A LOCAL health worker says the handing over of a former Aboriginal kindergarten in Hilton to a “mixed” organisation is an “injustice”.
Jean Lewis worked at the Kulunga Aboriginal Kindergarten in Rennie Crescent from 1978 to 1994, before moving into a new job at a nearby allied health centre.
In 2013 the cash-strapped Barnett government axed the kindy at short notice, following a small shortfall in enrolments, and the building has been empty since then.
Earlier this month community services minister Simone McGurk announced a $371,855 Lotterywest grant for the Meerilinga Young Children’s Foundation to restore the building and open a parenting hub.
Meerilinga chief executive Lesley Moreschi says they’ll preserve the character of the building, while a press release says the hub will be created in consultation with local Aboriginal elders.
But Ms Lewis says Indigenous families have struggled to fit in at Meerilinga.
“They forget we are a minority and think we should be mixing in, but a lot of mothers can’t do that because they don’t want to go to a mixed group.
“They will thrive if they are in a group together, but in a mixed group the white mothers would take over,” she said, noting that young Noongar mums are less likely to have reached higher education and be empowered.
“They expect parents to go with the kids and to work with the families, but there’s a lot of grandmothers looking after kids and they can’t get there because they’ve got other things to do,” she said.
Ms Lewis said Kulunga’s 50-year success was driven by a daily bus run to pick up kids, and without a replacement program at Hilton Primary School failed when Indigenous kids stopped attended.
“I was very sad because it was working for our Aboriginal children and they went on successfully into the school.
“Now teachers are pulling out their hair because the kids have missed out on that really important grounding,” Ms Lewis said.
She says transport is still a big issue for many Noongar families.
Ms Lewis was backed by Janetia Knapp, who ran for the seat of Fremantle at the last election for the Western Australia Party.
Ms Knapp said smaller Aboriginal organisations were being swamped by bigger organisations such as Meerilinga, who offered services to Indigenous people, but not necessarily with the same employment and education outcomes.
Ms McGurk said the restoration would be a great boost for Meerilinga.
“The foundation is active in a number of areas including parenting services and community neighbourhood and development services,” Ms McGurk said.
“Community spaces like this are vital for things like training activities and playgrounds and they can also make a shared space for local families to gather.”
Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt welcomed the re-opening of the council-owned building.
“We’re really pleased to see this facility used in such a valuable and constructive way,” Dr Pettitt said.
“Meerilinga will be located close by a range of other services; this is very much in line with our own vision for the building.”
by STEVE GRANT