PADDINGTON: Natalie Cordukes, director of Paddington Children’s Centre (Uniting), has been nominated for a HESTA award for her robust leadership on reconciliation, which has resulted in strong partnerships with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and the creation of a new culturally safe learning space for Aboriginal children and families.
The HESTA Early Childhood Education & Care Awards recognise the frontline educators and carers at the heart of Australia’s early childhood education system.
Ms Cordukes said to have been selected as a finalist for the HESTA Leadership Award was both an honour and a celebration of generosity, community and a commitment to respectful partnerships.
“This journey has been an adventure of connecting, listening and learning. As a leader in my community, I highly value social justice, equity and inclusion.”
Ms Cordukes said steps taken to nurture the cultural competence of her team through ongoing relationships with local Elders, artists and community grew out of Paddington Children’s Centre (Uniting) Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
“Strong relationships formed with Aboriginal community members have transformed our thinking, approaches and values.”
One RAP goal was to facilitate a playgroup in Redfern for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families through community partnerships. Consultation with Redfern organisations and community to ascertain needs was critical to achieving this. As was meeting the “amazing” Aunty Ann Weldon (ACS Committee member a Head Coordinator of the ACS Food Drive) who was supportive and excited at the idea of the Aboriginal Children’s Service (ACS) premises being used for children’s programs again.
Ms Cordukes said, “I began supporting the ACS food drive to gain greater insight into the values of the committee and also connect to the space. It was not long before the ACS had completely captured my heart, driving me to be courageous and take on a project much larger than ever imagined!”
The ACS was in a four-storey terrace in need of substantial repair and restoration before programs could be offered to the community.
The full restoration and refurbishment project took 16 months, the support of 55 businesses, and financial contributions exceeding $400,000.
Launch events were sponsored by Paddington Uniting Church Social Action Committee and enjoyed in conjunction with the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day (August 4, 2019).
“Community and supporting businesses came together to celebrate the transformation of the ACS. The support, generosity and interest displayed by businesses, individuals and community members was extraordinary.”
Ms Cordukes said, “In 2019, with restoration complete, we launched an Aboriginal playgroup in the space – Biddy’s Joy Playgroup – and we are committed to ensuring a culturally safe program and environment.”
The playgroup is facilitated by community members and qualified early childhood educators. Community members inform and guide the program, which is creative and flexible to be responsive to the needs of the Redfern and inner-city community.
Ms Cordukes said joining a playgroup has many benefits, including connecting with other mums from the local area while supporting children’s learning and development.
“Our playgroup space is filled with beautiful cultural resources. We have enjoyed establishing a bush tucker garden, weaving sessions and enjoy working with the community on activity ideas for the group.
“Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo has been conducting cooking classes with the Mums & Bubs last term. We look forward to creating delicious meals with Aunty Beryl to take home and enjoy together at the end of the session.”
The playgroup is free and runs weekly on a Wednesday morning from 9.30am – 11.30am during school terms. Closed during the Covid lockdown period, the Facebook page @ACSRestorationProject is a great way to stay informed about the program. To find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0407 066 288.
HESTA award winners will be announced on September 7 in Brisbane as part of the Early Childhood Australia National Conference.