An innovative new program in the bush is encouraging children to apply skills learned in video games to the real world.

Story Mandy McKeesick

It is four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon on Mackinlay station, half an hour’s drive north of Mitchell in southern Queensland, and 23 bedraggled primary schoolchildren step out of vehicles. There is not an electronic device to be seen. Barefoot, they carry mud-encrusted shoes and weapons crafted from sticks and string. They hold crudely fashioned clay bowls for the inspection of waiting parents and, despite their weariness, their eyes shine brightly as they regale tales of monsters, fires and the Wilderwood.

The children have participated in the inaugural Wildcraft Adventure on a 300-metre stretch of the almost-dry Maranoa River, hemmed by sandstone cliffs and shouldered by ironbarks and river gums – perfect for building huts and running amok. Hosted by Tanya Maudsley of Rewilding Experiences, who is based on the station, the day aims to take kids away from electronic screens and reconnect them to the outside world. The enticement is the chance to use skills they have developed online in the popular Minecraft video game. 

Minecraft gives players resources to build virtual worlds. Limited only by their imagination (and the screen time their parents permit), players enlist the basics of survival – building shelter, finding food and defending themselves against foes, which in Minecraft can be skeletons, zombies and exploding creepers.

“We homeschool our five kids and I see this as an extension of their interests – a play-based experience with outdoor education,” Tanya says. “Wildcraft Adventures originated in the UK but we have modified the program quite heavily to suit Australian conditions. For example, we have worked with local Bidjara elders to incorporate basic Indigenous language and bush medicine. I like to encourage lateral thinking and a day like today has structure, but enough scope for creativity to create confident young people and we’ve designed it to be autistic- and dyslexic-friendly as well. We have a range of kids from 5 to 13 years old, from conventional schools and homeschools. We also have kids from urban and rural environments, which I think fosters relationships and understanding between the two.” 

The tribe of kids is divided into four clans – Hunters, Gatherers, Miners and Explorers – and they stream excitedly between two river gums that stand as a portal to Wilderwood. Overseen by Tanya, her husband Wade, parents Carol and Trent Vincent and cousin Gabby Stanford, they collect resources (such as gold, silver and quarry stones), use native grasses to replicate string, build shelters, a forge and a water well and begin preparations for their first ‘night’, which all good gamers know is the time when monsters are about. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #125

Outback Magazine: June/July 2019