It’s Naidoc week in Australia and while many throughout the world have no understanding what it is or what its significance is, there are many who recognise it as a week of unity, when the original inhabitants of Australia and their work are recognised.
Naidoc stands for National Aboriginal Islander Observance Committee, and it celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Recognising the oldest culture in the world, the first week in July has marked a week of observance since 1991.
In celebration of Naidoc week, the children’s programme Play School, has aired a special ‘Welcome To Country’ episode this week in Australia. This may well be one of the most heartfelt episodes in the show’s history.
The episode serves as the first introduction to Kiya, a brand-new indigenous doll. Kiya was named after the greeting used in Western Australia Noongar Country. Kiya will be become a regular on the show joining the ranks of Big and Little Ted, as well as Humpty.
Miranda Tapsell, one of the special hosts of the episode, described Kiya to The Guardian as an opportunity to share an ‘awareness of country.” For the Aboriginal community “country” means more than land, it is all living things within the community. There are 250-700 different Aboriginal countries within Australia.
According to Tapsell, Kiya will help show "just how multifaceted the wider Aboriginal community is and just how different all our countries are.”
In keeping with the ethos of Naidoc week, Kiya, like the episode, is a celebration of the Indigenous culture, language and achievement. It will provide little and big Play School viewers with the opportunity to find out more about the country of each presenter – and learn how to say hello in their language.
Tapsell shared her thoughts with The Guardian on the episode which serves as a reminder to everybody why Indigenous knowledge and culture is important.
The issue of diverse representation on screen is a growing concern in the industry, and Play School is arguably the Australian pioneer in representing true diversity on national television screens. In terms of First Nations representation, current hosts Tapsell, Paige-Lochard and Carroll follow Bob Maza, Deborah Mailman and Christine Anu, followed by multiple Indigenous guests.
The episode hopes to show representation that will give kids a stronger understanding of themselves, when they see someone similar to themselves represented. Tapsell hopes that they will like themselves a little more.
While the show may not open the bigger conversation that needs to happen surrounding Indigenous people, it will begin to put a spotlight on those much-needed wider conversations. There is for example a wide gap in access to healthcare and education and in rates of incarceration.
Often when there is discussion of Indigenous people and their community, there is a period of education and explanation. There is a constant need to educate, even at the mention of writing about Naidoc week, there was a need to explain and educate readers as to what it is. The writers of Play School hope to create even a slight raising of awareness of the culture, and of Indigenous heritage.
The programme includes a giant map of Australia explaining different Aboriginal countries and languages. Children see how to make a handbag out of paperbark, meet a didgeridoo player named Matthew and have Baker Boy perform a hip hop version of Hickory Dickory Dock featuring his trademark dance moves.
The episode was a quintessential Play School episode full of learning, dance and song. But it was also an episode designed to finally represent a variety of Australian experiences – not just the very narrow one Australian Television is often guilty of portraying.