Step into the Gundagai Preschool Kindergarten and the three and four year old children will greet you in the traditional language of the local Wiradjuri people, or sing you a song acknowledging the traditional owners of the land along the Murrumbidgee River (Billa). They might even show you paintings of animals and places important to the Wiradjuri people, especially the goanna and eagle. The preschool’s Aboriginal Awareness Program, run with support from Highways and Byways, is helping the children develop an understanding of local Wiradjuri history and culture.
Preschool coordinator Stacey Smith said the commitment to embed local Wiradjuri culture into the children’s daily routine has been welcomed by the children, parents, community, and local elders who have participated in the program. As well as the Wiradjuri stories, songs and language, the children’s own paintings of the goanna, the Wiradjuri totem, have been made into play blocks and puzzles.
Local elders Uncle Pat Connolly and Peter Smith have worked with staff and children to develop an understanding of language, art, and local Wiradjuri history, including the nearby Bora Rings site where traditional ceremonies would have taken place.
“The children have loved hearing the stories and working with us over time to develop an acknowledgment of country using the ideas, images and words the Elders have taught us,” Stacey said.
“Uncle Pat and Peter talked to the children, told stories, and taught us all about history and lore and how to take care of the land, animals, and each other. Each morning we have a yarn, a chance to come together and learn. It was at these yarns we developed our physical acknowledgment of country through art and our verbal acknowledgement we sing each day.”
Stacey said one of the great outcomes of the program has been the interest and involvement of the wider preschool community. Parents regularly suggest ways to further develop the children’s knowledge of the Wiradjuri culture.
The children were taken on an excursion to the Yarri and Jacky Jacky sculpture in Gundagai and learned about the heroism of these two Indigenous men who rescued dozens of townspeople during major floods of 1852. Preschool families also attended the 2022 Yarri and Jacky Jacky Corroboree and shared in Aboriginal story and dance.
Image (main): Wiradjuri elders share cultural knowledge with children at Gundagai preschool kindergarten.
Image (bottom): Children create artworks.