Guula Gimbay program helps preschoolers to protect koalas
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Guula Gimbay program helps preschoolers to protect koalas

by Freya Lucas

June 08, 2023

Biripai woman Arlene Mehan, a PhD candidate, has created a First Nations song and dance program for preschoolers that she hopes will encourage them to protect koalas. 


Ms Mehan co-created the Guula Gimbay program to inform her research, which is focusing on the use of sounds and language on Country and how traditional ecological knowledge informs people for koala conservation.


Koala conservation is important, because there has been an estimated 30 per cent decline in koalas across Australia in the past five years, with NSW being the worst affected with a 41 per cent decline.


Over the period of four weeks, Ms Mehan and Aboriginal educators from the Birpai nation sit with preschool children, talking about the sounds they could hear on Country, learning songs in Gathang language with dance movements and learning how to look for signs of koalas.


Guula Gimbay uses Aboriginal ecological knowledge, song and dance to teach the children about koalas – guula in Gathang language – and how to care for them in the hope they would become lifelong custodians.


“We are trying to build the next generation as eco-warriors,” Ms Mehan told The ABC


Birpai elder Aunty Rhonda Radley manages the program, and hopes it will continue.


“If you really want to teach the community, I believe you need to start with the little ones they are our future leaders,” she said.


Aunty Rhonda is also a researcher, having recently completed a PhD which explored how hand gestures can help children to learn the Gathang language. Port Macquarie Community Preschool is one of the services who have been working with Aunty Rhonda to develop the koala songs in Gathang.


Educator Lori-Ann McKinnon said having hand gestures available really helped, not only to help children to learn the language but also to learn rhythm and pacing in the songs. 


Looking after Country, which includes people, places and animals, Aunty Rhonda said, is not something which can be taught in a classroom setting. 


“We have to actually be on Country, so the children have that sensory experience with Country,” she said.


“It’s the way that we would have been teaching and talking to the children in the natural environment and engaging the senses in that experience.”


“We would have had songlines pathways where koala/guula moved on country, things that would tell us that koalas have been here, which we shared with the little ones about tracking.”


To access the original coverage of this story, please see here

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