Port Macquarie Community Preschool connects with First Nations culture
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Port Macquarie Community Preschool connects with First Nations culture

by Freya Lucas

June 05, 2023

Children attending either of the two Port Macquarie Community Preschool (PMCP) centres use Gathang language in their everyday play, reflecting the local Birpai people and their connection to the land. 


Incorporating Birpai words into everyday vocabulary is just one initiative PMCC has adopted to create a culturally safe space and welcome more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families through the door.


PMCP began to formalise its commitment to reconciliation in 2019, lodging a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) through the Narragunnawali platform, Managing Director Megan Jones explained. 


Since that time the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enrolments has steadily risen from below 5 per cent to 20 per cent across both centres.


“You have to live the RAP. Our Reconciliation journey is every week, it’s every day,” Ms Jones said.


The RAP started with some small yet significant steps to embed culture in the preschool’s learning environment, including displaying First Nations artworks and hanging the Aboriginal flag in the foyer.


Ms Jones said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives slowly became integrated into all aspects of service operations.


“We changed our mindset. It wasn’t just about what we did in our centres, but it was about being in the community,” she said.


The service has employed a local mother as a dedicated Aboriginal Engagement Educator, who works alongside “Elder in Residence” Aunty Rhona Radley. Aunty Rhonda runs activities with children and educates staff, and was at one time a PMCC board member.


The preschool also joined the local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) and represented the Aboriginal community at various community events.


“We made it known to the Aboriginal community of our commitment to reconciliation,” Ms Jones said, outlining how she has encouraged the educators to build their cultural responsiveness.


“Targeted professional development and learning opportunities related to cultural competence is a huge priority at our services,” she said. “It goes a big way to addressing cultural bias.”


One of the most impactful measures the service has undertaken has been employing a dedicated Aboriginal Engagement Educator Lori-Ann McKinnon.


Ms McKinnon moves about the various rooms, mentoring staff and teaching the children about culture and Country, and the staff learn a lot from her, Ms Jones said. 


The physical environment also reflects the culture of the service, with a large-scale mural showcasing the preschool as a safe and welcoming space, and as a means of visibly incorporating culture. 


The preschool joined the Department of Education’s Ninganah No More language revitalisation project in 2022, expanding efforts to incorporate the Gathang language into the service.


This includes a ‘word of the week’ for families where they are introduced to a new Gathang word, with a video link shared to help with pronunciation.


The service also established the bush kinder program, where children learn language on Country, and this month launched a new joint venture project with well-known nursery rhymes reimagined using the Birpai language. The children have been recorded singing the songs, which have been shared with other local ECCE services.


“Our non-indigenous families are always commenting about how much they are learning. Most of us didn’t have that opportunity at school,” Ms Jones said.


“We all know education starts way before school. This is part of that education. Building curiosity about culture – the first culture of our country – something the children will hopefully take with them through life.”


Learn more about PMCP here

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