Outback school offers lessons in perspective to city peers

It’s a hot summer day in the far western NSW town of Menindee, and school is in session.


But there are no books, classrooms or structured lessons today.

Just the cool waters of Copi Hollow, where a group of students is seeking refuge from the heat.

Killara High School teacher Karen Meaney travelled with around 20 students from Sydney’s northern suburbs for a week-long visit to Menindee Central School, almost 1000 kilometres from the coast.

She says her students are learning, without even knowing it.

“The education that our city kids get out here, you just can’t get that from a textbook,” she says.

Menindee is a town with around 500 residents. About 65 per cent of the school’s students are Indigenous.

Killara students spend time in the community as well as taking part in more structured school activities. 

Ms Meaney says the purpose of the visit is to promote cultural understanding as well as country life.

“It’s very hands-on. They get to interview elders and a lot of Aboriginal people in the community,” she says. 

A young student named Jade is happy to show the visitors what life is like away from the coast.

“It’s quiet,” she says. “There’s a lot of open space.”

Killara pupil Olivia says it has also been eye-opening in some respects.

“I really enjoyed visiting the health centre, because we got to see how much people in the community can do to support each other,” she says.

“They’re working extra hours and things like that, just to be there for their community.”

Menindee Principal Daryl Irvine says the informal nature of the visit is important.

“They are the things that are not planned, aren’t able to be scripted, that seem to really resonate with kids. Just the experience of being in someone else’s patch.”  

The visit is part of a pilot program called the City-Country Alliance.

It began as a sister school arrangement between Menindee and Lindfield Primary School, also on Sydney’s north shore.

Daryl Irvine says it has since grown to include more than 20 schools from across NSW – and there are hopes it may be expanded in the future.

“That diversity of cultural background and religious background – the chance to take people off their patch and to be able to talk openly about where they’ve come from,” he says.

“That’s a really powerful experience. I keep saying the word powerful, but it is, there’s really no other word for it.” 

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