Anangu have always lived sustainably. For tens of thousands of years they lived in central Australia without any ongoing negative impact on the environment. In the millennia before the arrival of buffel grass, ruby dock, rabbits, camels and donkeys, the ecological system was self-sustaining. Anangu burned land as required, moved to other hunting areas when animals grew scarce, kept water holes clean, and used only biodegradable objects (with the exception of stone tools).
We cannot change the historical fact of European arrival in central Australia, but we can be aware of the impact - positive and negative - this has had on the environment. Some of the environmental changes include graded roads, electricity and plumbing. Other changes include soil degradation, damage to flora through introduced species of animals and plants, litter and climate change - unwelcome by-products of often well-intentioned interventions.
Sustainability is one of the three over-arching themes of the Australian curriculum and should be reflected across the gamut of teaching and learning in all schools. At Nyangatjatjara College we are trying to be better global citizens. We live and work in a complex environmental and social context, and it is easy to see obstacles that stand in the way of taking positive action. Like the environment itself, our strategies are constantly evolving but the ultimate aims remain the same.
Our gardening program has been transformed by the acquisition of wicking beds. These are special garden beds which provide water from below rather than above. Water is filtered through a network of gravel, drainage sand, carpet and absorption tanks to take the water straight to the roots, where it is most needed. Wicking beds use minimal water, minimize evaporation and do not need constant attention.
Our wicking beds were designed by the Centre for Appropriate Technology in Alice Springs for use in remote communities. We have grown watermelons, beetroot, spinach, chillies, broccoli, radishes, lemongrass, spring onions, zucchinis, garlic, parsley and other herbs. The food from the vegetable garden is used in students' lunches. Staff members have also converted some containers from the dump including old fridges and corrugated tanks and made their own wicking beds near their accommodation, showing that this gardening technique can be undertaken effectively with recycled items.
We have an ongoing relationship with international sustainability thinker Professor Paul Clarke. He has made several visits to our College and is a challenging and knowledgeable critical friend. Professor Clarkes says that, "We have to understand education in terms of the big issues of our time, which in my mind are ecological rather than economic." We have linked in with his Pop-Up Foundation and the Digital Natural Archive. He has advised us on setting up a community micro-industry based around the medicinal properties of irmangka-irmangka bushes (a type of Eremophila).
Students have undertaken many practical environmental projects. For example, as part of their Science studies, Imanpa students collected seeds at Angas Downs Station. These were grown, with the aim of feeding back into the Carbon Credit Project. Imanpa students also participated in a water quality ecology project. Docker River secondary students went to Urrurru and Tjikulpa waterholes with Rangers to help monitor water quality and record flora and fauna.
Our students and teachers have undertaken fauna surveys at several sites, with the aim of increasing knowledge about species, numbers and habitats. One of the surveys was aimed at determining whether there are any brush-tailed possums left in the Katiti-Petermann Indigenous Protected Area, and was conducted in conjunction with Rangers and Parks Australia scientists. Another survey was conducted at Lake Amadeus, again with Parks Australia scientists, and found painted dragoons, goannas, skinks and marsupial mice. The College is also trying to grow desert quandong, known by Anangu as 'mangata', a threatened local species, with a long-term goal of reinforcing the diminishing plant population and helping avoid local extinction in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.