At the launch of ‘Growing up on Widjabul Wia-bal Country’ were (l-r) Sarah Black from Friends Child Care Centre, Shauna McIntyre, project coordinator, Lynette Funnell Lismore Pre School, Elder Aunty Thelma James, and sisters Audrey (aged 7) and Eliza (5) Zwiers who have Wiradjuri heritage through their father.

The meeting room at Lismore Regional Gallery was packed with Aboriginal Elders and community members, representatives from funding bodies (including YWCA, Southern Cross University, Lismore City Council), early childhood educators and, most especially, young children and jarjums (children in the Bundjalung language), who had participated in this remarkable project.

The book launch began with a Welcome to Country by Widjabul Wia-bal Elder Aunty Thelma James, a key member of the coordinating team, and included a live performance of the song Every Child by local artists Chris Fisher and Marcelle Townsend-Cross, (aka Monkey & the Fish) well-known in the Bundjalung community.

The 44-page book features artwork by preschoolers, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, depicting features and creatures of the local Widjabul Wia-bal Country, part of the broader Bundjalung Nation. Birds, koalas, goannas, turtles, trees, waterways, and the natural landscape come alive through the children’s eyes and imaginations, enhanced by guidance from the Elders as well as their educators.

Shauna McIntyre, project coordinator said that while the children and jarjums are the book’s “main authors”, the project was an early childhood education and cultural project inspired by Widjabul Wia-bal Elders and Country of the Bundjalung Nation and the world renowned early childhood education practices from Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy.

The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education.  It is a pedagogy described as student-centered and constructivist that uses self-directed, experiential learning in relationship-driven environments.

“The project began with educators as learners - listening to and learning from Aunty Thelma James and Aunty Marie Delbridge; Will Davis from SCU’s Gnibi, from Country itself, from our readings and from each other through sharing experiences and exchanging ideas over many meetings.”