The world next door

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

From left: Josh Davies, Parks Victoria environment education officer Lily Brown, Cameron Manu, Joseph Scott, Magenta Safety Training senior trainer Mark Cumming, Ashley Kilpatrick, Maddison Coloma, Parks Victoria ranger Sam Graham.
From left: Josh Davies, Parks Victoria environment education officer Lily Brown, Cameron Manu, Joseph Scott, Magenta Safety Training senior trainer Mark Cumming, Ashley Kilpatrick, Maddison Coloma, Parks Victoria ranger Sam Graham.

When Susan Bollard took the job as co-ordinator for Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) students at Monterey Secondary College in Frankston North two years ago, her principal gave her a simple instruction: “Show them the world”.

Monterey is in The Pines, a patch of former Housing Commission homes landlocked between beach and bush 38 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. It is one of the most disadvantaged postcodes in Victoria and traditionally many of its young people have suffered from lack of confidence and low expectations.

But in one of her first steps in broadening their horizons, Susan had only to look over the school fence – and show them the flora and fauna reserve next door and the opportunities within it.

Quickly she was having a coffee with Bill Mallinson, Parks Victoria ranger in charge south-eastern area, and they devised a curriculum to take Year 11 and 12 VCAL students into the reserve to work alongside the rangers.

Their patch

They adopted a two-hectare patch of shrubland, cleared out invasive plants and replaced them with indigenous varieties, installed night-vision cameras to monitor wildlife, and checked the reserve for bushfire risk using fuel moisture meters and even checking the bark on individual trees to determine fuel load.

The fire prevention aspect of the work was mirrored by another program, with fire-fighting educators from Magenta Safety Training teaching the students all aspects of fire safety and readiness.

“They learned about what happens if you’re in a car accident and power lines fall, how to evacuate the vehicle, how to make the area safe. Other times they did structure fires and how they start – people leaving candles on, overloaded power boards,” says Susan.

“We worked with fire extinguishers, how to pick the right ones for a particular job, wildfire, clearing leaf litter, putting embers out. It was the most amazing and comprehensive course.”

Ashley Kilpatrick and Maddison Coloma work with Parks Victoria’s Lily Brown.
Ashley Kilpatrick and Maddison Coloma work with Parks Victoria’s Lily Brown.

Fire Awareness Award winners

The enthusiasm of the Monterey kids and the work they put in has been recognised, with the school and its Parks Victoria and Magenta partners winning the major prizes in the 2017 Fire Awareness Awards.

This is an annual community-focused awards program that acknowledges the great work of individuals, community groups and organisations that deliver projects that reduce the incidence and impact of fire in Victoria. The 300-student school received the RACV Insurance Award for Excellence, as well as the Community Learning and Knowledge Award.

But the Parks and fire programs had other far-reaching benefits, says Susan, by helping teach students about work-readiness and the wider array of employment opportunities available. 

The world of work

“There’s many aspects of the whole world of work that are new to them. The idea of putting on your high-vis vest, a bright orange hat, gloves and going out into the wild is not something your average teenager thinks is a good idea. But they gained confidence working with the rangers and learning new skills.”

A number of students have chosen to extend the experience, studying towards careers in land conservation and management or landscaping.

School captain for 2018, Joseph Scott, admits there was initial scepticism from some students. “But I love gardening and plants and growing up with my father being a tradie, I was used to high-vis shirts and that stuff. I couldn’t wait to get out there and get my hands dirty and help out the environment.

“The fire training was fantastic too. They taught us what to look for in dangerous situations, how to help out people, how to work the controls in a fire truck, handle the hoses, to read maps and use communications equipment. I had a great time learning about new things and how it all worked.”

Written by Gary Tippet. Photos by Shannon Morris.
January 02, 2018