Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri man Simon Briggs performs a smoking ceremony for the prep to year-six students to welcome them to their new Bush Learning Play Area.

Lancefield Primary School has opened its new bush learning play area, with a focus on Indigenous flora and fauna and space for outdoor classes.

Wrapping around the south-east corner of the school, the space features timber seating for classes, carved wooden animals, rocks and stumps for climbing, and a sandpit.

One area of gravel is shaped like a diprotodon, an extinct Australian marsupial and the largest marsupial to ever exist, and in the concrete buried beneath the sandpit are various Indigenous megafauna prints.

The project was federally funded by an $11,000 grant from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, and was constructed by Macedon Ranges labourers.

Principal Joanne Emond said the first stage was complete but there were still exciting plans for the space.

“It started at the end of 2019 but because of the last year being the way that it was, it was delayed, and we couldn’t involve as many people as we wanted to,” she said.

“We want to add things to it, we want to add bird boxes and insect hotels and those types of things.

“We’ve done some planting, but we want to do more, we’ve just got to grow into the space.”

Lancefield Primary Students explore their new Bush Learning Play Area. Right to left: Tilly, Finn, Rylee, Principal Jo Emond, Jye, Jayden and Lacey.

At the opening last week, the whole school gathered to watch a smoking ceremony performed by two Koori education support officers from the Department of Education, Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri man Simon Briggs and Wamba Wamba woman Renee McCaigh.

Mr Briggs explained a smoke ceremony was a traditional practice of welcome in many Aboriginal cultures before lighting cherry ballart and eucalyptus leaves.

“The traditional customs were for the neighbouring people entering that land, they would have a big bunch of leaves and sticks together that would be smouldering and they would cover themselves in smoke,” he said.

“That smoke meant that they were cleansing all the bad stuff out of their bodies, all the negative thoughts, and bring good faith onto that land.”

Class by class, the children walked and twirled through the smoke before enjoying the new learning and play area.

“We’d like to involve the Koori education support officers more, Renee and Simon, to come in and learn about local Indigenous history and foods and all those types of things,” Ms Emond said.

“We also run a Stephanie Alexander kitchen garden program, so we want to have Indigenous plants so we can use those foods in our cooking.”

Set at the front of the school, Ms Emond said the space was accessible to students and teachers at all times of the day, and had potential to help students learn in new ways.

“This was a real wasteland, it was just trees and a bit of grass, so now it’s an area where creative play can take place and a lot of outside learning,” she said.