Central Australia Trip

Umsu Intl is proud to present our annual 11 Day Trip to Central Australia. This opportunity is offered to all local and international students at the University of Melbourne and is a great chance for you to travel to one of the most exotic parts of Australia and to bond with new friends, all while being on a wholesome holiday that is sure to be a once in a lifetime experience.

View the Central Australia Trip Itinerary attached for further details and a clearer idea of what’s in store for you.

Things to note:

  1. This trip will take place from 28 June 2015 (Sunday) to 8 July 2015 (Wednesday)
  2. Early bird special price of $990 (limited seats only) will end on 22 April 2015 (Wednesday). Normal price after early bird will be $1090 per person. The fee will include most meals, accommodation etc.
  3. Payments can be made starting 9 April 2015 (Thursday)
  4. Final payment has to be made by 13 May 2015 (Wednesday)
  5. All payments are to be made to Info Desk, Ground Floor, Union House or Info Desk, Ground Floor, FBE Building (the Spot)

For further enquiries, please feel free to contact the coordinators of this event, Vy Ha

Words by Duncan Willis
Illustration by Ashleigh Duncan

Throughout primary school, my friend Boris and I were inseparable. We sat next to each other in every class, at lunchtime and at recess. The sole exception was one class each week when Boris got to sit in the corner and draw pictures while I had to learn about a guy who lived 2000 years ago and who could provide everybody with bread and fish. Boris was Chinese and Buddhist, and thus his mother had opted out of his religious education for reasons I didn’t understand until later. While I learned about Jesus and the disciples, Boris read books or joined in other classes.

This simple classroom separation has its origins back in 1872, when the colony of Victoria declared that education was to be “free, compulsory and secular”. Government funding to all denominational schools ceased in 1874, and religious instruction in government schools was banned. Ever since, religion has become an ever-increasing presence in government schools. In the ‘50s, volunteers from Christian and Jewish groups were allowed to deliver religious instruction alongside the curriculum. They were joined in the ‘90s by volunteers of other faiths, providing students with Buddhist, Sikh, Baha’i, Hindu and Muslim options. The Government now spends more money on religious education than it ever has before.

Religious education in Victorian schools was completely overhauled as part of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006. The act stipulated that primary schools could provide either Special Religious Instruction (SRI), defined as “instruction provided by churches and other religious groups and based on distinctive religious tenets and beliefs” (2.2.11, section 5), or General Religious Education (GRE), “education about the major forms of religious thought and expression characteristic of Australian society and other societies in the world” (2.2.10, section 4). GRE was intended to be taught by qualified teachers, whereas SRI is taught by volunteers of various faiths. No syllabus has ever been written for GRE, and unless a teacher develops their own course in their own time, there is effectively no class where children can learn about religion in a secular context. In 81% of Victorian primary schools, the only option is Christian religious instruction, usually taught by a volunteer from ACCESS ministries, an inter-denominational Christian group.

Fairness in Religions in Schools (FIRIS) argues the current system is unfair. Scott Hedges, who co-founded the grassroots organisation in 2011, sees the current system as betraying Victoria’s progressive history. He believes that in making schools “free, compulsory and secular”, the 19th-century government was sending a clear message that it would not embroil itself in sectarian disputes between the churches. Furthermore, it was making an effort to construct a society different to that of England or Ireland, which had been racked by years of sectarian violence. However, Field Rickards, Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, believes that at the time, secular meant “non-sectarian”, and not, “free of religion”. Hedges refutes this, arguing that Rickards is “totally wrong on the facts … and wrong in spirit”.

FIRIS believes that students should follow a curriculum in GRE that teaches students about the beliefs, architecture, culture and festivals of different religions in a secular context. This new course would be at the expense of all current religious instruction in schools. Hedges points to Australia’s closest neighbours, which include countries that are predominately Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu, arguing that to understand the culture of our neighbours, we must understand the fundamentals of their religion.

Dan Flynn of the Australian Christian Lobby rejects the view that GRE and SRI are substitutes for one another and instead, says that they should be taught together. Flynn believes that the stories in the Bible, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Golden Rule, are important because of the messages they impart to children. He believes that SRI should remain an option for parents, while GRE should be core curricula. He argues that SRI shouldn’t be taught by qualified teachers because true believers of the faith can provide more genuine experience. He likens it to learning about Indigenous Australian culture from an Indigenous elder as opposed to a textbook. However, he concedes that perhaps the volunteers teaching SRI need higher levels of training and the primary schools need to come up with better alternative plans for children who opt out of religious instruction.

Dr David Zyngier, a Senior Lecturer in Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Monash University Faculty of Education, is deeply critical of the ACCESS curriculum from an educational point of view. He states that “students are not being challenged to think independently”, that activities “minimise intellectual growth” and, “moreover, there does not seem to be any logical selection and sequencing of the content”. Where most primary school curricula, over successive years, aim to create an environment where students learn independently and develop deep levels of thinking, the ACCESS curriculum favours individualised ‘busy’ work. Zyngier argues that the curriculum is incompatible with the current Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) and that religious instruction should be removed from Victorian public schools to “ensure that the damage that is being done by ACCESS Ministries to our most vulnerable children end sooner rather than later”.

Lara Wood, the FIRIS campaign co-ordinator, alleges that current system “encourages ignorance”. She argues that religious education in schools is important, but the current system does not allow for education, merely instruction, or “indoctrination”. She believes that SRI is harmful for students, alleging that children “are being taught to be suspicious of children of other cultures” and that they are being taught that if they do not develop a personal relationship with God, then they will go to hell. She accuses ACCESS ministries volunteers of indoctrinating and proselytising children, despite the fact the ACCESS volunteers must sign an agreement which specifically outlaws proselytising.

I didn’t come out of primary school brainwashed, believing Jesus was the only way to avoid hell, I didn’t end up suspicious of other religions and cultures. However, I didn’t leave primary school with an understanding of Gospels, or of the messages of the Bible, or of our Judeo-Christian heritage. I didn’t know a thing about any other religion, believing Islam and Judaism were other denominations of Christianity.  As I found with my friend Boris, understanding one’s religion is key to understanding one’s culture. A secular religious education would have helped me develop a tighter relationship with both my best friend and others of different faiths to my own.


Words by Travis Lines 

According to dhmo.org, dihydrogen monoxide—DHMO for short—is a colourless and odourless chemical which is capable of mutating DNA, disrupting cell membranes, and chemically altering neurotransmitters. In Australia alone, DHMO is responsible for thousands of deaths. Some of the effects of DHMO listed by the website include death due to accidental inhalation, tissue damage due to prolonged exposure, and severe burns caused by its gaseous form.

Despite the ill effects of DHMO, most people have never heard of it. Even more surprising is that DHMO is commonly used for a number of purposes, such as an industrial coolant and as a major food additive. In fact, reliable sources have informed me that DHMO is even used in the production of Farrago. 

Campaigners for prohibition of DHMO remain frustrated by Canberra’s lack of enthusiasm to take up the cause. In a bold act of defiance, Tony Abbott went so far as to ingest DHMO in front of cameras before embarking on his daily bike ride. While politicians refuse to accept incontrovertible evidence, more and more innocent people lose their lives to this devastating chemical.

Now that I’ve scared you to a point where you are certain of your imminent death, it’s time I let you in on a secret. The common name of this insidious chemical… is water.

Though I have not told a single lie in this article, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I have misled you. Undeniably, I have.

Amidst accusations of bias, a number of ABC journos have fronted the cameras to defend the ABC’s credentials as an organisation that is only interested in the facts. This seems to be the standard response: “we’re not biased, we just want to present the facts”. The ABC is probably right to laud the quality of their fact checking—after all, they are renowned for ABC Fact Check. But as the DHMO hoax suggests, balance isn’t just a case of presenting the facts.

With just the facts alone, nearly everyone who encounters the DHMO hoax for the first time is left feeling alarmed and worried for their wellbeing. It is therefore wrong for media organisations to suggest that a strict adherence to facts will eliminate bias.

Relying on facts to produce a balanced article is akin to using a fork to eat your soup—you may get a couple of chunks, but you’ve got no chance with the rest. Carefully placed, the right statistic or piece of scientific ‘research’ can give credence to almost any proposition. Omitting a key point, as I have done above, can make crackpot stories seem reasonable. This is a common technique used unabashedly by the spin doctors parading as journalists at Today Tonight and A Current Affair.

The onus is therefore upon media outlets, including Farrago, to develop and follow more detailed standards to prevent bias. A simple reliance on presenting the facts will not suffice. How to achieve these standards is a matter for debate, but that is exactly where the debate should be shifted. While you ponder that, I’m off to pour myself a glass of DHMO.