The picturesque town of Kootingal is located on Gamilaraay Country, 20km north east of the Tamworth, NSW. According to the most recent census data, the town had a population of just over 2,100, with roughly 10% identifying as having First Nations heritage.
“We are extremely lucky to have an amazing network of children, staff, families and community members who make up our preschool,” said Director Jess Rankins, who is incredibly passionate about the importance of play in child development, and the value of connecting with local community.
This year alone, the preschool has hosted an art program led by an Indigenous artist, a music program through Tamworth Regional Conservatorium of Music, a library program, and an Aboriginal program where local Elder Len Waters generously shared Gamilaraay language, stories, and art with children.
How connecting with the Aboriginal Business Advisory Initiative led to a local NAIDOC Week community day
This year the preschool leadership team connected with the local Aboriginal Business Advisory Initiative (ABAI) as a way of better understanding and representing the rich Indigenous culture of the local area. The connection also fostered valuable conversations about facilitating access to local support services.
“As we are located in a rural area, we know that families have difficulty in connecting with support services like speech pathology, occupational therapy and ENT,” said Jess. “The waiting lists are generally several months long for some services. We also know the importance of early intervention and see how much it can change the trajectory of a child’s schooling journey."
While speaking with the local Aboriginal Business Advisor, Jess mentioned that it would be great to connect with community health services in order to assist families in getting screening tests and checks done. The idea for a NAIDOC Week community day showcasing local Indigenous talent and connecting families with support services was born from that conversation.
Since April this year, Jess has also worked with the local NAIDOC Committee who have been organising all of the events happening around Tamworth.
“This has allowed me to connect with an even wider range of services, artists, musicians and companies," she said.
The community day will take place on Friday 4th August, when the preschool is back from holidays. This date happily coincides with National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day.
A great way to build authentic connections and a celebration of culture
“We have been so lucky that so many businesses, individuals and services were willing to be part of the event or have recommended another person or business for me to contact,” shared Jess. “It has been really lovely being able to build connections and relationships with people in our wider community.
"As a service we do not currently have any staff who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. It's important to all of us that we are not being tokenistic in our acknowledgement and celebration of Aboriginal culture. We want to make sure Aboriginal perspectives are embedded in our practices, and our team has worked extremely hard to gather input from the local Aboriginal community to ensure this can occur."
The community day will host local artists providing art experiences, performances by a local high school, musicians, bush tucker tasting and weaving.
“The most exciting thing for me is that the local Tamworth Aboriginal Medical Service will be offering free health checks and screening tests for both children and adults. This will make it easier for all members of our community, especially our Elders, to have access to these crucial services that can be so hard to come by,” says Jess.
As it is the first time that the preschool team have hosted such a day, Jess says it’s hard to know how many people from the general public will attend. In order to spread the word as widely as possible, flyers have been shared with local schools and businesses.
“We want all the hard work to be enjoyed by as many people as possible,” shared Jess. “We want to make sure that the wider community, especially Elders, know that it is happening so that they can come and join us in celebrating Kootingal’s local Aboriginal community.
"Through this experience I have realised that as long as we act from the heart and seek as much local input and knowledge as we can, that is far better than doing nothing at all. We have also been reminded of what an amazing community we are part of!"
NAIDOC Week celebrations will be held from 2-9 July 2023. This year's theme is For our Elders.
Read proud Dunghutti woman Deborah Hoger's article for Amplify!, which unpacks this year's theme: https://www.cela.org.au/publications/amplify!-blog/may-2023/naidoc-week-2023-for-our-elders
The theme for this year’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day is “Little Voices, Loud Futures”. The theme is designed to raise awareness for “the bright futures of our children and the potential for their voices to pave a new path for our nation.” (Source: Aboriginal Children’s Day)
Find out more via the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day website: https://www.aboriginalchildrensday.com.au/