Listening to the Cooktown community

What is taughtCooktown community collaborates to take young people on country

There are so many environmental projects hosted by multiple groups in Cooktown. Some are past, some current, some occasional and some ongoing. The collaboration between groups provides opportunity for Sea Country Guardian projects and there is a long strong track record of partnerships between groups and the school and Indigenous rangers.

We hosted a number of meetings in Cooktown and gathered ideas from the multiple perspectives. We began our data collection with a visit to the school and a meeting of community groups.

There is a clear understanding and expectation about what adults want young people to take responsibility for. This is based on the expectations and understanding these adults experienced as young people. As we continue to collect data on these questions of cultural responsibilities and learning, a pattern is emerging.

The TOs and other community adults believe children need to be on country to develop a connection and commitment to it and that they need to do meaningful activities (cultural, environmental and entrepreneurial) there to learn. They welcome opportunity to strengthen learning from schools and other projects. They have concerns about whether schools can deliver and are willing to take this responsibility for learning on themselves.Who is taught and who taught

Family and clan groups are important learning conduits. The link between health and well being and being on country is significant to older people.

Children and young people need to take responsibility for learning. Young people have to earn the right to access knowledge, show potential and respect and “step up”. Camping and other activities on country, provide a way for young people to show their maturity and willingness.

Building partnerships for maintenance of country is a way forward and using partnerships which encourage young people to learn is valued. In Cooktown the school’s program and those in conjunction with rangers groups, are seen as models because TOs are seeing results.

A Cultural Audit idea may be a useful model for a project between younger and older people. The Derail family has undertaken a cultural audit and a developed a process others could try.  The Wallace family at Shipton's flat have also begun a cultural audit process and are digitising and mapping as they proceed.   It may be useful to evaluate the process being undertaken at Shipton’s Flat to see if both the processes and products can  be digitised and organised in such a way that children can participate. Between the Cooktown and Shipton’s Flat experiences, we may be able to identify a cultural audit process that can be undertaken in small steps, that builds to a cultural collection. People suggested  the school could help students develop cultural audit and technology skills.

How were we taughtChampion school

Cooktown State School hosts a Certificate II in Conservation and Land Management program for young people (Years 10-12) which is growing in strength and popularity. The program assists young people to develop skills, acquire training competencies, undertake work experience and work towards real jobs. The program has a huge range of partners who help the school deliver the program, experiences and expertise. The program involving Indigenous rangers, Traditional Owners and Elders, is teaching Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. Scholarships, work experience, courses from other groups/TAFEs and part time work all complement the school-based program. Most significantly, the students are participating in authentic community work including fencing Pooles Lagoon, monitoring sea grass and undertaking various duties at the newly re-established Melsonby station. The Cooktown model is excellent and acts as a role model for other schools and a direct result of the hard work of Cassie Sorrensen. Contact Cassie Sorrensen  csore4@eq.edu.au for further information.

The school is a long term Reef Guardian School where students of all ages have been involved in litter reduction including a very vocal campaign about reducing plastic bag use, developing school models for gardens and arboretums and working on various clean up, monitoring and community awareness raising campaigns. For more information contact Julie Kereszteny jkere4@eq.edu.au.


What do you want young people to do on countryRangers

The rangers of Yuku Baja Muliku Land Trust met with separately to share their experience in working on country and encouraging young people to come back to country.

The rangers have a strong commitment to taking younger people on country and developing the next generation of rangers. They want to mentor school-age young people whether or not they belong to the families of the Yuku Baja-Muliku clan. These people wanted to “give back” to repay the opportunities they had been given.

We found out that the rangers want to develop partnerships with Government and other groups to do environmental work, such as species monitoring, weed control and land management tasks generally.

We found the rangers were interested in being proactive about monitoring climate change and working to preserve sea country for the future – a proactive approach.

Projects to doThere is opportunity for Sea Country Guardian activities to be hosted by Rangers. The rangers wanted students to work alongside them. There was not any suggestion of new activities but rather using existing activity as opportunity to develop learning experiences for young people. This is a common theme emerging from workshops – that mostly people want to adapt existing activities to meet Sea Country Guardian ideas.

The notions that “working on country” and “being on country” are the most powerful ways to connect young people with country, were primary messages in all the activities we undertook. Learning occurred by doing, watching others, trying things and listening to or being shown by “experts”.

When asked about their most memorable times on country, people talked mostly about hunting, gathering and sharing food with others as central to their time on country. The lore and laws in previous times and now are strongly respected. There was evidence of the perception that young people or perhaps even their parents may not have as much respect for these laws as needed for stocks of food to be sustainable.

Being on countryPeople learned from master craftspeople (including master hunters), by watching and listening, by having a go and having elders and people correct techniques and knowledge. They learned by information being "repeated over and over”. They were taught “verbally in the bush”. Learning was just in time and in context. “Mum seldom missed an opportunity to teach.”

The “Look, listen and learn” idea we discovered in Hopevale, is being presented to us in multiple ways. Being on country is an opportunity to learn when young people are willing. These are repeated clear messages from our research.

In contrast to Hopevale where we were given the impression children were allowed to be children until at least 12, people at this workshop expressed the view that children develop mindsets very early and that early years learning developed respect, attitudes, skills and a sense of “belonging to a big mob”. We heard over and over how important it was for young children to camp with family and learn practical skills and values from the group of people who came to camp.

Some people talked about the connectivity between pieces of knowledge and the context in which you learned created a richer set of knowledge than if it had been taught in isolation. This needs to influence the design of activities we develop for this program.

Waling on countryThis group of people were most keen to help address any lethargic attitudes of young people to their country or working on country. They talked about strategies they had adopted to develop self esteem and positive attitudes in young people (teenage years) and how they had provided opportunities to learn and work. They wanted to develop ways of identifying keen young people so they could have successes and wanted to explore ways of using such success to inspire others. This may be a basis for an award system, promotional system or similar, sponsored by GBRMPA to reward successful young people.

 Although there are mostly similarities, the rangers had different and alternative perspectives to other groups in the community. The rangers have programs in place and have sets of experiences which give them strong voice. They want young people to follow in their footsteps. Other traditional owners emphasised language, culture and connection to the land in different terms and emphasised different things. Sustainability of the land was strong for rangers, while sustainability of culture impacted other voices. Non Indigenous groups emphasised partnerships and working together and environmental issues.

A great outcome of all the workshops was the very large list of potential initiatives which could be implemented with a Sea Country badge.