There are many Indigenous community leaders around Australia who work tirelessly to put their experience into early childhood education in remote areas. Coraleen Shipton, a proud Kuku Yalanji woman, is one of these people working as director of Wujal Wujal C&K community kindergarten in far north Queensland. Here she shares her story with Bedrock journalist Alex Leggett.
Wujal Wujal is a small community about 30km north of Cape Tribulation and 70km south of Cooktown, where rainforest meets coral reefs. During the wet season, road access to the community is cut off by flood water - a fitting name as Wujal Wujal means “place of many waterfalls”, with water playing a significant part in everyday life. There are three main tribal clans in the area: the Kuku Yalanji, Kuku Nyungkal and Jalunji-Warra.
An ardent IEU member since 2009, Coraleen believes living on country is important in order to teach children how staying within your community brings about positive change at a grassroots level. However, when decisions are made at a national level about early childhood curriculum she said it can be difficult to convey in small communities with diverse cultural backgrounds.
Part of the National Quality Standard, a key aspect of the National Quality Framework (NQF), refers to “enhancing a child’s learning and development” through “connection to community” and “each child’s identity and culture is a foundation to the program.”
“What frustrates me at times is that under the NQF there are some issues in the area of how to teach culture,” Coraleen said.
“In Wujal Wujal, we use our language and the children speak the language back to us as we live our culture here every day.”
She said there is also the physical barrier of being isolated during the monsoon season.
“We are remote so we can’t go to the local shops when we want to build on children’s learning resources and tools.
“We are limited to what we can access and the government doesn’t take into consideration that we are cut off during the wet season nor the diversity of cultures in one area.”
Despite the frustrations, Coraleen believes teaching local culture and language is the key to continuing communities like Wujal Wujal and preserving heritage.
“For me personally, teaching our local culture to our children is important because we are telling them where we really come from,” she said.
“We show them that if you care for your environment then country will care for you, by providing things such as food and fresh water.
“We also teach them about where their ancestors came from and how they came to be in this classroom, in this community.
“There are three main clans in Wujal Wujal so I try to explain to the children how their families came to the area and what their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ stories are.”