Parkville’s urban oasis for rural and regional school children

Parkville’s urban oasis for rural and regional school children
Carol Saffer

What began life in 1941 as the American military’s Camp Pell, housing troops in tents with limited cooking facilities and no running water, is now Urban Camp, providing accommodation and educational programs for rural and regional primary school children from around Australia.

Located in Royal Park, a stone’s throw from Flemington Rd, and adjacent to Melbourne Zoo and Melbourne Sports Centres, Urban Camp’s location is quiet, unique and convenient.

Urban Camp’s CEO Daniel Whykes said the camp’s site in the park provided a safe and comfortable space for young people.

“They see bushland and hear bird noises and can go for a run in the park or kick the footy around while being only a tram ride away from the CBD,” he said.

“We are advancing their education, giving them opportunities to see what there is in the city while aligning their program to their school curriculum.”

Urban Camp is a not-for-profit charity that enables young people to thrive through urban experiences while providing safe and comfortable facilities, accommodation, and nutritious meals.

The camp aims to give students opportunities for personal growth and prioritise accessibility for all young people to enjoy memorable urban experiences.

Students from Grades Four, Five and Six from Newstead Primary School, from the township of Newstead situated on the Loddon River about 17 kilometres from Castlemaine, visited Urban Camp in mid-April.

The school’s principal, Kathy Calender, said that Urban Camp showed them another option in life.

“It is an eye-opener and [shows them] how life is different in different places,” she said.

“The kids often get to do everyday things that students in Melbourne take for granted, and they experience the inner-city bustle of life.”


One mum told me that her son reckons it was the best camp he has ever been on.


When 10-year-old Lewis from Grade Five and Sesi and Eve, both in Grade Six and 11 years old, were asked by Inner City News what their favourite experience was on the first day in Melbourne. All three enthusiastically said their visit to ACMI.

All agreed that it was “a mix of everything interactive and lots of things to do and look at.”

They were very excited about going ice skating the following night.

Curriculum-aligned visits include excursions to such venues at ACMI, Old Melbourne Gaol, and the Shrine of Remembrance, while Melbourne Zoo provides exclusive night walks to the young people.

When school groups like Newstead’s come to Melbourne via train, Urban Camp will collect their luggage on arrival at Southern Cross Station so the kids can go straight to that day’s activities.

It might be their first time in the city or even on an escalator.

They will possibly see homeless people on the city streets and encounter buskers and beggars.

Victoria Police’s Safety in the City program, which covers personal safety and road awareness, is delivered to the students.

Leading Senior Constable Dinesh Nettur from Melbourne Proactive Police spoke informally with the Newstead pupils back at Urban Camp about mobile phone distractions; looking after their property; how and when to call 000 and what to do if approached by people asking for money or help.

He also covered navigating through busy city traffic and using public transport. 

The Safety in the City talk was designed for Year Nine students as an orientation for coming to the city.

LSC Nettur, who presented a modified version to the younger group from Newstead, said police wanted to give the students practical advice to make their city visit safe and enjoyable.

Mr Whykes said Urban Camp focused strongly on keeping a safe venue.

“We are the stepping-stone to provide the opportunity to see what there is available to our guests,” he said.

“It could be in the way of introducing them to ongoing education [in the city] or just experiencing the different types of housing in the city or urban areas.”

“We provide them with a positive experience in Melbourne.”

In August 1941, Anzac Hall was built for the RSL at Camp Pell as a cinema, lecture, and recreation hall.

Camp Pell was decommissioned in December 1945.

In 2000 Anzac Hall was put on the Victorian Heritage Register as significant and it now serves as the dining area of the camp, where the students sit at tables together with their mates for breakfast and dinner most days.

As well as dormitory accommodation for students and private rooms for teachers, the facility includes breakout rooms where the kids can watch movies or TV or undertake other activities together.

Urban Camp has a sustainability focus with water-efficient showerheads dispensing solar hot water from solar energy panels.

“We are committed to making as little impact on the environment as possible and have implemented many sustainability initiatives such as composting food waste with our closed-loop compost system,” Mr Whykes said.

“The kids love loading the compost compactor.”

Since 1984 Urban Camp has been booked years in advance. They continually roll over bookings yearly for most school clients, generally for Grade Five and Six primary school students.

Ms Calender said Newstead sent a group of their kids every three years and had been doing so for 15 years.

“Learning at camp trumps anything at school,” Mr Whykes said.

Sporting, disability and community groups use the camp’s facilities on weekends •


Caption: (Left to right) Sese, Lewis and Eve from Newstead PS.

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