FFFAIF Belgian member Johan Durnez has introduced Australia to his 2009/10 high school students with a program of learning entitled Ozzie Wozzie Westhoek Project. The project integrates aspects of Australia throughout the teaching program, not only in history, but across a broad range of subjects.
Johan describes the philosophy behind the project: The project will focus on Australia, on the First World War and on the ‘Westhoek’ ( the most western corner of Belgium and also the area of the WWI battlefields). This means that lessons will use the theme ‘Australia’ or ‘First World War’ or ‘Westhoek’. For instance: when they will learn in French on the weather-vocabulary, they will use Australian weathermaps to introduce all the terms and at the same time they will learn about the weather in Australia (like about what you there consider as ‘Winter’… ) In the lessons of music they will work with the song “kookaburra sits in the old gum tree”, in art they will do something with dotpainting. In sports they will try to do a typical Australian sport.
The project was started at the beginning of the school year in September with the introduction of Ozzie Wozzie Newsflashes in the central hall of the school. Johan described how this occurred: In the central hall of our school, we now have a data projector which allows large images to be shown on the wall. The central hall is a place where the students have to assemble when the lessons change and they have to wait for the next teacher who takes them to the next classroom or workingplace. So, every fifty minutes there is a circulation of many hundreds of students in this central hall (as we have almost 1400 students in our school). And that means that this central hall is also the best place to have these slides as we are sure that all students pass there between the lessons or during the breaks.
The slides show information on the school life, photos of all sorts of activities we do with the students and we (= our team) thought it would be an excellent opportunity to bring all sorts of information on Australia and on Australian news items. So, that’s how we started with the “Ozzie Wozzie Newsflash”. Amongst the first of the slide shows prepared by the teaching team of the Ozzie Wozzie Project depicted the story of Corporal of Horse William Thomas Leggett, as you know was the first Australian who died in the defence of Ieper in 1914.
During November fellow FFFAIF member and school teacher from South Australia Julie Reece visited Johan’s class as a guest speaker.
Johan described her visit: Two “real Australians” visited our school at the end of November. That was really THE highlight of the Ozzie Wozzie project! Our friends Julie and Paul Reece from South Australia came to school to talk to the boys. Wow, they (the boys) felt really important that day as these people who came from the other side of the globe came to talk to THEM! They had prepared (with their class directors) a whole list of questions on Australia. Some questions sounded a bit funny like: “have you ever been to Australia?” (good question to ask an Aussie!), “do you have electricity in Australia?”, “are Australians poor?”, “who is the king of Australia?”, etc. But most of the questions were really interesting and a good start to talk and learn about a country far away and in many aspects very different. They were surprised to hear about the vast distances between towns and cities. (We had a map of Australia and we had cut out the map of Belgium on the same scale and laid that on this map of Australia. In this way Julie could show that when she goes to watch the AFL Crows playing in Melbourne, she drives three times the distance from North Sea to German border in Belgium (so, three times Belgium.) They were amazed to hear about ‘so many times Belgium’ and so many days driving to go on a holiday.
They were also interested to see the school where Julie is teaching and how different certain things look compared to our school. But they are still happy with our school, especially when they heard about the snake next to the music class! They were interested to hear Julie but their real hero was her husband Paul.
Very special was when Julie explained why she visits Belgium and why our country has a special place in the hearts of so many Australians – even from their (the youngest) generation. She told the story of her great uncle Martin Neagle who joined the AIF in 1916 to keep an eye on his youngest brother who also wanted to go to this war in Europe. She told them how ‘Uncle Martie’ never returned from Passchendaele and his grave in Polygon Wood. She told about her mother and the grief of the family. That made the boys silent and I am sure that they will remember Julie and all this when we make our bicycle trip next June and when we will visit the grave of Uncle Martie!
The week after the visit of Julie and Paul, they mentioned (to their teachers) the roadtrains and what they heard about the heat in Australia, but they also mentioned the story of this uncle. Well, thanks Julie for this wonderful contribution to our project as this is what we want the boys to keep in mind!
Julie Reece is a teacher at Birdwood High School in South Australia and is the driving force behind the Connecting Spirits Project [http://connectingspirits.com.au/] which began in 2005. Visit the Connecting Spirit website to find out more about the joint project between Meningie Area School and Birdwood High School which involves students travelling to the World War 1 battlefields, cemeteries and memorials of France and Belgium. While there, the students commemorate individual soldiers from their own families and communities. The first trip occurred in November 2006, the second in 2008 and a third is planned for 2010.
The Families and Friends of the First AIF applauds the joint Australian–UK decision, announced by The Hon Greg Combet AM MP and the Hon Kevan Jones MP, to conduct a full DNA testing program on the remains of Australian and British soldiers found in mass graves at Pheasant Wood (Fromelles), and for their continuing commitment to identify as many of the fallen as is possible. We also thank the Australian, UK and French governments for affording dignified individual reburials for these soldiers, buried by German soldiers following the Battle of Fromelles on 19/20 July 1916, in the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery presently under construction at Fromelles.