Mark has been in this role for eight years, following seven years as Director of Outdoor Education at Presbyterian Ladies’ College. Before that, he taught Outdoor Education at Ivanhoe Grammar School in Victoria.
Kooringal, meaning ‘home by the water’, is a fully-staffed, self-contained outdoor education centre located on the Darling Scarp, 110km south east of Perth and 15km from the mill town of Dwellingup. Set in the jarrah forest and on the bank of the Murray River, it provides an opportunity for students to participate in adventure activities, field studies and school community activities.
Mark’s role is to organise the Outdoor Education programme and look after the functioning of Kooringal – everything from maintenance through to budgetting. “My day-to role is extremely varied,” says Mark. “I could be training our trainees. I could be out on an expedition with the kids, which could involve walking, canoeing or abseiling, for example. I could be organising budgets, or I could be doing maintenance. It is a really varied job which is one of the reasons I love it.”
But Mark’s main reason for being there is because of the enjoyment he gets from working with the kids. “I love seeing the smile on their faces when they do something that they didn’t think they could achieve,” he said.
And this is one of the main objectives of Kooringal – ‘to develop each boy’s positive self-concept’. Some of the broader aims include: to encourage initiative and self reliance; to provide opportunities to develop leadership skills; to develop a co-operative and caring approach towards others; to provide the experience of community living; to develop in students an appreciation of the natural environment through first-hand experience; to develop self esteem and self confidence by exposing students to experiences which challenge them physically and emotionally; to develop the ability to take healthy risks and to work for success; and, to place students in an environment where they must take responsibility for their actions.
Mark said Kooringal was an extremely important part of Christ Church. “It covers a lot of the learning areas and follows the School Mission ‘to know, to do, to be’,” he said. “The boys have to acquire a certain amount of knowledge to be able to function in the bush. They have to work in teams, and they realise they have a very hard time if they don’t work together. And they live within small groups over a period of days so they really get to know their peers well.”
Students in Years 5 to 9 spend varying amounts of time at Kooringal. Year 9s spend nine days down there and Mark said this length of time often showed a marked change in individuals. “You can see boys who were really hesitant at the start of the trip become quite competent by the end,” he said. “They learn to deal with stress and learn that they can achieve a lot more than they thought they could… I hope it then translates into their everyday lives.”
Some of the main activities at Kooringal include abseiling, ropes course, white water canoeing, orienteering and rogaining. All programmes involve expedition and are based on the Kooringal motto – ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’.