The History & Geography Of Middle Head

Middle Head - Excursion

From the snow to a stunning winter’s day in Sydney, last week I took a group of year 7 students to Middle Head for a geography and history excursion. There were all the elements of a fun day out of the classroom as well as to get a real feel for the natural and built environment and how it changes over time. Even though the kids are all from Sydney, I was surprised how many hadn’t been to Middle Head, or anywhere around there, especially when Taronga Zoo is just down the road. Thinking of Taronga Zoo, I must pay another visit, as the last time I was there, was on a school excursion when I was 5! I do remember that there were giraffes and a koala, but I’m sure there’s more animals there than that and I’m getting side-tracked.

Middle Head, its history and military usage is fascinating. Much has been preserved as National Parks are now responsible for the area. What could be better than spending a day in a beautiful National Park that’s located right in the middle of Australia's biggest city!

The Disappearing Gun Emplacement

The Disappearing Gun Emplacement

As with much of Australian history, it starts with the aborigines. Middle Head is no exception. If you're looking for an amazing place to live, with beautiful beaches and stunning views, you can't go wrong here. Whilst it’s not entirely clear which tribe based themselves on the headland, the Camaragal (Cam-mer-ray-gal) lands took in a signification area of Mosman and North Sydney. Hence the suburb Cammeray!

After settlement and before Fort Denison was built, a fort was built on the southern side of headland next to Obelisk Beach as a means of providing early warning for the colony when ships entered the harbour and to surprise them with a shot over the bow if they had hostile intent. However, due to the distance from the colony, it was soon abandoned. Today however, this is a nudist beach, which can still provide an equally shocking a surprise to passing ships.

In 1815, with Governor Macquarie in charge, busily building the colony and naming things after himself, he granted Middle Head to Bungaree, an aboriginal who accompanied Flinders on his circumnavigation of Australia. Named the ‘Chief of Broken Bay’ and the ‘King of Port Jackson,’ Bungaree was a colourful character who was an important intermediary between the European Settlers and the local aborigines. Whilst it was probably a noble gesture for Governor Macquarie to ‘give’ Bungaree this land, which he probably already ‘owned,’ this quickly fell apart, as the soil on Middle Head isn’t much good for farming.

The site was soon abandoned until its (no apostrophe!) rebirth as a military fort in 1853 when NSW was getting worried about the prospects of being invaded by Russia. In terms of success, this fort was amazing! It protected us from invasion by Russia right throughout the Crimean war. We won’t dwell on the fact that Russia didn’t even bother sending out anyone to New South Wales, because that would ruin a good story.

Main Middle Head Fort

Main Middle Head Fort

Middle Head as a fort was of great strategic importance. As the headland is positioned right in the middle of North Head and South Head, you can see and track everything that comes into Sydney harbour. The fort had several key areas and gun placements built throughout and many of the remnants can still be seen. Over the years, the fort was upgraded for each subsequent war in which Australia was involved. The cannons changed to artillery pieces and at the height of its military use, it was covered by 71 guns. The most important period of operation however, came in World War II when the Japanese posed a real threat to Australia and managed to get two midget subs through the anti-submarine net and into Sydney Harbour.

The military base on Middle Head was finally abandoned after the end of the Vietnam War. It was then handed over to National Parks in 1979 and has been cared for and developed into a wonderful natural and historic tourist attraction. The added bonus that we had during this excursion, was to see the air ambulance conducting training exercises on and around the headland. It was awesome to see them doing a moving boat rescue exercise as well as landing and taking off right in front of us. Whilst I can’t guarantee that you will have the same amazing experience with a helicopter, you can be assured that a trip out to Middle Head is well worth it to explore the fascinating geography and history of such an important site in the development of Sydney. If you’re not feeling up to guiding this yourself, give National Parks a call and talk to them about school options.

Banksia

Banksia

Snow Sports!

Snow Sports Skiing.jpg

This week, I’m in Thredbo for what is often the busiest week on the ski fields. It’s a combination of the last week of the school holidays, coupled with the Redlands Cup and a number of other inter-schools snow sports’ competitions. Many teachers use the draw card of snow sports to organise a school trip and at the same time get themselves a nice expenses ‘paid’ vacation! Whilst I’ve gone on one of these trips before, there’s often a lack of understanding of the risks inherent with snow sports that comes with this and having been part of a major snow sports’ program for six years that ran for the whole season, we would often see other schools’ groups on the mountain that were less than prepared for the conditions and the overall environment.

Skiing - Snow Sports

Whilst I’m not saying that teachers just throw caution to the wind, however, the risk profile of snow sports is one of the highest of any outdoor activity. Combine, speed, trees, ice, freezing conditions, lots of equipment, kids and other people who are out of control on the slopes and you get a challenging recipe for injuries. However, this shouldn’t be the case and through careful planning and management, every trip can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

So what are some ways to help plan for a safe and effective ski trip?

  1. Consider skill level. If you’re taking absolute beginners, they should be in lessons all day and actively supervised. Given the fact that you’re most likely not an instructor, it’s better to figure in an additional cost for beginners to allow them the best opportunity to learn and develop their skills in a structured manner.

  2. Group size. If you have more experienced skiers and riders and you’re going to allow them to head off on their own, then you need to make sure they’re in a group of a minimum of 4. You must ensure they’ve got your contact numbers and you have their contact numbers as well in case of an emergency. Each group should have ski patrol’s numbers in their phones and it’s a good idea to give them a laminated business card with ski patrol and your number on it.

  3. What to do in the event of an injury. Students need to be briefed on what to do if one of their group of 4 is injured. Firstly, call ski patrol! There’s every chance, ski patrol will get there sooner than you and they’re most likely trained at a higher level of first aid than most teachers as well. Once they’ve called ski patrol, keep the group together and call you as the teacher in charge. If they have to split the group, because they can’t raise ski patrol, two ski to the nearest lift and make contact, the other person stays with the injured student. At no point should any student be on his or her own.

  4. Check in times. Ensure you set clear check in times and locations so that you have regular meeting points to check that all students are accounted for and in good health. If a student fails to meet the check in deadline, call them on his or her mobile, if contact with you hasn’t already been made.

  5. Hydration & Sunscreen. Despite it being really cold and the middle of winter, dehydration and sunburn are major risks. Keep reinforcing the need to remain hydrated and apply sunscreen to exposed skin (mainly lower face as everything else should be covered).

  6. Unless students are experienced skiers and riders with good quality gear, you shouldn’t allow mum and dad’s old gear to make its way down to the slopes. Whilst ski hire adds to the cost, it’s far cheaper than dealing with a major injury because of rubbish equipment.

  7. Everyone must wear a helmet! This is not up for discussion. If you let kids or your staff ski without a helmet you’re asking for trouble. Make sure helmets are specifically designed for snow sports and are correctly fitted.

  8. Set suitable boundaries for your students as well. A lot of them will want to go straight to the jumps and terrain parks, but this takes a certain skill level to do safely and properly. If they want to do this, then put them in lessons so they can develop their skills in a safe and positive manner. Most injuries I’ve dealt with over the years have originated from jumps, boxes and rails!

Skiing - Snow Sports

Have fun! Skiing and snowboarding are awesome sports and they challenge everyone in a different way. Ultimately you’re there with your group so everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience. If you setup the trip with clear guidelines and structures in place, you’re going to have an enjoyable and awesome experience.

Snow Sports - Outdoor Education

First Time For Everything!

Skiing - Outdoor Education

Coming from Australia, there’s not too many double black diamond runs on our ski fields. In fact, when it really comes down to it, a double black in Australia is like comparing a gentle paddle along a river, with a grade 5 rapid. They’re just not the same. So when I went to ski Colorado, I was excited, yet nervous at the same time because the runs are steeper, longer and harder than anything back home.

Fear and excitement is what makes skiing so much fun and I couldn’t wait! The first thing I noticed when I landed in Denver, was how ridiculously cold it was compared with home, where you can get away with skiing in a t-shirt sometimes (that’s if it’s not raining). It felt good walking out of the terminal into that bracing cold, knowing I was in for some awesome runs! It also felt good getting out of the airport because of those weird murals!!! Has anyone else seen them? They’re messed up! I was wandering along and noticed there’s a soldier with a gas mask on painted on the walls of the arrivals lounge. Kinda weird… As this was my first trip to the US, I didn’t think much more of it, as I assumed that all airports in America must be the same, given the love of guns and stuff! But then later found out about all the conspiracy theories about the airport!!! If you haven’t heard any of them, please check them out! They’re insanely awesome, messed up and funny and I can’t wait to fly back in to Denver to see it all again. Anyway, I digress, back to skiing!

I headed to Breckenridge, where I was based for the season cooking meals and helping out in the house with an Australian snowboarding team. The job was simple. I cooked meals for the 25 people in the house and did the shopping and I was able to ski each day! Basically, my dream job. So each morning I went out skiing and then after lunch I went back to the house, prepped dinner and cooked. This gave my heaps of time to explore the four peaks of Breckenridge, as well as Keystone, A-Basin and an awesome day at Beaver Creek.

The Moment It Got Real!

The Moment It Got Real!

I’d been skiing there for a week and kept seeing expert only signs plastered around the slopes. My doubting inner voice kept telling me, ‘Don’t go there,’ you’re not an expert, you’re from Australia. However, my much louder more adventurous inner voice kept telling me, ‘Get there now!’ What are you doing on this lame single black diamond? There’s two more categories higher! Hurry up and do it!!!’ Needless to say, adventurous inner voice won out! There’d been a couple of decent snow falls over the previous few days and they’d finally opened up Peak 10 at Breck, which they’d been holding off doing to ensure depth to the base. I rushed over thinking the whole peak would be tracked out, only to find it relatively empty. This was fantastic! I jumped on the chair and headed up. At the top I saw the sign that drew me in! It pointed to a fresh double black run! It called to me, it dragged me in… It was Dark Rider! My stomach churned as I thought of all the things that could go wrong. I was pushing things too hard, I could break something, I could hit a tree, I could set off an avalanche (something we definitely don’t have in Australia). But once again, adventurous inner voice won with such well-formed arguments as, ‘Just shut up and go for it!’ Ok, you’re the boss! And with a skate of the skis and push of the stocks, I shot forward and down the incredibly steep run, plowing through waist deep powder with every turn. Bam! I copped a face full of snow, pumping up, I turned, dropped back into the powder and Bam! Another face full of snow! This was awesome! My heart raced as I weaved through the pines and danced through the deep powder around me.

I soon reached the bottom. I could feel my chest pounding, my legs burning and a smile on my face I couldn’t wipe off. Turning back, I glanced up to see what I’d ridden, my single set of tracks curving down the insanely steep run! I’d made it! It felt amazing. For me the fear of the unknown double black was finally put to rest. I’ve skied since I was five years old, but I’d always had the self-doubt around taking on a seriously challenging run. However, a few days before Christmas, I’d finally done it and I couldn’t have been any happier! As with anything in life that pushes the boundaries, if you put in the effort, build up to it and are confident in your ability to take that final leap which scares the hell out of you, then you can do anything!

As soon as I caught my breath, I was back on the chairlift, to do it all over again!

Planning A School Ski Trip?

A quick overview of some of the risk considerations when taking a school group to the snow. For the industry leaders on snow safety, head to http://snowsafe.org.au

Having worked in the snow sports’ industry for many years, both in Australia and overseas, I love being up in the mountains. It’s a great place for students to have a unique, challenging and rewarding experience doing something very different from their regular schooling.

However, with every trip away there are some significant issues you and your staff need to be aware of. Here’s a few great resources to help get you started on your trip planning!

General Snow Safety www.snowsafe.org.au/

Ski Resort Info

Thredbo - https://www.thredbo.com.au/schools/

Perisher - https://www.perisher.com.au/plan-your-trip/groups/2019-school-groups

Falls Creek - https://www.fallscreek.com.au/schoolgroups/

Mt Hotham - https://www.mthotham.com.au/discover/more-options/groups/hotham-school-tertiary-groups

Mt Buller - https://www.mtbuller.com.au/Winter/plan-your-visit/schools-and-groups


Happy Skiing! I hope you have a great season!

The Art Of Teaching Through Doing Nothing

Outdoor Activity - Outdoor Education

As teachers, there's always the desire to go out of your way to help students with their learning. However, what if this is harming their ability in the whole learning process? The increasing lack of ability for kids to problem solve is concerning on many levels. The standard solution of google, it has helped reduce people's ability to think and respond! ‘eLearning’ has a lot to answer for in terms of building incompetence into kids, where they're encouraged to seek solutions to their problems from the Internet. Instant access to the answer to almost everything has created new problems in that kids who are reliant on instant results, can't cope in situations that require a more complex and challenging approach.

Recently, I had a group of students out on a hike into the Budawang Wilderness. This pristine and amazingly rugged part of Morton National Park is a challenging, yet invigorating experience. Prior to the trip, we set the scene for the students. It was their expedition and they were in charge. We would only intervene if there were a safety issue that arose, otherwise every decision was up to them. They were briefed on directions, leadership and group management and given a map and compass.

Moments after the end of the brief, the questions started flying “How far is it?”
“When’s lunch?”
“What time are we going to get there?”
We both gave the same response. “You've been given all the information you need. Work it out yourself!”

It quickly became obvious that none of them had ever experienced this before. They were expecting to be taken on a trip, rather than being challenged by the experience. The temptation of teachers (often born out of frustration) is to take over and do it for them, or show them, as it's an easy way out. Yet if you do that, you never put the kids outside their comfort zone. You never push them to take any initiative or responsibility and they never actually learn anything.

So we waited for them to work it out, which took some time, then we were off and along the track. The questions about how far we'd gone, how long left and can I eat this muesli bar, continued and were met every time with the same response, “It's your trip. Work it out yourself.”

Whilst the questions are annoying, once they realise you're not going to provide them with any answers, they eventually stop asking, until they want reassurance that they're on the right path, or they're tired and then like flies to a dead horse, they ask again and again and again, which I refuse to answer unless there is a safety issue.

We eventually made it to camp, probably two hours later than if one of us had been ‘running’ the trip, but what educational value would that have provided? If we just ‘ran’ trips, we would just reinforce the notion that everything can and will be answered and done instantly with no effort on the part of the student. From an educational point of view, this is a complete waste of time and allows for no development of resilience nor initiative in kids, which ultimately will cost them dearly when faced with any sort of challenge later in life.

When leading trips, this has always been my guiding principle. Set the group up once and let them work the rest out for themselves. They must do everything out there in the field for themselves. What time we start, what time we break, pace of the group, setting up camp, dinner time, wake up, pack up, departure and navigation. Everything about the trip needs to be put on the students to think about and take appropriate action to complete.

At the end of the day, you never learn to drive sitting in the passenger seat, so set the group up, then put the responsibility on the group to take ownership and run the trip themselves. It might be tough. They might winged and complain about it, but it lets them develop real problem solving skills and teaches them some valuable lessons that they will never learn anywhere else.

Next time you're out with a group, don't take charge and do everything for them. Brief the group, then sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.