Cricket nets turned into fish farm to honour school bus driver

They’re young, brave and have turned a terrible day into a lasting legacy for Coonamble Public School. Kerrie O’Connor reports.

Two boys with a teacher. Two boys with a teacher.
Image: Sue Webb, Mason Nairne and Dane Dennis at the fish farm.

Mason Nairne and Dane Dennis had to walk 10 kilometres for help in late 2022 when Mason’s grandfather, Michael Webb, was trapped under a tree.

The trio was on a much-anticipated fishing trip in a remote area, without mobile phone reception.

The boys, just 11 years old at the time, walked out to a main road to raise the alarm and guided emergency crews back to Mr Webb.

Mr Webb, the much-loved school bus driver and former Coonamble mayor could not be saved, but now his memory lives on through the fish and aquaponics farm the 12-year-old boys have created.

On Wednesday, December 13, Mason and Dane were surprised at assembly with bravery and merit awards from NSW Police and the NSW Department of Education for their efforts.

The fish farm grew from a fingerling of inspiration.

Mason first baited the hook for principal Annette Thomson when he asked if he could dig a hole to breed yabbies.

Ms Thomson went one step further and soon Mason’s idea had hatched into a plan for tanks of silver perch and yabbies, with the help of teacher Vivian Davies, youth mentor Matt Kennedy, Aboriginal Education Officer David Jones and the Narrabri Fish Farm

“The student-led initiative has seen the two old cricket nets transformed into an aquaponic farming system to breed yabbies and fish and to grow vegetables,” Ms Thomson said.

A boy carrying a bucket. A boy carrying a bucket.
Image: Dane Dennis with supplies for the fish farm.

Mr Webb was active on the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group and his widow, Sue, who is Mason’s grandmother, also works at the school.

Now Michael Webb’s name sits on a plaque installed to mark the opening of the fish farm.

Guests at the opening heard a story of sadness and resilience and how a community came together to make an idea a reality.

It’s a story about family and friendships, hard work and a love of Country and fishing.

Ms Thomson said students and guests at the opening heard that the fish farm was a tangible way of “knowledge being passed through generations so we can connect past, present, and build our future”.

The boys are off to high school in 2024, but their legacy will live on in fresh fish and vegetables and another wave of students learning the science of fish farming.

The project teaches students water testing, nutrients, temperature adjustments, oxygen levels.

“Have you ever seen a baby yabby just born?” students were asked at the opening.

“Have you watched fish swim to the surface to eat?

“Have you ever planted a seed and watched it grow in a permaculture environment?

“Have you tested water and understood the levels of nutrients that fish, yabbies and plants need to thrive?

“Have you tested the water temperature and adjusted it to make the fish environment perfect?

“Do you know how much air needs to be passing through the water to keep the fish healthy?

“Do you love Country and fishing …. because we all do.”

A boy with some fish in a net. A boy with some fish in a net.
Image: Mason Nairne releasing fish into the tank.
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