What we learned from Our Place, Our Species

Project leads from the Our Place, Our Species pilot project including representatives from four NSW Regional Science Hubs recently shared how they successfully engaged their communities with creative projects examining the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of species and habitat preservation.

The Our Place, Our Species pilot project report launch featured guest presentations from the Sapphire Coast, Central West, Paterson Allyn Williams and Northern Rivers regions.

The idea for the pilot project arose during the COVID lockdowns in 2020 when the then Inspiring Australia NSW manager, Jackie Randles, noticed that the NSW Government was investing generously in placemaking projects.

In an effort to secure new project funding for regional science engagement, Jackie explained how she began knocking on doors to let placemaking program managers know about the successful, place-based ecology engagement approaches used by the NSW Regional Science Hubs network over the past decade. It was her hope to unlock some of this funding to support the development of new creative projects that featured ecology and First Nations knowledge.

“For many years, Inspiring Australia’s community projects have been activating public places by engaging diverse community audiences with projects exploring plants, animals, habitat, First Nations knowledge and science,” she said. “Each and every project provided a wealth of rich storytelling to not only educate people about threatened species protection, but also to build alliances of advocates who really care for their local environments.”

“At the same time, such projects build social capital by creating interesting things for people to do – free activities, memorable experiences, unique projects that brought art and science together – an altogether magical mix.”

After approaching numerous NSW government departments for support to trial a series of threatened species engagement projects as a novel placemaking approach that could be adopted by local government, Jackie was directed to the Office for Regional Youth.

The Holiday Break program team agreed to invest in an experimental pilot on the condition that some of the activities were presented in the school holidays and aimed to target teenagers (the hardest of all audiences to reach!). Inspiring Australia NSW matched this funding so that each of the four regions selected to run a pilot had a budget of $20,000 with which to experiment.

The intended outcome was to create a suite of community events and a demonstration model for best practice community, youth and First Nations engagement that others could follow.

Watch a recording of the project launch conversation on 14 June 2023.

Our Place, Our Species Report Launch June 2023

Meet the project leads

With extreme weather events, including the devastating Lismore floods, every region was faced with many setbacks that had to be overcome in order to deliver the pilot project. Reaching teenagers was also a huge challenge. Nevertheless, each region succeeded in creating new and interesting programs and relationships that will continue to develop and evolve.

Mitch King, Karenza Ebejer and Mykaela Baillie from Lismore Quad

For the Northern Rivers Science Hub’s project lead Mitch King, early community conversations held at the Lismore Quad did not attract the level of interest he was hoping for. After word got out, local Elders began contacting him about their efforts to preserve bush tucker. After Mitch began meeting with them on Country to hear their stories about preserving habitat and culture, he decided to make a film.

“The Elders in the film talk about growing up on Country – as we walk with them on Country. It’s quite beautiful,” he said.

Mitch worked with film maker Karenza Ebejer who had attended one of the community conversations, and with Myki Baillie from the Quad who co-produced the film. They decided to present it to the community at a public launch event to which everyone was invited.

“We had young musicians and some elders performing beautiful country music storytelling we well as performances by two dance troops, “ said Mitch. “There were a lot of young people involved in this community event, and they even got to perform in the rain. And they didn’t mind getting getting wet! And neither did participants that attended.”

Contributing to the success of this popular community launch that attracted more than 200 people, was community transport arranged by Myki to increase accessibility.

“It was really good having access to a transport service to just make the event a little bit more accessible to everyone in the region, especially given that many Indigenous families live in the hills,” she said.

Karenzer said that the project team’s immediate objective is to now raise awareness and exposure for the Indigenous-led ecology projects that were featured in the film.

“That’s our number one priority: to work with the participants to see where they want to go with the film. We’ve also got lots of festivals that we would like to put the film into as well to broaden its reach,” she said.

Read more about the Northern Rivers’ Our Place, Our Species project, early conversations and the sensational community launch event in May 2023.

Jane Richens, Tabbil Forest

From Dungog, representing the Patterson, Allyn and Williams Science and Ideas Hub, project lead Jane Richens described how the pilot project in this region provided them with valuable opportunities to work with new people and build new relationships.

“When you start working with a new group, you build different connections to people with a whole range of new skills and experiences. We have met with First Nations people in the region that we hadn’t met before, which was fantastic, and explored new ways to work with youth,” she said.

But getting young people to connect and stick around in the holidays to participate in projects they codesigned was a challenge, especially given the lack of public transport options and there being no dedicated youth programs in the region.

“We had lots of problems in getting people together during the holidays and had to change tack. The weather was a really big issue for us, and quite a few of the outdoor events we had planned in particular didn’t happen because we were inundated with the rain,” she said.

Despite the setbacks, many new conversations have emerged and as with all the Science Hub’s activities, the pilot has acted as an ideas incubator that Jane expects to continue to thread throughout future Science and Ideas Hub activities.

Read more about the Paterson Allyn Williams Science and Ideas Hub.

Phoebe Cowdery, the Corridor Project

In the Central West of NSW, the Orange Cowra Cabonne Science Hub presented Wyangala H20, a series of place-based creative learning experiences delivered by twelve science and arts professionals representing ornithology, traditional ecological knowledge, plant pathology, soundscape and multi-arts.

Having access to a massive wool shed on a rural property near Wyangala meant that the weather wasn’t as much as an issue for this team, despite the ongoing rain and floods experienced in the region.

“The wool shed is a very big working studio space in which we run workshops and presentations,” explained project lead Phoebe Cowdery of the Corridor Project.

“But we still found it most effective to get the kids walking out on Country and participating in nature. We also invited parents to stay for the day and this was actually a real bonus as they could be on hand as volunteers to assist us in the scaffold of what the day look like.”

Read about Wyangala H2O holiday activities presented by the Orange Cowra Cabonne Science Hub.

Scott Baker, Atlas of Life in the Coastal Wilderness

Representing the Sapphire Coast Regional Science Hub and Sustainability Educators Network, Scott Baker explained how the starting point for the Bioluminescence project was conversations with a few local young people who had been diving under the Tathra Wharf for most of their lives. With its imminent refurbishment, they wanted to celebrate and preserve its biodiversity, especially the unique species growing on the historic pylons.

“We had a bit of a chat and they wanted to have some way of being able to projection map images and videos shot underneath the wharf at a community event,” said Scott who is a multimedia artist.

Bioluminescence started with working out how to project video and images onto the wharf building. The team tested technology and experimented with creative approaches to images, sound and music to test the hypothesis of the idea.

They then went on to address the challenge of engaging young people with an activity. Through this process the group developed a 3-day workshop format.

“The first day is a bit of an overview and looking at some different ways of getting out and capturing nature. So it’s a site specific activity where the young people go out and they video the their immediate environment, and usually with the guidance of a subject matter expert to get the knowledge transfer,” he said.

“Participants then learn to capture nature with a variety of different cameras, including microscope cameras, macro cameras and underwater cameras and then to edit and use video projection mapping techniques and software.”

“The third and final day of our workshops is where the participants present their large format projections at a community event, and here the kids learn event management skills.”

Scott said that the Bioluminescence site specific model can be taken anywhere and appeals to teachers who can use it as professional development for themselves and their students.

Read about the first time Bioluminescence lit up Tathra Wharf, its recent appearance at Cobargo Folk Festival and future plans.

Emma Barnes, STEM Avenue

The launch discussion finished with a brief reflection from the report’s author, Emma Barnes, who congratulated the project leads for their perseverance in designing and delivering the activities using best practice approaches for working with First Nations peoples and community members.

“When you take the time to listen to experts like First Nations Elders and community members themselves, and connect with them in genuine dialogue, you can succeed in creating uniquely place-based experiences that take into account local needs and resources.”

Emma thanked all of the stakeholders she interviewed for being honest and open about what went right and what went wrong in their projects and for generously sharing what they learned so that others can avoid making similar mistakes.

“The report is full of action- oriented goodies and advice that I really think will help others in delivering impactful science and place-based activities and events, including how to structure a full day program around the energy of your participants and the importance of venue selection, food and social interaction,” she said.

Read or download the Our Place, Our Species pilot project report.

The Our Place, Our Species pilot project was supported by Inspiring Australia NSW and the NSW Government and coordinated by Jackie Randles.