Saint Ignatius College Geelong

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    Year 8 Wollangarra Camp 2019

    Article by Eve Wells

    Year 8 Wollangarra Camp 2019

    This year, 48 lucky Year 8 students were chosen to go to Wollangarra, an outdoor education experience in Victoria’s high country. As there were so many students selected, the camp was split into 2 groups: Camp 1 (14th - 18th October) and Camp 2 (28th October - 1st November). Little did we all know this was going to be one of the most challenging camps we’d ever been on. 

    We gathered at the bus stop at 7 am and within 10 minutes, we were off. After a nearly six hour drive, we arrived to a gated paddock which was not what anyone was expecting. We then walked for about 5 minutes, until we reached the flying fox which was the only way across the Macalister River to the homestead. We yelled out “Coo-ee!” symbolising that we had officially arrived at Wollangarra; this told the others at the homestead that we were there and needed help with the flying fox. There are no mobile phones or texting capabilities there!  We gathered together whilst one of the volunteers, Izzy Borley, an ex- Saint Ignatius student, took us through an Acknowledgement to Country and we paid our respect to the indigenous people who are the traditional custodians of this land we would soon hike. We held on tight to our backpacks as we flew across the river and dropped a rock, watching it fall into the water beneath us to symbolise us arriving and being ready for a new opportunity. Once we all reached the other side, we walked through a patch of trees and arrived at the beautiful homestead. 

    We were welcomed into Wollangarra by a bunch of camp leaders who live there. They were all very kind, funny and we enjoyed being around them all. We gathered to have a chat and this is where we learnt that we wouldn’t know the time, as they have a no watch policy, throughout our whole stay. Everyone then split into groups to help out around the homestead. We got a short tour then we got stuck into our work. Some people cooked a delicious dinner for later on that night or made snacks for the hike; others helped clear garden beds and plant new vegetables; and some even cleaned up and repaired things. Once we finished our jobs, we were left to explore a little more, swim in the river and get to know each other better. Night time came around quickly and we all gathered around the fire enjoying our dinner and telling stories.

    We woke early Tuesday morning to a “Coo-ee” which notified us that breakfast was ready. We sat around the fire and enjoyed our toast which we cooked on the fire. After breakfast was done, we dove straight into the preparation for the hike. We filled our packs with a minimal amount of clothes, a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, tent or a tarp, basic toiletries, a bowl, cup, spoon and gear for the whole camp group. This was divided between the group and consisted of: food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, munchies, pots, a fire lighting kit, emergency food, the toilet bag and a shovel. In the end, our packs weighed around 12 - 15 kilograms.

    Shortly after we packed, we headed out on what was the first real hiking experience for many of us. The group was split into two and we headed in opposite directions. Both groups were faced with a very challenging and arduous hike. One group went straight up an acute, unforgiving ascent and then down the other side of the mountain. The other group had a slightly flatter start until they reached a steep four wheel drive track which they had to walk down. This day was extremely tough for most of us and we were very relieved to reach our campsite after walking all day. One group arrived at Burgoyne’s hut and the other at Banana flat. Both of the groups were pretty shocked by what the campsites looked like as they were very basic but everyone soon realised that there really wasn’t much we needed as we had these beautiful surroundings. 

    Upon arrival, we set up our tarps/tents and went down to the river for a wonderful, refreshing swim. Soon it was time to head back to the campsite to prepare our dinner. Interestingly, Camp 1 had cold weather, rain and slept in tents, but Camp 2 had hot, sunny weather and slept under tarps. Once dinner was ready, we all gathered around the warm fire and enjoyed the lovely food along with hot chocolate and tea. Then shortly after, we all headed off to bed, exhausted after the long day’s trekking. Sleeping out in the open was an incredible experience. The people in Camp 2 could see out of the tarps up to the clear sky lit up by the stars. We could hear every sound in the night from kangaroos in the distance to the soft breeze blowing amongst the trees. It was magical!

    We woke up bright and early to the delightful nature that we were so lucky to be in. Our porridge had been prepared and shortly after, we filled our water bottles, packed up and went off on our second day’s hike. Both groups went on the same path and crossed in the middle. It was good to hear the others’ stories. We stopped at a few beautiful locations and got the chance to swim. This day was very eventful for some, including Jamai, who had a fall and cut his head on Camp 2 but he was very brave and after a quick patch up, was back on his way. We switched destinations with the other group and either arrived at Banana flat or Burgoyne’s hut for our last night of camping. We set up our camp and some of us started making dinner along with our camp leaders. Days on the hike seemed to fly by, especially since we had no clue what time it was. We once again got the chance to swim and hang around the warm fire. 

    That night, we had some reflection time as a group. Ms Spencer had previously asked us to write a letter about something that we were having trouble moving on from or that had really affected us emotionally. It could be something that had angered us in the past or present, or something we wanted to stop or forget. We threw our letters in the fire and let them burn as we thought about what we wrote and let the frustration and energy go, ready for a fresh start. 

    The next day we once again had our porridge, filled our water bottles, packed up and were off on our third and final day of hiking. It was another gruelling yet exhilarating day. There’s not really one way to describe what the hike was like as everyone had different opinions and experiences. Some people enjoyed it immensely and appreciated the beautiful scenery we were in, whilst some found it incredibly hard and way outside their comfort zone. Others were on the fence as they may have liked the experience and the people but the hiking really tested them, along with perhaps the camping and hygiene. Either way, we were surrounded by this amazing outdoors and people 24/7 and once we had finished, we were all so very glad but relieved that we’d done. At the time some of us thought we couldn’t conquer the mountains but we were all so proud and thankful that we could now call ourselves successful warriors. 

    As we hiked the last few kilometres, we had in sight the flying fox which took us back to Wollangarra. By this point, many people were just grateful to be back and not to have to carry around a heavy pack. We were reunited with the other group and had a much needed swim in the beautiful, cool river. We then hung out at the homestead for the next few hours after we helped the camp leaders with a few jobs and unpacked our packs. At dinner time we dressed up ‘op shop’ style and reminisced about our days in the mountains. That night was full of fun and laughs as we all enjoyed each other's company for our last dinner together. We then found ourselves at the firepit where we continued to tell stories and jokes, and had a few talented members of the group sing for us.

    Waking up to camp leader, Jen’s trombone, the next morning was definitely interesting, to say the least. Breakfast was served for the last time and we gathered around the fire for warmth. The next few hours were basically everyone packing their things, double checking rooms and last minute trips to the toilet before the big drive home. We finally took off on our last little walk to the bus, a more gentle, relaxed stroll compared to the hike. At the bus, we said goodbye to our camp leaders whom we got to know really well and developed friendships with. Finally, we were on the bus for the long drive home. We stopped for lunch and it was strange to be back in civilization and eating food that was pre-packaged and not healthy and wholesome like we had had all week. 

    Every day whilst we walked, there was times of complete silence and time to reflect. Many expressed satisfaction that they made it to the end of the hike. The feeling of accomplishment we achieved was like no other. We learnt how much we take things for granted, such as showers and toilets, and the whole experience without time and technology made it so much more enjoyable and less distracting. In the end, we shared many jokes, challenges and got to see each other in a completely different way. Wollangarra is certainly going to be a memory that we won’t forget for a long, long time. 

    A massive, special thanks goes out to:

    Ms. Spencer, who put hours and hours of work into this camp, ensuring it was a great experience for all of us. 

    Mrs. Hodge, who after much hard work with Ms. Spencer, got us two camps instead of one, allowing more kids to have this wonderful opportunity.

    Mrs. Frigo and Ms. Kearney, who accompanied us on Camp 1. They made camp more funny, enjoyable and took very good care of us all. We are thankful to them for taking time away from their families and lives for us.

    Mr Tod and Ms. Spencer, who accompanied us on Camp 2. They brought a lot of smiles to our faces, supported us the whole way through and made camp heaps more enjoyable. We are all very thankful to them giving up time with their families and friends to be with us for that week. 

    For anyone who is lucky enough to be given the opportunity to go to Wollangarra, we would most definitely recommend it and are so glad we took on this massive challenge. Many of us wished that we had been better prepared physically so that would be our advice to future students. We all agree that the fitter you are, the more you will enjoy the camp! It’s a great way to make new friends, see your teachers in a different light and connect with them so they will be someone you can always trust and go to. Well done to my fellow peers for surviving the mountains! 

    Eve Wells  8 Campion


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