A Town like Alice


Day 7 Friday 2nd June – Alice Springs NTLS Round Table

Our Kakadu self-drive adventure came to an end Thursday evening when Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir and I checked into a hotel at Darwin airport ready for our 7am flight to Alice Springs. Anja Tait from NTLS met us at the airport and escorted us to the Alice Springs Library for our second Round Table presentation

The Alice Springs Library is a vibrant and welcoming community space with a tight knit library team who are passionate about creating a library space, as they say ‘for everybody’ and used by all walks of life like the local Arrernte people, backpackers, young children, students and seniors.

The library holds a diverse collection of central desert language books. The collection is a non- borrowing collection and only accessed within the library. This is one of the first examples that I am aware of in a local library that protects their Indigenous heritage collection and precious books (that are often produced on a very limited print run) from being withdrawn or weeded out from a library collection.

Felicity, the indigenous library programs officer (above) is a wonderful woman who works extremely hard to develop a calendar of library activities that celebrate significant Aboriginal community days and culturally meaningful programs for her Central Desert Community members from Arrernte language classes to yarning chair oral storytelling occasions; a swag of programs  of interest to the young and old.  The “Whose footprint?” program in English and central Arunda language was a big success with community. Thanks to support from the Indigenous Literacy foundation they were able to develop community book publishing projects such as ‘The Honey Ant’ book.

Alice Springs library developed the “Yarning chair” concept, as Felicity says, “for our Aboriginal peoples. If you want to know anything in the community you yarn. Our culture has a strong focus on the oral storytelling, so we came up with the concept of borrowing a person…not the book…”

Felicity invites senior Aboriginal elders or community members with desert knowledge and stories of gathering bush food or healing remedies to share with library members and community from the yarning chair. They move the chair around the library depending on the subject matter of the talk and linking it to a genre in the library’s collection.

Tony Little was invited most recently on the Anniversary of the Referendum to share what it was like being a young fella growing up through the Referendum in 1967.

Alice Springs Library also hosted a very popular Multilingual storytime with translators who could speak in Arrernte and English…songs and stories were spoken in language. Felicity also does Community outreach at Yipringa school. I am absolutely inspired by Felicity and Alice Springs and I hope we can get together again in the future.

Georgie the Alice Spring library manager took the photos you can see printed onto the ends of the library’s shelving. The photos are of surrounding Arrernte Country  where the library is based. This is a fantastic example of an inexpensive but beautiful gesture to acknowledge Country where library is based and welcome their diverse community into their library space.

Our final Round Table Presentation with the NTLS in Alice Springs brought another very different group from the Northern Territory Library, council and government staff, members from ASTC, NAST, local NGO’s, Mel Kean and Felicity Hayes from Children’s Ground, staff from Children’s Foundation and Red Cross.
Mel Kean, the Director of Children’s Ground writes;

Fay and Sarah,

Thanks to both of you for sharing your experience and knowledge this morning. Really great to hear about your Early Years journey and dedication to supporting the awakening of language in Boon Wurrung country.

Felicity Hayes ( Mparntwe traditional owner and cultural elder who leads the Children’s Ground Programs in the Town Camps in Alice Springs) asked me to pass on her thanks too and in her words: “I can’t explain how good it makes me feel to hear their story. They are on the same path. We’re on it together.”

Look forward to staying in touch and following your story as it continues to unfold.
It was great to talk this morning; we look forward to further conversations in the near future.

Mel Kean
Director – Children’s Ground Alice Springs

Anja Tait, Assistant Director of NTLS sent me a quote following our Round Table,

“the best people in life will meet you where you are at and walk with you where you want to be.” B. Oakman

Anja Tait writes;

Dear Aunty Fay and Sarah

I came upon this statement and it directed my thoughts to you both. I hope you are having a wonderful time at Uluru Kata Tjuta, and being replenished after the precious gifts of knowledge and understandings you shared with us all in the Territory this last week. The conversations in Darwin and Alice Springs differed, and at the same time offered everyone involved an opportunity to listen, truly hear, and reflect upon why, what and how we walk together with a Aboriginal families in to local libraries.
(Children’s Ground cultural elder, teacher) Felicity Hayes said to me at the close of the Alice Springs conversation that “we could do a forum about this”.
🌸🌸🌸So, we may have planted the seed to get some national conversations going about delivering Elder Led bilingual early years’ programs for Aboriginal children and families; programs that are based on Country (the 68,000 year old classroom) then walk children and families back to their local library to celebrate their unique cultural heritage with community. Watch this space!

I have included a beautiful quote and photo below of Felicity Hayes from Children’s Ground teaching children on Country.

“Akangkemele anetyeke – we must respect the land and the spirits when we go out bush, and encourage the kids to behave in a way that is respectful too. When we arrive at a place we tell the spirit ancestors we are here with the kids so the little ones are safe to play.”

Children’s Ground writes: Felicity Hayes, teacher, grandmother, cultural elder and Traditional Owner for Mparntwe, is helping Shontara connect with her Country at Atherrke (Jessie Gap), by explaining the Emu Dreaming story. When Shontara is learning from her elders on Country, in her first language, she can grow up with a strong spirit and sense of belonging to place, family and culture. All children, the world over, have the right to access culturally appropriate education in an environment where they feel safe, comfortable and inspired.