Birds of prey and spontaneous applause – Outback Outreach 2014 part 3

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We experience plenty of warm fuzzy feelings while doing our jobs as environmental educators but yesterday began with a lovely and remarkable happening. We were welcoming year 8 students from Broken Hill and Willyama High Schools to our field site at White Leeds Wetlands with an acknowledgement of country (This is a way to give our respect to the traditional Aboriginal people of this land). Sue Saxby from Wambangalang EEC near Dubbo was delivering a heartfelt acknowledgement of the Wilyakali people of Broken Hill and finished with a lovely sentiment of all peoples walking hand in hand to a better future. So here we all were sitting under a cobalt blue sky, black kites flying overhead and the river red gums stirring in the morning breeeze and when Sue finished her statement all the students (who were predominantly non-Aboriginal by the way) gave a spontaneous and moving round of applause – all with smiles and respect in their eyes. It was truly moving for all of us and something that I have not witnessed before. It gives me hope for the future as these fine young people grow up to be elders in their own community. The teachers decided to mix the two schools together and it was another lovely aspect to see how they made new friends and interacted outside their usual social groups.

The activities began and today these talented students were studying the mighty Australian bird of prey – the wedge-tailed eagle. By assessing the water quality, following a GPS treasure hunt to unlock clues about this huge raptor and making movies about the quality of local habit for the eagle and its prey the students developed an understanding of the local ecology and hopefully developed more connections to this amazing country they live in at Broken Hill.

Kelly’s creek flows into White Leeds Wetlands and Sanctuary Lake and has high water levels due to treated sewage from two local treatment plants being discharged up stream. Our intrepid science students assessed the quality of this water and found high levels of salt (which is usually difficult to remove in treating effluent) and turbidity (cloudiness mostly due to algae). The algal levels reflect the high nutrient content of the water. These findings have consequences for living things in the creek and acording to Travis Nadge of White Leeds Station, the natural filtration systems in Sanctuary Lake help to remove these issues and produce clean water in the last holding pond on the property.

By then end of the day, students discovered some good, healthy habitat for eagles and also plenty of habitat for animals that the eagle may need to eat. We may publish some of these videos in the future – so keep your eye out for them.

The Outback Outreach crew packed up our gear after the students left and felt that we had been a part of a special day thanks to the students and staff of these two high schools. The day was topped off for us by finding a gnarly shingleback lizard on the way out  and then a trip to the Living Desert to see yet another outback sunset. Our last sunset in Broken Hill and nearly the end of a fantastic trip to this unique part of NSW and Australia.

I will blog again of our journeys home if I can and I would also like to thank Mark Edwards – Principal of Brewongle EEC who put a huge amount of work into organising the Outback Outreach program but could not join us due to illness. We missed you Mark and look forward to next year when you can join us on the long roads west.


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