Cowaramup Primary School students learned the significance of Cowaramup Bay and were left with a powerful sense of place after walking the bay’s sandy beaches and granite headland with traditional owners last week.

It was part of Nature Conservation Margaret River Region’s youth program Adopt a Spot, which involves Year 4 students from nine schools across the Capes region, with each class learning about a nearby area of bushland, river, foreshore or coastline and caring for it over the course of a year.

Cowaramup Primary’s adopted spot is the recreational mecca Cowaramup Bay, where the students were wowed by the traditional significance, creation stories and Wadandi connection to the bay as told by members of the Undalup Association’s Wadandi ranger program.

Adopt a Spot has been running for nine years but this year it has been expanded thanks to a grant from the State of Western Australia and Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. For the first time, the Year 4 students are learning from traditional owners at their adopted sites, while professional artists are also collaborating with each class to help children explore and communicate the plant, animal and Wadandi stories of connection through art.

Wadandi ranger Kaylene Gray said it was “absolutely amazing seeing the kids come to learn on country”. “It’s just wonderful being on country with these young kids. They are just so eager to learn.”

Fellow ranger Joe Adams said: “It’s good to see how eager they are to care for country, because it needs the help and the care. It’s good to see the new young fellas getting in and passing down that knowledge… and loving the conservation work too.”

Wadandi elder Wayne Webb was also on hand to share his stories of Cowaramup Bay, and he recalled camping for several days at a time and hunting on the shore and in the ocean when he was the same age as the Year 4 students. Decades later, he surfed the waves with the first pioneer surfers to the area. He said he had a simple message for the students and for all residents in the region: “You look after country and it looks after you.”

He added: “I like the way the kids ask so many questions, they’re interested. We can’t be there all the time to look after country, so you’ve got to get the young ones involved. Like what happened here – they’re picking up rubbish, they’re looking after country.”

Cowaramup Primary teacher Leesa Mathers said the Adopt a Spot program was having even more impact this year with the addition of the indigenous education at each school’s adopted spot. “It’s a great opportunity for the kids to be on country, to hear the stories, and hear the Wadandi language,” she said. “And what’s great is that the kids have the opportunity to respond, to touch and feel, and be part of continuously looking after Boodja (country).”

Year 4 students Jett Roberts and Skye Motzouris both said getting out of the classroom and onto the beach at Cowaramup Bay was “good fun” and they said they were fascinated to hear the indigenous stories of the area.

Over the rest of the year, the students will work with local artists to interpret and connect with their adopted spots through art, and then get their hands dirty with on-ground conservation work including removing weeds and replanting natives.

Adopt a Spot coordinator Tracey Muir said it was “an honour having Uncle Wayne attend on the day to share his amazing stories and reflections”, alongside four Undalup Association rangers who also shared their insights.

“I’m thrilled at the opportunity for local students across our shire to learn from Wadandi elders about the cultural significance of bushland or coastal reserves that they adopt and care for,” she added. “It means some special areas of cultural and environmental significance can be restored and cared for consistently, with the help of volunteers and school students.”

Local artists including Fi Wilkie, Emily Jackson and Tania Davey will be part of the program, as well as Michelle Bretherton and Cara Ratajczak from Weaving Boodja and Margaret River Printmaking’s Franceso Geronazzmo and Annie Murphy.

Adopt a Spot is funded through the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River’s Environmental Management Fund and Line In The Sand philanthropic group, with additional grant funding from the State of Western Australia and Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries