‘How the Birds Got Their Colours’, ‘Going for Oysters’ and ‘The Rainbow Serpent’ are just a few of the Sturt House children’s favourite books to share at group times. Educators intentionally include a diverse range of books written by and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples in our program. They are great books that engage the children’s imaginations and sense of inquiry.
When Reconciliation Australia invited us to learn, share, grow and explore history hidden just beneath the surface, this National Reconciliation Week, educators thought of a book that hadn’t been shared yet; ‘Stolen Girl’ by Trina Saffioti and Norma MacDonald. This book tells the story of Trina’s maternal Grandmother who was taken from her family when she was very young. We decided to let our families know that we were going to read this book with the children as we thought it may evoke strong emotions and wonderings, to prepare the families to support the children with this. One of our families replied and suggested that the children of Sturt House could collect some flowers and foliage that they would then take to the statue of the ‘Grieving Mother’. This statue is at Colebrook Reconciliation Park, a five minute drive up the hill from Flinders. The park lies on the site of the former Colebrook Training Home, where approximately one hundred and thirty six Aboriginal children were housed after being removed from their families under government policy.
We read the book each day of the week. The children were saddened and visibly concerned. ‘I don’t like that’ and ‘I don’t want that to happen to me’ were some of the remarks as the story was read. We talked about how this had happened a long time ago (in a young child’s lifetime) but that it did happen. We talked about feeling sorry that this had happened, some children expressing this sorrow through drawings and words. The children displayed true empathy. On Friday we read the book for the last time and together created a bouquet with the foliage and flowers the children had gathered together with the yellow (for friendship) roses that another family had contributed. The bouquet and cards were left in the arms of the Grieving Mother on Saturday.
This is a story of reconciliation, of families involved in their children’s learning and the opportunities this can create for many children. It is a story of amazing young children who will not let something like this happen again because we did not make history a mystery.