Forty-one Year 5s and 6s and four teachers left school bright and early on December 2 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!
We split into two groups for Monday’s activities and after a taco lunch and an introduction to the campsite, we headed down the hill to the Murray River.
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 reaches 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 played hide and seek, chasey and splash the teacher.
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.
Groups A and B swapped over for the Tuesday morning. After lunch we all came together with three aquatics activities to choose from that students rotated through.
The knee-boarding proved most popular, with several students demonstrating their skills.
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.
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, visited the petting zoo and learned how to crack a bullwhip. Mr Jury and Mr Sharp were very good at this!
We drove back to the camp and everyone was asleep VERY quickly!
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.
But the big hit were the brand new pedal-karts on the race track, with several students achieving sub-60 second records.
The bus arrived just after noon and we headed back to Maitland for a 4pm return.
Illawonga is an action-packed camp and made all the better for the wonderful leaders including Mark, Shona and Darren. Our cooks were wonderful too, and so helpful and organised!
A big thank you to Hannah Clift, Nick Jury and Jon Sharp for their supervision and involvement.