THERE’S no power, no technology, no mirrors and no watches allowed, yet teenagers willingly apply to stay.
Welcome to Mittagundi, a 160ha not-for-profit farm and outdoor education centre at Glen Valley, in Victoria’s remote High Country.
And according to director Liz Leyshan, the centre is all about changing young people’s lives.
“There are plenty of kids who don’t want to come here when they find out there’s no electricity,” Liz says. “But those who do come do so because they want to challenge themselves.
“When they come here they are given an experience that connects them with a simpler way of living and with a group of peers.”
Mittagundi was established in 1978 by Ian Stapleton, who is now retired in Harrietville, but at the time worked for adventure organisation Outward Bound and later Geelong Grammar’s Timbertop.
He later added another property in 1989, Wollangarra, at Glenfalloch near Licola, which is today run along similar lines to its sister centre, Mittagundi.
“Ian realised a lot of rich kids had experiences of being in the outdoors and he wanted to create a place for those who came from a low socio-economic status,” Liz says.
So today Mittagundi — like Wollangarra — is run for kids aged 14 to 17, some of whom pay the $425 fee to stay in the rustic quarters, manage the farm animals and take part in outdoor activities.
Throughout the year the centre runs ten 10-day programs, starting out with a two-day hike from Falls Creek to the 160ha property.
What follows is a combination of activities, including milking the cows, feeding the pigs, chooks and horses, working in the blacksmith forge and in the woodworking joinery, as well as abseiling, rafting on the Mitta Mitta River and hiking around the foothills of the Bogong high plains.
“Because we don’t have watches, we use the sun for our activities, getting up at dawn, eating at dusk,” the 40-year-old says.
“And with no mirrors here, it’s OK for them to get dirty. It’s all about fostering self-confidence and independence.”
Mittagundi runs largely on donations and sponsorship and is managed by a staff of seven, who are paid an honoraria of $6000 a year.