For Cathy McCallum - or “Mrs Mac” as the Baringhup Primary School kids call her - it’s all about making environmental education interesting. “It’s got to be fun,” says Cathy, “in my thinking, kids don’t really work and enjoy learning unless it’s fun.”
Cathy and her husband Bill moved to Baringhup (about ten minutes drive west of Maldon) a decade ago and reside in a charming little bush hamlet of 50 homes – a short walk from the Loddon River. Both retired primary and secondary school teachers, Cathy and Bill now volunteer a good chunk of their time educating the local primary school kids all about the environment. “About six years ago, we were reading a lot about climate change and thought we had to do something to contribute to people’s understanding of the issues,” Cathy says.
The McCallums have really got things going at the Baringhup Primary School, with Waterwatch, native garden and veggie garden teams, as well as an environment committee.
“Ninety percent of what we teach and the activities we do, is connected to the Loddon River and its sustainability. Our aim is to enhance the kids’ appreciation of their river and help them understand water and water issues.”
Last year the school kids, along with other primary schools around Victoria, made it known just how much they love their local environment as part of a community awareness building project, Signs of Change: Creating a Better Future. Initiated by the Mount Alexander Sustainability Group and Bendigo Sustainability Group, the children were only allowed to use their bodies to create their message, which was photographed from the air. “We only have 26 students here so we got them to work it out and they decided they’d do a big love-heart, standing for love the environment,” grins Cathy.
Her school kids are part of the government’s Waterwatch program, run by the North Central Catchment Management Authority. She says the students are very protective of the river and positive about its future, even as they continue to witness a dramatic decline in river flow. “I go down there with the students and we measure and monitor the water. They then write about it and we put an article in the local paper where the results from the year before are compared. Through this, the community gets an idea of how their river is under threat.”
Cathy and Bill also spend their spare time down on the Loddon and often have picnics or go bird watching with family and friends. “It’s a wonderful place. I think your heart rate must go a bit slower when you go down there,” she says with a smile.
They hold hope for the future of the Loddon and want people to continue to nurture it. “We know that you can’t take it for granted. We know that you have to love it and look after it.”
Story by Verity McLucas, September 2009. Photos from Cathy McCallum.