Yalbillinga Boori Day Care's hands on approach to Closing the Gap
The Sector > Provider > General News > Yalbillinga Boori Day Care is a ‘boots on ground’ approach to Closing the Gap

Yalbillinga Boori Day Care is a ‘boots on ground’ approach to Closing the Gap

by Freya Lucas

July 11, 2024

The Yalbillinga Boori Day Care Centre in Cowra, New South Wales, has been helping First Nations children to feel connected to the culture and language of Wiradjuri Country for more than 30 years. 


While talk about ‘Closing the Gap’ is often started by politicians, it’s services like Yalbillinga Boori which carry out the work. In the lead up to NAIDOC Week Centre Manager Caroline Bamblett spoke with the National Indigenous Times to share elements of what makes the service so special. 


With most staff at the service identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and with the service having a high number of First Nations enrolments in its programs,  which cater for children from birth to six years of age, the centre forms a trusted place for the Wiradjuri people, as well as the broader Aboriginal community.


Secured funding allows a language teacher to come twice a week, and Ms Bamblett said many of the children converse in their local Wiradjuri language.


“It’s important for identity and culture to keep it going forward,” she said.


“Down the track, If the teacher was available, we would like to put it as part of our curriculum and make it an everyday thing.”


Yalbillinga Boori has been helping children on the same site since 1987, as both an early childhood learning facility, and a multi-functional Aboriginal Corporation. 


Getting the building to its current site took over 20 years of lobbying by Elders, before it was finally constructed by Aboriginal apprentice carpenters.


Since then, it has become a symbol of the community spirit which built it, with programs offered by the service supporting the whole community. Connection to culture, Ms Bamblett said, is vitally important, and the best time to foster this connection is in the early years. 


“This is the age group where they are little sponges and everything sinks in,” she said. “So, this is the best age to try and get them learning the language, because …it hasn’t been taught – even in the schools – until recently.”


Wiradjuri language teacher and board member Beatrice Murray said language at Yalbillinga was “core” business.


“Wiradjuri language is used every day at Yalbillinga to reaffirm the Koori kids that go to [to the centre] of their cultural identity,” she said.


“But also with the non-Aboriginal kids, it’s just a way of sharing culture…we’re all living on Wiradjuri country.”


Given that disconnection from culture, language and family is regularly cited as one of the main drivers behind the gaps in health, education, employment and life expectancy, the programs offered by Yalbillinga Boori are incredibly significant when it comes to looking at lifetime outcomes. 


By starting young, and teaching children the importance of the land they live on, as well as the language of the country, there is hope the next generation will be given more opportunities to strengthen their relationship with where they come from.


“The amount of Koori kids from Cowra – a small country town – that go on to do uni and have these really good careers, or full-time employment, it’s, really remarkable,” Ms Murray said. 


“That’s what our families [do]; we work together to ensure that that’s what happens for our kids’ futures.”


This was brought home very strongly for Ms Murray when she had the opportunity to connect up with a student in Year 2, who she had worked with when she was at Yalbillinga, while she was visiting a local primary school to work with children there about language and culture. 


The girl, she said, hadn’t spoken since starting Kindergarten at the school. 


“I’ve gone in there not knowing the background. I’ve just planned to do my language and culture,” Ms Murray said.


“This little girl that doesn’t talk, hasn’t spoken to anybody at school for the last three years, came up to me and asked me what a word was in Wiradjuri.”


Ms Murray said she told the shocked teachers, “‘She wants to speak her language.’ That’s who she is…so in order to do that, she spoke English to me to get the answers that she needed”.


These types of interactions, she continued, show the tangible difference the language programs at Yalbillinga have for Koori kids.


To read the original coverage of this story please see here.

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