As an emerging educator and activist, I was highly fortunate to have received the Gould League Scholarship to attend the Australian Association of Environmental Education (AAEE) Active Nature Conference 2019. We gathered on Dharawal land at Kirrawee High School, Sydney for the 34th annual event facilitated by the AAEE NSW and Sutherland Shire Environment Council. The conference’s tone throughout was one of richness and authenticity. We explored the role that educators and education plays in fostering environmental consciousness among young people and the importance of learning, citizenship, and activism for championing a sustainable future. I often facilitate education workshops with young people through my role as intern and groundskeeper at Rahamim Ecology Centre, Bathurst and was inspired by the countless initiatives that are engaging childcare centres, schools, and universities. Here are a few that particularly spoke to me…
Youth on a mission
The first day of the conference introduced three young people that are immersed in citizen activism and are urging our politicians to address the climate emergency. Speakers included 16-year old Nosrat Fareha who was an organiser of the Sydney School Strike, 22-year old Harry Burkitt who is the GIVE A DAM Campaign Manager at the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, and eight-year old Ruby the Climate Kid who is a Gamilaraay climate activist living on Dharawal country. Each speaker brought their own flavour and passion to the conversation and presented loudly and proudly. They recognise that the climate emergency is relevant to all planetary communities such as the emerging generation, First Nation’s peoples, species biodiversity, and marine ecosystems. These speakers embody that climate activists can be any age, and that often it is the youth that feel the weighted burden of climate change. As I work with secondary schools, I look forward to including Nosrat’s, Harry’s, and Ruby’s anecdotes to motivate my students that their actions have a ripple effect amongst their community.
Costa lights a spark
A highlight from day two was meeting Costa Georgiadis from ABC’s Gardening Australia. Costa’s zest for environmental welfare permeated throughout the room as he facilitated a panel with our young presenters. He discussed the importance of challenging our government and bureaucratic systems when participating in citizen activism. However, it is also important to speak the language and connect with the more conservative groups to unite and effect change. The panel highlighted that climate activists must empower one another and ensure that we walk together as a collective, a gesture that I am eager to cultivate among my community of environmentalists.
Learning from the first Australians
On day three, our keynote speaker and Gamilaroi woman, Amy Thunig, articulated how Australians must re-integrate indigenous practices and culture in our attempt to live more sustainably. Indigenous crops that nurtured Earth and people for thousands of years, have now been oppressed by colonial sovereignty. Thunig recognises that we are ignorantly “persisting with agricultural practices that don’t belong.” In order to reconcile environmental sustainability in Australia, we must first reconcile with first nations people. Thunig suggested reading, ‘Dark Emu’ by Bruce Pasco to better our collective understanding of the highly advanced and sophisticated agricultural techniques that were used. I took on this recommended reading and now acknowledge how we have overlooked the evidence of Indigenous Australian’s management of food cultivation, aquaculture, fire, population, and housing.
Furthermore, Narelle Happ’s workshop on bushfoods explored how we can incorporate Indigenous plants in our food and cooking. Amongst Indigenous communities, it was common to grind Kangaroo Grass and Wattle Seed into flour, which they made into breads and cakes. This insight sparked an idea that I could incorporate traditional bread making into our ‘Flour in Focus’ unit at Rahamim, instead of using wheat. Narelle even provided tasting samples and my favourites were Warrigal Greens Pesto and Wattle Seed Muffins!
This conference was an amazing opportunity to meet other educators that are passionate about inspiring young people to care for Earth. Our multidisciplinary group exemplifies how sustainability has relevance in all factions of society. The effects of educating each of our communities span far beyond the classroom and are part of a proactive global movement. I am incredibly grateful to the AAEE for granting me the Gould League Scholarship to attend this conference.
Juliet Talarico, a community educator at Rahamim Ecology Centre, was the 2019 Gould Scholarship recipient