Early on the sunny morning of Oct. 31, with temperatures plunging below -15 C, a couple of students were throwing an Australian rules football to each other in the thick snow behind the Driftwood Diner restaurant.
The sight, possibly a first in Hay River, was produced by a couple of Australian students who were part of a larger group visiting the area to learn more about the local community and culture.
In total, 21 Community Planning and Development students and staff from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia spent the better part of a week snowshoeing, curling, skating, and learning about various facets of Hay River and the region.
The project had been in the works for more than a year, and came to fruition thanks to the friendship between Hay Riverite Kim Ivanko and La Trobe professor Dr. Julie Rudner, who met while playing hockey in Toronto when they were both teenagers.
Their friendship endured through the years and when another La Trobe professor, Trevor Budge, suggested they bring students to Canada, Rudner knew exactly where to go.
“Every two years we aim to come to the United States and Canada,” Budge said.
“When I told Julie we were going to Canada, she said we should go to Hay River because she had a friend there, so we did!”
The students are enrolled in international planning studies, and Budge said many have already been to Sri Lanka and throughout Europe.
Most seemed to enjoy their time in Hay River.
“We found it to be a great place; we work a lot with small towns in Australia and the people are always friendly and welcoming,” he said.
“Despite the difference, many of the issues here are similar to ours: concerns about infrastructure, service facilities, town beautification, issues of remoteness.”
Some might think the abundance of snow in Hay River could have been a deterrent for these more tropical dwellers.
“Of course the snow was a bonus because we have to go to the mountains to see it, and it’s only there for about three months,” Budge said.
Some of the students found the Northern environment fascinating.
“When we drove up (from Alberta) we really got a feel that we were going through different levels of snowfall,” Fraser Neele said.
He said Hay River was not unlike his own town back in Australia.
“I come from a town not too dissimilar in size, and while it’s nowhere near as remote, I understand some of the issues here,” he said.
The students were headed to Vancouver and then Spokane, Wash. to do a project with the planning students there, before ending their trip in Portland, Ore. where they will do a one-week intensive program.
Budge said he hopes to arrange for one of his students to do a one-month work placement in Hay River next year, and that a couple students were already keen to participate.
– Myles Dolphin