Out and about with Possum Pete

Exploring the coast with Possum Pete

This time of the year is characterised by dynamic weather with the definite progression from warmer to colder months. We have experienced the crisp, blue sky and still autumn conditions, and then there’s the driving rain and blizzard-like gales as powerful Antarctic storms herald that winter has arrived on the Surf Coast. We had it all this term, and students had to be at their bravest to be out there in some of the more challenging conditions we’re likely to have all year.

There were many highlights this term, including the conservation activities with year 7s from Grovedale College, and ecosystem walks with Surf Coast Secondary. By far the largest and most impactful project was a partnership with Mackillop College, the Friends of Eastern Otways, Parks Victoria and the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee. We have been able to remove a ferocious invasion of coastal tea-tree from significant heathland at Moggs Creek in sessions that represent hundreds of hours of volunteer work!

Mackillop College – year 8

During their camp at Tullawalla at the back of Moggs Creek, students from Mackillop College go on walks in the bush and have a great outdoor education experience. The teachers approached us wanting to set up some sessions volunteering so the students could ‘give back’ to the area they have visited. Partnering with Parks Victoria, the Friends of Eastern Otways, and the Friends of Moggs Creek we were able to come up with a series of activities they could help with.

There have been some touching moments during these sessions, with most students experiencing this type of hard work for the first time. The clear visual change means they realise the value and impact their team produced by working hard together.

Mackillop College yr 8 students - standing in front of weeds removed alongside Friends of Eastern Otways and Parks Vic staff
Year 8 students from Mackillop College stand in front of a large pile of removed weeds alongside members of the Friends of Eastern Otways and staff from Parks Victoria.

Operation Newstart Geelong – year 9

The weather was kind to the Operation Newstart crew and we had great conditions for our exploration of the beach and rockpools of Point Roadknight in Anglesea. This group of students doesn’t often get to experience rugged, natural landscapes so it is great to offer them the opportunity to get outdoors and learn about our coastal environment.

Operation Newstart at Pt Roadknight
Operation Newstart students exploring the rockpools at Point Roadknight, Anglesea.

In their next session at Soapy Rocks, they pulled out large amounts of South African Polygala and really helped out the local environment by doing so.

Operation Newstart students helping to remove Polygala weeds at Soapy Rocks, Anglesea
The crew with their haul of hundreds of invasive Polygala plants

Operation Newstart is an intensive eight-week program for year 9 students, designed to help at-risk teenagers get back on track. Newstart provides opportunities for self-empowerment and aims to re-engage students through a variety of experiential, vocational and therapeutic activities.

Surf Coast Secondary College – year 7

Over the course of the term, and for the second year in a row, all the year 7 students (8 classes of 25!) from Surf Coast Secondary College came along for an ‘Ecosystem Walk’ to explore the local ecosystems around Spring Creek. This session complements their study at school where they created an ecosystem in a jar. A quick, hour-long walk around Spring Creek covers so many different habitats and is a great way to show the biodiversity of the area and how each organism is adapted to live where it does.

Hugo enjoys holding a sea urchin for the first time

It was really fulfilling to show the local students their local environment in more detail. I hoped to encourage them to explore and remain curious about it, not just during their school years, but over the course of their lifetime. Having a good understanding of the environment where you live is such an enriching perspective!

Spring Creek in Torquay is the perfect site for this session. We talk about the estuary area at the start, often looking at the wading birds (and even a large, fresh dead bream) before heading into the cliffs and trying some of the local edible plants. At the Rocky Point lookout, we can gaze towards Tasmania and imagine the land that must have stretched out to join with the mainland during the last glacial maximum period thousands of years ago – countless lost-to-time ecosystems.

If the tide is low, we try our luck to return around Rocky Point while exploring the most fascinating of all ecosystems – where the ocean meets the land – the rockpools!

Each of these separate habitats is incredibly diverse and there is a lifetime’s worth of knowledge to discover in each of them, the students have hopefully had a little start on that journey.

Surf Coast Secondary College yr 7 students caught in the rain
Students and teacher are (mostly) still smiling despite the intense downpour we were caught in while on the Spring Creek boardwalk.

Grovedale year 7 – planting on World Environment Day

Students from Grovedale College came down a number of times this term and participated in conservation activities around Torquay. Whether it was picking up rubbish around Voss’s Carpark at Point Danger, or planting trees at the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club, the students put their best efforts in.

A student from Grovedale learns how to stake a new plant with the guidance of Possum Pete on World Environment Day.
A student from Grovedale College learns how to stake a new plant with the guidance of Possum Pete on World Environment Day.

It was clear the students weren’t the most outdoor or environmentally experienced bunch, but that made the sessions feel especially valuable. I’m sure they developed a sense of care for the environment over this term through their active participation looking after it.

About the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee’s education program

The Great Ocean Road Coast Committee has been running education activities since 2011 that are based on natural resource management practices and hands-on conservation activities, engaging with students from all over Victoria.

As a State government body, we offer a number of activities to participants on our managed coastal Crown land. The program – designed to equip participants with the knowledge and skills to work with, understand, respect, protect and enhance our coastal surroundings – aims to inspire students to be the environmental stewards of the future and become advocates for the coastal environment. We want students to have a sense of accomplishment that they have done something for the environmental health of this area and that they have ‘paid back’ to the coast for the recreational time they have spent there.

Is your school interested in being involved? Head to our website to find out more: