For almost 50 years, students at St Peters Lutheran College, Qld, have been experiencing rural farm life during a five-week program at its property Ironbark. 

Story Ken Eastwood   Photo courtesy St Peters

Fencing. Feeding the chooks. Mucking out the pig troughs. Chopping firewood. This could sound like a list of unpleasant chores, but to year 9 students at St Peters Lutheran College, this is part of an exciting ‘rite of passage’ that all students have undergone for almost 50 years.

The location is Ironbark, a 600ha heavily timbered mixed farm on the edge of Crows Nest National Park. There, for five weeks, students are not just expected to look after themselves in terms of cooking and cleaning, but to complete farm chores while undertaking a full outdoor education program – all without mobile phones or other screens to distract.

“Ironbark is a working farm with beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and horses,” says its director Matthew Sullivan, who has been there for 15 years. “We grow all our own meat for the kids, our dairy provides milk and the chooks provide eggs.”

In mixed gender groups of 40–50, the students take it in turns to come to Ironbark for the five-week program. They sleep in dorms, in sheds, or in swags and are split into smaller, single-sex groups for activities such as a two-night ‘survival’ sleep-out, where they build their own shelter, and a four-day, 52km hike north of Crow Nest. The students don’t do any ‘normal’ schoolwork during this time, but instead focus on community living and challenging themselves.

This story excerpt is from Issue #140

Outback Magazine: December/January 2022