At the Baya Gawiy Buga-yani Jandu-yani-u Centre in Fitzroy Crossing last week, laughing toddlers spooned up cereal as others tumbled out to join them for breakfast.
In adjoining rooms, three year-olds chatted excitedly about Santa’s impending arrival as babies slept or crawled about to tinkly music, blinking sleepily in the natural light streaming in from outside.
Safe, secure, happy and calm, in a clean, modern facility: that’s exactly where Bunuba leader June Oscar and other women at the Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre want their children.
Funded by the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development and opened in September, the centre has already become the hub of activity for families in the tiny Kimberley town long before its official opening last week.
Ms Oscar said while the building was funded by government, it was how the community engaged with it that mattered going forward.
In 2007, the Marninwarntikura women responded to the devastating effect alcohol was having on children and families and the rising spectre of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder by campaigning for, and winning, strict alcohol restrictions in the town.
Ms Oscar said now, the community had identified its priorities and how to create the best future for its children and young people, and governments should be encouraged it was leading the way in tackling the “huge issues”.
“They’re issues that are impacting people for the rest of their lives – we are here for long term solutions,” she said.
“These issues are impacting everyone and are going to take a long time to address in totality.”
Designed in the shape of a whip ray, the building has curved walls, dark floors and muted colours deliberately chosen not to overstimulate young charges, some of whom have special needs.
In the “Maru Maru” room, women can participate in playgroups and structured cooking and parenting courses, with an on-site op-shop to encourage them to stay and explore programs on offer.
Rooms in the early childhood learning unit are packed with educational materials designed by locals at the town’s men’s shed, while outside playgrounds mimic the natural environment as near as possible.
There is a strong focus on getting children out “on country”, with learning built around activities such as camping, fishing and Aboriginal arts.
Manager Bree Wagner said all programs were run based on the philosophy of indigenous ways of knowing and doing, with a majority of indigenous staff.
Kriol and Australian English were both recognised in learning activities and community elders were encouraged to interact with the children and tell them stories.
“We wanted to make sure that the programs we offer are culturally appropriate and relevant to the community, very much embedded into the way that the community does things,” Ms Wagner said.