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Four days in the elements

Michele Gierck  |  10 November 2018

Following a group of students from St Ignatius College, Geelong, as they grow more in tune with each other and the environment as part of their Outdoor and Environmental Studies subject.

If you were to set out on a four-day hike along Victoria’s Great Ocean Walk, without phone or internet access, along with 17 secondary school students and three teachers, carrying your own pack laden with tent, mat, sleeping gear, clothes, food and cooking equipment, would you be looking forward to the trip?

That’s what a group of Year 10 students from St Ignatius College in Drysdale – near Geelong – did as part of their Outdoor and Environmental Studies course, along with the teacher of that subject, Nathan Patterson, and two other teaching staff – James Fox and Marina Brown.

Students, like 16-year-old Arquette Williams, who had some camping experience, might have looked forward to the trip, but for others, in spite of their physical preparation, there was a little trepidation.

Nathan, who has run hiking trips before, admits there’s always some concern. Sure they had practised erecting tents and putting them away, cooking on camp stoves, and buying and preparing food with their tent buddy, but one question remained: How would each person respond?


With 30-degree weather and a steep incline on the first day, they didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Hannah Lace, a surfer and active 15-year old, said the incline and heat made it hard on the 8-kilometre first-day walk. She admits there were moments when she didn’t have the best mindset. But on they pushed, knowing they could only travel as fast as the slowest member of their group. The camp ground, with tank water and a pit toilet, couldn’t come soon enough.

After a rest, many regained their energy. Prior to dinner, cooking stoves were arranged in a circle, and tent partners began preparing their evening meal. Later, the evening reflection, referred to as an ‘examen,’ focused on gratitude. ‘What could we be thankful for from Day 1?’

Examens became a time to pause, reflect, pray, and to get a sense of how everyone felt each evening.

The group sat in a circle, facing each other, and one person volunteered to respond first. Then, they’d progress around the circle, clockwise, so everyone had an opportunity to speak, and to be heard.


Next morning, some had difficulty getting out of bed. Many were still struggling without their music, messages and mobile phones. But the group was soon on its Day 2, 12-kilometre walk to Blanket Bay, in their wet-weather gear.

Hannah assumed a leadership role, and realised it wasn’t just the terrain or the weather that presented challenges, but the dynamics of the group. As the students had come from different classes, many didn’t really know each other before the hike. ‘You’d watch the dynamics between people, and think about what was going on,’ says Hannah.

Hiking offered the opportunity to listen: to one’s thoughts, to co-hikers, and to the sounds of bush and ocean.

Nathan says that the students were learning to work as a group, and to take care of each other. ‘Some would walk slower to accompany others, while some would carry more so the stragglers had less weight to contend with.’

Later, Hannah took the group down to the beach for an ‘examen’. ‘I needed an ocean detox. It was a clear night. I wanted others to experience what I was feeling’, she recalls. It was a special place to learn about each other. 


By Day 3, the experience of ‘flow’, which they’d been told about, became real. People felt connected and immersed in the moment, and so in tune with their surrounds, that everything else dissipated.

There was a real cameraderie in the group – lots of talking, having fun and laughing. By this stage, Nathan was able to step into the background as the students were taking the lead. He was impressed by their positive response to the experience, by their curiosity, and their concern for the environment.

Nathan says a number of parents who thought their teenage son or daughter would struggle, were amazed when they returned home raving about the experience. And many participants are keen to head off again.

Teacher, Marina, who hadn’t hiked and camped before, considers it one of the best things she’s ever done.

Arquette reflects, ‘I came out a different person. I’m now more down to earth. I know who my true friends are, and how to deal with situations.’

Hannah said she now has a more positive mindset, and realises that when things feel tough, it’s time to ‘get into it, and smash it’.

‘I have more knowledge of others, and myself, and the environment’, she says. Once back home, she checked her social media, but it felt ‘pointless, and boring’. ‘It was really good to get away from technology.’

Arquette agrees. ‘You don’t need all that social media. The people around you are your true connections. They are your real social media.’


Topic tags: healthycommunitylife, spiritualityandtheenvironment

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