Aunty May with Kids Uni student Kayden Little, who is helping to raise the Aboriginal Flag at Wollongong Campus. Photo: Paul Jones

Kids’ Uni student sparks change to UOW’s flags with a simple question

Kids’ Uni student sparks change to UOW’s flags with a simple question

Young girl inspired by First Nations perspectives embedded in early childhood curriculum

You are never too young to create change. That is the message the educators at Kids’ Uni instil into their children every day.

So, when five-year-old Emily looked out from the playground at Kids’ Uni, towards the flagpoles that stand at UOW’s Eastern Entrance, she asked a simple yet powerful message of the centre’s educators.

“Where is the Aboriginal flag?”

The flagpoles, situated on the Wollongong Campus, displayed other flags, but Emily was struck by the absence of the Aboriginal flag.

And thus began a campaign to change the flagpoles at the University of Wollongong (UOW), led by a five-year-old. Yesterday (14 December), that campaign came to fruition when Emily, joined by educators from Kids’ Uni and local elder Aunty May, came together to celebrate the inclusion of the Aboriginal flag at UOW’s Eastern Entrance.

Kids Uni Director Kellie Grose, Aunty May, and Jordan Storm at the Aboriginal Flag raising at Wollongong Campus. Photo: Paul Jones

(From left) Kids' Uni Director Kellie Grose, Aunty May, and Kids' Uni educator Jordan Storm. 

Kellie Grose, Director of Kids’ Uni, which is run by UOW Pulse, said the children at Kids’ Uni were encouraged to share their opinions and to use their voices, and this was the perfect example of that in action.

“We have been looking at the Aboriginal flag, and at Aboriginal culture and history, so that is what sparked Emily’s curiosity and question. Kids’ Uni is really built upon the idea that children have a voice in their world, that they feel seen and heard, so for Emily to know that her questions led to change is really encouraging for all the children.”

Since adopting a Reconciliation Action Plan in 2021, Kids’ Uni has been incorporating First Nations perspectives into their early childhood curriculum across their four centres. The educators invite local Aboriginal artists, storytellers, elders, and teachers into their centres to be part of their daily activities and to work alongside the children.

“We recognise that we have a responsibility to bring about change for the next generation of Australians that will close the gap for Aboriginal people and increase equity in our community,” Ms Grose said.

“The Kids’ Uni’ curriculum uses the Narragunnawali Reconciliation in Education platform, to incorporate knowledge and First Nations perspectives, and to focus on connecting to and learning from Country.

“That begins with our children. It is important for them to have a true version of history, an understanding of the culture of First Nations people, and how to care for and connect to Country.”

Aunty May with Emily, the young girl who led to the new Aboriginal flag on campus. Emily wears a purple hat and orange shirt. Photo: Paul Jones

Aunty May and Emily share a moment during the flag raising.

Ms Grose said Emily had been taking part in regular activities that incorporate First Nations perspectives during her time at the centre, so she was surprised to realise that the Aboriginal flag was not flown at the UOW flagpoles outside Kids’ Uni. The Aboriginal flag has instead been flown at Woolyungah Indigenous Centre.

That simple question encouraged two Kids’ Uni educators, Nicky Jefferson and Emily’s primary educator proud Yuin woman Jordan Storm, to take action on her behalf. The team reached out to Indigenous Strategy Team at the University as a whole, asking for the Aboriginal Flag to be included.

In response, UOW has now installed flagpoles all at the same height – they were previously different heights – that encompass the Aboriginal flag, alongside the Australian flag.

Tammy Small, Manager Projects Indigenous Advancement in UOW’s Indigenous Strategy Unit, was blown away by Emily’s perceptiveness and knowledge, and her courage to question her educators.

“Our young people are leading the way. We need parents and carers to catch up to ensure the knowledge and capacity to engage in deep and meaningful conversations with our children is happening,” Ms Small said.

“It’s parents, educators and all adults’ responsibility to ensure that we continue to build on their pre-existing knowledge set.

“I am so excited about this project and honestly cannot believe it has come about through the voice of a small child. It is so touching to know that she was heard, feels heard and can see change from her voice. This is so empowering for our children.”

The team from Kids' Uni, with Aunty May, stand alongside the new Aboriginal flag at Wollongong Campus. Photo: Paul Jones

The team from Kids' Uni with Aunty May. 

UOW Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Patricia M. Davidson, was delighted to hear that a young girl had instigated institutional change.

“We often say that change can come from anywhere. And in this case, it came from the innocent and curious eyes of Emily, who saw something that wasn’t right and ensured she spoke up about it. What a powerful lesson to learn at such a young age – that using your voice can make a huge difference to the lives of others,” Professor Davidson said.

“Our commitment to our First Nations staff, students and community is never over, and we need to constantly take a fresh set of eyes to ensure that we are moving forward as a just, equitable, modern university. I am proud of Emily’s achievements, thankful for her curiosity, and hope that continues to campaign for change as she moves through life.”

Main photo: Kids' Uni student and proud Yuin/Wiradjuri boy Kayden Little helps Aunty May to raise the flag.