I was anxious on the way up, I hadn’t visited Wollangarra in 10 years. After working there in 2004, I visited only a handful of times and then other things became more important. I’d devoted a lot of my teenage life to the inspiring place, but at 23 I thought it was time to move on. I know that was the right decision for me but in someways I regret not keeping a foot in the door and visiting over the years.
We finally arrived at the front gate, jumped over the fence and grabbed the keys to the troopie that had been left for us. We passed our huge collection of bags over the fence and slid them into the back of the troop carrier, locked our car and said goodbye to the outside world. Jay driving in low range 4WD for the couple of kilometres through the front paddock and Elliot sitting on my knee, excitedly pointing out every cow that we crept past.
We parked the troopie, and moved our bags from there into a rickshaw, we then pushed this a couple of hundred meters until we reached the base of a small hill. Each cumbersome bag was then lugged up the hill and set on the flying fox platform. Finally we manhandled each of our items and ourselves on the fox and went flying across the river.
This process, one that each and every student who comes to the school camp must also do, was always intended to be thought provoking. It meant that everyone who came across had to carry everything they had, making you think about the stuff you had in your possession, not only that but the team work that this requires is insurmountable and the trust is outrageous. What an incredible thing to conquer before you even arrive at camp. Not only is it great for team work and team building, but thought must go into what comes across because everything must go back over, all rubbish and recycling, all gas bottles used to run the lights and fridges, it really makes you aware of what you’re consuming.
We’d crossed the fox with all that we needed, those bags went into another rickshaw and we pushed that up to the homestead.
Each morning we would wake just before the sun, light the wood fired oven, put the kettle on the gas burner and start our days with a hot drink. While we waited for the stove to heat up we’d go and feed the chickens and ducks, let them out and collect any eggs, we’d feed the sheep, alpaca and goat. The days we’re long and full, a list of jobs was left for us and we made our way through them and some more on top of that. We put away all the gear from the previous two programs so that the staff wouldn’t have to do it on their arrival home.
We worked in the veggie garden, turning over beds, planting seedlings, boiling weeds, covering the rows in bird netting. We sat and chatted with the director Dan, who was on site a little of our stay, about what they put into their garden beds, another thing that must have good thought put into it to save resources coming over the flying fox. They boil their invasive weeds in a big pot over a fire to kill the roots and seeds and turn them back into the soil, the dirty straw from the chicken coop goes onto the beds, the dry grass cut on the flat goes first into the chicken coop and then into the garden, even the cardboard from recycling gets torn up and put into the compost. The resources are limited and therefore used to their full potential.
There’s a propagation shed (that I had something to do with the building of) to raise seedlings, overflowing with baby winter produce. Making me think of the value of a mini green house at home.
While we were there Jay and I read all of the books written about Ian Stapleton’s experience of building Wollangarra, working at Timbertop and building Mittagundi (You can buy Second Hand and Solid – How We Built Wollangarra for $20 from Wollangarra, I think you’ll have to call them to purchase it), it got us talking about the philosophies that are behind programs like these.
How places like Wollangarra (and Mittagundi) weren’t build for growth, Wollangarra can only take 24 kids a week and that will never change, there’s no desire to make money, only to get kids into the bush, for them to plod along and appreciate the beauty, and maybe even, hopefully along the way that sparks a desire to do something to help.
It made me realise that I’m a conservationist at my convenience, which I understand is totally fine generally, but for me, it’s not okay by me. I want to be aware, daily, hourly, of things that are happening to our environment, our local Australian environment as well as around the world. I want to make conscious decisions to improve our earth, even if those decisions only directly impact our home.
I think it’s good to have a shake up like this every now and again, find an experience that hits you right where it hurts and you realise that you’re just cruising along in life and that maybe there’s more to it. It’s given me a refreshed desire to get into our veggie garden this spring and spend time between now and then getting it ready. We’ve let our chickens roam for the first time in years, because the thought of a well turned garden outweighs the fear of chicken poo on our deck.
Another thing I was reminded of throughout our stay and whilst reading the books was the incredible sense of community that exists around these two camps. People banded together and built them on their weekends, the local communities jumped on board and people far and wide donated building materials, cars, money, time etc. I am part of some wonderful communities, on and off line, and I love the idea of delving even deeper. Joining the local community garden, learning skills from others, sharing food and experiences are definitely on my mind.
People have said to me that they can’t wait to hear about this experience, but honestly it’s hard to share. On the surface it was a whole lot of animal feeding, cooking and book reading, a spot of gardening, putting a bit of gear away and enjoying a whole lot of space. But deeper, the conversations that Jay and I have had have been thought provoking, the ideas that have been raised, the memories that were made and the spark that has been lit are really hard to put into words.