Sunday July 22nd
We enjoyed our morning off. Some of us slept in, and others worked on writing assignments. We met up with Alan and Damien, our river guides, around noon for a canoeing trip down the Murray River and a few of its inlet creeks. Paddling two per canoe, we made our way down the Murray. Our first stretch upstream was the hardest, as we were going against the current. There were plenty of house boats docked along the side of the river with some owning the docks and others just staying there for the night.
Making our way into an inlet, it became obvious that the water we were canoeing in dries up season to season, not only because of the weir systems we had to walk our canoe around but also because of all the trees and brush in the middle of the river. We stopped for a quick lunch on the side of an inlet of the Murray, then it was back to canoeing. The paddle back was amazing. There was a vast variety of different birds nesting on the banks, swimming in the water and flying overhead. On the way back we also saw some houses right on the Murray. We saw the irrigation systems that each homeowner put in. Some were bigger than others, as each neighbor probably had a different amount of crops to water. Alan the tour guide also showed us different types of vegetation, whether it be algae or different species of tall grass. When we got back to land, we thanked Alan and Damien and took a great group photo.
Flick and I take the canoe under the tree.
Monday July 23rd
We traveled to Hay from Mildura in the morning and met with the Hay School of the Air. All seven staff members were extremely outgoing and informative, but Trish, the new principle, was the lady who gave us the tour. The Hay School of the Air provides education to those who at over 50 km away from bus routes and more recently started accepting children with learning and behavioral disabilities. Their furthest student is 600 km round trip from the school. The students range from grades 3-6, and the current enrollment is 50 odd children. The student and teacher used to communicate via radio but transitioned over to satellite, provided for free to rural students, in 2004. The students at home are required to have a full room dedicated to learning, with the mom of most families acting as the teacher giving her child the assignments sent to them on a weekly basis. A work packet is sent out weekly with results from the previous week’s lesson. The teacher does home visits twice a year, once at the beginning and once at the end. While there, they write an assessment and later send to parents. It was very interesting find out that people are that isolated from a town and even more interesting to learn about the teaching system the state provides for them and the teaching methods used.
After lunch, we met with Mr. Jack Terblanche from the Hay City Council. He gave us a nice presentation Hay’s present and future. Currently, the town population is in a decline with an annual growth of -12%. Reasons for such a high decline include a challenging environment and high drug use. The demographics of the people who are leaving Hay are generally between ages 10-39. Jack stated that this is the worst area to have a population dip because it affects everything from the quality of schooling for the children and the number of people who work and generate money. With a current population of 3,000 people, Jack told us that both the Council and citizens realize it’s “do or die” time for their town. One way they’ve decided to market their town is enhancing the tourism sector. Tourism is growing because Hay is located off four major highways and is only a few hours away from larger Australian cities, making it a great place to stop for the night. Another way includes the creation of the Green Hay. Green Hay is a grassroots movement that has 7 sections (transportation, education, agriculture, etc.) where the citizens voice their ideas to generate actions that help Hay. Green Hay was started on Facebook. Ages 15-18 are extremely active, and to our surprise, there has been a high participation rate among older citizens as well. Jack said really everyone is helping because the citizens know how crucial these next few years would be for their town. It was great to see a grassroots green program have immediate support and participation.
It was eye opening to see the Hay School of the Air operate. With their farthest away student being 600 km round trip away and dozens more over 100 km away, it is obvious that both public busing for the children would be too costly and impractical due to the time it would take to travel. If the kids were to have a regular, five day a week schooling schedule it could interfere with the family’s farm. The child might not only miss physically lending a helping hand on the farm, but also miss learning methods that would be verbally passed down from the father and learned through experience, as the farm hands would be most active during the day as opposed to night. The Australian government also supports the distant families by paying for the satellite equipment. The School of the Air holds social outings every fortnight usually on Fridays, where their students can play and interact with students from the neighboring school. This gives the young children opportunities to interact with other kids their age, outside of their family. The School of the Air is sustainable is multiple ways. They save money on busing routes or building smaller schools for distant families by using satellites for education. The kids aren’t taken away from their farm for most of the day and can schedule their school time around farm time. The school also gives the children opportunities to play with other children their age. Though the families live far, the participation rate is very high.
It was great to see the Green Hay program launch in Hay and have instant support and participation. The citizens are generating ideas online, and the Hay Council is listening. With only a population of 3,000, it is apparent the citizens care. Hay stopped smokestack chasing, made efforts to improve the natural environment, improve reaction, and look into improvements in the social infrastructure. The citizens are posting sustainability ideas in everything from tourism ideas, to green farming ideas, to education and transportation improvement ideas. I personally love the idea of grassroots green programs, but with such large cities in America, it sometimes seems impossible to make a difference. This small city of 3,000 is a perfect example of citizens pulling together and agreeing change is needed, the government listening and agreeing as well, and the citizens and government both actively pursuing the goals while listening to each other.