Karawatha means the ‘place of pine trees’ in Yugambeh, the local Aboriginal language. This precious area traverses Brisbane City Council and Logan City Council, eighteen kilometres south of the Brisbane city centre. This is an important National Estate area: historically for Indigenous peoples; ecologically for endemic and IUCN red-listed species; technically for early settlers with mining and water storage; socially for family recreation and tourist sightseeing; environmentally as a nature refuge with diverse ecosystems and also as a wetlands habitat for Brisbane ‘living lungs’ carbon sequestration; and economically as a community investment for future generations to learn about wilderness.
Karawatha was an integral part of the Flinders-Greenbank-Karawatha (FGK) green belt for South-east Queensland stretching from historic Redlands through Brisbane, Logan, Beaudesert and Ipswich municipalities to Flinders Peak. Over thirty years, the community was instrumental in the donation, bequest and buy-back of 1000 hectares of land from diverse stakeholders in order to keep the Karawatha Forest corridor intact. High-value biologically-diverse habitats include many of those twenty-five identified ecosystems registered for South-east Queensland (NRM, 2006). The wetlands of the Logan Shire contrast sharply against the dry landscapes and rocky pinnacle overlooking five surrounding townships. For an intricate map, click here (soon – not yet active).
This narrative focuses on the evolution, design, development and management of the Discovery Centre, respecting original Council by-laws, but subsequently evolving into much more: a purpose-built facility for community and environmental education focused on the interaction of children with the natural realm. This was a major step forward for innovative experiential learning. The Karawatha Forest Protection Society was pivotal to the process.
Understanding community attitudes
The multicultural population in the local towns shared their perspective of the Australian bush as a ‘dangerous place’ with spiders in every tree, snakes everywhere, ‘drop bears’, nasty amoeba in every waterhole, biting insects, sunburn leading to skin cancer and predatory raptors swooping their children from the sky. Several members of the Karawatha Forest Protection Society (KFPS) conducted multicultural sessions for appreciation of the bush, firstly in local libraries and then in the forest itself. On KFPS community picnic days, wildlife rangers and television personalities allowed fearful families to understand more, as children embraced lizards and felt furry animals, while parents and grandparents were petrified. In some cases, those Asian families had lived generations in concrete jungles with no exposure to the natural benefits of wilderness. To see attitudes change from fear to a healthy appreciation was significant and reassuring. This strongly influenced the principles for designing the ‘Eco-centre’ project.
The KFPS surveyed 107 users of the forest at the Acacia Road entrance, the local school principal and the church elders who were riparian land owners. Responses were collated on a matrix of desirable design features by staged development timeframes of two years, five years, ten years, 30 years and 100 years. The intent was a design for sustainable public place-making.
The design brief
Every fortnight for many months, representatives met with KFPS and Council departments to refine desirable outcomes, operating expectations, environmental impacts, community involvement and funding. The staff became enthusiastic project leaders. The design brief was for future generations:
- interacting with the natural systems within the forest;
- conquering ‘nature deficit disorder’;
- demonstrating nature play and exercise programs for all ages and abilities;
- understanding ancient Indigenous stewardship and spirituality of the place;
- incorporating scientific studies with new technology for day and night eco-auditing for many international stakeholders interested in rare and endemic species;
- providing dedicated space for onsite education and training and community meetings;
- undertaking cultural awareness sessions with some historical recognition;
- incorporating low-environmental-impact free facilities (drinking water, toilets, buildings, family picnic areas, playgrounds, educational walks, GPS-assisted wayfinding with language translations, signage, and broader community spaces);
- integrating with the natural environment with minimal disruptive footprint; and
- facilitating safe use of the forest (minimising night crimes and unauthorised fires, mitigating fire risk to new townhouse development adjacent to the school and managing traffic safely).
7-senses approach to play
This also capitalised on the project where attention-deficit children would undertake a supervised six-week-programme with nature immersion (Tooth & Renshaw, 2017), which continuously resulted high success rates for permanent improvement in children’s behaviour. This further exemplified the values of the Last Child in the Woods (Louv, 2005) with the movement to address nature-deficit-disorder emerging from people having no connection to natural landscapes, as globally urbanisation affected half the world’s population. Teachers, PhD students, Queensland Environmental Educators’ school champions, outdoor education practitioners and parents were keen to see the latest thinking put into practice.
The ‘Nature Play’ playgrounds were not a favourite for public risk assessors at the time. However there were global innovations with successful case studies to support inclusion. Furthermore, providing for physically and intellectually impaired children, and for the ageing and disabled people generally, became a priority. This emerged as Queensland Parliament signed the United Nations Declaration for Rights of the Disabled Persons applying to all designs for public spaces. This resulted in achievement of the 7-senses approach to play (Volbert). Senses include sight, smell, touch, sound, taste and two extra for children on the autism spectrum – vestibular (for gravity, balance and movement) and proprioception (for deep-sense coordination and muscle interaction). So, the plan embraced indoor and outdoor learning techniques.
The Discovery Centre (aka Eco-centre) comprises a low-maintenance building planned for a century asset-life, designed to integrate into the forest and community space in the recreational parklands. The building itself houses drink fountains, an artist-in-resident space, training room with community meeting space, sanitation, maintenance shed, ranger’s office with tourism reception area and most importantly the multi-purpose space for community engagement and interactive learning for school children.
Upon entry, many languages welcome the visitor and then hologram frogs on waterlilies with babbling water bring the space to life. A video scans the space. The interactive parts deserve further explanation.
By air: A drone acts as a wedge-tail eagle complete with wing flapping and windy sound effects as we lie on a padded bench to assume the role of the raptor surveying all that lies below on the 1000 hectares, across the Compton Road overpass (designed to prevent animal deaths on the busy freight road), the glider ladders straddling the transport canyon, the hidden underpass where reptiles slither in the drain while amphibians hop and clamber across ledge ‘furniture’, the reservoir, the waterhole, the quarry scars, the rocky lookout, the buzzing wetland swamps with diverse foliage and birdlife, the old cemetery and surrounding townships. But most striking is the raw bush, sometimes dry, rocky and harsh, sometimes wet and abundant.
By day and night: For a day in the life of the forest, a room with padded seats quickly introduces us to the local species with the sounds, sights and movements complete with cicada heralding the heat before a lightning storm and peaceful dawning glory. The fast-motion immersion makes senses react.
By curiosity: Small boxes beckon children to feel things inside to identify as they learn in this safe environment. Play School-style windows and panels open to the stories of native bees, furry animals, pine cones and fires, flowers and 25 types of frogs.
By play: a seated school and play area is available for parents and teachers, where walls are lined with maps and illustrations and museum style cabinets house live animals for children to find and touch. This is a supervised zone.
For adults there are many more things to see and do in Karawatha (peripatetic andragogy) but this story is limited to designing for children’s nature-based education. Outdoor programs are covered comprehensively elsewhere on the Karawatha website.
Logos of Karawatha Forest Protection Society
Vincent Watego, graphic artist, nature-lover and photographer, created this painting of the Green-thighed Frog, Litoria brevipalmata.
IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) red listed species.
|Marilyn Murphy’s line-drawing was the winning entry in an art competition held in ~1990. KFPS have proudly used this logo since incorporation. The logo depicts the gumnuts & leaves of Eucalyptus planchoniana, a.k.a. Planchon’s Stringybark, Needlebark Stringybark or Bastard Tallowwood: Koala feed trees for food and perhaps shelter (sleep trees).|
This story honours the three women – Bernice Volz, Trish McHugh, and Polly Cutcliffe – who cared enough to establish the Karawatha Forest Protection Society, 31 years ago, to include stewardship of Karawatha Forest, Illaweena Wetlands and the Kuraby Nature Refuge and bushlands (Roberts, 2021).
Louv, R. 2005. The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books.
Maynard, S., James, D. & Davidson, A. 2010. ‘The Development of an Ecosystem Services Framework for South East Queensland‘. Environmental Management 45, 881-895.
NRM. 2006. Natural Resource Management of South East Queensland – Mapping Ecosystems Services.
Roberts, Beryl. 2021. Unpublished works on the History of Karawatha,
Tooth, R. & Renshaw, P. 2017. ‘Pedagogy as advocacy in and for place’. Chapter 10 in Diverse Pedagogies of Place. Routledge.
Volbert, T. The 7 Senses Foundation and colleagues.