Two Aboriginal Women
Visit Our Play Centres
An interesting development in a crosscultural relationship programme initiated by the Adult Education Department of the University of Sydney, was the establishment in 1967 of Aboriginal Family Education Centres in Box Ridge, Tabulum and Woodenbong.
Maori mothers, trained in play centre techniques, helped Aboriginal mothers organise their own pre-school centres, the foundation of the Education Centres. Despite many handicaps and expected fluctuations in performance, these experimental groups have been successful. Aboriginal Welfare Board officers and members of the Sydney University staff, long accustomed to Aboriginal apathy, have been pleasantly surprised at the changes in the women. An unexpected competence in organising and carrying through to completion the tasks they had undertaken, gave them confidence.
To give further incentive and encouragement and to extend their training, the Sydney University and the Aboriginal Welfare Board sponsored two Aboriginal women on an eight-week tour of New Zealand. Dorothy Knight and Olga Yuke were chosen because both had been connected with the Box Ridge A.F.E.C. since its inception, had completed the first stage of supervisor training and had received the Northland Play Centres Association Helpers' Certificate.
Dorothy, a vigorous, articulate sixtyeight, born of an Aboriginal mother and a white father and married to a white man, has lived most of her life, and is happiest, on or close to the Aboriginal reservations. She lives in the town of Coraki with her daughter and grandchildren, but most of her social activities are spent with the Aborigines on the Box Ridge station about two miles from the town.
Olga, a full blooded Aborigine, lives with her small son at Box Ridge, an area set aside for the Aborigines where the housing is slightly superior to that in other stations and roughly equivalent to the poorest Maori Affairs Department housing in New Zealand. Always quiet and preferring to remain in the background, she was receptive to new ideas and had an intense desire to help her people.
It was aimed to provide them with a better understanding of play centre techniques by seeing fully operating centres, Some would be in conditions similar to their own and others quite different. Although Dorothy and Olga had a good basic knowledge of play centre observation procedures, because of the ‘helper’ training, they lacked fluency. It was hoped that they could carry their observations further and in greater depth by working with more experienced mothers in the centres. It would be demonstrated that equipment made from the natural material of the environment could be a source of learning. In addition, there was a need for them to see racial co-operation and receive help in some way, to develop the enlightened leadership that would be needed when they returned to Australia.
The itinerary was arranged by Mr A. Grey, now of the University of Sydney, in co-operation with the New Zealand Play Centre Federation secretary, Mrs M. Edwards, and the Associations concerned. They were to spend several days in each locality under the guidance of the local play centre officers. The itinerary was:
Monday, 25 March:
Arrive in Auckland and travel to Whangarei. Train with the Northland P.C.A. until April 11.
In Rotorua visiting centres and sightseeing with the Rotorua P.C. Association.
Travel to Napier, meeting with the Hawke's Bay P.C. Association, around the coast to Gisborne and Tikitiki with the East Coast-Poverty Bay P.C. Association.
19 April–8 May:
Travel to Whakatane and train with the Bay of Plenty Association.
At Palmerston North, N.Z.P.C. Federation Conference.
Travel to Hamilton. Visit Family Pre-School centres around Hamilton, Paeroa, Tauranga and Matakana Island.
Travel to Auckland.
Return to Australia.
Their experiences in the North were repeated throughout their stay in New Zealand. They experienced their first traditional Maori welcome on Te Ohaki Marae, near Kaitaia. There, as on the rest of the tour, they stayed in the homes of Maori play centre parents.
They visited Te Hapua Play Centre and stayed the night on the marae. This is New Zealand's most northerly centre and is entirely Maori. Because of isolation and lack of material wealth, this group has had to use imagination and initiative in making equipment and building up their centre.
Te Ahu Ahu, one of the first rural centres established in Northland, was a good example of Maori-Pakeha co-operation. Olga and Dorothy were surprised at the equality of the Maori's place in New Zealand society and began to see that when the Maori contributed to the community, he was more readily accepted. However, they also visited centres where there was little co-operation, where Maoris had left because of Pakehas and vice versa. They were able to talk about these problems to both Maori and Pakeha. Gradually, they recognised that people of both races found it necessary that for there to be harmony in the centres and elsewhere they had to seek mutual recognition in a more positive way. They began to see that racial cooperation is an active two-way process.
Not all their time was spent on serious work. They were shown all the tourist sights, rural and urban development, but it was from the people they met that they got their greatest understanding of the New Zealand way of life.
There were some unexpected developments. This was a pioneer visit and Dorothy and Olga had to withstand a universal curiosity. So many people wanted to see them and to question them, that it became a problem to keep the purpose of the tour in mind and not be distracted by invitations that came from people everywhere. Public interest was aroused, and in them; newspaper editors saw a good story. Reporters and photographers almost became travelling companions. It was an interesting commentary on our stereotype of the Aborigine, that local people were not prepared for Dorothy and Olga. Preconceived ideas of Aborigines as primitive were shaken by the reality of two selfpossessed women, with the result that at times reactions were uncertain.
It is difficult to do more than generalise about the benefits of the tour. On the whole, it was successful. Difficulties were met. The amount of travelling undertaken and the continual changing of personnel and places confused and imposed a strain on them. This was evident when I met
them again at the N.Z.P.C. Federation Conference. By that time, they had become reticent with strangers and resistant to questioners. It may take some time for them to sort out their impressions, but some will be significant; the more comprehensive picture of race relations; the more complete view of the function of a play centre; the value of parent participation in child and self-education.
A recent bulletin from Lex Grey tells that the day Olga and Dorothy arrived back in Sydney, the experience they had gained was put to work immediately. In the Sydney suburb of Redfern they helped a group of Aboriginal women to plan the opening of an A.F.E.C. The next day they met another group at La Perouse. It was here that Olga's growing confidence was noticed. From her assessment of what she had seen here, she was definite on the need to be prepared to let children learn and discover for themselves in the play programme.
In a recent letter Dorothy expressed her pleasure in all she had experienced in New Zealand. Of the forthcoming visit of Maori women she said ‘… it will be just like welcoming sisters and we will be so proud to introduce them to other folk.’
New Zealand help and encouragement for the A.F.E.C.s and the resulting growth in ability and confidence will continue. A further exchange of visits between the countries, for the continuation of training to the higher levels of supervisor and Liaison Officer will be necessary. A growing awareness of the value of the programme by the general Australian public will help ensure that the infinite potential of the Aborigines to contribute to society will at last be recognised.