Mr Jeff Wheatley, Head of Geography
‘It is place, permanent position in both the social and topographical sense, that gives us our identity’ (Jackson, 1984).
So many aspects of our contemporary lifestyle are taken for granted. As a society, we are more ‘connected’ to an ever-shrinking world than at any time in history. The rapid adoption of smart phones and other technologies has been astonishing. Where would we be without the navigational ability of these devices to locate a place or track the flight path of an aeroplane to its destination? Imagine not being able to take photos that automatically connect a place to its location or not being able to communicate instantaneously with a family member or friend, no matter where they are in the world, through social media. While the integration of technology in our lives has revolutionised our concept of place and space, how well do we really comprehend the world in which we live?
Our screen-mediated access to the world is both a blessing and a curse. While it does truly shrink and link the world, it also presents us with a very flat, two-dimensional and thus somewhat superficial understanding of our local and global environment. It can be argued that, as a society, we desire a more meaningful connection with our fellow global citizens and it is geography that offers the opportunity to explore the multi-faceted dimensions of our world and the extent to which places shape everything or as it is often said, ‘geography is destiny’. This implies that geography entails so much more than the study of maps, the names of rivers and mountains and countries of the world. It is about the diverse range of social, cultural and environmental connections throughout the world. Furthermore, it provokes a sense of curiosity and comprehension of the complexities that occur when we explore interactions between people and places from a spatial viewpoint.
Geography studies at Brisbane Girls Grammar School move students beyond the textbook. The hands-on approach through the integration of field studies at all Year levels enables students to experience place in a tangible way. Year 11 Geography students, for example, have been studying the importance of water and the necessity of monitoring the use of such a scarce yet valuable resource. Recently, they spent two days at the Marrapatta Memorial Outdoor Education Centre to determine the water quality of Yabba Creek. Standing sometimes knee-deep in water to conduct an array of tests fostered a strong appreciation of what they had learnt at school. During the evening session at camp, the results of the surveys were shared and collated for analysis. The girls also had the opportunity to engage with local landowners who were able to convey their intricate connection with the land by explaining their current farming operations. This provided a practical application of concepts such as water management and sustainability learnt in the classroom to a tangible situation. In addition, students have benefited from the expertise of alumni, parents and tertiary lecturers in fields such as town planning and traffic management, who were able to demonstrate real-life connections to topics being studied throughout their course.
Through the exploration of current environmental and social issues such as rising sea levels, increasing population densities in cities and loss of biodiversity, students gain insights into the world about them and the extent to which geography truly does shape destiny. This approach provokes creative and critical thinking about why certain relationships exist and, most importantly, how to devise innovative alternatives that may reduce the problem. It amazes the Geography Department that frequently, while investigating a topic in class, there is a direct link to events that are actually happening in the world. Currently in Year 10, classes are studying the management of coastal environments. While discussing how the action of waves shapes Australia’s coastline, it was possible for the classes to view live streaming of winds associated with former Cyclone Winston and then predict and record the effects, not only on Fiji, but also on the beaches along the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. These links with current events highlight the relevance of the students’ geographical studies and emphasise the connection between places and people.
Questions regarding our place in the world will also inherently involve students reassessing their values on a personal and societal level. Showing a concern for the quality of the environment and demonstrating respect for human life by participating in activities that aim to achieve a sustainable future, accentuates the many connections that occur in our lives. As part of the wider School community, through the service component of the co-curricular programme, Grammar Goes Green, has put this into action. The event has been held over the past three years at the Rangakarra Recreational and Environmental Education Centre and has involved the selection and planting of native vegetation through consultation with the Cubberla Witton Catchment Network. This is an example of how a committed group of students and staff is not only working towards improving the natural environment adjoining the sporting facilities, but is also showing a genuine connection with members of the local community. To promote a shared respect for human life, a number of the School’s service groups support organisations such as Save the Children Fund, Care Australia and World Vision, and encourage students to reach out and connect with other cultures through participation in a range of activities. Furthermore, the Antipodeans Abroad programme has provided opportunities for our students to actively participate in community projects and foster a connection with other young people from places in South America, Asia and Africa.
The destiny of an individual is determined by the various connections made between places and people within the world. It is only when individuals look beyond their own world that they can connect with people and places in the local and global community. This will not only enrich lives but strengthen an appreciation of the wider world in so many ways.
Jackson, J. B. (1984). Discovering the vernacular landscape. New Haven: Yale University Press.