STORYTELLING from the community's Indigenous elders will be key to enriching cultural experience in Ballarat's first Aboriginal early years centre.
Perridak Burron, meaning platypus children, opens in doors to Indigenous and non-Indigenous families in Brown Hill on Monday.
The 100-place centre, operated by Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative, features an Indigenous playgroup to promote connections within the region's Aboriginal community, while childcare through to kinder rooms were focused on sharing and learning culture.
BADAC early years manager Casey Brown said exploring Aboriginal culture needed to be built into the environment, rather than be "a book on a shelf". Ms Brown said exposing children to Aboriginal culture at a young age helped foster a deeper understanding and awareness as they grew.
"I've worked a lot in early childhood education centres and everyone tries their hardest to embed Aboriginal culture but it can still be hard to engage with Aboriginal communities without close contacts," Ms Brown said.
"A lot of teachers can also be nervous and don't want to be offensive or wrong...Here we're lucky to have the BADAC elders program, a Koori pre-school assistant and Indigenous cultural officer."
Ms Brown's husband Shirahan is an Adnyamathanha man from the Ikara-Flinders Rangers and she has a passion to educate children with greater understanding for Aboriginal culture. She said Victorian early years programs tended to do this well and a stronger emphasis was needed in schools.
But this was a good beginning.
Ms Brown said Ballarat was a great place to launch an Aboriginal early years centre because this city already had deep connections and history with Aboriginal peoples. She said Ballarat had the supports to help Aboriginal peoples to feel safe and invited.
A new Aboriginal kindergarten, co-funded by BADAC and the Victorian government, remains on track to open in Sebastopol next year. This will have priority access to Indigenous children.
Yirram Burron, meaning morning children, has been created by BADAC in response to Aboriginal community needs in engaging Aboriginal children for the best start in school.
About 50 per cent of Aboriginal people in Ballarat were under the age of 24, and 25 per cent were under nine years old, according to BADAC. This showed an increasing number of Aboriginal children being born and BADAC wanted to ensure the right supports were in place.
BADAC has long run a playgroup program for the younger Aboriginal community members but culturally focused three and four-year-old kindergarten programs in Sebastopol will offer a safe space to transition into prep.
The Brown Hill kindergarten is open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. Both will deliver general curriculum embedded with culture awareness, play, art and bush kinder.
Learning rooms in Perridak Burron have a mix of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal books and play spaces. Outside, not far from the playground is a yarning circle for sharing stories and listening to each other with respect.
Shirahan Brown, an Indigenous artist and BADAC cultural support officer, designed the Perridak Burron logo to be bright, meaningful and without any negative vibes.
Mr Brown said it was imporant this be a safe space for all children.
The platypus is a smaller version of the BADAC logo and one Mr Brown said represented the community well for having "a lot of different parts in it".
Colours represent this land, Wadawurrung Country, with brown hills and gold-rich veins with the blues of the waterways and sky and green trees.
"Those are all important things in telling a story and portraying an image," Mr Brown said. "...The story is about connections to the land and how it does connect to the community, passing through traditional owners."
Mr Brown said he had deliberately steered away from popularised Aboriginal dot-art, which was more a style in central Australia, to instead focus on signs and symbols that were more in Wadawurrung style.
Wadawurrung traditional owner Barry Gilson officially opened Perridak Burron with a smoking ceremony on Friday afternoon.
BADAC is aiming for Perridak Burron to be running at full capacity within a year.
Already there has been a big influx on infant enrolments but, due to the late start in the kindergarten year, BADAC has not done any formal enrolment drive and spaces were open.
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