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Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens Goes West

Volume 1 Number 9 - July 1994
Noila Berglund

francais

espanol

Resumé 

Resumen

The western part of the Australian state of New South Wales is sparsely populated, with the bigger towns hundreds of miles apart.

Many of the children in this vast area attend schools with enrolments from eight to 40, staffed by one or two teachers.  The schools are often reached only by gravel roads that become impassable in wet weather.  Distance precludes some students from attending school and so they are taught by means of radio lessons and curriculum materials provided by the Distance Education programme.  Many of these rural students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, have never visited the coast and have never been to Sydney or any other big city.  Significant numbers of them are aboriginal children.

In 1982 the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney initiated an educational programme for western schools called 'Royal Botanic Gardens Goes West'.  This programme was repeated a number of times in the 1980s and again in 1992 and 1993.  Sponsorship from Nissan, B.P. Australia and the New South Wales Department of Education supplements the cost to the Gardens.

Programme Aims

The aims of the programme are as follows:

For students to:

  • develop an interest in plants
  • interact with a variety of live and preserved plant material that they would otherwise not experience
  • display a greater interest in plants of their own
  • indicate a desire to know more about plants beyond their own school and town environments.
For teachers to:
  • make greater efforts to include environmental education in their teaching
  • take up opportunities for plant related in-service training
  • try out new teaching techniques and teaching programmes.
For communities to:
  • participate in school lessons provided by 'Royal Botanic Gardens Goes West'
  • use the wide range of activities and services provided by the Education, Scientific and Horticulture sections of the Royal Botanic Gardens
  • understand how the work of the Royal Botanic Gardens is relevant to their lives
  • share information on local plants, aboriginal plant use, etc. with Royal Botanic Gardens staff.

The School Programme

Using four-wheel drive vehicles laden with plant specimens, education officers and other Garden personnel visit isolated schools and their communities.  At each school, there is a day of plant-focused activities.  The specific programmes in each case have been earlier negotiated with the teacher to ensure that they complement and enhance the school's own environmental and science programmes.  Children studying by distance education are also invited to attend the nearest school for the day and many parents manage to bring them hundreds of miles for this special event.

The Community Programme

The project is not confined to the delivery of lessons and activities for school students.  Community activities are also undertaken, ranging from public meetings in bigger centres to explain the role of the Royal Botanic Gardens, to small, after-school parent gatherings to talk about horticulture.  Community members, particularly women trying to establish gardens on their dry outback properties, are interested in gardening, and several 'gardening clinics' are held where the horticulturist assisting the education officer identifies problems and suggests remedies.  The horticulturist is also available to advise schools and students on appropriate plants and planting techniques for the individual school gardens, encouraging the use of local species identified by the Gardens Herbarium staff.

Current Australian syllabus documents recognise the importance of aboriginal culture and its use of plants.  Team members on each visit seek out the aboriginal community.  This has resulted in a number of valuable contacts and contributions.  For example, at Enngonia, where the aboriginal community is setting up a commercial garden, the horticulturist was able to advise and demonstrate tree- planting methods.  And at Weilmoringle, a particularly isolated region, the local aboriginal people took us on an extensive bush tour to demonstrate their use of plants for food and medicine.

Transporting Plants

Although the programme is generally undertaken in spring, the extreme distances, poor roads and high temperatures pose major problems for plant specimens, which must be repeatedly loaded and unloaded and handled by numbers of students.

Over the years improved systems for transporting plant specimens have been developed.  In particular deep plastic trays, fitted with wooden bases and inserts for pots and with locking lids, have reduced damage and plant mortality considerably.  Even so, it is necessary to take at least two sets of all plants in order to allow each set to be rested at frequent intervals.

Plant species carried include algae, mosses, ferns, gymnosperms and angiosperms.  Some emphasis is given to the spectacular.  The children find insectivorous plants, cacti, giant seaweeds and unusual flowers all exciting stimuli for learning about plants.  Ten metre long kelp fronds fascinate children who have never seen the sea.  After a few days, the smell fascinates us!

Conclusion

As might be expected, the project is well received by the isolated communities who feel that their children lack many of the opportunities afforded urban children.

The senior executive of the Royal Botanic Gardens is also extremely supportive, believing that the program enhances the image of the gardens as serving a wider community than its Sydney base.  The Gardens provide financial and other assistance, although the labour-intensive nature of the project necessitates additional sponsorship.

Publicity, particularly in country areas, is always positive with local radio stations tracking the progress of the expedition as it moves through the outback, and interviewing participants at regular intervals.

From the education service's point of view 'Royal Botanic Gardens Goes West' is a valuable programme, although labour-intensive.  Contacting schools, determining individual programmes, seeking sponsorships, preparing plants and spending two weeks travelling the outback are clearly time consuming.

We feel that the result is well worth the effort and our present intention is to continue the project as an annual event.

ResumeResumé

La partie ouest de l'état australien de Nouvelle Galle du Sud est très faiblement peuplée, les plus grandes villes étant séparées par des centaines de kilomètres. Beaucoup d'enfants de ces régions vont dans de très petites écoles et la distance aidant, d'autres suivent les programmes scolaires à la radio. En 1982 les Jardins botaniques royaux de Sidney ont initié un programme d'éducation pour ces écoles de l'ouest. Ce programme fut répétés un certain nombre de fois entre 1980 et 1990.

Utilisant un véhicule à quatre roues motrices chargé de spécimens de plantes, des éducateurs et d'autres employés du Jardin voyagèrent dans l'arrière pays, pour des périodes allant jusqu' à deux semaines, afin de visiter des écoles isolées et leur communauté. Pour chaque ‚cole, il y avait une jour o‡ l'on se concentrait sur des activit‚s bas‚e sur le v‚g‚tal. Des enfants qui habituellement étudiaient à distance étaient invités à rallier l'école la plus proche, certains d'entre eux voyageant des centaines de miles pour participer.

Les plantes emportées comprenaient des algues, des mousses, des fougères, des gymnospermes et des angiospermes. Il était donn‚ plus d'importance aux plantes de la culture aborigène et aux plantes spectaculaires.

En plus du programme pour les écoles, une variétés de projets pour la communauté ont été entrepris, comme par exemple des cliniques pour jardin, des conférences horticoles, et des réunion publiques afin d'expliquer le rôle des jardins botaniques. La plantation d'arbres était présentée et les populations aborigènes locales consultées sur leurs usages traditionnels de plantes pour l'alimentation et les soins.

Les Jardins botaniques royaux de Sidney pensent que leur programme "Goes West" est intéressant, même si il demande beaucoup d'efforts. Ils ont comme projet la poursuite de cette expérience, pour en faire un événement annuel.

ResumenResumen

La parte oeste del estado de Nueva Gales del Sur en Australia est  escasamente poblada y las grandes ciudades est n apartadas a cientos de millas de distancia. Muchos niños de esta zona asisten a colegios muy pequeños, estas distancias hacen que a otros se les enseñen las lecciones por radio. En 1982 el Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney inició un programa educativo para los colegios del oeste. El programa se repitió varias veces durante los años 1980 a 1990.

Utilizando un todoterreno cargado con plantas, educadores y otro personal del Jardín viajaron durante dos semanas para visitar las escuelas aisladas y sus comunidades. En cada colegio hay un día de actividades enfocadas a las plantas. Los niños que normalmente estudian a distancia son invitados a asistir al colegio más cercano y algunos de ellos viajan cientos de millas para venir.

Se llevan especímenes de plantas que incluyen: algas, musgos, helechos, gimnospermas y angiospermas. Se da énfasis a las plantas importantes para la cultura aborigen y a las espectaculares.

Para el programa de los colegios se han acometido una serie de poyectos que incluyen: clínicas de jardinería, charlas sobre horticultura y reuniones para explicar el papel del jardín botánico. Se ha realizado la plantación del  árbol y se ha consultado con los aborígenes locales sobre el uso de las plantas como comida y medicina.

El Real Jardín Botánico de Sydney piensa que el programa "Llendo al Oeste" es v lido aunque es una labor intensiva y planean continuar el programa como un evento anual.

About the Author

Noila Berglund is Education Service Co-ordinator at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, Mrs. Macquaries Road, Sydney, NSW, 2000 Australia.

 
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