Faced with discrimination which stopped their children from enrolling in kindergarten, a group of Aboriginal mothers took matters into their own hands.
More than 40 years later the C&K Koobara Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Kindergarten is a crucial hub of the Indigenous community on Brisbane’s northside, not only providing excellent early childhood education, but also delivering community services which continue to bind families long after their children start school.
Teacher Chelsea Rolfe, whose first of four children went to the kindergarten a decade ago, is a testament to this.
A proud Nughi and Noonuccal woman who recently attended the historic First Nations Convention at Uluru and constitutional recognition talks in Brisbane, Chelsea has put her high school teaching career on hold to teach at Koobara and study for a PhD in early childhood education.
“It was born out of community need,” Chelsea says of Koobara.
“Some beautiful mammas decided that this is what the families of the community needed over forty years ago now, and so it has got really strong foundations in that; really important people who are well respected in the community advocated for this centre and the funding.”
All Koobara staff are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Of the 44 children currently enrolled about one in each group is non-Indigenous, which means Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children start their formal learning experience in an environment where they are not a minority.
“Lots of the connections are strong because family groups know each other … and that sense of belonging is already there,” Chelsea says.
“We are looking at genuine relationships that have been built over many years, so people have got a strong sense of trust in our organization.”
"Past students of Koobara are now parents who are enrolling their children into our centre due to the positive cultural experiences that they have had and they are now wanting that for their children."
“So often our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents have had negative experiences with schools and other formal educational institutions.”
Koobara has turned that around. Contact with their community starts from birth via playgroups. Then after kindergarten, there’s community groups, which bring children and their families back to the centre.
That close sense of community is on show every NAIDOC Week, when Koobara becomes the hub of celebrations on the northside.
“Northside NAIDOC is held at Koobara on the Thursday of NAIDOC week—nearly all of our families attend,” Chelsea says.
“There are lots of activities for kids and there are heaps of services, lots of community organisations hold stalls at NAIDOC so there is a lot of networking going on, a lot of connecting, lots of performances. It’s fun”.
She says while most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families go to the Musgrave Park NAIDOC, which is a great celebration on the Friday of NAIDOC week, the Koobara celebration is just the right size for their preschool children.
Chelsea says the space—the country that Koobara is on—also connects families, and that she too feels a sense of belonging there, coupled with a strong sense of responsibility.
“I too, as an Indigenous parent, an Aboriginal woman and as a parent of Indigenous children, feel safe there, as well and welcomed and respected,” Chelsea says.
“I feel like the greatest amount of change that I am going to be able to enact will be not just in the early years, but in this Indigenous run organization.”
Forty years on, one of the founding mothers is still on the board of Koobara and others from that original group still have close ties to the organization.
The recipe for success, Chelsea thinks, is family involvement across all stages of education. At Koobara it is there.
She encourages all kindergartens across Queensland to celebrate NAIDOC Week and for teachers to introduce some of the more political subjects, such as the achievements of Eddie Mabo and several other Indigenous activists, to students of all ages.