One high school has about 1,100 students and the other just over 280 students.  So what would students from the Central Coast of New South Wales – Terrigal High School have in common with or could learn from students from a school on the Central Western Plains of New South Wales – Coonamble High School?
The idea of an exchange for students who have identified as Aboriginal and satisfied a set of school participation requirements was conceived by Rotarian John Spath, Rotary Club of Terrigal following a visit to the Rotary Club of Coonamble in 2014.  The idea was promoted to teachers of the Coonamble and Terrigal High Schools who also shared a passion for providing interesting educational, learning and cultural opportunities to their students. 
The Rotary Club(s) of Coonamble and Terrigal and the Clontarf and Girls Academy which are both part of Coonamble High School are providing financial and organizational sponsorship and support for the student exchange.  The Coonamble and Terrigal High Schools are providing teacher and transport support.  The combined aspirations and commitment of Rotarians and members of the school executives has led to the creation of the Beach and Bush exchange experience.
The exchange has two legs out-bound Terrigal High School to Coonamble from Monday 19 November – four days (completed) and in-bound from Coonamble High School to Terrigal from Monday 30 November – five days.
The Terrigal High School group included twelve students, three boys and nine girls from years 8 and 9, and four teachers led by Ms Karen Whatson, Personal Development, Health and Physical Education, Mr Ron Falzon and Mr John Bowyer – History and English who shared the driving and Ms Jan Brown, Technological and Applied Studies travelled to and were hosted by the Coonamble High School.  Accommodation was provided at the Coonamble High School in the Clontarf and Girls Academy building space(s).
A little bit about Coonamble.  It is renowned for its diversified agricultural industries, including broad-, acre cropping, and large cattle and sheep production the Coonamble Shire is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Western NSW.
Part of the ‘Great Inland Way’ Coonamble is situated on the ‘underground’ Castlereagh River in North-West NSW, approximately 6.5 hour drive from Sydney.   In the 2011 Census the population of Coonamble was 2,998.
The exchange program consisted of school based experiences and the opportunity to explore the surrounding region.  Upon arrival the students and teachers were greeted by and shared a BBQ with some Coonamble students, the Principal Margaret Mulcahy and leaders from the Clontarf and Girls Academy(ies).  A walking tour around the town proved interesting and provided some exercise following the seven hour bus travel to Coonamble.
Tuesday morning started with breakfast provided by and at the Academy spaces followed by the Terrigal students participating in regular lessons which included English, Wood and Metal Work.  It came as a great and pleasant surprise for the students and accompanying Terrigal High teachers to find an ex Terrigal High student who had also undertake her practical teaching experience at Terrigal High and is now working as a permanent teacher at the Coonamble High School. 
The afternoon was spent at a local grain farm owned by a Coonamble High School teacher and her husband where the students learnt about life on the land and farming practices.  The feedback from the visit was that scale of the farm equipment was large and impressive and there was a lot of work involved in farming.  After dinner the students played lawn bowls under lights at the bowling club which had generously waivered the green fees.
Wednesday was spent touring the local region including a visit to the Sculptures in the Bush, in the Dandry Gorge, Timallallie National Park, The Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre in Baradine and driving through the Warrumbungle National Park.
The Sculptures in the Scrub walking track, in Timallallie National Park, takes in the award-winning Sculptures in the Scrub, a project that was four years in the making.  Each sculpture is the result of an artist collaborating with local AboriginalElders and young people on a piece that tells a story of local Aboriginal history and culture. The sculptures are designed to be touched by visitors. The next stop was to the Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre in Baradine where the students participated in hands on activities and look around the exhibitions. 
The tour then continued onto the Warrumbungle National Park which is 70km south-east of Coonamble. Warrumbungle is a Gamilaroi word meaning crooked mountain. The most iconic feature in the park, The Breadknife, is a volcanic dyke which stands 90m tall.

In the afternoon the students visited a local property - Nakadoo Farm and enjoyed a horse and buggy ride about the township of Coonamble followed by dinner prepared by Coonamble Rotarians and camp fire activities.    
The evening concluded with some exchange related formalities that included thank you gifts presented by Terrigal High School and an exchange of Rotary Club banners between David Mylan and Keith Glover, Secretary, Coonamble Rotary.
 My observations about the trip to Coonamble are that it provided a snapshot opportunity for students from two different parts of New South Wales to meet and get a sense of who and where each lives, experience Rotary and local hospitality and to see some country townships and unique Australian landscapes.
Recognition and thank you to John Spath, Rotary Club of Terrigal, Adam Cohen, Director Clontarf Foundation, Vili Sirilo Operations Clontarf, Karen Whatson Terrigal High School and Keith Glover Rotary Club of Coonamble for organizing a great experience that was enjoyed by all.
David Mylan (Pia Mylan accompanied the trip)
Director Community