Ashley Smith

Smells like green spirit

IT’s Queensland’s largest school-based event.

Every year, more than 2,000 primary and high school students from all over Queensland and beyond descend on Maryborough to camp with teammates, race a variety of alternative energy-powered vehicles – and perhaps to improve people’s perception of today’s youth.

The Challenge, due to run this year on the weekend of 11 and 12 September, boasts a program including the Ergon Energy QLD Solar Model Boat and Car Championships, QLD CO2 Dragster Championship, robotics and Smilie Pushcart Championship and the Young Inventors Innovation Award.

The big drawcard though is the RACQ QLD 24-hour Human Powered Vehicle (HPV) Championship, a contest that sees teams of eight racking up as many kilometres as they can in a 24-hour period. Last year’s winner – The Slipstreamers from Nanango State High School – did 688.5km kilometres - the equivalent of racing full-tilt from Melbourne to Canberra.

RACQ is on board again in 2010 offering sponsorship and receiving the naming rights to the RACQ QLD 24-hour HPV Championship.

Ross Humphries is the race’s director and the industrial technology teacher at host school, Maryborough State High. He’s raced HPVs for more than fifteen years and has been involved in the event since its inception. Ross says the Challenge develops participants’ technical and design skills while helping build team spirit.

“For some of these kids, if they’re not into football or team sports, this is the first chance they’ve had to be in a team, working with their mates,” he says.

Ross says the event does a fantastic job of inspiring young girls and boys (the split is about 40:60) to do something ‘challenging and different’ in their spare time.

“This is all done at lunchtime and after school yet, at the beginning of 2008 I had 250 kids out of the 700 enrolled at Maryborough High on my books.”

“When we started the event in 2002 we had just six students enrolled.”

“I find it particularly gratifying that kids are even asking me to come in at the weekend to work on their vehicles with them – and it says something that I’m keen to go in and do it.”

Important too, says Ross, is the event’s ability to “show kids that the world’s much bigger than Maryborough”.

They learn that HPV events are a global phenomenon with some of the world’s largest motor companies building vehicles.

They also learn about alternative energy - you could say that the Challenge is the first hands-on opportunity for these kids to attempt to tackle the environmental challenges they will probably be called upon to solve. As Lenny Vance of Ergon Energy – a major sponsor of the event – says, ‘they are the future of our industry’.

Ergon does more than give financial support to the event. Lenny says the Challenge’s ability to ‘educate and inspire’ young people about new technology and alternative energy makes it a perfect fit with the organisation’s own vision. Ergon people are active participants in the event.

“Our local Maryborough staff are on the organising committee and assist with the installation of temporary power to the event site,” he says.

“We also have volunteers who staff an educational display that promotes energy efficiency. We featured these staff in a television commercial we produced to help promote the event across the state.”

Lenny says ‘grass roots’ initiatives like the Technology Challenge Maryborough are important.

“Advertising and other information campaigns can only go so far in changing people's behaviour around reducing energy consumption.

“Grass roots events like this provide genuine interaction with an audience and the opportunity to bring key messages to life.

“Long-term behavioural change requires community engagement.”

And it helps when it’s so much fun.

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