Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Read with Me Everyday: Community Engagement and English Literacy Outcomes at Erambie Mission

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Read with Me Everyday: Community Engagement and English Literacy Outcomes at Erambie Mission

Article excerpt

I've been telling people about the many advantages of living in a Koori community. They usually respond with smiles and often ask to hear more. The editor of Australian Aboriginal Studies, Dr Jakelin Troy, suggested that I share this story about Aboriginal advantage. So, here's an account of my community's use of cultural advantages to improve English literacy outcomes among our little people. (2)


Cowra is the type of town where there are more football fields than places to buy or borrow a book. The town of 10 000--a multiple winner in the New South Wales Tidy Towns competition--is dotted with well-kept football fields. Erambie Mission is two-and-a-half kilometres from Cowra on the western bank of the Galare (Lachlan) River. Known as '32 acres', it's home for most of Cowra's 700 Kooris. The mission is set on a grid of three tight streets. Next to the grid is an expansive field. Football goal posts sit in the centre. There is no shop or library here. The northern entrance to Erambie is fronted by a community park. Makeshift signs amid the grass identify the site of a tent embassy. The signs declare that Wiradjuri sovereignty 'was never ceded', condemn the Close the Gap policy, and remind passers-by that this 'Always was and always will be Aboriginal land'.

People here talk a lot about what makes us Wiradjuri. We obsess over connections to people and places. We're proud of our communal approach to living and we take shared responsibility seriously because we're told it's central to our Wiradjuri identity. Elders say the sense of togetherness on the mission is protective and therefore valuable. They tell us--with pride--about the fun they had skipping and playing rounders back when the old people walked around the mission and minded the little people. Our Elders are generous and nurturing in their care for the little people on the mission. They say it's what they were reared up to do.

Erambie women set up a childcare co-operative in their homes in the mid-1950s. They were caring collectively for their booris as they'd always done but they started to use a new way of describing it as a pre-school activity. During the 1960s the Save the Children Fund set up a pre-school service in Erambie's community hall. In 1983 the community took back control and volunteers managed the service. Then, in 1987, Yalbillinga Boori Childcare Centre opened in a new building near the entrance to Erambie. Yalbillinga boori means to teach the children in our language. The name was taken from the Wiradjuri words yal (speak), yalbillinga (to teach) and boori (baby). Yalbillinga became a Multi-purpose Aboriginal Children's Service and was rolled into the government's Budget Based Funding Program with other non-mainstream early childcare centres in 2003.

The community looks to Yalbillinga to fill a number of voids. Yalbillinga is the only remaining self-managed, non-mainstream organisation here. It runs health, employment, welfare and education programs. In 2008 it replaced a main stream after-school program with one of its own called Erambie Kidzone. About 40 goothas joined Kidzone. Some came even on days when they did not attend school.

Yalbillinga, volunteers and a group of supportive Elders paid the operation costs for Kidzone. One volunteer was a keen reader who talked to the goothas about books, but the goothas were more interested in playing computer games. So, we started exploring computer games as a way of getting them to read outside of school. Mostly though, we played rounders, we played tag, we kicked footballs and we got out skipping ropes and everyone joined in the fun.

Two great-grandparents came to us one day and donated a new laptop computer for the goothas to use. Another grandmother showed the program off to a politician and told us that we should seek funding. We liked it as a community activity. But, as attendance and costs increased, we looked for outside support. …

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