FAR and wide

Anyone who grew up in a small, rural town with no access to a library, gallery or museum will be aware of the real disadvantage faced by children in regional communities. The Library’s FAR Out! program was created to address this disadvantage and assist primary school teachers as they introduced a new history syllabus.

Each 90-minute interactive workshop focused on four key collection items, with students actively involved in retelling moments in Australian history through its major, and less well-known, characters.

A student dressed as Captain James Cook holding a telescope

Unforgettable learning experiences came through dressing up as Captain Cook, handling replica navigational equipment, and sailing the Endeavour around the school hall. Children were captivated by retelling the story of Mary Reibey, who came to Australia as a 15-year-old convict and went on to be a wealthy and successful businesswoman. They immersed themselves in colonial Sydney as class members played the parts of Mary’s husband Thomas, her seven children and Mary herself at different ages from convict, to bride, to old woman.

‘Tonight, when I go home,’ wrote Abigail from Parkes East in response to a FAR Out! workshop, ‘I'm going to tell my family about Mary. Her story is inspiring, amazing interesting and heart warming, a good example of girl power.’

The opportunity to view ‘the real thing’ — usually for the first time in their lives — was greatly appreciated by students and teachers, and by the staff of the local bank who stored the collection items overnight. ‘I felt excited,’ a student at Hastings Primary School told us, ‘because I got to dig deeper into history’.

Original collection items taken on tour include Captain Cook’s shoe buckle, Mary Reibey’s letter of 1792, Aboriginal art works by Johnny Kangatong and Tommy McRae, and Aboriginal wordlists from the areas we visited.

Introducing the students to Aboriginal wordlists was a wonderful way to support the work of the Library’s Indigenous Services team and contribute to the revitalisation of Aboriginal languages. We left copies of the language lists with the schools and gathered information about the accuracy of the lists from some of the communities we visited. 

The impact of the program was immediately obvious from the excitement in workshops and the responses from participants. Some schools followed up with an excursion to the Library or a videoconference, which meant we could showcase more material from collection and build a relationship with these students and teachers.

Valuable feedback has come from families who, when travelling to Sydney, have visited the Library and met up with Learning Services staff. One family from Ashford now visits us on their annual trip to Sydney, and another from Port Macquarie came on a Library tour during the school holidays at the insistence of their eight-year-old twins after a FAR Out! visit to their school.

The impact on Library staff has also been significant. We have travelled across the state and had the opportunity to visit all kinds of schools, gaining a valuable insight into the lives of students and teachers. This has informed the learning resources we are developing to meet the needs of all learners.

The Library has a commitment to equity of access across New South Wales and, with the generous support of the Caledonian Foundation and the Vincent Fairfax Family Trust, we were able to deliver this innovative program across the state.

Total participating schools 411
Total students attended 26251
Total Teachers attended 1280
Tota FAR Out! tours 44

 

Megan Perry and Pauline Fitzgerald, Learning Services

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