The journey of three Aboriginal Children and Family Centres: A South Australian context

Gabmididi Manoo (Whyalla), Taikurrendi (Christies Beach) and Ngura Yadurirn (Ceduna)  

Written by Michael Colbung, University of Adelaide

Taikurrendi Children & Family Centre, Christies BeachWhat started as a dream has now turned into reality for the South Australian Aboriginal communities of Ceduna, Whyalla and Christies Beach, with the recent opening of their new Children & Family Centres. The product of a long consultation process, the three new Centres represent an integrated approach, bringing together under the one roof occasional care, pre-school, community development and allied health programs and services. While open to everyone, the Centres are very visibly Aboriginal places, designed according to Aboriginal community principles, and containing a wealth of Aboriginal art, symbols and story-telling elements. 

Integrated centres such as these should go a long way towards addressing the many challenges faced by Indigenous communities in accessing a range and quality of family services that most other Australians can take for granted.

Gabmididi Manoo Children and Family Centre, WhyallaThe consultation process varied quite remarkably across the three centres. The parents and caregivers at the metropolitan centre, Taikurrendi (Kaurna for mixing together) (Christies Beach), were more prepared to sit down and work through an interview process, whereas in the country locations, at Gabmididi Manoo (Bangarla for learning together)(Whyalla) and Ngura Yadurirn (Wirangu/Kookatha for The place for becoming good) (Ceduna), different data collection methods were required in order to collect a wide range of views, including the adaption of the social media site Facebook to draw responses.

Through the data collection period we purposefully set out to obtain as much information as possible from the Aboriginal community, as well as from those who had specialist knowledge, experience and associations in relevant areas, such as school principals, Community Development Coordinators, community educators and liaison officers. All these people were involved in regular discussion from the inception of the project. If the intended outcomes were to be achieved then a comprehensive consultation process was necessary for these diverse Aboriginal communities.

In preparing to enter the communities, it was important to communicate our intentions. We would have informal conversations with as many local contacts as possible, and would then remind them when the more formal phase of the consultation was approaching and that the research team was very keen to hear the voice of as much of the community as possible.

Ngura Yadurirn Children and Family CentreWhat helped this particular research project was our extensive background knowledge of, and well-established relationships with, the three communities. Each community is unique and as a result we had to adjust our data gathering and consultation methods for each one. But equally important is adhering to each community’s protocols for the conduct of research and respecting each community’s processes for cultural authorisation.

The long and complex consultation process with the Aboriginal communities, combined with a responsive architectural team, resulted in three buildings that have been universally acclaimed for their aesthetic appearance as well as their functionality. Our recent post-occupancy evaluation revealed that users hold the Centres in high regard, and see them as beautiful, safe and calming environments, where effective education can take place. It is, of course, early days; there is a considerable way to go before we can determine whether the potential for community education, development and empowerment represented by these Centres will be met and sustained in the long term.

Ngura Yadurirn Children and Family CentreAs one important aspect of that process, the role of Aboriginal representatives and community organisations in the running of the Centres will need to be formally addressed. Unlike their counterparts in the other states, the new South Australian children and family centres are run not via local government or the department of health, but under the auspices of the state education department (known in South Australia as ‘DECD’, the Department for Education and Child Development). Respect for Aboriginal authority was a crucial aspect of this approach to the delivery of family services in these three sites. Preserving the role of the community in the ongoing governance of the Centres would seem to be an important contributor to their success and sustainability. 

The Centres

Taikurrendi Children & Family Centre
8 Price St, Christies Beach, SA.

Gabmididi Manoo Children And Family Centre
Cnr Clutterbuck St & Hincks Ave, Whyalla, SA 

Images supplied by the author.