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Hittin' the road - Episode 18: Macquarie Fields

The activities are designed to show the students what it's like to be part of Defence. What kind of training regimes they can expect. What it's all about. They're based on a military-style delivery

Macquarie Fields was the final pit stop in our Great TAFE SWSi Road Trip.

It was late in the day when we arrived at the College. The sun had already dipped below the horizon, the shadows were lengthening and a late afternoon chill was making its presence felt. But it was an animated and energetic scene that greeted us in the College grounds. A group of students were participating in what looked like a kind of military-style obstacle course/boot camp thingy. They were charging around in pairs and small groups, navigating the various different activities, calling out to each other, laughing and offering encouraging whoops and cat calls.

What we were watching was a program called Tracks to Defence, something that Macquarie Fields Campus specialises in. Our contact, Karen, the College's Aboriginal Coordinator, explained what was going on.

"Tracks to Defence is a 5-day orientation program for indigenous students who are interested in joining the armed services," she said. "The students come from all over Australia. They're usually put in contact with us by Defence recruitment. The SWSi Aboriginal Unit works very closely with the Defence Department. The activities are designed to show the students what it's like to be part of Defence. What kind of training regimes they can expect. What it's all about. They're based on a military-style delivery."

When the students first arrive at Macquarie Fields, their literacy and numeracy levels are checked to make sure they meet Defence's compulsory minimum, which is equivalent to Year 10. Those students who fall below this are put into Defence Force English and Defence Force Maths pathway courses that bridges the shortfall. The other students get stuck into Tracks to Defence, which also includes mentoring and support programs.

Macquarie Fields College also offers a range of courses in many popular industry areas such as wall and floor tiling, aged care, fashion design and technology, signage, IT networking and telecommunications. But the Tracks to Defence program is probably one of the College's more unusual offerings. As we watched the participants finishing their rounds and starting to pack away the day's equipment, it stuck me how energetic and engaged everyone was. A blindfolded student was making her way through the final stages of an obstacle course, a fellow student hovering behind her, banging enthusiastically on a metal saucepan every time she stood on a ‘landmine'. There was a kind of infectious joy to these activities that seemed to warm the dim, diffused light of dusk.

Okay, so maybe I'm waxing a bit lyrical. But you get the picture. It was about energy and engagement and purpose, something that's been on abundant display at every SWSi College we've visited. Qualities that are not just to be found in SWSi, but in TAFE Institutes and Campuses all across the state. It's great stuff.