Last year at the World Scout Jamboree, our Chief Commissioner Phil Harrison was interviewed by Swiss Scout Romano Camenzind about Scouting in Australia. His interview has recently appeared in the Swiss Guide and Scout Movement (SGSM) magazine!
Last summer, I got to participate in the World Scout Jamboree in the USA with 1150 scouts from Switzerland. There, I also got to know some high-ranking Scouts from other parts of the world. One of those was Phil Harrison, the Chief Commissioner of Scouts Australia. I used the opportunity to pose a few questions to Phil about the Australian Scout movement, and how this differs from Swiss scouting.
“The Australian Scouting movement has about 72,000 members. Lots of our traditional things come from England naturally. But we have a few things that are typically Australian. For example, our youngest section (5-7 year olds) are called Joey Scouts. Joeys are baby kangaroos. There are other things that have been adapted to more Australian vocabulary. We’re in the process of revising our program, so that it suits our modern youth better. That also means we’re using more modern language to describe what we do.
Just like the Swiss have different coloured shirts for different sections in Scouting, in Australia we have, for example, yellow shoulders on our shirts for Cub Scouts, green for Scouts and Red for Rover Scouts. The basic shirt colour is always dark blue. Here at the Jamboree we rarely wear our home Scout shirts – you see us more often with our green/yellow shirts and our typical Australian Akubra hats, so we are more easily recognised as Australians. In some states, we have different scarves to differentiate the Scout groups, just like in Switzerland. In other states the scarves for all groups are the same. It depends on the rules of the state.
Our Scout Groups meet once a week for one or two hours. At the forefront of the meetings, you have Scout Methods and games, but also the planning of future activities. On the weekends, the groups have day activities, and say every 10 weeks or so there might be a short camp. There, the groups can go canoeing or do bush walks or go to the Australian outback/wilderness, and lots of other adventures. Every year in January, the Australian summer, there is a summer camp. We have a national Scout Jamboree every three years for Scouts. There are also regular national camps for Venturer Scouts (14-17) and Rover Scouts.
Of course, it’s great. But Michael is Michael. He takes his position as a Scout earnestly, holds lectures and presents awards now and then. He’s treated no differently than our other adult members. It must be interesting for him to take part in a Scout Jamboree where many people are seeking his signature or to have their photo taken with him.
Many Units organise activities where they can be of service in the local community. Many groups are very good at fundraising. For example, helping farmers during the hardships of feeding their cattle in the drought. There are badges for that sort of thing. Drought is a continual problem in Australia.
Our national organisation helps Scout organisations in other lands like Fiji, Papua New Guinea and East Timor through leader education or sponsoring materials.
Scouts Australia is open to all. The principles of the World Organisation are always at the top of our list; that is, the duty to self and others and one’s own spirituality. We let our members choose for themselves what spirituality means for them. In Australia, there is an umbrella organisation, Scouts Australia, and a separate organisation for Girl Guides. The two are closely related organisations, and we frequently undertake activities together. Unlike Guides, Scouts are open to all genders. It’s been like that for about 30 years now, nationally. Probably like everywhere else, we have a struggle to find new members and especially new leaders. We have recently started a program called LeaderBuild. People who are potentially interested can trial being a leader for a year, to experience how much fun it is to work with children and youth.
I wish you all best for your national camp. In accordance with the new principles we aim for, for all Australian Scout activities, we hope your experiences at your national camp are adventurous, challenging, fun and inclusive and simply good all round.