Environmental education marks 50 years at Muogamarra

Conservation, culture and curriculum first came together at Muogamarra Field Studies Centre. Kristi Pritchard-Owens reports.

Image: Outside education: Gurangai man Uncle Laurie conducts a smoking ceremony at Muogamarra.

In 1972, a NSW public school that was the first of its kind opened on Darug and Gurangai country north of Sydney, offering a learning experience that was very different to the classroom.

Coinciding with the start of environmental education in NSW schools, the aim of the Muogamarra Field Studies Centre was to give students the chance to immerse themselves in the area’s natural and cultural heritage.

According to Gibberagong Environmental Education Centre (EEC) principal David Smith, a visit to the field studies centre is a rite of passage in many families.

“We have many schools in our local area who have been coming to Muogamarra for 50 years, it would be intergenerational for some families,” Mr Smith said.

“The views there are incredible and the Aboriginal cultural sites throughout are amazing.”

The 50th anniversary of the centre was marked recently at Muogamarra Nature Reserve with a traditional smoking ceremony by Gurangai man, Uncle Laurie, and a plaque unveiling at the centre’s original classroom.

Students from Brooklyn and Cowan public schools joined the celebration before heading bush to learn about the area’s Aboriginal rock carvings and precious flora and fauna from Lea Harlow, a Kamilaroi woman, who is part of the local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, and a teacher at Gibberagong EEC.

Muogamarra Field Studies Centre was the first EEC in NSW; there are now 23 across the state.

All EECs are staffed by fully qualified teachers who encourage students to experience, investigate and connect with the local environment.

“We get booked out all the time, it’s pretty hard to get an excursion sometimes,” Mr Smith said.

“Schools love the fact that we’re trained teachers and have an intimate knowledge of the natural and cultural importance of this local area.”

Muogamarra is an Aboriginal word from the Awabakal people of the Lake Macquarie area, believed to mean ‘to preserve for the future’ and it was used in the absence of a recorded local word.

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