Geelong Grammar School’s Timbertop campus allows Year 9 students to spend a full school year living, working and studying in the bush. Its comprehensive academic and outdoor education programmes provide an unforgettable learning experience which, for many students, is a challenging rite of passage to a rewarding adult life.
Established in 1953, the remote Timbertop campus is nestled in a secluded valley between Mansfield and Mount Buller, in the rugged and beautiful foothills of the Victorian Alps. According to Year 10 student Anna Keenan, who recently completed Geelong Grammar School’s iconic Year 9 programme, “You are never bored at Timbertop.” She says that one of the key lessons she learnt during her stay at the campus was to always have a go. “Because you think it will be hard and then you do it and you realise how rewarding it is and that you wouldn’t feel so good if you hadn’t tried,” Anna explains. At Timbertop, adolescents develop personal skills and qualities beyond those possible in a traditional suburban day school. While living together in a small, supportive community, students are exposed to intellectual, physical and emotional challenges under demanding environmental conditions – living with up to 14 others in rustic units, separated from mobile phones, televisions and computer games. Timbertop takes full advantage of its natural surroundings, teaching valuable life skills, building confidence, resilience and independence. Students are engaged in a very active life, whether they are navigating a six-day hike or chopping wood for hot water. They unearth personal strengths, develop confidence and learn the value of co-operative endeavour – awakening a belief in themselves that will help them overcome the obstacles and hurdles they will come across throughout their lives. “At Timbertop students learn to cope with adversity,” says Head of Timbertop, Roger Herbert. “Through the experiential out-of-door programme and the explicit teaching programme, students build upon their resilience so that they are in a better position to flourish in their life.” Timbertop was the brainchild of transformative educator Sir James Darling, who believed, “Moral and intellectual courage comes only from experience.” He later wrote that education “must be closely concerned with the development of self-confidence, and that this comes from the learning of competence in practical ways, and from the growth of self-reliance and independence”. Timbertop offers students many new and unusual challenges; obstacles and hurdles that resemble those they will come across throughout their lives. The principle behind this is a simple one that has its origins in the thinking of Kurt Hahn, who helped found the Outward Bound movement and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. He believed that the skills and confidence to deal with unfamiliar territory could be developed.
Timbertop celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2013. Mr Herbert says the philosophy with which it was created remains its driving force. “We do not wander far from our original purpose. We prioritise highly the value of good intrapersonal relationships, a strong sense of community and the dignity of hard work away from the distractions of the modern world, as we always have. The smell of eucalypts, the pink setting sun on the surrounding hills and the beautiful blue sky is ever present. What have changed are the physical structures. The buildings have faded and have changed colour only to be rebuilt and updated. It is different but really the same.”