At Mildura West Primary School in the Victorian border town of Mildura, the students are all too aware of the environmental problems that plague the Murray River. They are actively studying the river system and playing a role in its restoration as part of their involvement in the Sustainable Schools Program. The students are maintaining and replanting a nearby island on the Murray and have been engaged in a stencilling program throughout Mildura, marking the city’s drains with a clear message: ‘Only rain down this drain’. Their environmental education has been incorporated into a range of curriculum areas from art to science and creative writing.
Mildura West is currently completing a water audit of its grounds and will be installing special guttering and tanks to trap water currently being wasted. The water will be diverted for use on the school oval. The school has an extensive waste recycling facility and shreds its waste paper for use in a local worm farm. It has installed water saving showerheads and is planning a science garden in the school featuring indigenous plants and the installation of micro-flush toilets in the near future. Science and environmental coordinator at the school Marion Vorwerk says the program empowers the students to act to change environmental problems and gives them a sense of self-worth and community participation. “By participating in the environmental program students learn, implement and continue to practice strategies so that they become an embedded way of life,” Marion says.
In October the students played a pivotal role in the International Riverhealth Conference for youth presenting at 3 of the 14 workshops and writing a theme song for the event. Mildura West students were involved in the creation of this 2003 Quilt, as part of the school’s Sustainable Schools Water module. The 2003 quilt was designed by Anne-Maree Rowe, a teacher at Mildura West Primary, keeping in mind the requirements of the conference organisers. The fabrics were hand-dyed and painted by local fabric artist, Linda Tucker of Country Dye Works, and the central quilting was done by a local quilter, Julie Hunt. The colours of the quilt represent the colours of Australia – our inland, our sea and our surf. The 2003 quilt shows the major river systems of Australia. The silver-white paint represents the “Areas forecast to contain land of high hazard or risk of dryland salinity in 2050. The hands on the quilt represent the helping hands needed to protect our waterways and their environs. The involvement of Mildura West Primary School goes back to the original conference of 1999. The school was also involved in making the 2001 quilt. The making of the quilt is a project that encompasses the entire school community, from the Prep children through to the cleaner, through to grandparents of students.
The school process starts with many of the teachers and school staff cutting out over 400 hand shapes. These are then ironed onto the quilt. Over a six week period the students in the school sew/quilt on the hands with the help and guidance of rostered parents and friends. This completes the quilting process. In all approximately 560 people were involved in the making of this quilt. As each person completes their work on the quilt they sign their name in a small notebook and this is sewn into the back of the quilt at a later date. Conference delegates sign a hand on the quilt during the registration process, stating their name, school and state and it is officially unveiled during the conference launch. The quilt remains hanging in the school foyer for the majority of the year. It is sometimes required in Canberra at the Murray Darling Basin Commission, (major sponsors of the Conference), and other times in Melbourne for major water conferences. For the children of the school, it is a way for them all to be involved in the River Conference and the start of a lifelong journey in understanding and preserving the local river Murray. For the conference delegates, it is opening the doors of involvement and understanding the needs of the rivers in the areas in which they live.