Waroona’s Forest Edge camp owners have had enough

Briana FioreHarvey-Waroona Reporter
Graeme and Sonia Watson are not happy with the Government restrictions on short term accomodation.
Camera IconGraeme and Sonia Watson are not happy with the Government restrictions on short term accomodation.

The dining hall is empty, the bunk beds are bare and thousands of students are missing out on school camps, something that is considered a rite of passage for West Aussie kids.

It is a sombre sight for Waroona’s Forest Edge Recreation Camp and owners Graeme and Sonia Watson say they are “fed up” with the lack of action by the Department of Education.

Mr Watson believed the Education Minister had imposed unreasonable restrictions on school camps.

Up until Thursday, public school camps could only operate at 25 per cent capacity, meaning only 35 students would have been able to attend the Waroona camp site — something Mr Watson said was simply “unviable”.

“We have 140 beds, our minimum camp number is usually 60 students, we could not run a camp with 35 students,” Mr Watson said.

“No camp in the State will be able to operate with these restrictions.”

On Thursday, new restrictions were announced at the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee meeting.

Dormitory capacity restrictions were eased for public school residential boarding facilities and school camp operators must cap the camps at 100 people.

Education Minister Sue Ellery said she understood it had been a stressful time for camp providers and for students who looked forward to these activities.

Mr Watson said he was happy about the 25 per cent capacity rule being lifted, but believed the Education Department was basing its stance off national standards and called for a review within WA.

“We are running out of time, term three is approaching and principals are waiting to see if they can rebook camps this year.

I had a camp booked with 105 students, what is that school supposed to do? Leave five students behind or cancel the camp for all of them.

Graeme Watson

“Venues in WA can have 300 people in segregated areas, so why are we only allowed to have 100?”

Mr Watson said he would invite the Education Minister to one of the camps so she could “find out what they are all about”.

“She might be acknowledging, but she is not acting,” Mr Watson said.

“Our business will lose $700,000 in camp bookings this year if the restrictions for WA are not revised, not to mention the flow-on effects to other businesses in town where we source our produce and equipment.

In a letter to Premier Mark McGowan, Mr Watson said the closure was keeping people out of work.

There are 20 employees in a rural town currently out of work because of the closure.

Graeme Watson

“We are also losing trained team members to other industries and this will present huge safety risks in the future.”

Mr Watson said school camps were often described as the “highlight of the year for many students”.

“Many teachers tell us that students learn more after two days at camp, than what they have in two terms of school.

“Our camp helps students develop their leadership, teamwork, listening and problem-solving skills.”

The coronavirus pandemic is another hurdle Mr and Mrs Watson are hoping to clear.

Their camp was left in ruins after falling victim to the catastrophic Yarloop-Waroona bushfire that tore through the region in 2016.

We got burnt out in the 2016 fires and now we are getting burnt by Government bureaucracy.

Graeme Watson

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