Centres reflect Aboriginal culture
Indigenous Education Feature
The University of Adelaide is taking a major role in designing three new Aboriginal children and family centres in the State which reflect Indigenous lifestyles.
Dr Elizabeth Grant, a researcher in Aboriginal housing and environments, has briefed architects and engineers involved in the construction of three centres at Whyalla, Ceduna and Christies Beach, due for completion by the end of 2012.
Dr Grant was commissioned by the Department of Transport, Energy and Infrastructure to prepare a report as part of the initial design process for the centres.
It is the first time in Australia that evidence-based research has been used in conjunction with input from Indigenous groups to produce buildings which align with Aboriginal culture.
The centres are part of a $564 million Federal Government commitment over the next six years to improve Indigenous early childhood development across Australia and are being built as a joint project with the Department for Education and Child Development (South Australia).
Dr Grant, who is based within Wilto Yerlo, and is also a member of the Centre for Housing, Urban Research and Planning (CHURP), said a wide range of factors have been taken into account in designing the Indigenous family centres.
"Aboriginal people have a very strong relationship with the land and the buildings reflect this, with the internal and external areas merging to create a very natural environment," she said.
The centres allow for men and women to socialise separately, taking into account spaces for cultural practices such as fire pits and smoking ceremonies.
Aboriginal child-rearing practices are also taken into account.
"Indigenous children are traditionally cared for by several women - not just their own mothers - and are seldom left alone. The centres have been designed to allow several generations of family members to socialise in one room with the children."
Indigenous sleeping practices are also recognised, so that babies are never left alone in a room to sleep. In place of cots (used by non-Aboriginal parents), baskets on the floor may be provided so that babies and young children can choose when and where they want to sleep.
Dr Grant said the family centres would also help to address a range of health issues for many Aboriginal children aged between 0 and 5 years.
"Child health screening, occasional care and crèche programs, and family support services will all be incorporated."
Other University staff involved in the centres include Michael Colbung, who took leave as a lecturer in the School of Education to help with the new Ceduna Centre; and Ghil'ad Zuckermann, Professor of Linguistics, who is keen to establish a language nest at the Whyalla Centre.
It is anticipated that all three centres will be completed by December 2012 and operational by 2013.
"Design for Indigenous users is an emerging area in Australia and internationally," Dr Grant said.
"We expect this work to have a real impact on the way environments for Aboriginal people are designed in the future," Dr Grant said.
Story by Candy Gibson
Education is the key
Education is one of the most important strategies for tackling Aboriginal disadvantage, according to researchers.
In a report entitled "Indigenous Design Considerations," prepared for the construction of three Aboriginal children and family centres at Whyalla, Ceduna and Christies Beach, studies were cited demonstrating the benefits of pre-school education and play groups for Indigenous children.
"Pre-school experience appears to be a stronger positive force in the lives of low income than advantaged children," the report says.
"Pre-school is important because it promotes cognitive development in the short term and prepares children to succeed at school. Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of Aboriginal children do not have access to this early experience.
"They do not attend play groups, early child care or pre-schools and can be severely disadvantaged in comparison with other children when they enter school after the age of five," the report says.