‘Eat Dirt’ a program aimed at connecting students to Country, nature and each other is coming to an end for 2022 and to celebrate the group from Bellingen High School headed out to Hungry Head Beach in Urunga to hear some stories from Uncle Micklo and swim in the ocean under the watchful eyes of five lifeguards from Hungry Head Surf Life Saving. It’s not often you get the beach to yourselves with your own personal water safety crew!
Despite the rain and less than ideal conditions the group had an absolute ball, playing soccer, cricket and footy on the beach, finishing off with hot chips and scallops and a spot of fishing.
Every Thursday since April the group has come together to undertake bush regeneration, creek clean-ups, propagation, primal games, growing vegetables, nature journalling and art activities at Bellingen High. Other activities have included chainsaw maintenance, jiu jitzu, learning about SMEAC briefings and fire-fighting, painting murals, yoga and trying to catch the elusive koi carp that have been released into the local creek.
We have also put on a Night for the Folks with Tomorrow Man, Tomorrow Woman and contributed to the school’s wellbeing day by funding a tie dye workshop and One Mob Radio and purchased some branded marquees for use at sporting and community events. It was great to see them being used to provide shade for locals who had gathered in Bellingen town for a memorial for Gillian Helfgott, acclaimed astrologer and wife of the amazing pianist David Helfgott.
Project Manager, Melanie Tyas said: “The aim of the project was to connect our students to nature, Country, each other and place and we are well on the way to achieving that goal. We now have a couple of students who would like to pursue a career in bush regeneration and a conversation with the lifeguards yesterday has planted the seed for a new bush regen group forming to remove the weeds from the littoral rainforest at the back of Hungry Head Beach.
“Uncle Micklo’s weekly stories have connected us to Country and by getting our hands in the soil, whether it be by planting vegies or removing weeds, and spending every Thursday out of the classroom we have connected to nature. Working as a team in sporting events such as Captain and Tunnel Ball, and force ‘em backs has cemented friendships with both mentors and mentees alike and as we heal the land we heal ourselves.
“A huge thank you to Resilience NSW for providing the funding to make this possible, to Bellingen High for embracing the program and to our partners Surf Life Saving NSW and Gotcha4Life. This is just the beginning of our journey to transform education,” said Melanie.
Funding for this pilot program has been made possible with a grant from the NSW Government’s Bushfire Community Recovery and Resilience Fund and is a partnership project with Gotcha4Life, Surf Life Saving NSW, Bellingen High School and the local community.
A new $290,000 program to build community resilience will be delivered at Bellingen High School thanks to funding from the NSW Government’s Bushfire Community Recovery and Resilience Fund.
Landcare NSW, Gotcha4Life and Surf Life Saving NSW (SLSNSW) have partnered to deliver the program with the aim of zero suicides by looking at all elements of resilience in communities where people are mentally and physically fit, connected to country, to nature and to each other.
Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience and Minister for Flood Recovery Steph Cooke said the recovery process in the wake of a natural disaster requires collaboration between communities, organisations and Government.
“The NSW Government’s Bushfire Community Recovery and Resilience Fund was designed to support social and emotional wellbeing, and I’m delighted that this new alliance between SLSNSW, Landcare NSW and Gotcha4Life will do exactly that,” Ms Cooke said.
Member for Oxley Melinda Pavey said the $290,000 program would focus on younger people who experienced significant disruptions during the Black Summer bush fires.
“One day each week, a class at Bellingen High School will take place outside where the students help with habitat restoration, spend time with nature and connect with one another,” Mrs Pavey said.
Chair of Landcare NSW Stephanie Cameron said whilst this project is targeted to bush fire recovery regions, the aim is to create connected and resilient communities.
“A resilient community is one that can withstand and bounce back from natural disasters. With changing climates, more extreme droughts, bush fires and adverse weather events, we need to support resilience now more than ever,” Ms Cameron said.
“Resilience isn’t just about surviving fire. Resilience is the ability to face all types of adversity and have the tools to look after ourselves and those around us. This project aims to do exactly that to support Bellingen High School and the wider community.”
The majority of the project is working with Bellingen High School on a pilot which sees students educated outside, in nature, using the available resources to teach across the curriculum.
Founder of Gotcha4Life Gus Worland said this partnership would be a game-changer.
“This partnership aims to tackle a myriad of issues that contribute to poor mental health, poor educational outcomes and communities that are not resilient. By strengthening connections to community and to country and by embedding the curriculum in nature, this partnership will lead to support communities with the ability to withstand the challenges that we all face due to the environmental changes,” Mr Worland said.
“Our vision at Gotcha4Life is to take action to end suicide by delivering community-based mental fitness programs that give people the tools to deal with challenges at every age and stage of life. To encourage people to be open, honest and supportive in their relationships and comfortable expressing themselves when they are not OK. To give people the skills to speak more openly about their feelings and experiences, encouraging people to identify someone in their life they can talk to when things get tough.
“The vision of this partnership is that no one worries alone and teaches people about how to build and maintain healthy well-being and feel more connected to their community and country.
“The past couple of years have been devastating for so many rural and regional communities so we’re working together to help provide support where it is needed most.”
Bellingen High School Acting Principal Tim Laverty said the benefits of this program will be far-reaching for the students.
“We need our students to become empowered, energised and contributors to the community. This program will give our children the tools to work on their resilience, to improve educational outcomes, the health of our environment and promote reconciliation,” Mr Laverty said.
SLSNSW Chief Operating Officer Daniel Gaffney said SLSNSW was excited to join forces with Landcare NSW and Gotcha4Life.
“Our organisation plays a powerful role in protecting life, whether it be by saving people on our beaches or through saving them from poor mental health by building resilience and fostering healthy, connected communities. In addition to running traditional First Aid courses, we also run Mental Health First Aid courses to ensure we are all looking after the mental health of ourselves, friends and family,” Mr Gaffney said.
In addition to the program being delivered in schools, other elements of the project include:
Gotcha4Life will runs a series of workshops in the community and the local school, with representatives from Landcare and SLSNSW;
All workshops will start with a Welcome to Country to provide a connection to the local Aboriginal People and to Country;
The local Landcare group will partner with the school to provide on-site education, including propagation, planting, weeding, growing vegetables nest box building etc. This will give the students an opportunity to get their hands in the dirt and benefit from the bacteria that raises serotonin levels; and
SLSNSW will also provide mental health first aid training to those who want to learn more.
Funding for this pilot program has been provided by Resilience NSW through the Bushfire Community Recovery and Resilience Fund.
About Landcare NSW
Landcare NSW’s mission is to care for the land and the environment. The Landcare movement is a community-based approach to managing and protecting our natural resources – creating more productive and sustainable farms, conserving our environment, and building more cohesive and resilient communities. Landcare connects you to on-ground activities where you can volunteer with like-minded individuals who have a passion for caring for country.
About Gotcha4Life Gotcha4Life is a not-for-profit foundation taking action to end suicide by delivering community-based mental fitness programs that give people the tools to deal with challenges at every age and stage of life. Our programs run in schools, sporting clubs, community groups and corporations with the purpose of giving people the skills to speak more openly about their feelings and experience. To encourage people to identify someone in their life they can talk to when things get tough, and teach people how to build and maintain their mental fitness. We offer a range of programs suited to teenagers, teachers, parents, as well as people in the wider community. The ultimate purpose? To equip people with the skills needed to maintain a better level of mental fitness so that they don’t reach the point of suicide. We’re all about early intervention to teach people how to connect, who to connect with and why it’s important to connect. We want everyone to have a Gotcha4Life Mate – a go-to person you can rely on and talk to about anything when times are tough, so no one has to worry alone. Gotcha4Life was established as a not-for-profit foundation by media personality Gus Worland in 2017.
While the role of the surf lifesaver is to be a first responder, Surf Life Saving also plays a powerful role in protecting life, whether it be by saving people on our beaches or through saving them from poor mental health by building resilience and fostering healthy, connected communities. In addition to running traditional First Aid courses, SLSNSW also runs Mental Health First Aid courses in areas that are not covered by RAMHP. SLSNSW clubs are also used as emergency evacuation points during natural disasters and for workshops held by Landcare NSW, Gotcha4Life and other community organisations.
Why the Coalition and what does it aim to achieve?
Our Vision: zero suicide in the towns where the program is rolled out. The vision and beliefs of the organisations involved are closely aligned. Building emotional, physical, social, and community muscle – to protect against poor mental fitness – is the glue that binds the partnership. Investing in this relationship and harnessing the extensive networks across the partners means thousands of people in NSW will be able to access and benefit from the connections this partnership brings.