The Ghost Nets Project that is currently evolving at Red Hill Consolidated began after the School Council expressed a strong desire for the children to have opportunities to learn to value Australia’s indigenous heritage. In addition, one of the school families has lived for a time in northern Australia amongst indigenous communities, and the father, Peter Adsett, is an artist with an extensive knowledge of indigenous art. After seeing a documentary on how local indigenous communities in the Gulf of Carpentaria try to collect abandoned fishing nets and scoop them out of local waters to try to save local marine life, Peter’s daughter Sophie brought the film to school. The children were fascinated by this environmental project, so Peter volunteered to work with the children to create an earthwork around the theme of the ‘Ghost Nets’ and valuing and respecting the environment. There are clear links to other core Values for Australian Schools including, ‘doing your best’ to be conservationists and use natural materials, and ‘respecting’ indigenous cultural practices. In recent months, the staff, parents and children have worked to develop intercultural communication through sharing art with a school in the Gulf country.We plan to slowly and respectfully build communication between the schools and model respect for the environment.
The Grade 6 teachers, Suzi McConaghy, Pat Holmes and Rob Juchnevicius encouraged their classes to discuss the Ghost Nets. The teachers worked with the Art teacher, Ian Jarman, to investigate, explore and then paint local sea creatures from the waters of Port Phillip Bay. The children then undertook a range on artistic pursuits including knitting a life size net, painting pictures of sea creature endemic to Port Phillip Bay and creating an informative display to educate the Red Hill community about the importance of protecting our environment. In May, the display was exhibited at our annual Art Show which attracts approximately 1000 people from the Peninsula. In addition, a photographic display was exhibited at the ‘Students for the Biosphere Conference’ which stimulated a lot of interest from local schools in our cluster. To build the student’s connection to the environment, Peter attended the Grade 6 camp at Point Leo foreshore and worked with the children to create traditional indigenous sand art forms and created images on the beach using natural beach materials. The children and many parents were fascinated by this activity and it stimulated their respect and interest in traditional indigenous communities.
This project was followed up with three sessions exploring process, materiality and horizontality. This allowed students to read visually across the cultures.
Another parent in the school, Murray Turner, has contributed his views on how extensively the Ghost Nets Project has been connected to the Values Education Project, by suggesting the following links that he has seen in the learning goals and potential of the project:
Care and compassion
Murray has seen that a key theme is for the children to understand and care for each others’ environment. He noted that, ‘The children in the Gulf of Carpentaria and in Red Hill, have expressed strong concerns about the sea life being caught in the nets and deep respect for the care shown by the group releasing the animals from the nets (turtles, sharks etc). Our children have learned that the Aboriginal communities are seeking to find the fishing net owners and help determine why nets are lost and what they can do to help. Even though they are losing their own resources they seek mediation not confrontation, so these compassionate actions model positive goals.’
Doing your best
Through the Ghost Nets project, children saw that the locals do their best to care for the environment, and even recycle. The nets are sometimes sent back to communities to use again. The Ghost Nets program is about seeking a positive solution for all. Children need to look at the bigger picture and then understand that smaller actions contribute to the big picture. The school is considering looking at contact with both Indigenous Australian groups and possibly even Indonesian groups and children from fishing communities as the project continues.
This project has challenged children to think about tough issues including is it fair for the fisherman to travel so far to fish and is it fair that Aboriginal groups lose habitat?
If we buy the fish is that fair is they are caught in protected waters. – Is that fair and sustainable?
Through this unit, our children may well have opportunities to develop respect for the cultural value of elders and knowledge in Aboriginal communities. They can learn how their environment has further chances to be sustainable through this knowledge, such as when to hunt certain species, and how many can be fished. They will learn to respect the resources so they will be available for everyone.
The children have learned who is responsible for the nets and what ownership means in an indigenous community. They have thought about who owns the sea and questions about a sustainable future.
Observations from Jody Holmes-parent
The Grade 6 children at Red Hill Consolidated School have had the most wonderful opportunity this year to be educated about a program that provides exposure to some very important world wide issues. The Ghost Nets project has given the children some valuable lessons in how communities can work together to make a difference to change their environment for the better. One of the things I liked best about the program was the fact that it was initiated by some coastal indigenous communities. The children were able to learn a little about the indigenous people as well as learn about the effect the Ghost Nets have had on their community. Through reading and research, the children were able to see the care and compassion that has been shown by those communities towards the preservation of marine life. It has helped them gain a sense of respect for these people when they saw the efforts that have been put into their work.
The children learnt about some of the species that were endangered by these Ghost Nets and other marine debris, and this has helped them to develop a sense of responsibility for caring for these creatures and the environment themselves. It has made the children more aware of the marine pollution issues and will hopefully make them more responsible human beings as they grow to young adults.
Part of the program involved the appreciation for indigenous art work which has given the children exposure to indigenous culture. This has helped them to become more understanding of other people and their beliefs and will go a long way in developing their ability to tolerate those who have different beliefs about life in general. Anything that promotes tolerance to others is a great thing. When the children were given the opportunity to create their own art work at the Point
Leo Beach it was great to see them working together and including each other in the discussions about how to make it better. They respected each others’ opinions and helped each other to collect the materials they needed. The end result was a fabulous 3D picture which the kids could be really proud of.
The Ghost Net Project aimed to highlight a range of Values for Australian Schools, particularly ‘respect’, ‘doing your best’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘inclusion’. In the long term future (6-18 months) it is hoped that a rapport will be established that allows our school to share regular communications with an indigenous community.
The Ghost Net project has so far actively engaged the Grade 6 children in valuing the environment and Australia’s Indigenous cultures. As the school works to develop connections with the school in the Gulf of Carpentaria, there is further potential for rich and authentic learning and intercultural communication between young people caring about each other and their local environments.