43rd Anniversary of Christmas Creek Address

When I was asked to give the address today, to be honest I was slightly apprehensive. The thought of speaking in front of an assembly makes me feel nervous. But I sat with the discomfort where I can think clearly, in nature, and started reflecting on the beginning and purpose of Marrapatta. My reflections led me to the themes of bravery and courage in the face of discomfort, choices, and making memories. In times of discomfort, we are called on to be brave, to make a choice; we can choose to accept the discomfort and trust in the learning that follows or chose to step back and miss an opportunity.

A defining moment of bravery and courage in our School’s history was the tragedy of Christmas Creek. If you are new to our community, let me take you back to the morning of Saturday 21 April 1979, a time before mobile phones. The Principal at the time, Ms Judith Hancock, had seen the value in girls participating in activities other than those ‘that contribute to one’s semester scores (Dale, 1999)’, so had given John Stamford, a young science teacher, and outdoor enthusiast, the task of implementing and developing a forward-looking Outdoor Education program at BGGS.

After gaining his diploma in Outdoor Education, his first major expedition was to Christmas Creek, in the foothills of the McPherson Ranges that border New South Wales. With 19 students and four staff on board, nearing their destination, the bus went around a left-hand curve in the road and then slowly down a slight gradient. As the bus moved over to the edge of the roadway to avoid a spoon drain, the earth under the passenger side gave way causing the bus to leave the road. Both staff and students were injured in the accident and unfortunately, John Stamford, his wife Janelle, and two Year 10 students, Helen Gahan and Jillian Skaines, lost their lives.

There are stories of bravery here, as another Science teacher, Sue Johnston, and a student ran two kilometres to get help from the local farmer. In the days, weeks, months, and years that followed, the Girls Grammar community has chosen to respond with bravery and courage in the face of this tragedy. The Christmas Creek disaster could have spelled the end, not only for Outdoor Education but for all adventurous innovation in the School. Yet, instead of retreating, the School community chose to face the discomfort and the result is the splendid site and Outdoor Education programs we have at Marrapatta today.

While many staff and students have come and gone through the gates of Marrapatta, or Imbil as it was previously known, the essence of Marrapatta stays the same—a place to reconnect young women with themselves, others, and the world around them. I am grateful for those who have walked before me, have taught me the magic of Marrapatta, and shared their experiences and learnings with me.

Marrapatta is not a place to go on ‘camp’; it is the heart and soul of shared experience here at Girls Grammar. It is one of the core experiences that bring us together as a community and has done for 35 years. Marrapatta is an intentional Outdoor Education program, it’s not the activities at Marrapatta that make the memories, but the choices you make along the journey that grow you as an individual and us as a community. The Outdoor Education program at Marrapatta allows us all time and space away from our daily lives to be in nature, to slow down, to have fun, to explore who we are and how to become the best version of ourselves. None of us has the same life behind us or ahead of us. We are all on our own life adventure through the twists and turns, the ups and downs. How we navigate the journey depends on how we choose to respond to the events that occur throughout our life, just like the School community did back in 1987 when they purchased the land that Marrapatta stands on as a living memorial that reminds us all of the courage so many showed when faced with the great adversity of Christmas Creek. It’s the shared experiences of laughing around a campfire that brings us closer, it’s the adventure paddling across the dam or the challenge of hiking up to the ‘Tippy Top’ that build our tenacity, it’s the quiet reflective moments watching the sunrise and thinking about all that we are grateful for that are the memories we create that last a lifetime. It is what you take from the fun experience that makes the fond memories and connections.

At times we feel challenged at Marrapatta, whether it be physically, emotionally or socially. It is on the edge of where we feel comfortable that we can choose to be brave, chose to take the step, choose to accept a failure, choose to grow from our experiences, choose to do something different.  So, what do you choose to do today? We are fortunate that our School provides a myriad of learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom, opportunities to pave the way for future thinking, to imagine in a different way, to explore possibilities.

Whether you chose to swim to the other side of a lake, whether you choose to go into medicine to help others, whether you choose to help an elderly person with their shopping, whether you choose to stand up and be heard about social injustice in our world or whether you choose to face your fears and give an address at assembly, it’s what positive impacts these experiences leave in your heart that matter. I hope that the experiences you had, or will have, at Marrapatta will show you that you have the courage to sit in the discomfort and bravery to do difficult things. Whatever path you choose, we want you to go forth with the knowledge you can achieve hard things, you can stretch and adapt, go forth and be thoughtful, brave, and kind leaders of change.

Ms Kim Wood
Director of Outdoor Education