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"I am continually amazed by students on Survival. With little food and often lack of sleep they somehow turn a section of scrub into a living, working community. The students begin to recognise that with hard work, a positive mindset, creativity and sheer determination, they can achieve anything!” explains Natalie Boike, Ironbark Outdoor Education Instructor.

Survival is the first of three unaccompanied camp outs. Comforts such as running water, pillows, watches and books are left behind. Instead students are armed with mattocks, saws, shovels, pruning shears and bailing twine. Their goal: to clear lantana infested land and establish their ‘home’ for the foreseeable future. To survive, they must build a shelter large enough for comfort and strong enough to withstand Mother Nature. A basic camp kitchen including fire, table and seating gives light and life to their community. A long-drop toileting space, including a seat, is also necessary to ensure basic sanitation for the camp mates. 

Survival groups are regularly visited by staff however, it is up to them how they manage themselves and their community. To build a functioning community, the students need to establish their own values. As staff, we are always proud to see values such as respect, positivity, commitment, friendship and cooperation (loosely based on the six elements of wellbeing) make an appearance. Students quickly realise that without hard work, clear leadership and ‘all for one’ mentality they will not have decent meals to eat and a place to sleep. Their success rests on their own abilities and team work.

“…On Survival, my group didn’t seem to be having a good time (we were kind of just doing our own jobs and not really talking). So a few of us just started jumping on logs to break it into firewood. The group started to have a much better time because we started making work into a game, working as a team instead of splitting the jobs and the group up, and joking around.”—St Peters student.

As part of the experience the students are engaged in several extra challenges, both physical and emotional, to guide their learning and continue their engagement in the activity. Completing these challenges often shows where there is a need for greater focus within their community. The students are encouraged to draw on their values, be honest with their peers and take on feedback. These challenges are often the boost needed to complete unfinished work and to truly enjoy the experience.

“On the second morning of Survival my group was really sad and didn’t think anything was working. Then by the afternoon, after the [initiative] challenge, we made the day fun by doing things we liked and were good at.”—St Peters student.

A simple scoring system helps guide the students and works as extrinsic motivation to continue their building projects. Points gained on Survival go towards the ‘House Cup’ competition between the boys and girls. Students often include creative extras such as gyms, swings, tribal wear and games to their camp. These often help to boost the morale and functionality of the spaces with the bonus of extra points added to their overall score.

As a part of the overall program delivered at Ironbark, Survival is the foundation for many important building blocks and is highly valued by both students and staff.

“It is important to the program because it gives the students unsupervised time to be themselves and find themselves. They are not thinking about ‘doing what’s right’ but focused on ‘doing what is needed,’” says Kathryn Bardsley, Outdoor Education Instructor.

For many students, the idea of spending a night unsupervised in the bush with only a few sticks and leaves for protection is initially frightening. However, by completing the experience with their peers they quickly recognise they are not alone. They can draw on each other’s strengths, often working through problems and challenges as a team, and gaining understanding in dealing with conflict. 

A sense of gratitude, after the discomfort of only having the very basics, is frequently expressed by many students. Staff discuss with the students about pioneers and squatters of the past and encourage the recognition of refugees and people in underdeveloped nations who still live in a similar way in today’s world. The perspective gained by these reflections is invaluable in their overall learning. As leaders and professionals of tomorrow, our students may not live that way again but have the ability to give something back to those who do.

Survival is a big stepping stone for many of the students who pass through the Ironbark gates. It servers to push comfort zones, strengthen friendships and build leaders. By encouraging problem solving and independence students find they are capable of more than they ever felt was possible.