In the middle of Arnhem Land, about 3.5 hours’ drive inland from Nhulunbuy and a good 9 hours on the road from Katherine, is the small community of Gapuwiyak.
The 2020/2021 wet season in the Top End has been “terribly wet”, says Sharee Nagle, who works in the Families as First Teachers (FaFT) program, based at the local school.
Many roads in the region are still flooded but the big wet hasn’t held back the FaFT program in Gapuwiyak. In fact, it’s grown!
In 2020 about eight children aged zero to four years attended each day. But this year, on average, between 20 and 25 attend every morning with their parents or carers.
“I’ve seen the program absolutely fly from one year to the next.” says Sharee.
A Yolngu teacher works with “balanda” Sharee. Officially the FaFT program starts at 8 am on Mondays to Fridays, but often there are kids and their parents waiting outside from 7 am.
There is little variation in the daily routine, which includes conversational reading, based around the books and resources supplied by ILF’s Book Buzz program.
“The children all have their favourites,” Sharee explains. “In fact some of the books are now a little worn from being read and handled so many times.”
The families at Gapuwiyak use both their first language and English in FaFT.
A few of the parents speak and can read Kriol, and are really happy and proud to share the books that have been written in this language with their youngsters.
While the kids also love the “touch and feel” books, the “‘truck books’ are the biggest hit ever” — and associated learning and craft activities are proving especially popular among the Gapuwiyak littlies, who have taken to dipping the wheels of toy trucks in trays of paint and then rolling them onto big sheets of paper.
“And it’s so easy to wash the trucks off at the end!” laughs Sharee.
Some of the books from ILF are used for the attendance awards, handed out each Friday.
“The kids get very excited when they take home a book at the end of the week.”
Other books are distributed in home reading packs delivered by the two FaFT teachers during their scheduled visits to each family in this remote community.
Sharee says her hope is for every home in Gapuwiyak to have books in it. And already, with Book Buzz continuing to roll out across the NT, “there are more books in homes now than ever before.”