For four consecutive Monday mornings in Term 3, a different Year 9 home group excitedly assembles on the front steps of the Year 9 Learning Centre, giggling nervously and dressed for adventure at Wollangarra outdoor Education Centre.
They’ve heard rumours about the place and the lifestyle that we know as Wollangarra; each experience is an individual journey, and each individual begins that journey with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation.
Catching the bus to Heyfield, students eventually arrive at an unmarked paddock on the side of the road that winds its way to Licola. They make their way across the paddock, eventually arriving at the well-known ‘Fox’ (flying fox!), the only way to cross the freezing waters of the Macalister River.
Once there, they are introduced to the wonderful world of the Wollangarra Flat, where electricity doesn’t exist, phone coverage is absent and community working for the benefit of that community is the norm. Students quickly ease into this far simpler way of life, shedding the pressures and concerns of our hectic lifestyles, and enjoy the opportunity to just be themselves.
They soon pack for the hike that will see them traverse through the rolling hills in the shadows of the Victorian Alpine National Park. Looking around as they hike, they see the snow-capped peaks in the not-too-distant landscape and the alpine flora bursting into life around their feet. After setting up camp, the opportunity to have a quick dip in the ice-melt river presents a challenge that many feel the need to plunge into (total immersion!). They feel the chill bite of that icy wind in the early evening, cooking and eating around the glowing coals of the campfire and eventually settling down snug, deep in their sleeping bags, listening to the wind rustle through the leaves of the surrounding trees. Peace and tranquility in a world without technology.
After several days in the mountains getting to know their classmates on a new level, tired but chattering freely, satisfied in a whole new way, they eventually catch sight of the red roof of the Wollangarra homestead. Weary, yet with a spring in their step, they make their way back onto the Flat. A chance to unwind, to swim one last time, to wash in the scalding hot shower and attend a “Formal” dinner where everyone dresses to impress. A hearty lamb dinner, a community made whole. A home group in unison. A calming, relaxing debrief around the fireplace, with the guitars softly playing, the conversation easy, the tranquillity universal.
Finally, a return to reality, to home life, to technology and to school. Back to what they left, only with a fresh outlook and a new respect for every one of their class members. Year 9 continues, and we reintegrate with the rest of the cohort, retelling our experiences and sharing our stories. Wollangarra, thanks for waiting; thanks for everything.
Wollangarra is a highlight of the Year 9 experience, yet there are many other experiences and opportunities that help to make this year a unique, memorable and engaging journey through immersive education.