After several focus workshops with author James Roy, a team of 21 gifted young writers were selected to attend a week long camp. Located at Camp Cypress, Baradine, the camp promised a week long escape from technology and a chance to workshop their writing with authors and students from other schools.
Students assembled at 7:30 on a cold June morning, luggage in tow. Mr Rennie and Mr Akins loaded up their minivans with bags stacked up to the back window, ready for the drive. They were in for a long day of travelling, with the GPS saying they would be there at 4:30 in the afternoon. The drive up was almost disaster free, with only one stop for a sick break, and one moment of poor navigation leading to cries of “Wrong way Rennie!” Battling through fatigue and kangaroos, both vans arrived safely at Camp Cypress, ready to find their cabins.
This was not to be the case though. With the arrival of Granville Boys and Delroy College, everyone assembled for a quick dinner before loading back into the vans. The convoy rolled out, as everyone made their way back through Coonabarabran to the Warrumbungle Observatory for an evening of star gazing. The thermostat said it was 1℃, although it felt much colder in the wind. The sky, however, was perfectly clear, and after a short, informative slideshow students were given free reign to see the skies through an array of different telescopes. Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Moon and a scattering of different constellations were on display for everyone, and despite the cold it was a source of inspiration for the writers. After the stargazing was done, teams loaded back into the buses and once again braved the night roads full of Kangaroos to return to the camp for a night’s rest.
Day two began with a hot breakfast and the promise of a warm, clear day. After a brief introduction to the day’s activities by James Roy, students were encouraged to reflect on their experiences so far, and think about their place in the world. They looked not only to the skies from the night before, but also the landscape around them, and sought inspiration from the bush. They also began mixing with students from the other schools, asking the hard questions such as “Is there wifi in Dubbo?” and “Do you have running water?”. The questioning also turned inwards, as our students began to reflect on how different it was sleeping without any background noises of the city, and how surreal it was to wake up to the sounds of birds instead of traffic. The time for reflection was short lived though, as students were once again loaded into the vans. Their destination this time? The Sand Caves, a significant cultural and historical site for the Gomeroi people. The convoy survived some exciting off road driving from their skilled drivers, and found themselves nestled deep in the Pilliga National Park.
After a quick lunch, the writers made their way around a 2km walk, climbing the mountain side as it wound through the thick scrub. Along the way, there were scenic panoramas that spread across the horizon, and a series of caves nestled into the hillside. Carved by centuries of wind and rain, the caves had provided shelter for the indigenous people, and now provided an informative learning opportunity for the students. As they trekked, students were encouraged to slow down and take in the scope of the experience, and consider once again their place in the world.
That night, after a brilliant feast provided by the team at Camp Cypress, students and teachers gathered firewood and lit the campfire. For many, this was their first experience with a campfire, and the pleasure that comes from sitting around the warmth, roasting marshmallows and reflecting on life was felt by all. James provided some background music with his guitar, and students from different schools bonded. Local elder Aunty Pat joined the camp for the evening, welcoming the campers to her lands and sharing some camp stories. Students learned about the Yowie and the Pilliga Princess, as well as some local traditions and customs. This campfire would go on to be the highlight for many students, and a source of inspiration for future writing pieces. The night finished with a quick game of Hide and Seek in the dark, before students retired for the evening, resting in preparation for another big day of writing and sightseeing.
The next morning, student woke to an overcast sky and intermittent showers. With the rain came the cold, and a chance to see the landscape in a different light. This change provided a great opportunity for writing, as James took students through some different writing activities that explored the ideas of change and decay over both short and long periods of time. Students considered everything they had seen and experienced so far, and used it to help shape their writing. That afternoon involved a trip to the Baradine Discovery Centre, where students were able to learn about the history of the local region, and interact with a range of different taxidermies. That night, students competed in a trivia challenge, with books and chocolates going to the winners. It was a great opportunity for students to bond, and afterwards students gathered around the fire for another evening of stories, marshmallows and relaxing.
On Thursday, students awoke to heavy rain and a warm breakfast. Unable to trek out to the sculptures in the bush, students made the most of their final day on camp to work with the other schools doing a range of different writing activities. James Roy and the teachers lead them through several different workshops as they refined their skills and reflected on the week’s experiences. A warm campfire was followed by movie night, and a good night’s rest, as students loaded up their bags in the vans in preparation for an early morning.
For their final morning, students awoke early and had a quick breakfast. Rooms were given a final clean and farewells were said. Students piled into the vans, and the heaters and music were turned up. It was a long drive, but plenty of naps were had. Before they knew it, students were back at school in Parramatta. “I want to go back!” and “I miss them” was heard, a good reminder of the value of the experience for the students.