the trip, providing him with the ideas and inspiration required to help him begin planning potential learning experiences for his students.
“As a teacher who educates students who have not been outside of an urban area, I believe it would by highly beneficial for them to see the ongoing close relationship that Central Australia’s Indigenous people have with the land,” explained David.
“Many students in an urban school understand the disadvantages faced by our Indigenous people but do not get to see the spiritual connection they have to the land.”
Of course, teachers are humans as well, and the key to a truly memorable experience for most people are memorable dining experiences. To this end, the group was treated at every meal, with special mentions going to a self-cooked BBQ at Outback Pioneer on their first night in the Red Centre, and the three-course Mbantua dinner with Bob Taylor on Day Five.
“Getting to know new friends while eating great food as the sun sets on a stunning backdrop – it doesn’t get much better than this,” said Kate.
While the latest group to experience the Tourism NT’s Central Australian teachers’ famil reflect on their experience, some of those who went on the first famil in 2014 have already gone on to take students back on camping experiences. One such teacher, Lisa-Marie O’Connor from Viewbank College in Victoria, recently returned from her school’s first Central Australia camp in over 15 years, where she led a group of Year 9 students. The feedback her students gave provides a real insight into the education benefits on offer in Australia’s Red Centre.
“I really liked visiting the Lilla Aboriginal Community because I have been to some other Aboriginal Communities and I felt very privileged to get to know a central community’s culture, beliefs and way of life. It was beautiful to see Australia and the land around me in their eyes.”
“My favourite experience on camp would have to be The Valley of the Winds. After a hectic couple of days at camp, it was relaxing to sit in the middle of nature and reflect on ourselves and our experiences.”
For Lisa-Marie, the importance of the assistance offered in the famil is summarised in her message of thanks for the team at Tourism NT:
“I just wanted to express to you my gratitude. I truly believe that without this familiarisation trip it would have been very difficult to plan a camp of this magnitude and in this location (We had a total of 130 students and 15 staff attend our 2016 camp). I also believe that you have to not just speak to the people involved or read about it but really experience what the students will be experiencing and this was only possibly by being a part of this familiarisation trip.”
NT Learning Adventures are currently looking for the next round of educators to join them on next year’s famil. Find out more here.