One of the underlying principles of the Early Years Learning Framework is respect for diversity and “for Australia, it also includes promoting greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing” and wellbeing (EYLF, 2010, p.13).
At Wagner Road Early Childhood Centre and Kindergarten, we have been travelling on our reconciliation journey for a number of years. A critical part of this journey has been the development of a collegial partnership with Aboriginal Elder Uncle Joe Kirk, who has helped us to introduce a range of reconciliation practices in our centre.
“Our partnership has led to increased understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in the early childhood sector in inner northern Brisbane. It is a very positive example of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal educators working together to advance reconciliation in this educational sector.”
These practices are also enhancing positive mental health and wellbeing in our service, for our children, families and educators.
How we began
We first made a decision to attend professional development that would help us gain a greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. We then found the tribe for the land on which our centre is situated, the Turrbal people. We invited Uncle Joe Kirk to our centre, initiating contact with him with no expectations about what this relationship might look like. After making this first step, we then continued to invite Uncle Joe to our centre, and our partnership and learning journey began.
“Uncle Joe is now a valued member of our centre and works with us to educate both the children in our care and their families and the wider community about Aboriginal ways of knowing and being. “
Strengthening our practice
Uncle Joe has helped us to embed Aboriginal perspectives in our daily practice, from the sign Watta Mulli meaning “hello/welcome” in Wakka Wakka language in our entrance foyer, to our yarning place which he named Way Ding meaning “to gather and tell stories.”
The children from each of the rooms in our centre placed their footprints around the edge of the yarning place, to symbolise the children as they grow and move through our centre together.
We constructed symbolic shields in our playground to protect the children and displayed the murals and paintings that Uncle Joe created with the children, throughout the centre.
We have invited Uncle Joe for Child Protection Week to speak with the children about keeping safe. He is a valued guest at centre functions and hosted celebrations for the opening of our playground, which he has helped to design. Uncle Joe and Greer Casey have also co-written three children’s books, KARANA, the father emu, DUELGUM, the mother eel and Budinge and the Min Min Lights, along with another early childhood educator, as resources to teach young children about Aboriginal culture.
We have appreciated opportunities to share our learnings with other educators, to promote the importance of reconciliation in early childhood settings, and to explore how we can make a positive difference to the wellbeing of children, families and educators.
During the past five years, our centre has hosted meetings for a group of local educators, called Brisbane Inner North Early Years (BINEY). This networking association includes educators from local early childhood services, prep teachers and school principals. Uncle Joe’s facilitation and yarning with educators at BINEY meetings are highly valued. In these meetings, he has shared his stories about his own life growing up in Cherbourg and Aboriginal children’s ways of knowing and learning.
Uncle Joe and Greer have co-presented at various conferences and professional development events, to build knowledge around Aboriginal culture and strengthen indigenous leadership in the ECEC sector. One example was the inaugural 2016 Early Childhood Australia (Qld Branch) Reconciliation Forum. Together we facilitated a yarning place and shared our journey about culturally safe and responsive ways to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into early childhood programs and how to build community relationships.
Our Qld KidsMatter Facilitator, Kerry, was also there to learn, participate and reinforce key messages about social and emotional wellbeing.
A highlight, for us, of our reconciliation learning journey was our selection, in partnership with Uncle Joe, as finalists in the education category of the 2016 Queensland Reconciliation Awards.
Our future journey
We will continue to support and mentor others wherever we can. An important indicator for us, and a measure of whether we are on the right track, has been the responses and development of our children and families over time.
“Having met Uncle Joe in our babies rooms and then in our toddlers room, by the time they come through to the kindergarten, their knowledge is very strong…..this knowledge having been embedded in their daily routines and programs as they grow, develop and learn.”
The knowledge that children have gained in an early childhood service such as ours, then smooths the transition to school, as they have gained an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways and cultures. They have developed an openness and responsiveness to learning more, and a strong sense of belonging and inclusion, which is so important for good mental health.
Greer Casey (Director), Sylvia Murray (Director) and Uncle Joe Kirk
Wagner Road Early Childhood Centre and Kindergarten