CHILDREN in country residential care homes have welcomed opportunities to express their creativity while learning about Aboriginal culture through an award-winning ac.care initiative.
ac.care partnered Aboriginal artists and cultural educators with young people in residential care homes across the Riverland, Limestone Coast and Murraylands to provide connection to culture and education about the First Nations peoples of these regions.
A core element of the project was children working with the artists to create paintings to adorn the walls of their homes as daily reminders of First Nations culture and the importance of connection to community.
Artists taking part on the various lands included 2022 Limestone Coast NAIDOC Artist of the Year Bonnie Saunders-Waye (Boandik), 2023 NAIDOC SA Creative Artist of the Year Harley Hall (Ngarrindjeri) and 2022 Riverland NAIDOC Artist of the Year Daniel Giles (First Peoples of River Murray).
The project, delivered as part of ac.care’s Stretch Reconciliation Action Plan commitments, also involved Boandik Elders Aunty Michelle Jaquelin-Furr and Uncle Ken Jones spending time with the children and taking them to regional locations to share stories and knowledge of local Aboriginal culture.
Bonnie, Harley and Daniel worked with young people in their respective communities to talk about connection to culture contributing to pride and self-respect, including sharing of Welcome to Country statements in language and explaining the importance of cultural protocols.
The initiative was praised at the 2023 National Anglicare Australia Awards at Cairns with presentation of the Outstanding Commitment to Reconciliation Award.
Working with children in three residential care homes in Mount Gambier, Bonnie reflected on the process of connecting young people to First Nations culture.
“Two special little people I met had a massive impact on my views and perception of the residential care homes and what they offer to our local children,” Bonnie said.
“They showed me kindness, love and their resilience was amazing – I was humbled to sit and learn about and from them.
“We drew together, had a yarn and although from different country to my own and having limited information about their Aboriginal culture, we were able to connect.”
Children in each home selected colours for the paintings and discussed and developed the symbolism featured in the art that now brightens their walls.
“The children are represented in the artworks by three beautiful big seed pods, representing their birth, and although their journeys are unique and can be complex, they have led to them all living in these homes,” Bonnie said.
“Children in these homes make friends that hopefully form a new family structure or add to the one they have already, represented by the seed pods in the artworks that stem from the middle big seed pods as they make connections and memories.
“They are able to take these friendships with them as they grow into the final seed pod, which is when they are old enough to leave the home, entering a new journey independent of ac.care and they take with them the memories and what they have learnt to the next chapter of their lives.”
Bonnie said she hoped to engage in other projects with the children and ac.care.
“I find it very humbling because working with children is my passion – I know that as a child I remember certain adults in my life who gave me time, gave me praise and sat and listened to my thoughts and helped shape who I am today,” she said.
“Some of the children who live in these homes have experienced trauma and loss, grief and neglect prior to entering care, but I found they were still so happy and supported and there are not enough words to express my appreciation for the workers and how much they give of themselves to the children – their love and care for each child.”