Outdoor Education at its Finest

If you’ve not heard of it before, Ironbark is St Peters’ pioneering outdoor education program based on the College’s 600ha property near Crows Nest, Queensland. Every year, groups of Year 9 students head up to Ironbark for five week blocks. There, they’re required to live a rural life, complete with farm chores, cooking, cleaning, chopping firewood, fencing, hiking, survival camp outs (‘Solo’), team work activities and more. Most notably, they’re required to live a life free from technology—no phones, no television, no internet.

While, on paper, the prospect of a camp like this might seem daunting to many students, the program has not only survived for the last 45 years, but continued to produce cohorts of students who count their Ironbark days among their best St Peters experiences. Since 1976, students have consistently written home raving about the experience—many groups have even applied to return to the camp during their school holidays, eager for another taste of Ironbark life.

So, what is it about Ironbark that excites and energises generations of students? In a recent R.M. Williams OUTBACK Magazine article, Ken Eastwood, got the scoop from Ironbark Director, Matthew Sullivan.

“The core parts of the program have stayed pretty much the same over the past [45] years,” Matthew told Ken. “There are farm activities, outdoor adventure activities, the four-day hike and, at the end, a 24-hour solo experience where [students] sleep out on their own. Those things have stood the test of time.”

Matt shared how, at Ironbark, there’s an emphasis on ‘getting back to basics’.

“Swags, cooking on open fires and in camp ovens, learning how to crack a stockwhip, do leatherwork and blacksmithing. We get a number of kids who have never camped in their life. They’ve never been on a farm before. They really take to it – they see it as a real opportunity to do something different.”

Ken spoke to Matt about the teamwork that’s encouraged through a number of the Ironbark activities and how all the students band together to get their jobs done. He also spoke to recent Ironbark graduates, Year 10 students, Gabbie and Sam.

Gabbie, a St Peters Boarding student from Moree, NSW, said that she particularly liked the four-day hike.

“They basically give you maps and say, ‘There you go, good luck’. It was a really good test of how mature you could be and what you could do.”

Similarly, Sam, a Brisbane-based day student, said that Ironbark helped him to develop a stronger character.

“Waking up and doing the [required 2.5km run at 5:30am] every day has given me persistence and perseverance,” he shared.

Building community and imparting life skills

The R.M. Williams OUTBACK article highlighted the practical skills acquired at Ironbark, but also focussed on the enduring life skills St Peters students take away from the program.

“At Ironbark, I got to know people who I’d never spoken to before,” Gabbie shared, and it’s an experience that most St Peters students share. “You walk out of Ironbark with a new level of maturity...[it’s] awesome.”

To find out more about the St Peters Ironbark experience, click here. To get your hands on the latest copy of the R.M. Williams OUTBACK magazine, visit: https://www.outbackmag.com.au/shop/outback-current-issue/