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Children’s Ground

Children's Ground

One of the privileges of working at Saward Dawson is learning about some incredible not-for-profit organisations and seeing the difference they are making in the lives of Australians and communities worldwide. I had the pleasure to see firsthand one of our clients – Children’s Ground in action.


One of the Children’s Ground sites is in the centre of Australia, Alice Springs. It is surrounded by beautiful cliff faces and larger desert landscapes. The office sits next to the empty Todd River. The main building circles a courtyard. The walls are decorated with original paintings and photos of the children they work with. The space is a welcoming environment.

I was privileged to meet with Mel Kean, the Regional Director of Children’s Ground Central Australia. We discussed the organisation in their communal kitchen where staff were busy having breakfast.

Who is Children’s Ground?

Children’s Ground’s vision is to support First Nations children from when they are born until they are 25. They seek to make a positive impact in the formative years of the children’s lives. The organisation is directed, and decisions are made by First Nations Elders and members. This is a core value of Children’s Ground, that First Nations Elders have leadership over the program.

Children’s Ground started their Central Australian operations in 2016 with 3 staff and today it has grown to 70 staff.

What do they do?

Children’s Ground runs learning and wellbeing programs for family groups. Their work is about empowering First Nations communities and community members, through employment, mentoring and activity delivery. For children, there is a lack of traditional culturally based learning in current, Western school systems. This results in First Nations children missing out on learning related to identity, land and lore that they would traditionally have experienced. They rarely get to learn their first language or connect to their country and the different lands that their people are from.

Children’s Ground provides these opportunities. Quite often, First Nations children struggle to stay in school for a variety of reasons. Children’s Ground has recently started a primary learning program in the one of their sites so that children who have come through early years with them can continue their learning on country into the primary years. This is made possible through a partnership with the local independent Yipirinya School. In other sites there are special days where primary children can come out for learning with their families.

Children’s Ground have a range of different projects and activities. There is a resource development team who create resources in first language. They have also produced music in language that is easily accessible on Spotify. While I was there in the kitchen, they presented me with some of their own children’s books that people from the community had made with hand-drawn illustrations.

There is also a Health Promotion and a Research and Evaluation team. Health promotion activities occur with families on early years and primary sessions and also with individuals.  Children’s Ground integrates everything in their work.

My experience

I was invited to attend a town camp Christmas party after finding out a bit more about the organisation. The party was 10 minutes out of town in a Town camp called White Gate. We drove to the Town camp in a large white van. White to reflect the desert sun and large to carry all the families.

The community lives in small tin sheds with no insulation. Temps in the centre can range from -5 degrees C overnight in winter to 46 degrees C in summer. While the camp is only 3kms from the centre of town, there is no connection to mains water or electricity.  Recently a hybrid generator has been installed meaning power is available for the first time in the camp at each shed. Hydro panels have recently been donated through SOURCE Global.  These hydropanels provide 90L of fresh drinking water per day straight from the air. Otherwise water is trucked in. There were also a few camp dogs roaming around. I learnt that there are difficulties in developing communities like White Gate are due to land ownership and the jurisdictions of local and Territory governments.

The children and their families arrived on another white bus. They came out with their mums, uncles, aunties, and respected grandmas. The first activities were based on important hygiene practices with the kids. They went to the central tap to clean their hands with soap, then used wipes to clean their eyes, nose and faces. It was important to them that they learn how to clean themselves. Seeing the children learn the fundamentals of self-hygiene gave me a fresh appreciation for how hygiene education is important for longer term health outcomes and often taken for granted in the rest of Australia.

The picnic was the last gathering before Christmas Day, so the activities were all Christmas-themed. The children roamed around the camp collecting twigs and leaves before being brought back together around the table. They didn’t hesitate to get their hands dirty again creating clay Christmas decorations. They used the things they had found on the ground to decorate.

While the children were playing, some of the uncles and aunts arrived and started preparing kangaroo tails. They set up the fire and placed the tails into the fire, singed off the fur and wrapped them in foil to go into the colas. When they had cooked them, they cut them up and divided them up for all the family members. The smell was very strong and was eating them was quite a messy process.

Lunch was a mix of salads, bread, and meat. We spread out under the gum trees to eat. After lunch was mat time where the children sat in a circle and sang songs together. They sang songs about each other and different things in nature. During the mat time, the children were given Christmas presents. The presents were Children’s Ground-produced books.

During the singing time, I got to hang out with some of the teenagers who were there. They wanted me to take their photos in a bunch of different poses. They had a wheelchair that they all had a turn playing on. With all of the people I was meeting there were a lot of names to remember. It was interesting to discover the cultural intricacies of names and how these names can change over time.

The beauty of Children’s Ground is respect for First Nations culture. The children are full of energy and it is beautiful to see their smiles and their enthusiastic energy as they participate in the activities.

How are they making a difference?

There is a rising need for mentors to come alongside First Nations children to break the old cycles. The most substantial way of doing this is through the leadership of First Nations Elders. Children’s Ground’s success in the last few years has shown that First Nations Elders led programs can provide a significant impact on communities.

How can others help?

Take part in Children’s Ground – Wear it Yellow campaign by donating or organising a fundraiser this National Reconciliation Week, 27 May – 3 June, and support a bright future for First Nations children.

Donating to Children’s Ground will allow them to be able to reach more First Nations children and give these children more opportunities to be supported in their own communities.