We are all used to running geography fieldwork for the physical geography topics like Coastal Management, Land and Water Management, Biophysical Interactions and Ecosystems At Risk. There are various companies that run great excursions for these topics, but when you get to the human geography topics it isn't so easy to find pre-organised excursions.
For my Year 11 Geography class I've taught the compulsory Population topic, and then Cultural Integration as one of the optional topics. We've examined the topic of refugees as part of an exploration of population movements, so I decided on a trip to Cabramatta to explore the impact of the Vietnamese community on this south-west Sydney suburb. I suggested this as an option on the online group Geography Teachers Online. As a result, I met up with a couple of teachers to thrash out some ideas about options for fieldwork.
Some of the ideas we came up with were:
- questionnaire of local residents
- land use survey
- urban transect of the Main Street
- environmental survey
- a photo essay based on cultural influences in the suburb
- an interview with a local government representative/Councillor
Cabramatta Library is located a short walk from the railway station. They offer a presentation on how the suburb has changed over time and are very obliging to school groups. They provide a half hour video on the development of Fairfield Local Government Area covering indigenous history, early colonial development, the market farms, education, rail development and migration. The presentation focuses on the Fairfield Local Government Area as a whole rather than Cabramatta itself, but this provides an excellent idea of the context in which Cabramatta developed. Following this there was a presentation on Cabramatta itself focusing on statistical information from the Census. It is also possible to organise a walking tour through the local council with a guide included, but they require about a months notice.
There are lots of opportunities for students to try different foods and drinks. For lunch, we went to Guan An Bau Troung, located on the main street, John St.The students all ordered a dish of their own and then I ordered a few different dishes for them to try and share. The food was really cheap and the servings were huge, even for boys who eat their weight in food in a single sitting. Obviously I had to check all the allergies, anaphylaxis risks involved, but I really think sharing a meal is a great bonding experience for a class.
If you want to have a look at the fieldwork activities we used the Cabramatta Excursion page of the www.preliminarygeography.hsieteachers.com site.
Back in the classroom we are going to analyse the field data a few different ways.
- Students' field sketches will be scanned and shared. An analysis of the various cultural influences will be written.
- We will create radar graphs from the environmental surveys
- The questionnaire results will be shared amongst the class. Results will be tallied, and the implications of results considered. Is this community self-contained? Do residents spend most of their lives in and around the suburb? Is the ethnic background of residents still predominantly Vietnamese?
The great thing about using Cabramatta as a fieldwork site in Year 11 is that is also a great case study for the following HSC year. You can refer back to it and draw on the students' experience when you are short on time and trying to maximise time in class. Cabramatta makes a great study for looking at ethnicity in Sydney as part of the Urban Places topic. You can find a summary of this part of the course that I wrote last year for HSC Online.
In the lead up to the Federal Election we are hearing a lot of "Stop the Boats" discussions. It is a good time to revisit this issue in our classrooms. I went past Villawood Detention Centre a couple of days ago. It looks like they are doing a lot of construction work. Many of the older accommodation and administrative buildings still remain, but the whole centre of the property is being redeveloped. Interestingly, compared to about 10 years ago there seems to be a lot less razor wire. There is still plenty of barbed wire around the perimeter but I wasn't able to see any actual razor wire. I guess that is a step in the right direction. There are a couple of different year groups, topics and even subjects where refugees can be discussed:
Year 11 Geography - Population (Population Movements) View...
Year 10 Geography - Australia and the Asia Pacific (Global Links)
Year 10 Geography - Australia and the Asia Pacific (Human Rights)
Year 8 Geography - Global Change (Human Rights)
Year 12 Legal Studies - Human Rights
Obviously you don't want to cover it too often or the students become desensitised to the issue and it loses its impact, but I think it is an important issue to address, whenever you choose to do it.
Deputy Principal at a Sydney high school. Coordinating author of the new Geoactive book series.