Reflection on the ECA Reconciliation Symposium

When the words of Kev Carmody’s and Paul Kelly’s song ‘From little things big things grow’ echoed across the room of 300 people at the conclusion of the ECA’s Reconciliation Symposium, I knew things had changed. Changed for ECA, for the participants and just maybe changed for the early childhood sector.

When the ECA Reconciliation Advisory Group first envisaged a forum to bring together early childhood professionals from across the country to discuss the place of Reconciliation in the early childhood education context, we were unsure what to expect. While we were convinced of the need for such a conversation, it was not clear to us that others would commit to spend time and resources on such an endeavour. We were aware that many professionals struggle to engage with the ideas of Reconciliation let alone understand the nature and scope of appropriate curriculum decisions and were looking for answers. What was absolutely clear to us was that ECA needed to take our commitment to Reconciliation into the public domain. To invite others to think with us and a collection of wise thinkers about how we engage with one of Australia’s most important challenges.

What happened surprised and delighted us all.

There was a buzz of energy from the start. From my vantage point alongside my co-facilitator Jo Goodwin, I could see the connections being made and the conversations deepening. Participants, in tables of eight or so, who mostly stayed together over the two days, accepted our challenge to speak to each other about their own stories, their hopes and dilemmas, and to allow the ‘yarning’ to evolve.

After provocations from some of the most respected thinkers and advocates in this space including Tanya Hosch from the Recognise Campaign, Rivkah Nissim for the Racism It Stops With Me Campaign, Melissa Kirby Senior Education Officer in Western NSW and the education team from Reconciliation Australia, the participants responded to the BIG questions they raised. The participants grounded the discussions in their own experiences and made connections to the everyday work of early childhood education and care. Despite the rawness of the subject matter and our trepidation at ‘getting things wrong’ there was a subtle agreement that we would stick together and keep talking until relationships were formed, insights emerged and ways forward revealed themselves.

In the end ECA received a powerful mandate to continue the work of Reconciliation and to stand with our fellow professionals and the broader community to progress our thinking. The participants shared a powerful moment of unity and discovered shared aspirations for education that transforms all our lives and the sector marked a moment in time—a line was drawn: our
curriculums and practices will honour our Indigenous heritage and the contemporary cultural identities of today so that the children of 2015 and beyond will never become, in the words of
Professor Mark Rose, ‘the disenfranchised’, they will know the story of Indigenous Australia.

Catharine Hydon
Early childhood consultant
Chair, ECA Reconciliation Advisory Group

Early Childhood Australia

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has been a voice for young children since 1938. We are the peak early childhood advocacy organisation, acting in the interests of young children, their families and those in the early childhood field. ECA advocates to ensure quality, social justice and equity in all issues relating to the education and care of children aged birth to eight years.

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