Bush to Beach: A Program Teaching Indigenous Children Essential Life Skills
By: Amy Cheng
Forty indigenous children from North West NSW will be seeing the beach for the first time this summer, as part of a program promoting education for Australian bush kids.
Bush to Beach, now in its 18th year, has brought more than 600 children to the beach over the years.
Founder Jack Cannons said in an interview that some of them have never seen the ocean before.
“On nearly every visit, there’s been one kid that will look at the ocean and say ‘I haven’t seen a river that big before’,” Mr Cannons said.
“Every year, we’re looking for the kids to develop self-esteem and confidence and stay at school, get an education and be the best they can be as kids.”
The program brings in children from Brewarrina, Weilamoringle, and Goodooga in far North West NSW.
They will learn CPR, basic first aid and water safety and take part in surfing lessons from Manly Surf School.
This year, the program is adding beach volleyball as an activity and will provide diving lessons from Miss World Australia Kristen Wright, a diving instructor.
“On nearly every visit, there’s been one kid that will look at the ocean and say ‘I haven’t seen a river that big before’,” – Jack Cannons, founder of Bush to Beach
Impact of Program
To take part in the program, the children must attend school throughout the year and the trip is a reward for their diligence.
Since the program began in 2006, there have been changes to school attendance in the areas where the program runs, Mr Cannons said.
“When I kicked the program off, we basically had no children doing Year 12 and not a lot doing Year 10.
“We now have a majority of the kids and a large majority doing Year 10 and a big number of those are doing Year 12.”
From Bush to Beach… To Director
In 2007, the second year of the program, Christopher “Burra” McHughes was one of the children on the trip.
Now 23 years old, the Murriwarri Ngemba Yuwaalaraay man from Brewarrina said on the Bush to Beach website that the experience “opened his eyes to what is possible”.
“I was a kid from the bush who all of a sudden found myself exposed to totally new experiences and a different environment from what I was used to,”– Christopher “Burra” McHughes
Mr Cannons is thankful for Burra Mac’s work.
“He’s done amazing work, he’s on my board, he’s done great work through COVID going into the communities and helping the communities out,” Mr Cannons said.
This year, Burra was nominated for the 2023 NSW Young Australian of the Year award for his work with Fire and Rescue NSW, especially in First Nations communities.
He is also the founding member of the first Indigenous state mitigation crew at NSW Rural Fire Service in Brewarrina and Bourke.
“I was a kid from the bush who all of a sudden found myself exposed to totally new experiences and a different environment from what I was used to,” Mr McHughes said on the website.
“The program is so important to the community here; it’s giving kids a reason to stay in school and providing opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had.”
“These kids don’t see the colour of their skin, they just make friends and it’s a shame the world’s not like that,” – Jack Cannons, founder of Bush to Beach
Mr Cannons believes that other beachgoers also benefit from the program.
“I look at it as black fella meets white fella, white fella meets black fella and they are one, and it’s so important,” he said.
“It’s not uncommon to see (the children) hand in hand with a little white girl or a little white boy having fun building sandcastles.
“To me, that says it all, that is a beautiful sight for anyone to see because these kids don’t see the colour of their skin, they just make friends and it’s a shame the world’s not like that.”
This year, Mr Cannons is looking to bring the program to Bourke and Wellington, NSW, and hopes to eventually expand the program across the country.
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.
All images: Supplied