The HART (Helping Achieve Reconciliation Together) awards

The HART (Helping Achieve Reconciliation Together) Awards, launched in 2014, recognise initiatives by local governments and community organisations working together in Victoria to build relationships, respect and understanding  while demonstrating a commitment to Aboriginal self-determination. This year a new category was included for Schools and Early Years to celebrate and reward their contribution to Aboriginal culture, history and perspective in early years of education.

Balnarring Pre-school on the Mornington Peninsula has won the award and was recognised for its Living and Learning with Country pedagogy and practice. This is the second time Balnarring Pre-school and won an honour for its commitment to reconciliation and to building relationships with the Boon Wurrung Foundation. From three-year-old children to adults, the ‘tiny little centre’ is having an impact on the local community. 

The journey began for this small centre almost 10 years ago in a 'very intentional way' to incorporate the voices of First Peoples who have strong connections with Country. The kindergarten, with 94 children enrolled, embeds the perspectives of First Peoples into everyday practice through a variety of initiatives including an annual community festival and professional development for all staff. 

Pre-school teacher and educational leader, Karen Anderson, said the honour encouraged everyone to keep learning and listening, including the broader local community, which had embraced the kindergarten's commitment to reconciliation and learning about Aboriginal cultures. 

'It's really exciting to know a tiny little centre can have that impact, rippling beyond our centre, which is run by volunteers,' she said.

Putting the Standards into practice

Balnarring Pre-school is an exceptional example of a centre demonstrating descriptor 2.4: Understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, of the Australian Professional Standards.

As the centre developed their nature philosophy and practices they noted that Indigenous people taught their children on the land. They have included this approach to learning with the children, recognising the Boon Wurrung people as the traditional owners of the country we work on, and developing an understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing so as to better include Indigenous perspectives each week in their programs.

The educators expressed a need to develop their knowledge so they could include indigenous perspectives in the program in an authentic manner. An indigenous consultant was employed to work directly with the educators. The consultant then worked directly with the children; learning on Country together.

Indigenous perspectives are a regular inclusion in every day practice. When you enter the building you will see Indigenous resources being used on a daily basis, The Australian and Aboriginal flag are hanging in the building as it an acknowledgment they have written.

They believe that outdoor learning provides many rich opportunities to make connections to knowledge about country.  Connecting with elders from their local First Peoples community can reveal many understandings of the land, plants and animals. 

The children mention indigenous learning within their play and discussions. They are engaged in learning about Aboriginals and adopting some of their practices. For example – story telling with items found in nature; recognising the significance of the wedge tail eagle and Black raven and finding wonder in the land, sky and waterways.

The 2020 winners and highly commended award recipients in the category of Schools & Early Years:

Winner

Balnarring Pre-school - Living and Learning with Country, pedagogy and practice.

Highly Commended

St Leonard's College - The Warruwi Program

New schools & early years category

Acknowledgment of work driving systemic change: Action on Aboriginal Perspectives in Early Childhood  - 'Possum Skin Pedagogy'

The quality of this year's nominations was exemplary and competition was tight in each of the three categories - Community Organisations, Schools and Early Years, and Local Government.

Congratulations to everyone who was nominated.

Watch the 2020 HART awards.