Brisbane Kōhanga Reo first of its kind

By Eru Paranihi

Kōhanga Ēkara is an early childcare centre which is based in the Brisbane suburb of Eagleby. The first centre of its kind in Australia that teaches both Māori and English, the Kōhanga is also a place for parents to engage in the Māori language.

There is no place better than home to learn the Māori language however, Te Kōhanga Ēkara is also a home for young children living in Brisbane.

Teacher and assistant director Sharna Te Hau (Te Whānau-a-Apanui) says, "The goal of the parents is for the kids to enrol into a place where they are able to be nurtured while being immersed in Māori. So, most of the children here grew up here. Put it this way, they can't speak Māori, they also don't have an understanding of Māori protocol."

“Definitely having the opportunity to run it at a childcare centre and being able to provide that opportunity for parents. Being able to go to work and then putting their children in childcare, you have to pay for it over here,” says Centre Director Jen Tuuta (Ngāti Mutunga).

The Kōhanga is full time and is also part of the Mulberry Bush daycare centre. Laura Cooper who is the owner is fond of the Māori culture and was one of the reasons she helped establish it.

“I love the sense of community, of family. That's so important to me. I think the way that I was welcomed into it and embraced, and it made me feel part of it,” says Mrs. Cooper.

There are other Kohanga in Australia that have been established like Te Reo Puawai in Melbourne. However, many Māori who have moved to Australia still don't know there are Kōhanga that exist over there.

“The Parents are really happy, they often ring up and say my child spoke to me in Māori, they sung songs. At home, they have really taken it on board,” says Te Hau.

Pania Tarawai (Ngāti Haua) whose children are currently attending the Kōhanga says, “The ones that have grown up here and not exposed to our culture, they says "what's the point in having it, we live in Australia? And I just tell them that's stilly because it's important to know where you came from to know who you really are."

According to Tarawai, the difficulty for Māori parents in Australia is being too embarrassed and shy to take their children into the centre. A lot of it is because the families aren't actively involved in the Māori community.

Says Tarawai, “Get amongst it! You've got to do it straight away because for me like I said before, it's about knowing where you came from to be able to know where you really are.”

“The language needs to attained, to never be lost. That is our dream. We are scared to lose it, we don't want their language to be lost,” says Te Hau.

There are plans for Kōhanga Ēkara to expand across Australia. In the meantime, the kōhanga is preparing children should they one day be called back home to their marae.