I’ve always loved those lyrics from the Paul Kelly song, they seem to encompass hope and change and how those two things often start in a small way.
Our family was lucky enough to see those words take on real meaning when my daughter Lana attended Blaxland Preschool Kindergarten, at the foot of the Blue Mountains last year, the only preschool in Australia to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
Once Lana was accepted for enrolment, a raft of information came home including a booklet about the preschool’s RAP. I read through the booklet and was excited and surprised to see such a revolutionary policy! During my schooling, beginning with kindergarten about 30 years ago, I had come across nothing like a RAP.
In fact, any mention of Indigenous Australians began in primary school and was purely in the context of European colonisation. There was no acknowledgement of the rich and diverse Aboriginal cultures that existed pre-colonisation in our textbooks or classroom discussions.
So I was interested to see how preschool staff would incorporate their aims of teaching awareness and respect for Indigenous Australians into a preschool program. There was a part of me that wondered how they could do this effectively, with such young children.
It wasn’t long before Lana came home singing ‘Melaleuca’ and ‘The Wheels on the Holden’. And soon she had our family (comprising her seven-year-old brother, Leo, my husband and myself) singing lines from those songs and humming the tunes. While Lana struggled sometimes to pronounce the word ‘Aboriginal’, she definitely understood those songs spoke of Australia’s Indigenous people.
Jacinta’s daughter, Lana, at the preschool’s National Reconciliation Week event.
As the year at preschool unfolded, Lana recounted stories she’d been read at preschool, some were Australian Indigenous tales and others were from different cultures around the world. And that’s when I realised preschool staff was taking small, important and deliberate steps towards reconciliation every day, with each Indigenous song sung and each story told.
This was the RAP in action, a part of each preschool day. No drama, fuss or fanfare, just a normal part of the day. That to me is the power of the RAP. These tiny kids had learned to value and respect Aboriginal culture before they had even reached school. And the children would share that message with their families and friends.
One of the highlights of Lana’s year at preschool was a fundraiser event, held to coincide with National Reconciliation Week. The day, held in a park opposite the preschool opened with an Acknowledgement of Country by the preschool director.
Aboriginal elders spoke to the families gathered in the park and a young Indigenous boy played the didgeridoo, holding the attention of all who listened. Children played in the park, ate a sausage sizzle and could have their faces painted by Indigenous people. Aboriginal wildlife rangers had an intriguing collection of items and conducted craft activities with the children.
It was a fun day with a strong message of reconciliation, respect and togetherness underlining the event. I felt glad that our family had the chance to be part of it and all the ongoing work at the preschool centred on the RAP.