Creating accessible and dangerous Outdoor Education experiences for non-conquerers

Jessica Wilson

National Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia



Many of the expedition-into-nature programs emerged from romanticised notions of Western colonial power and often have racial, gender, ability and class overtones. Hiking from point A to point B, ascending summits, crossing rivers and meeting the physical challenges presented by nature all have a flavour of conquest over the environment, where humans endeavour to control the experience, rather than respond to place. How conscious are educators and students of what underpins ‘doing’ the Larapinta Trail or Overland Track, rafting a river or to top-out a rock face? After a decade of involvement with a school where a broad-based curriculum asks all students to participate in outdoor education programs, it appears that young people are also questioning this model and wondering why outdoor education experience excludes an increasing number of their peers.

Along with this questioning we need to be mindful that up to a quarter of Australians identify as having a disability (with perhaps up to 10% of children having a disability) and up to 2 million Australians having anxiety. The conquest model is practically out of reach to many students.

In fact some students are starting to buck the conquest model, and running their own activities that respond to place (eg replacing conquests with forest bathing projects).

With our greater understanding of connection to nature and the role park agencies have in making our natural experiences more accessible, it seems that we need to be asking more ‘dangerous’ questions about relationships to nature and the role of conquests. As educators it brings rise to questions around how can slowed-down experiences offer something deeper, more meaningful to all participants?

In fact, what would decolonialising outdoor education look like? More importantly what are students asking of us at this time and in this place?

This presentation will provide alternatives to the conquest model for both teachers and public land managers.


Jessica has worked for park agencies throughout most of her career. She commenced as an Interpretations Ranger and then ventured into recreation and trail planning, park policy, marine park stewardship and, most recently as the Nature Education Coordinator with the National Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia. Jessica started the ‘Parks Access for All’ group and for the past two years has been working to make SA’s parks more accessible.

About OEA and Outdoors NSW

Outdoor Education Australia (OEA)  was established in 2006 as a national network of outdoor education associations. The organisation facilitates communication between state and territory outdoor education associations about the practice and delivery of outdoor education; advocates for outdoor education across primary, secondary and tertiary education; and provides policy advice.

Outdoors NSW is the go-to place for all things outdoors in NSW.

The peak body for the outdoors in NSW, the organisation, (formerly known as ORIC), represents the outdoor community, advances outdoor standards, safety and practices, and fosters greater participation in the outdoors.

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