Reflecting on Class 4’s Werribee Experience

Last term Class 4 experienced Werribee Zoo and Werribee Mansion on their camping excursion. Here accompanying parent Kate McGann reflects on their journey.

33 hours. 25 children. 4 adults. Inclement weather. Camping. Giraffes. Lions. Rhinoceros. Zebras. Oryx. Meerkats. Gorillas. Monkeys. Mongolian Horses. Hippos. Bandicoots. Scratchy school slates. The dreaded cane. Chamber pots. Magnificent windows and staircases. Seemingly endless hallways.

Our children had so much to observe and absorb in such a short period on their camp to Werribee. So many themes with which to grapple. At the Open Range Zoo they listened to the positive and negative effects we as humans have on the world around us. Stories of species being brought to the edge of extinction by human action; then being brought back from the brink by breeding in captivity programs, to be released into the wild. They were provided with opportunities to find stillness in order to gain a sense of the animal they were observing. Elderly lions, with their manes now shed, slowly and leisurely grooming each other. The mesmerising effect of an indeterminable number of hippos steadily rising from the water, only to disappear again without trace. The lanky, yet somehow graceful gait of the giraffes alongside the safari truck. The sturdy and immoveable presence of the rhinos. The Tawny Frogmouth – was it a statue, was it real? Koala spotting in the eucalypts. There was much admiration of the 150 year old bluestone shearing shed – so beautifully and cleverly crafted. Our children, accustomed to creating with their own hands, had an appreciation for the effort that had gone into its construction.

At Werribee Park Mansion the children were invited to experience the lives of their peers in a wealthy household during the Victorian era. They were told of the invisibility of children…their confinement to the nursery with a nanny. The lack of emotional intimacy between parents and children. The disinterest in their opinions. Strict and physical disciplinary methods. The difference in the educational opportunities provided to girls and boys. The narrow definitions of gender roles. They observed the difference between the opulence enjoyed by the family upstairs and the starkness of the servants’ quarters. They were told of the hierarchy amongst staff within the household. The age of the youngest maids on staff – so close to their own age – who had the unenviable job of emptying the family’s chamber pots. Epically gross, I believe! Our children expressed the outrage we may expect from their privileged, 21st century viewpoints. They were also asked to consider the sustainable use of materials of the times in comparison to the present. Slates versus paper, the quantities of clothing and toys and the composition of these items. There was much food for thought.

In amongst all these new experiences, was the necessity of tent raising and setting down, taking responsibility for personal items, washing and drying dishes, attempting to sleep…all requiring lashings of 9 and 10 year old diplomacy. I saw so much kindness between the children. So much generosity. Helping each other subdue wayward sleeping bags that were resisting their covers. Working together to raise and set down their tents, with the complication of wet flies from overnight rain. Sharing a very limited supply of pencils and drawing paper on the bus. Writing stories to provide each other with a giggle on the long trip home. Bodies being used as pillows for tired bus mates. Concern for a travel-sick class member.

It was a privilege to be a quiet observer of Class 4 while they encountered so much that was new and challenging to them. I believe I witnessed them stretch and grow. All in 33 hours.