State of the Environment Report 2007

Snapshot: Birrigai reborn 

Many Canberra students have spent happy times at Birrigai, an outdoor school near the edge of Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, 25 kilometres south of the city. As with the Brindabella ranges and into Canberra, a good deal of Birrigai was devastated by the 2003 bushfires. Along with other ACT buildings and nature areas, it can now tell its own story of a rise from the ashes.

From 1979, the school served the community well as a place to discover first-hand our natural environment and some of our indigenous inheritance. Its reconstruction provided an opportunity for creative thinking about the new buildings: a seed or egg shape was chosen for their layout, symbolising Birrigai’s rebirth.

The new buildings incorporate sustainable design principles of solar orientation, thermal mass, insulation, natural ventilation and light, solar hot water, and water storage and re-use. The school demonstrates sustainability principles in action and has more extensive facilities, including accommodation, and lower energy and water consumption than before. A few of the fittings have been problematic and difficulties have arisen in learning to operate and maintain buildings and systems to maximum effect, pointing to the need for care in such leading-edge developments.

Renewal extended beyond the building walls: tracks and facilities were repaired too, with Green Corps volunteer help.

The rebirth of the Birrigai Outdoor School is closely linked with developments in the neighbouring Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, particularly the current development of a Nature Discovery Centre with visitor and educational programs, wildlife collection management and a stronger educational emphasis on Indigenous history and cultural associations with the region. The extended Outdoor School plus the new Discovery Centre are a dynamic duo, bigger and better than what was there before the fire.

It is fitting that the ACT’s nature learning centre should emerge from the fire in a form which deals better with the environment that we are part of: those of us who have been hereabouts for less than 200 years can now learn to live even better with our environment. 

living sustainably

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