Annalise Varker and Sharnie Hamilton. Photo: ANDREW PERRYMAN

INDIGENOUS educator Kellie Jones uses shapes to describe the very non-mainstream workings behind a pilot program that takes school-age kids out of the classroom.

“The idea is to take round bodies out of square classrooms and put them into a round world where it is much more interesting,” said Ms Jones from Bendigo TAFE’s Indigenous Education Unit.

Ms Jones and her colleagues, including the delivery partner Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, other TAFE teachers and Parks Victoria park rangers, have a very clear intention in mind, and it could be described as being outside of the square.

The group of nine students are being educated to represent the indigenous community to contribute to future decisions about land use, particularly for their own country.

The indigenous presence in government land management agencies have been particularly productive in central Victoria, and has given a powerful voice to Aboriginal communities about traditional burning practices and food knowledge.

“The idea is to have more indigneous people in government jobs so when we are talking about water policy and forest management and having that really good balance between farming and forest, our concept here is to give the kids some skills and tools to do that pathway, and given them a bit of wholistic view of what can be achieve and give them some direction,” Ms Jones said.

“It is reinforcing the culture but it is also showing them that there are opportunities beyond the square room, they can have jobs out in the country.

“This wouldn’t be a bad office to work in.”

Students were at Notley camping area in the Whipstick forest last week, exploring the bushland and learning conservation and land management techniques.

“We are coming into spring, so there is a change in the landscape so we are looking at indigenous foods that are starting to come through, food, medicine and all those sorts of things, also looking at animal life, there could be hunting times, if there is a food source, animals come in,” Ms Jones said.

The students are in year 10 and come from a variety of central Victorian junior colleges including the four in Bendigo.

They have spent every Friday from April until November studying together to gain credits in five units of leadership and another five in land management.

They can transfer those credits later, if they want, into a tertiary qualification.

Eaglehawk Secondary College student Lachlan Whiten has set his sights on becoming a park ranger as a result of the program.

His fellow ESC student Cara Graham said she appreciated learning more about her heritage.

Cara is from Gunaikurnai country in Gippsland.

“I think it is good to be on someone else’s country,” she said.

“The course is more about leadership and how we take care of ourselves and learn what our surroundings are, learn about nature and how it all changed from before 1788.”

Parks Victoria ranger Sharnie Hamilton passed on some of the knowledge.

Ms Hamilton said the program was about connecting kids back to culture “and showing them what is out there and what our old people used to do”.

“A lot of them really have no connection so to me it is most important to connect them to country and give them that background so they can start their songline.

“I would love to see their songline continue on.

“They are the leaders of tomorrow, we have got to help push them out of their comfort zone.”

-Sharon Kemp