Vegemite, a thick, rich and salty product made from yeast extract, is a paste commonly spread on bread or toast in Australian households. This iconic product mirrors some of the unique aspects of this country. For example, Vegemite thinly spread is best. The population of this country is sparse across the wide lands, and the Australian environment with its thin soils, water shortages and intense climates, might also be described as spread thin. These aspects of context present challenges because Australia needs quality sustainability educators thick on the ground to deal with the many and diverse environmental issues.
This paper describes the development of the Australian National Professional Development Initiative for Sustainability Educators (NPDISE) and how it was infuenced by the Australian context. Multiple challenges existed: the size of the country, its environmental conditions and rich biodiversity, distance and space between major centres, distribution of people and resources, understanding of and support for education, and three tiers of government – each with its own policies, programs and priorities. On top of this, the practice of sustainability education crosses multiple professional sectors and disciplines. All these challenges had to be taken into account.
Research conducted by the Waste Management Association Australia in 2009 revealed that the needs of Australia's sustainability educators in overcoming many of these challenges were broadly consistent around Australia. This gave encouragement to the establishment of a national professional development approach for those working in the environmental education feld. This paper shows how four professional associations – Australian Association for Environmental Education, Waste Management Association Australia, Australian Water Association, and the Marine Education Society of Australasia – worked together for the frst time and approached these challenges whilst developing the NPDISE. A 1954 jingle said Vegemite would help children “grow stronger every single week”. The NPDISE represents a similar ethos with an emphasis on building the sector.