S1E8 Chewton Primary School

Julie Holden is the principal of the Chewton Primary School.  Under her leadership the school has achieved a five star sustainability rating, the highest rating there is. Find out what she and her team and the students at Chewton Primary School have done to achieve this.

This episode was created in 2018 as part of an eight part series called An Environment For Change. This series was supported by MAINfm and the Mount Alexander Shire Council.


Julie Holden: What do you need?

Student: The green screen.

Julie: The green screen? 

Student: Yeah.

Julie: What is a green screen?

Student: So, it’s something you put at the back and you can… it’s like that.

Julie: But its green? Who said it was in here?

Students: Kiera and Scott…and me.  Laughter. Oh, did we interrupt something? 

Julie: Yeah.

Allie and Julie laugh.

Students: Sorry, ah, usually there is no one in here, sorry.  It’s my fault!

Theme music for An Environment for Change plays.

Allie Hanly: You are listening to An Environment for Change, an eight-part series looking at some of the many people in the Mount Alexander Shire who are working to combat climate change and promote sustainable living. These are local people who are working towards changing our habits so we can all move forward into a vibrant, healthy, and sustainable future.

In this series we’ll hear from local farmers, Boomerang Bags, Repair Cafe, local environment groups, activists, and concerned citizens. You can hear it at 9:00 AM on Monday mornings on MainFM 94.9 or listen anytime by jumping online to the MainFM SoundCloud page.  This series was made possible by a community grant from the Mount Alexander Shire council.

Today on An Environment for Change, I’m speaking with Julie Holden Principal of the Chewton Primary School. In Julie’s time as Principal at Chewton the school has gone from a one-star sustainability rating to five stars. So today we’ll find out what it takes to make a small country school excel in sustainability.

But first, who is she? Why does she care? And when did this passion for sustainability start for her?

Julie: I did have a little stint at Chewton Primary School 30 years ago, where I actually started a sustainability program.

Allie: You were already onto it!

Julie: Yes, and I guess I would really like to start with that journey because I often think about that, in that last night we were doing some work around respectful relationships using some photographs that were taken 30 years ago, and yet we’re still talking the same thing and we had new photos. So, 30 years ago when I was here, my job was to teach the science program and I started a recycling program from there. And we had big hessian bags and we were collecting the bottles and we were collecting the newspaper and the Fire Brigade came and did it. So, I actually taught sustainability as a subject 30 years ago. 

Allie: Wow. How do you feel like it’s changed or if it hasn’t changed in what ways is it exactly the same? 

Julie: I was lucky when I started here seven years ago because our school was ready for a change and I had come from a very environmental background and we only had 19 students. So, we had to make some really significant changes to our school. And parents were very interested in sustainability; they were very interested in student welfare. They were both things that I was passionate about, so it came together really, really well. So, we were able to write a new three-year plan based around student welfare and sustainability, and were very lucky that the government was also starting to put funds into both those programs.

So, from a sustainability perspective we then hooked up with Sustainability in Schools Program, and they were offering a lot of money for schools to come on board with their program. So, I was very reluctant to come completely on board because there was a huge amount of work. However, parents were very keen and they kept me focused. So having that structure with school sustainability, we were able to then set ourselves some small achievable goals to get to where we are, which is now a five-star sustainable school. 

Allie: So, going back a little bit, you mentioned you had a history, a personal history in sustainability before you came to Chewton Primary 30 years ago. So, what was that? That would have been the late eighties, early nineties?

Julie:  So, you know, I am approaching 60 and sustainability was something I grew up with, not necessarily from saving the planet but from saving money. So, our family did always turn off lights; did always recycle; did always reuse, because that was the way that you saved money. So, I then took that on as a young adult, but took it on more from an environmental perspective. That was just my interest; as teachers we all know what our strengths are, and mine was in sustainable education and having an interest in those sorts of programs.

Allie: So, you grew up with a certain amount of understanding to reduce, reuse, recycle, as people would say these days. Was there a moment in your life where you…where it really crystallised for you and made you think, “no, this is really important, this is something that we have to work on.”

Julie: I think with all of us, once we have children—well, most of us, once we have children—we sort of look more to the future and what that planet’s going to look like for them. And we are very privileged in the education system that we actually are working with children and we do know that they are very influenced by their teachers. We have to be very careful at times what we actually say because they take what the teacher says as gospel. But when you’ve got such a great message such as sustainability, it’s a message that you can get through really creatively and children will hook onto that really easily. 

Allie: So how did you come back to Chewton Primary? And did you come back as principal or as a teacher?

Julie: I was working…I had the opportunity to manage the Annexe School at Guilford, having had 30 years teaching at Campbells Creek, and it was a small school environment and I loved it.  I was the only teacher and I basically had programs that I could do and take wherever I wanted. And I had a huge amount of parent support out there, who all had this sustainable feel about them. They really love those sorts of programs, so we started the classic things that schools do when they start their journey, like building the chook house out of mud bricks. So, all of the Guilford community would come out and we’d have a barbecue and we’d spend a weekend building a chook house out of mud bricks. 

We started doing our vegetable gardens—we actually came out to Chewton School to have a look at the vegetable gardens that were built out here—then I was the leading teacher at Guilford; I wasn’t the principal of Guilford. So as much as I was really enjoying what I was doing, I was still under the leadership of the principal of Campbell’s Creek.

I didn’t have any principal aspirations whatsoever, however, just in my inbox came the position at Chewton and I thought I might look into that. Having looked into that and applied and had an interview, I then sat in the car and cried my eyes out and thought I’m not going into that interview because I really love what I do at Guilford. However, I plucked up enough courage and went into the interview and halfway through the interview, the School Council President said “You seem to really love the work that you do at Guilford. Why are you coming to Chewton?” And I burst into tears again and said, “I don’t want to leave Guildford, I want to stay there, but can you give me a minute to compose and I will tell you why I want to come to Chewton?” So once again I ended up at Chewton; I was successful and obviously the tears were fine, they allowed me to compose. 

And I really had just this opportunity to take this journey and have a school community behind me. So, there wasn’t any blockers, any barriers; it wasn’t like some principals wanted to have a sustainability program in their schools, but they’ve got staff that are blocking it or parents that are blocking it; it was everybody was on board and everybody was helpful and everybody wanted the same outcome. 

Allie: So, tell me what it was like in the early days. And how did you attain the five-star rating?  I’m assuming you were not five stars when you started.

Julie: Okay, so the School Sustainability Program, you have to get a star, there’s five stars. So, our School Council President at the time was very confident that we would become a five-star school; she wasn’t doing all of the work however she was helping. At that stage seven years ago, it was incredibly challenging. You got support from the team, but I was teaching full-time. There was two teachers and we had 19 students: I had a class and the other teacher had a class. And for me to get any time at this, it was a matter of combining the classes. However, we did do it; it was a lot of weekends and we started small. So, we started with the easy things like electricity, because that’s where the grant was, so once we could actually do something about our electricity use we were able to get a $10,000 grant.

So it was, you know, that was a really big incentive—money is always an incentive—and as a school, at that point, we didn’t have any money. So, we thought, “okay, we’ll go for that.” So, we achieved all of the electrical sort of outcomes which are easy: changing light globes, changing the habits, getting kids to switch off lights, looking at how we can draft-proof our school, looking at what we can double glaze, putting insulation into the ceilings. And that made a huge difference.  Having an audit done…what can we do? 

So, once you have got star one, you sort of think, well yes, we can go for star two. But you don’t… it’s not like you just work on electricity or you work on waste or you work on water or you work on biodiversity, doing a little bit of each one.  You get a bit inspired after you get your first star, but it is a lot about writing policy and implementing programs, but the hardest bit is uploading all of the evidence. As teachers we can often do all the work, but to actually become a five-star school you have actually got to show all the evidence. But, it was fine. It was just taking it easy. 

So, you do the easy stuff: recycle bins in the classroom; compost space, that’s easy; rubbish-free lunch, that’s easy; and then you leave the harder, more challenging things until a little bit later on.  Early in this stage…or I guess what works really well for our school is that there is a huge amount of teaching resources to help you integrate sustainability into your everyday programs. So, when we write our curriculum and when we teach our curriculum…sustainability is embedded in what we do. So, no matter what unit that you are teaching you look to see where there is a sustainability focus that would fit in with that unit. 

At the moment, all of the teachers are looking at waters and waterways: from the big questions about what mini beasts do we have in our waterways at Chewton primary school, which is a question for the Prep One classes, to what would the world look like without oceans in the Five and Six classes.  And working around that topic, you then incorporate some sustainability topics and some sustainability subjects around that. It is not all about sustainability, but it will fit in nicely. Some of it is around our understanding of Torres Strait and Aboriginal learnings, and some of it is around our engagement with Asia, but sustainability is the through-line through all of that. 

In mathematics, it fits in absolutely beautifully. So, if you’re looking at graphing, you look at your energy use, and you’ll show the kids what our energy use has been for the day—we can actually bring that up—this is how much electricity we have used. Why did it peak at 12 o’clock? Why did it stop at three o’clock in the morning? What was happening at one o’clock?  

And we can see the same thing with water, so I can bring up a graph of our water use and the children can actually look at that graph and see that at lunchtime our water used goes up because all the kids are flushing toilets and using the water fountains. What happens if you leave the hose on? Why have we got timers on there? What are the problems with the timers? So, there’s real-time learning that really links to what they’re doing in mathematics and links to what they’re doing in English which links to what they’re doing in science.

So around sustainability, it fits in really well with our school’s strong Indigenous perspective, in that, as well as making sure that we have a sustainable element to our curriculum, we also have an Indigenous element when it fits. So once again, if the children are learning about frogs, for example, you would look at well, how did the Aboriginal people use frogs? Why are they important? What did the frogs tell the Aboriginal people about what foods might be available in this area. It’s more than just doing an acknowledgement of country or flying three flags; it’s always respecting the Aboriginal input into how Chewton developed. 

So, if we are looking at gold, for example, in Chewton and how the land was denuded of trees: how did that displace the Aboriginal people? So how did they cope with that? Where did they go? How did their lives have to change? If we’re looking, as we were last week, at comparing weeds in Chewton to Indigenous foods in Chewton, and when we went out the back and found out that our bushland didn’t have any Indigenous foods, the students then had to think about, well, what could we do to introduce more Indigenous Aboriginal foods to our area? So, when we’re doing our new planning in the bushlands next year, are there foods that we could actually grow? Are there indigenous foods we could actually grow in the area? There may or may not, but we would have to go and find that out for ourselves.

Allie: And have you been working with Auntie Julie and The Meeting Place? (Meeting Place is an education program teaching the curriculum “through culture to country” https://nalderun.net.au/programs/)

Julie: So, our school works really closely with Nalderun (a service that supports the Aboriginal community, led by Aboriginal people in the Mount Alexander Shire); we don’t have any Aboriginal students at our school; however, we do have…last term we took a group of students out to The Meeting Place so they could find out what was happening there. When we are planning our curriculum, we contact Nalderun and say, “this is our unit of work for next term, can you give us an Aboriginal perspective on that?” and they are fantastic.  So, Auntie Julie and the other members of that team will send us links and send us out resources that can help us to teach those programs. It’s not the whole program, it might just be one of the series of lessons of 10, but that one lesson we’ll have an Aboriginal perspective.

So, we plan to do something every couple of years; a big project. So last year we booked two buses and they went with Auntie Julie and we had a geologist, and the geologist was telling the scientific story about how the mountains and all the landforms formed and Auntie Julie told the Aboriginal story. And next year I’m planning on putting in our budget to book a bus and we will have an Indigenous person on that bus taking us around all of the areas that are significant to their local Aboriginal people. So, they are big projects and are expensive because you’ve got a bus for the day, so, we don’t do them every year; it’s something we’ll put in for every second year. 

But in between time we do smaller things. So, typical was we had maths night a few weeks ago; we invited some people from Nalderun and they taught the families how to count in the native language from the Dja Dja Wurrung. So, while some children were doing graphing and some were playing dice games and some were doing measurement, one group was learning the Aboriginal way to count to ten in Dja Dja Wurrung.

Sounds of children outside playing and chatting and calling, with background piano theme music.  Allie speaks over the top

Allie: You’re listening to An Environment for Change on MainFM 94.9. Today I’m speaking with Julie Holden, the Principal of the five-star sustainability rated Chewton Primary School.

So how did you go from one star onwards? You don’t have to give details about each star, but you could give a broad sweep.

Julie: A lot of the work for a five-star school was around writing policy and policies are painful to write; and policies have then got to be implemented and then got to be continued to be implemented. It is about having that conversation and having conversations with not just myself, but having the conversation with the staff and the students and trying to get as many parents on board as you can. Parents are very keen to have sustainability in this school, but taking time off work to help write policies is a big ask and students are really keen to have an input, but in the end, it does come down to a couple of teachers really working on that. So, policy gets written and habit gets changed. 

The challenge is to keep the changed habits and keep the momentum going.  And today I did a check of the rubbish bins as I often do, and you notice that some children have started putting food items back into the rubbish bins, so it’s a bit of a reminder. So, tomorrow morning at assembly, we will talk about why there are food items in our rubbish bins and why has this happened. And hopefully a couple of the children would say, “well, the compost bins are not going back to the eating area now that we’ve started eating outside again.” So, they have to come up with why is that happening and what’s the solution.

It will be the same when winter starts and we get into the habit of not closing any doors: what has to change? What can we do differently? So, it’s always refreshing it, keeping it alive and working out that it’s not “oh we’ve done it we have ticked the box, there’s no more work to do”, there’s always work to do; there’s always work of making it relevant, making it interesting, keeping the children engaged.

And once again that’s become easier because it’s so highlighted in the media. Straw No More (Program initiated by a young girl to rid the world’s oceans of plastic straws) was a really typical example of that. I teach all the classes, so I got on board with that one and we were looking at the War on Waste (ABC Television program) And what happens with programs like War on Waste is that there are snippets that are set up just for students, so we don’t have to sit and watch a whole half hour of War on Waste, I can just pick five minutes that has been selected by people that produce television for children—the ABC—they produced that five minute segment that I can show the kids, start the conversation going and then they take it from there. 

So, the Straw No More was very student driven, so we started off with the turtle: the kids talked about why they use straws, why we could get rid of the straws, what were the implications of getting rid of the straws? They then took that to the staff who were a bit like, “but we use plastic straws for art, we really like using plastic straws.” We then took it to a whole school vote; the students voted on it—if we don’t have plastic straws in our school, what would that look like? Well, it would mean that for most of them, they wouldn’t be able to bring fruit boxes anymore. Are you comfortable with that? Because your fruit boxes have all got straws. 

And they were fine with that and it went into policy. We changed the healthy eating policy; we changed the sustainability policy and added that in, and there hasn’t been a plastic straw in our school ground since. It was one of the most instant policy changes that we made. And the children will come up to me if they do find a straw, “somebody must’ve been in our school grounds over the weekend ‘cause look, I just found this straw!” They got right on board with it. 

Allie: Yeah, great. I find it really interesting, that part of your process—I mean, policy seems like such an adult world of dry bureaucracy— but part of the process of changing the policy was actually asking the kids if they would support it and try to brainstorm solutions with them.

Julie: It can’t be teacher, parent driven, it has to come from the kids; they have to negotiate. If they had their way however, a healthy eating policy would not have any wrappers on it whatsoever. But as the principal of the school, I’ve also got to think about the repercussions from our parents, and some parents would find that really hard. There’s no chocolate bars, there’s no lollies, there’s no chips, there’s no Cheazels, there’s no fatty food snacks, however, parents do like to pack muesli bars; muesli bars come in wrappers. And the students have often said we could get rid of muesli bars and they would very happily vote for that. Parents would find that annoying and so I haven’t gone down that track. The students themselves get to review the healthy eating policy every year and they agree on what goes in there. 

Allie: So how many students do you have here now? 

Julie: We now have 81. I attribute a lot of that to our sustainability profile. Parents that come to our school, they like what we do; they like the way we work with biodiversity, they like the values we are teaching and they can see that it’s actually happening with our students. We’re actually at a point now where we’re going to be reducing our numbers because 81 students isn’t sustainable in four classrooms and we don’t qualify for a portable classroom under the new State rules about portable classrooms in schools. So, we would like to manage our numbers and get that to around about 65, 70 students, which means that we are only enrolling students from the Chewton community for the next few years until our numbers decrease.

Allie: Tell me about the biodiversity. How do you achieve that within a school grounds? 

Julie: Biodiversity is actually one of the easier ones because kids LOVE biodiversity! So, the children actually are in leadership teams and leadership teams have control over, or not control over, they lead certain sections of our sustainability journey.  Over the years that’s been modified, so it used to be our leadership teams in each of the areas: biodiversity, energy, water, and waste. You can’t keep with that all the time, you’ve got to make it fresh, and all the children wanted to be on the biodiversity one because they were the ones doing the frog watch or the audits; a lot of the fun things around insects and seed planting, whereas waste and energy can become a bit dry after a couple of years. So, we still have student leaderships, but they are now called just sustainability. 

With biodiversity, the ground is very well planned. It doesn’t mean that we get rid of all our beautiful deciduous trees and our beautiful daffodils and jonquils and everything else that’s not native in our garden, but it does mean that we have parts of that garden that will only be planted in local indigenous plants. So, as we do replanting, not only are they native plants but they’re indigenous to Chewton. So, all of the replanting that we did this year, those plants fitted those criteria. So, it’s not pull out everything and start all over again, and it is only sections of our garden, so, we’re still able to plant a Banksia. I did a unit on Banksia men with the Prep Two class a couple of weeks ago, and they loved Banksia men and I had Banksia cones and we talked about the seeds and putting them in the oven and all of the beautiful stories around that. So, I went to the nursery and bought a Banksia tree, which is not indigenous to Chewton, but we’re still allowed to do things like that so our policy and biodiversity policy are not that rigid that we can’t have those things happening. 

The children as I said, are studying water life and the mini beasts in ponds, and yet they had built their cubbies inside our pond and put planks and cardboard and saucepans in our pond. So, I took the kids down there last week and said, “well, you are learning about this, and you think that it is important, but look at our pond!” So, they cleaned it all out with me and then if you look around our yard, a couple of them decided they would make signs around everywhere about how we’ve got to look after our pond, because we know that the frogs are going to be laying tadpoles in there and eggs in there in a couple of weeks. So, you sort of start the conversation with the children, they take it on and away they go with it. 

Allie: Are you working with a local Landcare or other environment groups to help you achieve some of these goals?

Julie: Castlemaine is full of environmental groups and so is Chewton! So, Chewton has three groups: we have Post Office Hill Landcare and they manage the land behind our school. And for older people of Castlemaine, they will remember when that was the tip site and when that tip at Chewton was closed Post Office Hill took over that land, and so that’s one site that we manage, and we have currently got a grant application in with them. And they’ve done a lot of work with us around bird boxes and bat boxes; children building the boxes, putting the boxes up around our school, going out with cameras and looking to see which…who’s using which box—which has always the wrong creature in the wrong box—but that’s exciting as well!

We work with Golden Point Landcare and we’ve done a lot of work around Forest Creek with Golden Point Landcare and there is also Chewton Landcare as well. We work very closely with Connecting Country. They did a major project with us last year, which was frog habitat. So that was a whole community project which we tapped into and took a small part of it. And we set up some habitat stations just outside our school grounds, which the children then monitored and created a film about, but it was part of a bigger project. 

Allie: And are you working with other primary schools or other schools in the area since you’ve achieved the five-star rating? And I’m assuming other schools are also interested. Have you been collaborating with other schools?

Julie: So, Sustainability Victoria with the school’s program, they get other schools together and they get to share ideas. There’s quite a lot of Castlemaine schools on that journey and we are the second Castlemaine school ‘cause Winter’s Flat is also a five-star school, and so there’s lots of information sharing. There is also opportunities for us to share in unusual ways. Two years ago, we did a school production with another local school because we shared the Creek and we had a story about our Creek and the sustainability story around that. I was talking before about embedding sustainability in all of our programs, it even comes down to a school production. So currently we have a school production called ‘Bite’ and there will be a sustainability element in that school production.

Allie: Okay. I have heard that you might be leaving this school. Is that true? So what I was wondering is…

Julie: Laughs. Yes, it is public, A lot of people are really secretive about it; I’m not! I am very open about it.

Allie: How do you feel about passing on this legacy? And do you feel like it’s secure enough that it will just keep going? 

Julie: We’ve made sure that sustainability is part of our strategic plan; our strategic plan is a four-year plan. It is specifically, explicitly mentioned as part of the four-year plan. That strategic plan does end in 2019, which is a year that… 2020, sorry, and I won’t be here in 2020. Next year will be my final year, but I’m transitioning into retirement, so I will be back for a little bit, half of next year. So, the school will be used to having a different leader for six months, and that will be a little bit of a test to see how sustainable it is for the future, and then I’ll be back for six months. But it’s been a journey of handing over those skills, so another staff member now takes over the role that I would do, so in the past when there were professional development days and uploading all of our data on our systems, that was something I did, now I give that teacher time-release—I teach his class and he has the opportunity to learn those skills—so there is certainly another teacher that will drive the program. 

And it’s already written into our curriculum. So, our curriculum is already there, the policy is already there and we still have those incredibly passionate parents that are still there. So yeah, I am confident that it will continue because it is one of the reasons that many families have chosen this school and I think as ‘Chewtonites’ they will talk very loud and very proud about what they want for their school in the future. 

Allie: So, one of the things you mentioned is that you do bin audits, or you go through the rubbish. Do you think the new principal will be prepared to do that? 

Julie: I do sometimes wonder about my job list and how another principal would do that!  

One of the things that I do is that we can’t recycle all of the rubbish on our site because we just have a paper rubbish collection, but we also have cans and bottles from cooking programs and other things that happen in our school, so every week I take that recycling home and put it in my recycling bin. I do wonder about that job, you know, weekly you need to take the recycling out. I do make sure that the chooks are alive and that they had been fed and that the fox hasn’t eaten them, and the kids know, when some staff just wonder whether we still do have chooks! But I’m hoping that there’s not too many little jobs that I do that other people won’t take on.

One of the big ones for us is when we’re purchasing or building, making sure that we repair first, but that doesn’t always work for us: last year, the staffroom heater—two years ago—the staffroom heater broke down and we should have replaced, we decided to repair because we were all for “let’s see if we can repair it.” And look, we got another two years out of that. Cost-wise that probably wasn’t effective, but it was about, let’s just not throw out the old and get new because it’s broken. 

We’re currently building an outdoor stage for the students and that will be made of recycled materials, so we’ll use as many recycled materials as we can. So, when we build our picnic tables, it would have been cheaper to have used new materials, but we used recycled timber. We are currently building an outdoor kitchen and it will have as many recycled materials in that kitchen that we can possibly use.  When it comes to putting a fridge in that kitchen, we will use our old staffroom fridge, and we will buy a new fridge for the staff room, but it will be the highest rating energy-wise that we can possibly do.

So, in the short-term that costs the school more money. Often using recycled materials is more expensive because it’s harder for a builder to put them together, but it’s just what we have decided that we will do.  When we purchase paper, we purchase recycled paper as much as we can. It’s always considered, it’s not compulsory, but we do as much of that as we possibly can.

And look, what are some of the other things we do? Well, we’re looking at one now: the Street Libraries, so one of the things that we do is have a lot of buy, swap, sell or shop-swap type events. And the children have just asked the Men’s Shed to build a street library that they designed and it’ll all be about teachers and students being able to bring a book, take a book and recycle a book. We had a book fair last week, and instead of children buying new books from book companies, parents all brought books from home and children used 20 and 50 cent coins and bought a second-hand book rather than buying new books.

They are really keen to have a used clothes sale and hopefully we’ll get that done before the end of the year. So, the children will actually be all bringing used clothes. 

Allie: And going back to your childhood where a lot of the motivation was actually financial—to sell the books again to the next year level and the clothes and the uniforms as the kids grow out of them so fast—you’re actually not only working sustainably, but you’re working to help families be able to afford all of these things too.

Julie: That was really important with the book sale, because when you get a publishing company to come and do a book sale, every book is 10 to $15. Whereas if we just using, well not just using, if we’re using second-hand books—most of them were just almost in mint condition—every child could be involved and if they didn’t have a coin, they just came to me and I gave them a coin and it just got recycled, and I put it back in the coin shop in the end, but every child could be involved so there was no child that was left out of buying a book. 

One of the other parts of sustainability is active travel. And I guess that’s one of our real trumps, in that we do promote cycling. We’ve just had a grant to put a cage around our bike shed so that children can cycle to school, then if it pours rain or they’ve got to go to ballet or football or whatever other after school activity they’ve got, they can leave their bikes here and the bikes will be locked up and be safe. 

We’re now trying to get a grant to get a fleet of bikes, so then instead of taking a bus to sporting events in Castlemaine, if we’ve just got our Five Sixes going off to play netball there at the stadium, the children will actually cycle to the stadium and cycle back and a bus won’t be involved.

We have a biannual bike ride—which I’m not a hundred percent sure that we’ll continue with the new principal, hopefully it will—where every second year we do a two-day bike ride. So, six years ago we cycled from Geelong to Queenscliff; two years ago we cycled from Heathcote to Bendigo; this year we’re cycling back again, Geelong to Queenscliff.  We had 33 students cycling and 22 parents, which is a real indication of how parents really value that promotion of active lifestyle.

Allie: I noticed also your Walk to School step footprints on all your… 

Julie: Yeah, so we get involved in all of those initiatives around Walk to School, Cycle to School, and rather than making it a big thing, it’s just slightly promoted and it becomes something that we just do so. It might just be, it doesn’t have to be a big breakfast and fancy dress, it can be, “I’m going to meet as many families as I can down at the park today and we just got to walk to school.” So, it doesn’t have to be big; it can be simple, but just keeping it alive and in people’s heads. Every now and then a parent will come up with “Oh look, I could actually get a group of students and we could walk from here.” One of our big problems with active travel is at the moment 50% of our students live outside of Chewton, so a lot of them do come by car or come by bus. 

Allie: Chewton also has some very long windy dirt roads that might be difficult for some kids to ride up and down.  They’re quite steep, some of them, so that might be barrier as well.

Julie: Yeah, so certainly the bike paths are a barrier, but we are lucky that we do have a bike path from Chewton to Castlemaine.

Allie: Yeah, its beautiful.

Julie:  It is great bike path. And every term we do a bike ride with our Three to Six students and parents come along. Last year we actually took all the bikes out to Harcourt and we cycled on the new mountain bike track. And the time before that, we cycled out to Maldon, so we all started in Castlemaine and cycled out to the Muckleford train station and cycled back. So really promoting cycling as part of—not just cycling, but walking—as part of active travel. I take a walking group every couple of weeks and we just literally go for a bush walk; kids love it. 

Allie: I only had one more question for Julie and that was how hard is it to achieve a five-star rating at a small country town primary school in the middle of Victoria.

Julie: It’s easy; it’s not anything special; it’s not something undoable. It is just having it…it’s just the way that you live, the way that you think and the way that we want our children to live and think and talk and value. 

Allie: And I feel like a core part of what you’re doing is making it as collaborative and community-driven as possible, which seems to me it’s the same thing needs to happen in our society, as opposed to like individual led campaigns or, you know, the lone hero. We have to start embracing this narrative of community and people sharing the load and helping each other out as equally important. 

Julie: Not being…this is something yeah, that just we do, promoting it as what we do to be valuable members of a community, and that everybody can have an idea. I think one of the strengths of our school and of the student community is they’re full of ideas and have lots of ideas, and we’re really open to those ideas coming to our school.

Background piano theme music with Allie speaking over the top.  You have been listening to An Environment for Change and today I’ve been speaking with Julie Holden, Principal of Chewton Primary School. This has been the final episode in this series. If you’d like to hear the rest of the series, please go to the MainFM website, Mainfm.net and follow the orange SoundCloud link.

Or you can go to saltgrass.podbean.com. You can listen to the whole series there as well. This series has been brought to you care of a council grant from the Mount Alexander Shire Council. That grant only really allowed for eight episodes and I would love to do a lot more episodes, so if you’re enjoying this series and you want to hear me extend it for a year or so, and talk to so many other environment groups in the region, including farmers and people being active in the community; trying to work for change towards a more sustainable future, then jump onto the Pick My Project website and look for Saltgrass: The Podcast.  

I changed the name because I felt like An Environment for Change had already been done by me right now, but also it’s a name that’s been used a few times and I felt like Saltgrass was a nice word. It’s an actual Australian native plant. It can be used to help salinity and erosion and it also brings to mind ideas around salt of the earth people and grassroots movements. So, I thought all of those things combined was a nice symbol for a series that would talk to local people about what they’re doing for the environment and to create a sustainable future. 

So, jump onto the Pick My Project website; you’ll see a lot of other local projects. There’s an awful lot of really great projects available for you to cast a vote on, I think you get three votes, so if you register on the website, you can have a look through all the projects that are available in our region. So that’s within 50 kilometers of here and you will get to pick three of them. Please think about voting for Saltgrass: The Podcast, then I’ll be able to do a whole year’s worth of episodes like this, talking to local people about sustainability. 

My name is Alison Hanly. Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon.

Transcription by Robyn Walton

Note: Saltgrass is produced to be heard. Some elements of the podcast may not translate easily to the written word. We have also chosen readability over strict fidelity to the actual words spoken. Human speech relies on tonality, rhythm and emphasis to give meaning to phrases that may seem fragmented on the page. Some mannerisms of speech are also perfectly acceptable to hear, but awkward on the page, eg. repeated words, filler words such as ‘um’ and ‘you know’. As such, we have not transcribed every word and have sometimes altered the text to keep the meaning true, but also be as readable as possible. 

Our transcripts are created using both speech recognition software and human transcribers, and though we do our best to avoid errors they may occur, please check the audio before quoting in print.

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