Education & Sustainability Across Australia


Location: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Lat/Long: 33° 51′ 25″ S / 151° 12′ 55″ E
Weather Conditions: 72F (22C) Partly Cloudy
Incredible view overlooking the harbor and Sydney Opera House.

Galiwin’ku, Queensland, & a Return to Sydney
Full Field Update #2

View the full photo gallery that accompanies this post.

During the past two weeks, the team has traveled across Australia from the population center of Sydney north to the remote communities of the Top End, and then east to the grasslands and Great Barrier Reef communities in north Queensland. It’s been an intense, adventure-filled journey spent collecting education and sustainability narratives from a broad spectrum of individuals, communities, and organizations. This update covers the team’s travels from their second day on the island of Galiwin’ku in the Northern Territory (a very remote, largely Indigenous community), through Queensland, and back to Sydney, where the trip began.

Day 5: Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island)

Bryan cleaning a coral trout at the end of our fishing expedition.

We had heard rumors from John Sarev in Darwin that Bryan Hughes, principal of Shepherdson College in Galiwin’ku, was a “big fisherman.” During our drive from the Elcho Island airport, Bryan shared stories from his many fishing trips in the waters surrounding the island, and asked if we would be interested in venturing out on a trip ourselves. Charlie shared his own avid interest in fishing, and a conversation ensued about the types of fish and boats found in this part of the world.

The next morning Bryan picked us up from our lodging at the school and shared a surprise: he was taking us fishing! After launching the boat, we traveled 45 minutes to the Mangrove River. However, because we had delayed our departure that morning in order to complete the uploading of a field report, the tide was too low and we could not move up into the river to fish for barramundi. So, we turned around and made our way to one of Bryan’s secret fishing spots. Once there he gave us two frozen squid, a knife, two rods and said, “Let’s get to it, mates!”

Aaron and Charlie with the two trevally fish we caught.

Within minutes, Aaron caught one of the biggest fish he has had ever caught: a 5- to 6-pound coral trout. Soon after, Bryan pulled another two fish into the boat, while Charlie hooked the “biggest fish he caught in his life”: a 25+ pound trevally! This saltwater fish fought 10 times harder than the largemouth bass and northern pike Charlie was used to catching in Minnesota. He worked for over 10 minutes bringing the huge fish into the boat.

The fishing fun did not end there. After we pulled several more catches into the boat, we headed out to the river as the tide was now up. At the river we fished next to beautiful mangrove trees for barramundi, Bryan’s species of choice. Bryan was able to pull one in; Charlie lost a small shark; and Aaron had several powerful hits.

We took a break in order to interview Bryan (the mangrove trees provided a majestic backdrop). He shared with us many insights about the relationship between education and sustainability in a remote place like Elcho Island. “I think mainstream education, as we know it, doesn’t fit remote communities. There are a lot of things that impact education before we get children into the school – things like overcrowding, hygiene, poor health – those things are outside the premise of the school, but actually impact the school.”
Mangrove trees along the bank where we fished for Barramundi.

Bryan discerned, “The first thing our young children have to learn about is themselves – who they are, where they come from, and what their culture is. If they haven’t got that, it is very difficult to switch over and learn another culture. So I have a strong belief in the bilingual concept.” Additionally, “there’s lots of small, sustainable-type enterprises that we’ve started up at school to enhance the combination of the two cultures so they can actually get a feel of what it’s like to know themselves, but also use the knowledge of westerners to enhance their living and their prospects for the future.”

With a cooler full of 10 fish and a recorded interview, we decided to call it a day. The fish we caught not only become our dinner that night, they also served as thank-you gifts for local Elders over the next few days, as these people generously gave of their time to share with us their thoughts on the connections and disconnections between education and sustainability.

Maratja, an elder in Galiwin'ku, being recorded by us for an interview.

Upon returning from our fishing trip, we went to the “church lawn” to interview one of the most respected elders in the community, Maratja Dhamarrandji. We learned he had translated the Bible from English to Djambarrpuyngu, the language of the Yolngu, the Indigenous people of Galiwin’ku. Djambarrpuyngu is spoken by approximately 3,000 to 4,000 people. Maratja is married, has three children, and is also a grandfather and great grandfather. He went to school at Darwin Kormilda College and Darwin High School in the early 1970s.

Maratja described how the culture and environment has changed on the island. When asked about how education is impacting environmental sustainability on the island, Maratja replied, “I think we need to do much more work and look at the issue from a holistic view of connecting with the land and knowing where you are coming from in order to make ends meet. In order for us to survive, this issue is really important.”
Bruce and Richard on the beach alongside their home on Galiwin'ku.

After our interview with Maratja, we drove to the outer edge of the community to interview Richard Guandahoy, an internationally known artist and a head figure in his clan. With his children and grandchildren playing nearby, Richard sat under a tree working on a beautiful painting that depicted the history of the Christian missionaries coming to Elcho Island. Richard described in detail the painting (which Aaron was fortunate to have purchased) and his thoughts on sustainability and education. Another man, Bruce, was sitting with Richard;  we would meet him again the next morning during our visit with the Gumurr Marthakal Rangers.

During our interview, Richard shared, “Sustainability is a standard, a level. It starts with the young people. You tell them ‘you have to look after the land,’ and if they ask you why, you tell them ‘because the land is helping you and you are helping the land.’ This is the highest value in aboriginal heritage. That’s why sustainability is important. That’s why the language is important.”

After the interview Richard took us down to the beach, “his land,” where he showed us the pool of fresh water where people from the community collect their drinking water. Then, we visited with one of the two policemen on the island and met his entire family and their two wallabies, snake, and chickens. It was quite an unusual sight to see wallabies jumping around in the front yard as the family’s young daughters played with them!

Elcho Island from above.

Later that evening after a great fish dinner with Bryan and his partner, Virg, we interviewed Goutha, an Elder who started her own school in her homeland on the other side of the island (approximately four-hour’s drive from Galiwin’ku). It was clear that Goutha had a passion for education. She showed us a presentation on her computer and described the history of her school. “When there was a small community here living in this town, everybody was happy as kids all went to school plus they went hunting – learning two ways. My father asked us to move back to our homelands and establish. So we thought ‘Ok, if we are moving back, might as well set up a school.’ That’s how it happened.”

When asked to share her opinion on education, Goutha shared, “To me, education is important, especially for the kids. They can learn about their land and live off the land. And if there was no money they could easily go hunting. And also they go to school, and they learn both ways. Yolgnu way, means Aboriginal way, and Balanda way, means white man’s law. And they put it together. That’s how our kids are learning and happy and healthy.”

Day 6: Galiwin’ku

Aaron interviewing Ralph Marrayumba Garrawurra, a senior ranger on Elcho Island.

Our sixth day began with a quick drive to the ranger’s station on the island. Much like the places Aaron has traveled in the Arctic, this community has a number of rangers that patrol the waters around the island, mainly on the lookout for vessels engaged in illegal fishing. Ralph Garrawurra, a senior ranger we interviewed, shared that he has worked with the local schoolchildren to collect thousands of pounds of fishing nets that were left illegally in the sea. Down on the beach, Ralph discussed the passing down of traditional knowledge, “I always take my kids for a walk to show them their country and show them the rainy country, their sister country. This is your mother country – this is our country. You have to give them practical education first, to show them that they can enjoy it and be comfortable.”

Ralph explained the importance of education in Galiwin’ku: “I want to see my people go to school – that’s the number one gateway, that’s the key. We tell them, ‘If you go to school today, your goal will be perfect. Your future will be perfect. If you lose education today, you can’t see properly.’ Education is the key way, and that’s my number one worry about this community – to see my people go to school.”
Peter Datjing, home liaison officer on Elcho Island.

Following our interview with Ralph, we stopped by the local arts and crafts gallery, Elcho Island Arts. This gallery works with more than 125 artists from Galiwin’ku and the surrounding Marthakal Homelands. The artists are a diverse group made up of men and women, young and old, from more than 12 clan groups on and around the island. The artwork was beautiful including numerous didgeridoos (a cylindrical wind instrument developed by Indigenous Australians of northern Australia around 1,500 years ago, often made from the Eucalyptus tree), spears, bark and canvas paintings, and woven baskets. The mission of the gallery since 1992 is to support Yolngu artists sharing their culture while receiving an income. The art is sold locally as well as throughout Australia.

A child playing during an early morning session at Families as First Teachers, an annex program run at Shepherdson School.

Next, we made our way back to the school where Bryan introduced us to the “Families as First Teachers: Indigenous Parenting Support Services” program. This is a voluntary program with the goal of encouraging parents to spend time with their children at the school. Shepherdson College had a dedicated room for this program at its school. It was open to the outdoors and was full of teachers, parents, and children involved in numerous activities together – a beautiful sight.

At the school, Aaron and Charlie presented to a sophomore class about the Earthducation project and Aaron’s many years of traveling through the Arctic. As the students viewed the photos and videos from the Arctic and around the world, there was great interest in the differences, as well as the similaries, across the cultures showcased. After the presentation, Aaron and Charlie interviewed four students about their lives and education on the island. Their teacher, Emma, was also kind enough to share her perspectives on teaching on the island. Like many of the communities in the Arctic, teachers in Galiwin’ku are often young teachers just beginning their career who come to the island to gain experience. Emma was one of 38 teachers employed at the school teaching around 600 students.

Daisy Gondara, senior cultural advisor at Shepherdson College.

We were also fortunate to be able to interview Peter and Daisy, two cultural leaders who work closely with the school to reinforce the Yolgnu culture. When asked about the future of culture transfer to children, Peter explained, “Some of the parents are crying for their kids. Half of the families are crying for their kids. They want them to get a good, good education here in school so their parents can feel proud. But first they will listen to their Balanda teachers, to their Yolgnu teachers, because it’s going in a straight line. We’re not going back, it’s going forward.”

Daisy shared, “Living here on Elcho Island as a Yolgnu, from early childhood growing up to be a Yolgnu woman, I see that the culture is very important to me and my people. Through these years we went through with our parents and grandparents, it shows us a learning pathway to get this western education.”

Bryan then gave us a tour of the great work he is doing with the faculty at the school. The school, estimated at $40 to $50 million AUS to build, had some amazing initiatives to encourage students to see the value of their education and how it may help them in their near future. The school projects include:

  • boat building, where students literally build a boat in shop class so they can use it out on the sea for fishing;
  • furniture making, where local woods are collected and furniture is built for homes throughout the island;
  • barista training and coffee stands, where students have coffee hours for the local community members at the school;
  • a fish hatchery for barramundi where recirculated water creates a mini-ecosystem fertilizing local plants;
  • the planting of local trees and a garden, which was then digitized into 3D-renderings using Google Sketch-up; and
  • a local motel that the students will run that was created from dorms constructed for the workers who built the school.

The day ended with Aaron and Charlie presenting to 15 teachers and staff about Earthducation, encouraging them to share their perspectives on education and sustainability with the world.

Day 7: Galiwin’ku to Cairns

Aaron and Bryan having a final chat before we departed Elcho Island.

The next day began early, as Bryan kindly shuttled us to the airport at 6 AM to catch a chartered 4-seater Cessna 210. After packing the plane full with all the Earthducation gear, the team flew across the beautiful landscape from Galiwin’ku to Gove (aka Nhulunbuy), where we caught a commercial Qantas flight to Cairns.

After arriving in Cairns and renting a Ford Territory for our later adventures into the bush, the team visited the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA). At WTMA, we met with Dr. Paul Chantrill, manager of communities and partnerships; Patricia O’Loughlen, principal project officer of communities and partnerships; and M’Lis Flynn, project officer. They explained the goals of the WTMA and the work they’re doing to educate people about this region of the world. The WTMA is charged with managing the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area according to Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention. The WTMA have formed some unique partnerships with the local community, schools, and Traditional Owner groups to sustain this beautiful region of Australia.

Aaron, Doon McColl, Campbell Clarke, Moni Carlisle, and Charlie.

At lunch we met with three other individuals doing great work related to sustainability and education: Moni Carlisle of the School for Field Studies; Doon McColl of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; and Campbell Clarke, a Wet Tropics management planner. Campbell shared with us a book he collaborated on for the WTMA titled From the Heart: Celebrating 20 Years of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area.

When asked about the connection between education and sustainability, Campbell expressed, “I think most people enjoy their life more if they are involved in sustainability and feeling like they are doing something. We often talk here, in Wet Tropics, about a culture of conservation and it exists here in a way that it doesn’t in other places.”

After our interviews, we headed out of town, driving south down the coast to Townsville, a 4-hour drive.

Day 8: Trafalgar Station

The following morning we drove 2.5 hours from Townsville to Charters Towers and then on to Trafalgar Station, an 80,000-acre ranch with 4,200 cattle owned by Roger and Jenny Landsberg. It was a 13-year reunion for Aaron, who had visited Trafalgar in June 1999 (we even found Aaron’s name and signature in an old visitors’ book!). Just as Aaron remembered, the visit to the ranch was quite an experience!

Roger showing Aaron and Charlie one of the creeks that runs through the property at Trafalgar Station.

Upon arrival, the team put their gear in their living quarters for the night and were treated to an amazing lunch prepared by Jenny, comprised of pastys made with meat from the Trafalgar cattle. Then, we hopped in Roger’s Land Cruiser and he took us on a tour of his land, showing us the various plots where cattle were spelled (where cattle were mustered from one plot to another throughout the year to allow the land to rejuvenate). Though the land we traversed seemed to go on forever, we only saw about one-eighth of the overall property.

Roger Landsberg, grazier at Trafalgar Station.

Roger, known as the “poster boy of sustainability” in this region due to his grazing practices, discussed with us his grazing management plan. Near a creek bed that holds water only during the wet season, Aaron interviewed Roger about the history of Trafalgar and his views on the relationship between education and sustainability. Roger shared, “Trafalgar has been around for 99 years. My grandfather bought it in 1913 for 10,000 pounds and it is approximately 80,000 acres.” When asked to describe the larger grazing community, Roger expressed, “There are three types of people in the world: people who make it happen, people who watch it happen, and people who wonder what happened. Unfortunately a lot of the farming community tend to wonder what happened. Even though there have been years of bad farming practices and overgrazing, the beauty of it is that through education and awareness, we’ve managed to make a difference and a lot more people are using sustainable practices.”

On the topic of education, Roger reflected, “I’m not a classroom learner, I’m certainly a person who learns outside the classroom. . . . I always have loved the land. My parents were tremendous. My father was a very wise guy and he didn’t finish his university education, he ended up getting called up for the war. He always regretted that. Then me, when I left school early, I always regretted it later. The thing my father taught us most was to question – don’t just be content about how things are, ask how did they happen, why did they happen, and what makes them happen.”

On the drive back to the house, we had the pleasure of seeing numerous red and brown kangaroos as well as a wallaroo. Everyone was reaching for their cameras to capture them jumping around. Roger was puzzled about all of the excitement: “They are everywhere!”

Once we returned to Roger’s house, we packed up some snacks and visited the creek where Roger and Jenny and their family traditionally go swimming during the wet season.

Day 9: Wambiana Grazing Trial & the Charters Towers School of Distance Ed

Dr. Peter O'Reagain, principal scientist for the Wambiana Grazing Trial, giving a presentation regarding sustainable land management for cattle ranches.

The next morning, Roger took us to meet Dr. Peter O’Reagain, principal scientist of the Wambiana Grazing Trial, and his team. Joining us was Michael Cannon, senior natural resource manager at the Department of Environmental and Resource Management, and his team – 14 people total. Peter gave a very informative presentation about this longitudinal grazing study, which began in 1997. He described various grazing methods they were researching (moderate, high, spelling, and varied), and took our group on a tour of Wambiana, presenting findings from the study at several locations around the ranch.

During an interview after his presentation, Peter described the intersection of education and sustainability in the context of the work they are doing at Wambiana. He explained, “We are taking education out to as many landholders and as many groups as possible. We are showing and educating them about how the system actually works in terms of grazing and climate and hopefully getting rid of any myths they might have or misconceptions about how the environment works because that’s often a problem. But it’s also about educating people in government agencies about when they are drawing up policies so they understand the real way the system works and not having some starry-eyed view.”

We enjoyed a final lunch at Roger’s house and then we said our good-byes and thank-yous. We were off to Charters Towers to conduct an interview, and then catch a ferry from Townsville to Magnetic Island for the evening (whew!).

John Clark, principal of the Charters Towers School of Distance Education.

In Charters Towers we interviewed John Clark, principal of the Charters Towers School of Distance Education. John described how advancements in technology have influenced the delivery and pedagogy of the courses offered by the school. He described how courses used to be delivered via correspondence and radio (see the history of the Schools of the Air). Now courses are completely online and delivered via the Internet.

John noted, “The digital revolution has impacted everywhere. Quite often the early adopters are always in rural areas, rather than urban areas, because rural people take the technology and make it part of their lifestyle and their business life. Whereas in urban areas, most of the service is around you.”

John believes the future of online education is “the most underutilized sector of education. As more and more people decide that they want to live lives that are flexible, that they want to live lives where they have a greater say in their children’s perception of the world, it will only be a growth factor.”

Aboard the ferry to Magnetic Island.

We made our ferry to Magnetic Island just in time and took in the beautiful sights as we traveled 40 minutes across the water to the island. The island is 5 miles (8 km) from Townsville. This mountainous island, about two-thirds of which is national parkland, has 2,107 permanent residents. The island is a haven for wildlife, and is home to the largest population of koalas in northern Australia. The pressure of coastal development has, in recent years, begun to have a significant impact on the island, however. Many millions of dollars in development are planned, which has led to considerable opposition from some residents who fear this development will have a negative impact on the local environment.

Once we arrived and checked into our lodging, we went in search of dinner, only to discover the restaurants were closed because there were no tourists on the island due to the slow season there now. So, we settled for pizzas at a backpacker hostel near Horseshoe Bay before turning in for the night.

Day 10: Magnetic Island

After a hearty breakfast at the only café open on the island, we drove to the Solar City project headquarters to interview Rachel Angus, an administrator there. She spoke with us about the project and shared her beliefs on education and sustainability.

Charlie and Aaron interviewing Rachel Angus, the Administrator at Solar City on Magnetic Island.

The Solar Cities program began in 2004 to highlight sustainable energy models that can help consumers and retailers monitor their energy use. Townsville/Magnetic Island is one of seven solar cities throughout Australia. Through sustainable education, energy-efficient purchasing grants to locals on the island, and the installation of solar panels on more than 80 percent of the homes on the island, energy levels have been returned to their 2007 levels while avoiding the installation of a third underwater power line from Townsville.

Schoolchildren during an assembly at Magnetic Island State School.

After Solar City, we visited Magnetic Island State School and met with the principal, Jo Sinclair-Jones. The school has eight teachers for grades Pre-K through 7 and an enrollment of just over 200 students. With a rich history, we believed this island school would provide us with yet another great perspective on education and sustainability around the world. Jo described the school’s approach to providing a quality education: “The basis is to get the basics to the children and have that deep understanding of English, math, and science. This is our big focus at the moment and make sure they are in a higher-order thinking or philosophy. We need students to not only recall things, but also have an understanding and knowledge of those areas.”

When asked how education impacts sustainability in the island community, Jo responded, “it actually informs the students and the students take that on themselves personally and take that on as a value and hopefully move on to take it with them as an adult – the importance of looking after their environment and what they are doing with it.”

While at the school, we also interviewed Charlie McColl, who has lived on the island for nearly 40 years and organized several environmental projects there, including a “clean-up the creek” project in collaboration with kids from the school, as the creek parallels the school grounds.

Charlie shared, “There are critical times in people’s lives when they have those lightbulb moments – that they get it. I don’t think it happens when we are children; we might know some stuff, but we haven’t connected it to the reality of our world. So many things we do, we know this is probably not right in the long run, like the cars we drive, the houses we build, the stuff we consume. We need to be reminded fairly regularly that this isn’t endless, this life of royalty we lead, and it’s going to a place that can’t be good. Maybe in the education process we should try to instill a sense of enoughness.”
Charlie McColl, a local preservationist on Magnetic Island, talking to Charlie about his recent work around Gustav Creek.

The timing of our visit could not have been more perfect; the school was presented with a check for $1,000 AUS as it had collected the most recycled batteries of the schools in their area – their sixth year in a row of winning this award! A nice example of a positive relationship between education and environmental sustainability.

We ended the day with an interview with Stephanie, a teacher at the school for more than 25 years. At 3:30, we caught the ferry back to Townsville and drove 4 hours back to Cairns, where we had arrangements to visit the Great Barrier Reef the next morning.

Day 11: Great Barrier Reef

An underwater scene at Flynn Reef.

On Saturday morning we woke up early to catch a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef. Located in the Coal Sea off the coast of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest and most complex coral reef system, with more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 kilometers. Notably, It is the world’s largest living structure that can be seen from outer space. Composed of billions of tiny organisms known as coral polyps, the reef supports a wide diversity of life, the majority of which is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which helps limit the impact of human use such as fishing and tourism. The reef is protected by three zones for sustainability management: Red Zones where you can fish, Orange Zones where you can fish and dive/snorkel, and Green Zones where you cannot fish or dive.

Charlie and Aaron with Tyrone McCormack, a diving instructor and crew member of the guide boat.

While on our tour of the reef, we visited three separate locations: Secret Gardens, the Turtle Sanctuary, and First Bommie. Secret Gardens is comprised of colorful corals and fish, including anemonies, big-eyed bream, bat fish, emperors, snub nose dart, and coral trout. The Turtle Sanctuary houses large coral formations and sea life such as Green and Hawksbill turtles, sweetlips, emperors, and oceanic trout. Finally, First Bommie is comprised of coral bombie with spiny oysters, pipefish, snapper, fusiliers, oceanic trout, anemone fish, and surgeon fish.

We were able to interview Ty McCormack, dive instructor at Great Adventures and the lead guide during our trip. Ty explained that in his work “pretty much the education is all about not only preserving the reef but also preserving human life as well. It’s sustainable because people these days are genuinely and generally eco-friendly and everyone wants to stay alive.”

Day 12: Sydney

Incredible view overlooking the harbor and Sydney Opera House.

The final day of our expedition found us waking at 4:15 AM to catch a 6:15 AM flight to Sydney. Once in Sydney, we took a cab to our hotel and found that, because we were early, our room wasn’t ready. The hotel staff, however, were kind enough to let us work on this final report in their boardroom.

We hope you have enjoyed Expedition 3: Australia! Check back to to enjoy full interviews from this expedition and stay updated with the latest happenings related to education and sustainability. Also, make sure you sign up with your email to receive notifications about Expedition 4: South America and all future Earthducation events!

Final Stats

Communities and Cities Visited: 11

Interviews Captured: 40+

Gigabytes of Media Captured: 542 GB

Videos Captured: 745 Clips (19 hours, 15 minutes)

Means of Transportation: Foot, Plane, Ferry, Boat, Car

Total Flights Taken: 9

Friends Made: 22,620,600 (population of Australia)

Kangaroos Seen: 61

Total Miles Driven: 1,274K (792 Miles)

Photos Captured: 1,567

Comments Closed