EnvironmentLearning about the environment

Educational experiences – environmental learnings

Marshmead – an exercise in sustainability

Ivy Sheng

Ivy Sheng is a Year 9 student at MLC. Here she describes the journey she went through in her thinking while at Marshmead, the school’s remote residential campus in East Gippsland’s Croajingolong National Park.

Two weeks ago, I climbed onto a bus at the creak of dawn, clutching a novel, pillow and journal, my heart tight in my throat and palms damp from nerves. Three Year 9 classes were setting off to Marshmead for a two-month sustainability program.

Excitement mingled with worry. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a chance to forge closer friendships and to be part of a sustainable community that uses a circular system to recycle resources. However, two months was the longest I’d been away from home.

End of first week

After days of gruelling repetition interspersed with encouragement, I finally managed to ride a bike for the first time. I’m beyond proud of the mindset with which I approached this and other tasks. I saw each not ‘tasks’ to conquer, but opportunities for growth and challenge.

Innate human instinct seems that we gravitate towards the trees, the grass and the tranquillity of the cool breeze. The natural world puts things into perspective; particularly so for the climate crisis – at once so extensive and seemingly imponderable, rendering all else essentially trivial.

A meditation

For me, the Marshmead experience resembles a daily morning meditation where irrelevant thoughts are allowed simply ‘drift off in the breeze’, freeing me to think more deeply and clearly. By allowing me to let go of the unimportant, Marshmead constantly reminded me of what is vital; emphasising the most crucial values and making me aware of the immediate consequences of every choice, for the environment and the community.

While resting one night, I came to realise we humans hold so much power and influence; the young more so. But as we age, the routine of life so quickly gets in the way. We really have everything we need. And we can learn so much from each other’s diverse communities: how to live more sustainably, and how better to serve others. I think it’s in our nature to be somewhat ‘self-regarding’ – we can’t take that part of humanity away. But what we CAN do, is expand the part of us that feels empathy and compassion, and try to live by that, to hold it at the forefront of our minds.

The importance of love

I believe that without love we cannot fight for or protect anyone or anything. However, I think love can be learned through observation and by talking to those who have lived experience – people whose lives have been impacted, people at the frontline of the big battles such as climate change, and people just like me. Students, activists, social workers, doctors, lawyers, the young and the elderly and everyone in between. We all have a role to play, and with love we can work to achieve our goals.

Just as physical activity at Marshmead is not a chore but a culture, this is more than a place, but a mission. The physical environment here perpetuates this mission, with the transition from diesel generators to solar and battery, for example, accompanying the students on their own missions of self-discovery!

Post Marshmead reflections

Ivy Sheen

In the March 2024 edition of Eastsider News, Year 9 student at Methodist Ladies College wrote about her feelings as she headed off to spend several weeks at Marshmead, the school’s regional campus bordering the Croajingolong National Park in far East Gippsland. Here, back in Melbourne, Ivy reflects on the experience.

Life in the suburbs was all I knew – not just a setting but a background to nearly all my significant childhood memories. But at Marshmead, my dreams of work in environmental policy were forged into something I now felt was attainable.

The sudden abundance of natural space and wildlife at Marshmead after years of suburban life felt like it was encroaching upon my carefully constructed set of rigid values – the pent-up stringency I’ve come to embrace as my ‘comfort zone’. In nature, the weather can’t be directed, only predicted. The environment cannot bend to my will – unable to provide the scaffolding that I was confident would allow me to step up into the idealized world of my aspirations. The roles were reversed – nature reigned. Marshmead was a river I had to cross, and I was at the mercy of factors outside of my control.

Upon return, the paradigms have shifted… as they say. Small things I’ve picked up during this time: crumbs of the books I’ve devoured, slivers of inspiration from the documentaries we’ve watched, insights of life I’ve gained enroute; things I’ve noticed with my eyes and ears, have all taught me invaluable lessons. Nature follows its own system; it forces you to let go of your shallow ego and pay attention to something much, much bigger than yourself.

I now know, for example, that love isn’t necessarily an innate concept – in order to fight for or protect anything, you must first learn to love it. Marshmead has done for me something immeasurably valuable. It has solidified my love for the natural world, shown me the devastating effects of our consumerist system on the planet, and compelled me to step up, not only for nature, but for humanity.

I’m truly thankful to all the dedicated Marshmead staff for this transformative experience. I’ve cherished the natural wonders, and plan to pursue these interests back at home.

Postscript: Ivy learned to ride a bike at Marshmead and has started a bike riding club with friends around the Kew area. The  ink drawing below was created by Ivy.

Top Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay