Avoca Preschool in the Pyrenees Shire and located on Dja Dja Wurrung Country, has been on a journey over the past two years to explore, understand and incorporate First Nations perspectives into their early education service. While their voyage of learning is far from over, they found that the process of discovery has brought them closer to their community and a deeper understanding about caring for the land, animals and people.
Avoca’s journey commenced with the aim to embed an Acknowledgement of Country into their program so that it had real meaning. Initial steps on the path involved identifying a totem native animal and plant which had lasting significance for their centre and the community.
The investigations began with the teaching team and children looking more closely at the land and their immediate environment. They learnt about the 6 Dja Dja Wurrung seasons, particularly Wai-kalk Time (Wattle Time), with the tree prolific in the region. This was to be the inspiration for their plant totem. Observing and learning about the trees has extended to caring for young wattle saplings in the vicinity of the kinder and at their “River Kinder” location.
Initially, the kindergarten puzzled over the choice of a totem animal. However, one made itself loudly known. Delvene Barber, Teacher at the Preschool explained, “A kookaburra lands in our yard every morning and knocks persistently on our window. The bird was so familiar, we had taken it for granted and not valued its presence. So we added a commitment to our Acknowledgment of Country, to look after not only kookaburras but all native animals.”
“I find I learn something new every week. I’ve found it a very exciting process and feel that this has made my practice so much better and improved me as a teacher,” said Ms Barber. “We continually strive to learn about and embrace Culture, especially that of the Dja Dja Wurrung people who are the Traditional Owners of the land on which Avoca Preschool is built.”
The Preschool’s next step was to ensure that the Acknowledgment of Country had the right place and space in the program. It was felt that this had to occur outside, where the children could see, hear and feel the natural environment.
The activities have attracted wider community interest and gained momentum beyond the kindergarten, with families contributing items for a new space in the playground. A grandparent of a child in the program specially created a kookaburra sculpture made from recycled corrugated iron for the Preschool.
Marg Harrison, Regional Operations Manager for Y Kinders said, “It’s really exciting to see our services taking the time to thoroughly explore the culture and traditions of our First Nations people, and to see it as a journey rather than a box to be ticked.”
With added knowledge and appreciation of not only their totems, but seasons, Culture and the land, an Acknowledgement of Country now takes place every Monday morning in Avoca Preschool’s special place – Kookaburra Corner. Planning is underway to arrange a Smoking Ceremony to formally introduce their new area.