Thirty four Year 5s and 6s, three teachers and an SSO left school bright and early on October 15— the first day of Term 4—heading for the Illawonga camp site near Swan Reach on the Murray River.
The campsite was originally built to showcase gymnastic equipment and was used by the Australian Olympic team in the 1980s as a out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere training centre. After three hours on the bus some students were wondering if it was there at all!
Aquatics was first on the agenda. After a taco lunch and an introduction to the campsite, we headed down the hill to the Murray River.
There were three aquatics activities to choose from and students rotated through them as the afternoon progressed. The knee-boarding proved most popular, with several students demonstrating their proficiency in often choppy conditions.
Swimming in the ‘waterhole’ with life-jackets was a big hit too. Floating cushions were used as targets for jumps, dives and bellyflops.
The paddleboats were also popular. These four person craft were paddled by the bow-pair with students on the back squirting water at other boats which came to close.
After the evening meal we headed into the gym for a round of gymnastic activities and an introduction to the foam pit. Students worked around a circuit of trampolines, hoops and bars, with many students achieving quite difficult poses and movements.
We finished the evening with marshmallows around the campfire, hot cocoa and cake.
We split into two groups for Tuesday’s activities.
Group A took the ‘River Truck’ across the Murray and explored some deep caves in the cliffs. We experienced total darkness and hunted for fossils in the furthest reach of the cave. Students tried several challenges, wriggling along narrow extensions of the main cave system.
Group B meanwhile had completed a trek down the Murray to the Big Bend, toured a hidden billabong and watched birdlife including kestrels, pelicans and kits. On their return they had learned the basics of kayaking and paddled across the Murray and into a nearby billabong. Once there they had played hide and seek, chasey and splash the teacher. The two groups then swapped until it was time to return for a late lunch.
We boarded the bus for the next round of activities and travelled by bus and ferry into Swan Reach.
We saw the flood markers on the local buildings then arrived at the Swan Reach museum. Groups searched the buildings and outhouses for answers to a series of scavenger questions, learning about Murray Lock system, the local Aboriginal people and how children were taught back in the ‘old days’.
Back at camp we had our evening meal then re-boarded the bus to travel out to the ‘Big Bend at Night’ show.
The “Big bend at Night’ is a marvellously entertaining farming show with shearing, sheep dogs, sheep racing and much more.
Students bid in a sheep auction, learned how to crack a bullwhip, visited the petting zoo and played games.
We drove back to the camp and everyone was asleep VERY quickly!
Just as well, for we were up bright and early on our last day in camp, cleaning the dormitories, packing bags and organising for the bus.
After breakfast we again split into groups with students learning archery out the back of the campsite and a second session in the gym, hiding in the foam-pit and playing gladiators.
Students also played word games and tried out the new maze.
The bus arrived just after noon and we headed back to Maitland for a 3:30 return.
Illawonga is an action-packed camp and made all the better for the wonderful leaders including Mark, Joseph, Shona and Darren. Our cook Sonia was wonderful and so helpful and organised!
A big thank you to Hannah Clift, Beth Hector and Shirley Lands for their supervision and involvement.