Young people taking action for the Big Scrub Rainforest

A project by Northern Rivers Group of Environmental Educators

    This place and community based project saw 247 young people build their knowledge of, and take action towards their local critically endangered ecological community of the Big Scrub Rainforest in Northern NSW.

    The project began with educators from the Northern Rivers Group of Environmental Educators (NRGEE) running a ‘Big Scrub Day’ over four consecutive days at four primary schools. Each day commenced with a student-centred approach, with students choosing one of the following research stations to explore: 1. Mapping and Geological History; 2. Cedar Getter; 3. Bundjalung Culture and significance of Big Scrub; 4. Rainforest plants and; 5. Response to damage.
    NRGEE educators, Aboriginal elders and other community members facilitated workshops at each station, with students then regrouping and sharing their newfound knowledge with their peers.

    “The students were very engaged as they learned about the Big Scrub by listening to local Aboriginal stories told by Bundjalung Elder Lois Cook, a Senior Law Women and Custodian of the Nyangbul Country. Working with the Bundjalung community in this way deepened the authenticity of the project and allowed NRGEE to deliver a holistic history of the Big Scrub.”
    Cindy Picton and Tamlin McKenzie, Dorroughby Environmental Education Centre

    Parents joined the students to learn about rainforest regeneration and plant local rainforest trees in the Big Scrub remnants within the school grounds or within walking distance of each school. After lunch a creative afternoon session saw students choose to either create watercolour art, poetry, an action poster/flyer, a news story for local media or weave with natural fibres, expressing their new understanding and appreciation of the Big Scrub Rainforest. The day concluded with an evaluation and reflection session with the students.

    “I was proud of the team’s adoption of Collaborative Leadership. Everyone put in and shared the load of organising this week-long project. The schools also joined in this process and helped with site preparation, easing some of the load on our team”.
    Lyn Thomson, Richmond Landcare

    As a result of this project, 400 locally grown and endemic trees and shrubs have been planted in four Big Scrub Rainforest remnants, increasing habitat for fauna and insect species. With support from Southern Cross University researchers, 12 of the students from the Big Scrub School Days are creating a community network/ internet blog to share their knowledge and inspire others in the ecosystem rehabilitation process.

    “A key achievement was the student’s extensive learning and engagement, as demonstrated in their evaluation responses and their successful transfer of knowledge into art, stories, rap poems and films. This creativity was also an impressive demonstration of what students can do with a student-centred approach.”
    Marianne Logan, Southern Cross University

    These 12 students are also working collaboratively as young researchers with Southern Cross University to create a book by young people for young people about the story of the Big Scrub Rainforest, which is expected to be published in late 2018.

    “I love this Big Scrub rainforest so much now”. “I now feel a connection”. “I think it is a very precious and fragile part of Aboriginal landmarks”. “The Big Scrub Rainforest is amazingly beautiful and sacred. We need to keep it from disappearing forever”.
    Reflections from primary school students at the end of the Big Scrub Days


    • Northern Rivers Group of Environmental Educators
    • Dorroughby Environmental Education Centre
    • The School of Education at Southern Cross University
    • Richmond Landcare Inc.
    • Lismore City Council
    • Bundjalung Aboriginal Community
    • Envite Environment
    • Rous County Council
    • North East Waste
    • Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens
    • Big Scrub Landcare
    • Australian Association for Environmental Education- NSW Chapter


    The NRGEE team’s adoption of Collaborative Leadership was our main achievement and one of the reasons for the project’s success.


    • Regeneration of sites within the original Big Scrub area, with 400 trees and shrubs planted to increase habitat for Big Scrub fauna and insect species;
    • Education of students and application of this knowledge into action – authentic learning. The majority of students agreed or strongly agreed that after the program they had learnt a lot of things about the Big Scrub Rainforest (86%), they like planting rainforest trees and plants (88%), they cared about the future of the Big Scrub Rainforest (83%) and had a deep understanding of how their actions affect the natural world (77%);
    • Education and participation of the wider community, particularly young people and their families in the regeneration of the nominated Big Scrub sites;
    • Collaborative bonds between local environmental educators, school communities and local university researchers strengthened;
    • Young people Inspiring young people more widely to take action to be aware of, and care for, their local ecosystems.


    • The Big Scrub Day timetable worked well and the 4 days in one week was adequate;
    • The date of project limited the amount of trees feasible to plant-  earlier in year would have been more optimal;
    • Grant money limitations made us seek extra funding sources (to cover the cost of all the trees planted);
    • Students and teachers got a lot out of the day – evaluative data informs us of this.


    $3,600 cash, $20,000 in-kind contributions.

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