“Relationships with children forms our culture of education, our main focus of everything we do” at Dalaigur Preschool

Located on Dunghutti country, Dalaigur Preschool delivers many activities and programs to ensure that children are not only supported to learn about their local Aboriginal Dunghutti culture, but anyone who comes into their service, whether they’re students, educators or families, feel connected and invested in getting to know the children.

Dalaigur Preschool operates with 95% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and building strong relationships with the children and their families is one of their biggest values. Director of Dalaigur & Scribbly Gum Dalai Debbie Swanson says that getting to know their families in order to build an organic, ever-evolving relationship with children is key.

“Children have diverse families. If you don’t have those amazing relationships with families, you won’t have those with children. We respect the dynamics of these families, and whatever that structure, they are all respected here.”

Dalaigur Preschool has recently partnered with the NSW Art Gallery on their project ‘Nganhang Nyinda’ (Me You). This project involved local artists; Uncle John Kelly who works at the Pre-School and Rena Shein an Art Therapist who has been connected to the Pre-Schools for 7 years. The project involves children and the local community creating nests and eggs from clay, as a way of healing and stems from the “King of the Bird” dream time story. These clay works are then housed in a traditional Dunghutti canoe made out of stingy bark. This project has created a wonderful learning opportunity for their children to connect with Indigenous art and culture.

Recently with NSW Art Gallery and Uncles from Kinchela Boys Home, children from Dalaigur Preschool were invited to help with the canoe making process such as stripping back layers of bark for the canoe to take shape. Children also tested out the canoe to experience firsthand what it’s like to sit in a canoe, which was traditionally widely used as transport by the Dunghutti people.

“We invited some of the schools from our communities for this project. They haven’t been back because of COVID but seeing the beautiful relationships they had with teachers, they were just pleased to be back in the environment, and it just really shows the impact of relationships,” Debbie said.

There is a traditional Canoe that was built by the children, Uncle John and the community sitting as the main center piece of the Biennale Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Another important part of building strong relationships and connections with Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture is through the teaching of the local Dunghutti language.

Debbie says that teaching the Dunghutti language and culture is an important responsibility for the service, to provide learning and opportunity for the children to connect with their culture and community in which they live in.

“We have Uncle John and Aunty Vicky at our service. Uncle John is our bus driver and cultural ‘go-to man’. We’re so lucky to have him here, we can always go to him for any cultural advice around protocols, for example. Aunty Vicky as well, she is our Dunghutti Language Educator and she’s making language a part of our everyday program. When children get off the bus, they will be greeted with language and songs. It’s getting really embedded now,” Debbie said.

Debbie says that she now often hears the children speaking in the language amongst themselves.

Dalaigur Preschool also has a partnership with The University of Newcastle, in which they provide a scholarship for students to work with the preschool and gauge the cultural aspects of working in Aboriginal communities. The preschool also provides this support for all educators that enters their service.

“Anyone who comes to work in our preschool will go through cultural training with Uncle John and myself. It’s not specific or formal, but we sit them down and ensure they gain a really good grasp of the language that is spoken and give them a heads up that they may witness trauma behaviours in our children,” Debbie said.

“Once they know that the children are safe with us, culturally and physically, they will let go of the preconceived ideas and be more open to build those relationships with children a lot easier,

“I see that they just dive right in and not be worried about overstepping boundaries as they know we are there to support them as well with Uncle John and Aunty Vicky.

“Making our visitors, such as University students and therapists comfortable in our environment will make them feel comfortable to build strong relationships with the children,” Debbie said.

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