Most activities occurred on Kamilaroi Country
Sharing stories of fishing trips, learning about Aboriginal tool-making, visiting cultural artifacts, walking in wetlands and seeing waterbugs and fish in various parts of the northern Murray-Darling Basin were just some of the inspirational activities NSW high school students enjoyed in 2020–21.
Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO) Local Engagement Officers Jane Humphries and Jason Wilson combined with other stakeholders to visit schools, co-ordinate excursions to rivers and wetlands and build knowledge around First Nations connection to land and water.
Committing to the schools’ program, Jane and Jason agreed that young people are the future managers and decision makers in caring for Australia’s environment.
“An added bonus is that we can talk to students about the various career opportunities available such as rangers, environmental water managers, environmental monitoring and research, education and engagement work for natural resources management,” Jane said.
At Pilliga School, Jane and Jason teamed up with Regional Engagement Officer Annabelle Guest from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to talk with Pilliga and Gwabegar students about waterways and how they are important to different people for different reasons. Students shared their own experiences of connection to rivers, including tales of the Yellow Belly and Murray cod they have caught.
As a proud Gomeroi/Kamilaroi man, Jason showed tools and instruments made and used by First Nations people including fish-spears, traps and axes. The students also welcomed the opportunity to try out their boomerang throwing skills with Jason.
On another excursion, Jane and Jason took students and teachers from Collarenebri Central School students to the Barwon River and the Gwydir Wetlands systems. Joined by David Preston from New South Wales Department of Planning, Industries and Environment and community leaders, the group visited the incredible Collymungle Carved Trees and the Collymungle Lagoon where burial grounds and important ceremonial sites are located.
Staff and students heard stories of the historical and recent vandalism of these precious cultural artifacts and discussed the need to protect our cultural heritage. As they travelled across the landscape, students witnessed the transition from the dry woodlands on the higher floodplain country to the verdant wetlands on the floodplain. Impressed by the impact water can have on birdlife on the floodplain, students reflected on how water for the environment can benefit river plants and animals and help protect areas of cultural significance for the Gomeroi/Kamilaroi people.
In September Jane and Jason continued the school program spending a day with students from Lightning Ridge Central School on Dharriwaa country at Narran Lakes.
“This was a great day where I could take the students along the Lakes track and point out the plants and animals important to our people. Clear Lake is absolutely stunning and the CEWO has significantly contributed to inflows there,” Jason said.
“It’s so rewarding to see students engaged in this — listening and asking questions. You really can see them soaking all the information in and we hope taking it home to tell their family members,” he said.
Other schools involved included Walgett Community College, Fairfax Public School and Aboriginal students from the north west region of New South Wales who were selected to participate in the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) STEM Camp.