A new introduction to the Pembroke IB Diploma Programme for 2018 is the Environmental Systems and Societies course. This subject is interdisciplinary in nature and draws on the strengths of both Group 3 (Individuals and Societies) and Group 4 (Experimental Sciences) subjects.
In Week 4 the 18 students enrolled in the course headed north to the living cultural landscape of Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage Site and Australia’s largest national park.
This trip gave students an important opportunity to immerse themselves in the unique relationships between the Bininj/Mungguy people and the land, thus enriching their understanding of complex interactions between humans and landscapes, and to collect data for their Internal Assessments.
With Pembroke parents and Aboriginal owners of the land around the Yellow Water Billabong, Mr and Mrs Christopherson, as our guides and educators, students gained an insight into the way Aboriginal communities have developed a deep kinship with and understanding of the ecosystems of this unique and dynamic environment.
Sandra, her daughter Tara and mother Violet taught the group how to pick and shred leaves from the sand palm to create fibre used in basket weaving, and also showed them how to create dye from the roots of a kopak tree. The time spent collecting materials and the intricacies of the process gave the students both an understanding and an appreciation of the knowledge and skills passed through generations and the ways native plants can be harvested and utilised.
The group also carried out extensive fieldwork analysing the ecological impacts of varying burn regimes used to manage the discrete ecosystems of the Kakadu floodplains and savannah. It was fascinating to learn about the subtleties of this process carried out by Mr Christopherson and his family, with seasonally sensitive burning techniques used to provide habitats for fauna, ensure adequate regrowth and prevent catastrophic fires. Many students were keen to contrast this with techniques found in our local woodland ecosystems.
Both of these activities, along with a visit to the rock art site at Noarlangie Rocks, access to the Warradjan Cultural Centre, and boundless question and answer sessions with Mr Christopherson provided students with opportunities to consider Indigenous knowledge systems, a key Theory of Knowledge concept.
A cruise of Yellow Waters, the spectacular wetland on the South Alligator River, was an undoubted highlight of the trip, allowing students to see a huge diversity of flora and fauna. Watching a 4-metre estuarine crocodile devour a buffalo shot by a poacher was a sight few of us will forget. The cruise allowed students to learn more about the behaviours of fauna in the park, while also seeing the ways that introduced species were controlled and even used by Aboriginal groups to benefit the landscape.
The trip finished with an unforgettable afternoon on a billabong, with our generous hosts inviting their extended family, the Rawlinson family and Pembroke parents to help fish, weave, dance and feast on locally caught duck, magpie goose and barramundi.
Pembroke’s Reconciliation Action Plan aims to ‘Build our knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and work together to achieve a future where all Australians have equal opportunities to flourish’. This immersive experience has enabled our students to learn and engage with the Bininj/Mungguy people and I am sure that they will reflect on and share this new-found knowledge, appreciation and deep affection in their remaining time at Pembroke and into the future.
I would like to thank the Christopherson and Rawlinson families, Ms Northcott and Ms Waldorf-Davis for their support on the trip, and also Mr Andrew Quinn who organised this incredible experience with all the logistical challenges of taking a large group into a remote part of Australia.
Head of Humanities