Earth Journeys: Learning the values of our natural and cultural heritage.

A World Heritage Enviro-Cultural School Education Program. A Partnership Project With Earth Partners Inc.

Co-ordinator: Bronwen Maxwell

Endorsed by UNESCO and supported by the NSW Department of Education, Earth Journeys is a leading, award winning “enviro-cultural” education schools program.

Developed in the Blue Mountains, the Earth Journeys program engenders in children and, more broadly, their families, a greater awareness and understanding of the outstanding values of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

Whether living in the middle of a World Heritage listed Area or on its doorstep, the objective is to provide children with the tools necessary for their future in being responsible citizens caring for our environment. The program is therefore underpinned by the mission and values of the World Heritage Convention which seeks to nurture within children the values of conserving cultural and natural sites around the world.

Earth Journeys is the initiative of and is managed by Earth Partners Inc, a not-for-profit incorporated association of Blue Mountains professional artists, cultural workers, educators, environmental scientists, conservationists and traditional Aboriginal Custodians.

Mission: To engender within school students a sense of place, a positive connection with the natural environment and cultural landscapes, and to develop the knowledge, skills and understanding that will foster responsible stewardship of their local environment and, in general, the earth.

Vision: To become an integral part of early school culture, taking an important step towards awareness of current global climate issues.

The current focus is to establish Earth Journeys as an enduring “culture” within primary schools in the Western Sydney region (Blue Mountains and Penrith / Hawkesbury Districts). Longer term –  to extend the program and create a linkage program from primary to secondary schools, to replicate the Earth Journeys model in other bioregions within Australia and World Heritage areas in the World.

The Earth Journeys Program
‘Sense of Place – Sense of Wonder’

The program is specifically designed to progressively deepen the child’s awareness through instilling a ‘sense of place and a sense of wonder’ for this amazing and valuable environment in which we live and, in turn, to foster stewardship and caring for it’s natural and cultural values.

Our schools program, currently for primary schools, is cross-cultural, cross-curricular and values based. The program has been designed to engage students in experiential learning and creative application. The teaching program package combines art, science, literacy and cultural activities to deliver a curriculum-integrated series of workshops, field trips and work units for students and teachers alike. Earth Partners also brings to the program, educational resource materials (printed & multi-media) and video documentation, supported by a current PhD research study investigating children’s responses to their identification of place.

The main World Heritage value of the Greater Blue Mountains region is its diverse representation of ecosystems dominated by eucalypts.  The gum tree (eucalypt) therefore, serves as the central icon of Earth Journeys. Each school is designated their own gum tree particular to their area. The focus on the gum tree acts as an attitude catalyst, encouraging students to develop an appreciation of, not just the tree itself, but also the surrounding ecosystems and the importance of the interconnecting relationships.

The gum tree is also the pivotal learning tool, reflecting the interconnection of all the processes involved in the program.  Through a unique blend of literacy, science, art and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultural sharing, Earth Journeys takes the child on a journey of discovery; the gum tree, what creatures live in it and feed from it, its surrounding ecosystems and the important role it plays in sustaining global health. The tree becomes a metaphor for the students themselves, on their journey of development through school and then ‘branching out’ into the world – children come to understand that what the tree needs to live, we need also.

Equipping children with this knowledge and understanding of their environment in such an engaging way encourages them to become familiar with environmental issues that are of global importance to us all.

Program history

With the support of the Department of Education, the program has been tested as a model within the Blue Mountains and Penrith schools districts since 2004. In 2004, the newly named project, Earth Journeys conducted a highly successful and visible pilot project involving 2348 students from 16 primary public schools throughout the Blue Mountains Local Government Area.

A public exhibition of students’ artwork and their sculptural gum tree creations was held at a local festival in the Blue Mountains and opened by UNESCO’s Asia Pacific Cultural Advisor, Dr Richard Engelhardt. The gum tree forest installation demonstrated its potential as an effective educational resource and was thus subsequently exhibited at other public venues, including Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens, the NSW NPWS Blackheath Visitors’ Centre and the National Eco-Tourism Conference held at the Fairmont Resort, Leura.

Since then the program has gone from strength to strength and has been conducted in a number of primary schools across the Blue Mountains and Penrith areas and to date has had the participation of over 4 000 students.

The Earth Journeys program, concurrent with school curriculum outcomes, is designed to run for the duration of a school term or more, thus providing an opportunity for a concentrated focus on environmental matters. The program also provides an opportunity platform through which Earth Partners can facilitate the engagement of appropriate institutional, corporate and governmental co-operation, partnerships and sponsorship. The schools will ultimately benefit from a more integrated approach to the involvement of other cultural and environmental groups and services such as local Councils, NSW NPWS, bushwalking groups, historical societies and, especially, local Aboriginal communities.

Key partners and supporters

Earth Partners Inc. has been a recipient of a Keep Australia Beautiful “Sustainable Cities” Award (2005) and is currently endorsed by UNESCO and the Blue Mountains City Council Cultural Partnerships Program (a joint initiative of Arts New South Wales and Blue Mountains City Council).

A major partner is the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute. Other key partners in the running of the program are the Department of Education (DET), the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NSW NPWS) Discovery Ranger Program. Support has also been given from the Blue Mountains City Council, the Penrith City Council, Sydney Water, the Department of Environment and Heritage (the Asia-Pacific Focal Point for World Heritage of Australia), the NSW NPWS Heritage Visitors Centre (Blackheath) and the Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens.

Earth Partners Inc. acknowledges: The Traditional Aboriginal Custodians of this Land; and The Institute for Earth Education for its inspiration, as well as permission to use the name ‘Earth Journeys’.

The Earth Journeys team, from left: Bronwen Maxwell, Mike Chirgwin, Heather Jones, Chris Tobin, Christine Hill-Butler and Wyn Jones at an exhibition at York Public School in the Penrith Schools District.

The Earth Journeys team, from left: Bronwen Maxwell, Mike Chirgwin, Heather Jones, Chris Tobin, Christine Hill-Butler and Wyn Jones at an exhibition at York Public School in the Penrith Schools District.