Primary school students on the rugged coastline at King’s Run. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
Taking children on country adds a sense of time and place to the learning of Indigenous heritage that cannot be captured in a classroom.
Visiting the Preminghana Indigenous Protected Area in the far north-west corner of Tasmania, and the nearby 338-hectare property of Kings Run, is also a lesson in powerful weather and all things wild.
Both are highly significant places for Indigenous Tasmanians, dotted with artefacts, hut sites, rock art, and other signs of the people who lived in the area hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years ago.
The most distinctive rock formation at King’s Run is the huge Church Rock. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
They are also breathtakingly rugged coastal locations, hammered by strong winds and high seas.
The staging point, a shelter shed in the shack town of Arthur River, offers wild new perspectives for Grade Four students from Burnie Primary School.
Jye Crosswell, an Aboriginal discovery ranger for the Parks and Wildlife Service, passes around a wooden club called a waddy, along with whale teeth, ochre and chert cutting tools.
The bus driver finds a leech which enlivens lunch with a few squeals, before the group heads to the wild Southern Ocean coast.
Aboriginal discovery ranger, Jye Crosswell, was mentored by Geoff King as a young man. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
The school principal, Andrew Starick, yells over the din of 51 excitable 10-year-olds making their first kelp basket.
“Today we’re learning from the oldest classroom in the world,” he says.
“It’s one thing to learn about Aboriginal culture and history but it’s another to go on country and learn from Aboriginal people and perspectives.”
Geoff King, a cattleman turned environmentalist, had spent the last 20 years of his life personally protecting the King’s Run Indigenous heritage sites from wayward four-wheel drivers.
He died in 2013, aged just 58, and in 2017 King’s family fulfilled his wishes of selling the property to the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, which handed the property’s management to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.
Taking kids on country a passion for principal
For Mr Starick, getting kids on country has been a passion since he taught at Redpa Primary School, close to King’s Run and Preminghana, in the early 2000s.
He met King during that time, whose sons were students, as well as Mr Crosswell.
“Each year it becomes easier to see more and learn new things,” Mr Starick says.
“But having Jye here today is a game changer and it’s a joy for me to learn from him now.”
At King’s Run, the group gathers at the imposing coastal feature of Church Rock.
Within sight of it are intact seal-hunting hides, evidence of former huts called temmas, middens (ancient mounds of discarded shells and bones) and King’s hut, preserved just as he loved it.
The hides are distinct bunkers dug into the rocks on the coastline where the Tarkanya, Tasmania’s first people, would wait with clubs to ambush seals returning from the sea.
Geoff King’s hut at King’s Run, where he used to bring tourists to watch Tasmanian devils feed. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
The Burnie students are wrapped in layers of clothes with beanies under raincoat hoods.
Mr Crosswell talks to the group of wide-eyed young students at the edge of a midden, huddled closely to better see an object of wonder — and to shelter from the Roaring Forties winds which rarely ease here.
“Another seal bone, beautiful job. Potentially one of its pectoral bones,” he says.
“It’s very old, very brittle. This could well be a bone from a harvested fur seal ambushed from these seal hides here.”
Waddies, abalone shells and stone-cutting tools are passed around the students. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
Young ranger inspired by King
Mr Crosswell says a strong motivation for him becoming a ranger was the role that he saw King play in protecting King’s Run.
“Geoff was an environmental activist and an inspiration and one of the main reasons I went on to study marine Antarctic science,” he says.
The students energised by the wild west coast and learning about the heritage at King’s Run. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
“Now I have this unique opportunity to bring that learning back to the community.”
King was a third-generation beef grazier and the King’s Run property was one of the earliest taken up by white settlers in the area of Arthur River.
In the mid 1990s King stopped running cattle at King’s Run and started an ecotourism venture.
“People from all over the world were able to come and see Tasmanian devils in their natural habitat, feeding, with their natural behaviour,” Mr Crosswell says.
“Seeing a carcass being torn apart right in front of you was an incredible experience.”
Jye Crosswell speaks to the students from Burnie Primary School. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
‘Most cultural rich place on Earth’
After a few hours of soaking up raw weather and history, the Burnie school students head north to Preminghana, a stunning mountain that rises dramatically from the coastline.
Similarly rich in significant cultural sites and values, it was returned to the Aboriginal community in the late 1990s.
One of the guides, Jarrod Edwards, shelters under gum trees near the base of the mountain.
He is an Aboriginal field officer for Parks and Wildlife and has spent a good part of his life so far at Preminghana.
Jarrod Edwards welcomes the kids on country at Preminghana. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
“It’s one of the most culturally rich places you could find on Earth,” Mr Edwards says.
“Preminghana is one of those places that has a lot of stories to tell about the old people. It’s got the marks they left behind in the sandstone rocks up at the end of the beach.
“It’s got some of the rarest plant species that you’ll find, like the Craspedia Preminghana, which is only located here on the southern flanks of the mountain.”
Mr Edwards says Preminghana is a place of great cultural significance that needs to be preserved.
Preminghana is a mountain rising from the coast on the far north-west coast of Tasmania. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
“It’s home to our community. It’s a really important place to us as blackfellas,” he says.
“I’m very fortunate that as an Aboriginal person I’ve had the opportunity to live on and care for Preminghana.
“At the end of the day, Lutruwita, or Tasmania, belongs to everyone.
“And if everyone can take home a sense of ownership and pride in that story, it helps us as Aboriginal people to preserve and protect it for many, many generations to come.”