Sculpture By The Sea, done Nambucca-style

Gary Cattanach in his workshop at Nambucca Heads High
Gary Cattanach in his workshop at Nambucca Heads High

Nambucca Heads High Trade School teacher and all-round legend Gary Cattanach is excited.

He's just been given the green light to host the Maagunda Gaagal - Festival of the Ocean - at Nambucca's Main Beach at the end of this month.

For over a year now Gary has put his everything into this project, which could potentially change the way we think about education.

Since semester one last year, students have been industriously engineering five original ocean-themed metal sculptures which really have to be seen to be believed.

Gary applied for and was granted an FRRR grant and teamed up with Jason Earnshaw, of Earnshaw Engineering, to construct the sculptures - opening an avenue for the school to form partnerships and training opportunities with more local businesses in future.

During the creative process the kids have learned about design, the physics of engineering, project management, teamwork, and become familiar with a diverse range of specialised manufacturing techniques.

They've also clocked up work experience hours for VET courses in engineering.

Many of Gary's proteges have been Indigenous students.

"I've found student-led and Aboriginal-led projects have the largest ongoing impact," he said.

But students from other backgrounds have been just as enthusiastic about the concept.

Gary said the engagement on this project from students who come from the school of hard knocks gives him hope that he is on to a winning formula.

The long-term and hands-on creative process gave students a unique platform to air their grievances to someone they'd learned to trust.

"This is about mentorship too - showing people a positive path in life," Gary said.

And Gary said the real-life skills the students have picked up has led to a few kids scoring apprenticeships straight out of school.

Meanwhile the sculptures themselves are robust, professional and visually stunning pieces of installation artwork which would not look out of place along a swanky seaside boulevard ... or perhaps Mann St once it is dolled up (wink wink, nudge nudge, Nambucca Valley Council).

"We may have just created an industry in our own town," Gary said, eyes sparkling.

He said this project is a perfect example of the merits of cooperative learning or a "total immersion project"; students studying other disciplines have been able to apply their skills too.

To document the process, Nambucca High kids produced, filmed and edited a short video, which will be viewable inside the Nambucca Heads Surf Lifesaving Club during the festival.

The school band will also have a chance to show off their talents during the festival, and Gumbaynggirr dancers will share their culture with the community.

In future, Gary believes this could be a whole-of-school exercise.

"I think we're in with a good chance of having a really good thing here - something that's inclusive, sustainable, expandable, and with an economic basis," he said.

Gary's track record of successful projects that are a little "left of centre" and his infectious enthusiasm for what he does means a whole range of people have jumped onto the wave with him and the kids.

This is about the school, the town, local business and clubs all coming together to work towards something positive.

"It's been a privilege to get to this point in my career where people want to engage with what I do."

Maagunda Gaagal will be held over two days, from Friday February 28 to February 29, out the front of the Nambucca Heads Surf Lifesaving Club.

With the date now set in stone, Gary is working 24/7 on ensuring everything comes together for Nambucca's own 'Sculpture By The Sea'.

"This is going to blow this town apart, I reckon".

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