Covid-19 silver linings shine in the outback

In the eighteen months since Covid-19 emerged bringing disruption and uncertainty for the non-profit sector, TFFF has been impressed with the ingenuity, resilience, adaptability, and resolve shown by our funded organisations.

One charity which has shone during this time is the Central Highlands Science Centre (CHSC), a small not-for-profit based in Emerald, Queensland, which managed to find silver linings to the pandemic despite the challenges it encountered. 

For more than two decades, CHSC had occupied a space beneath the old grandstand of the council-owned local showground precinct, where it delivered fun and engaging out-of-school STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) learning opportunities for more than 5,000 country children every year.

When Covid-19 restrictions prohibited access to the building in March 2020, all activities came to an abrupt halt and the CHSC board were compelled to totally re-think the centre’s operation.

“The pandemic lockdown pushed the board to think outside the square and work out how we could reopen our doors and reinvigorate our not-for-profit organisation during these uncertain times”, CHSC Chair Bronwyn Roberts said.

CHSC Deputy Chair Lisa Caffery said the board’s ability to act decisively was key to securing the organisation’s future in the changed circumstances.

“With adversity comes innovation, and the members of the CHSC volunteer board were able to quickly come together (virtually) and make some important decisions when time was of the essence”, Lisa said.

The group rapidly decided a relocation was the best way forward, and took advantage of the situation to also reconsider branding and long-term sustainability.

In September 2020, the centre reopened in a new space in central Emerald, under the name of Outback Exploratorium, launching just in time to recommence its nationally recognised Science Squad program.

CHSC Board member and CQUniversity lecturer Saba Sinai said the Outback Exploratorium had an essential role to play in bringing quality education experiences to regional and rural Queensland.

“We need more scientists and innovators in the bush, and STEAM education holds the key. Providing engaging, inspiring, and practical STEAM experiences that are relevant to country kids is so important to foster a lifelong curiosity and positive attitude towards STEAM,” Mr Sinai said.

TFFF joins the Outback Exploratorium in celebrating this new phase in the organisation’s 25-year history, which will offer greater visibility and opportunities to build on its already solid reputation as the most remote, non-government funded, not-for-profit science centre in Australia.  

With thanks to Lisa Caffery for the original draft of this article, adapted with permission. All images by Jesse Lindemann and courtesy of Central Highlands Development Corporation.