August 24, 2011

After weeks of rain I wake in the morning to a clear blue sky. All day it is sunny, bodies coming out of hibernation. It is the middle of the day when Blue became not just a sunny day, not just a body coming alive into the rising sap of spring, but the story of my (im)possible Gippsland. In one group children have to choose a colour card (from a paint shop) and find an example of a 'living', a 'non-living' and a 'once living' element of the wetlands that matches their chosen colour. Jack holds his square of blue colour up to the sky and marvels simply at the colour blue. Caleb, the bird boy, points to a flock of water birds outlined in black against a blue, blue sky. As they turn and wheel back and forth, cream underfeathers flicker white in the bright sunlight. A great expanse of blue sky, of birds flying in perfect V formation, making patterns with their bodies. How do they do it? What is it like to be a bird in flight, not a single bird, but a whole flock of birds flying as one but not-one? But it is not even that, it is that at this moment blue becomes Blue, the story of blue, the story of this blue day.

In the novel Mr Pip, set in colonial Papua New Guinea, the teacher asks all of the grandmothers to come into the class to talk to the children. Daniel's grandmother comes into the class one day and this is what she says:

I will tell you everything I know about the colour blue.

Blue is the colour of the Pacific Ocean. It is the air we breathe. Blue is the gap in the air of all things such as the palms and iron roofs. But for blue we would not see the fruit bats. Thank you God for the colour blue.

It is surprising when the colour blue pops up, look and ye shall find. You can find blue squinting up in the cracks of the wharf at Kieta. And you know what it is trying to do? It is trying to get at the stinking fish guts to take them back home. If blue was an animal or plant or bird it would be a seagull. It gets its sticky beak into everything.

Blue also has magical powers. You watch a reef and tell me if I am lying. Blue crashes into a reef and what colour does it release? It releases white. Now how does it do that?

(Jones, 2006, p. 57)

Somehow these images of Blue: the blue of Chrissiejoy's lake and the blue in the story of Daniel's grandmother, the surprising blue sky of a late winter's day and the blue of the paint card held up to the sky as the formation of birds flew over, captured something as yet unspeakable and unknowable about these children and this place that I wanted to explore further.

Ten groups of teacher education students prepared activities for the children to learn alternative ways of viewing the world in the wetlands. Each group posted their activities on the unit bulletin board for comment. Group 6 developed an activity called 'Colour Code Treasure Hunt' focusing on the concept of 'adaptation' using swatches of paint from the local Bunnings Hardware store. The students had to choose a paint sample and search the wetlands for something that matched their colour. They were provided with digital cameras to photograph all of the things they found that matched the colour of their paint sample (Figure 4.1).

It was in this group that I saw the students with the colour Blue. They were gazing up into the blue blue sky holding their paint swatch up in front of their eyes: 'What makes the sky blue?' they wondered.

Group 6 activity plan

Figure 4.1 Group 6 activity plan: Wetlands day

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