Page 1

Text by Julia Richardson Photography & Design by Bruce Daly

Taking Care Sixteen women making a difference in the Marrickville community



This page: Novak and Lior wearing traditional Vietnamese lion's heads as part of the Moon Festival celebrations at Globe Wilkins Preschool. Front cover: Fernanda with family day care children Rafael and Mckenzie on the porch of her family home.

Taking Care Sixteen women making a difference in the Marrickville community


It is difficult to think of any investment that will generate returns as enduring as our investment in a child’s education. Prime Minister Julia Gillard There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. Nelson Mandela The soul is healed by being with children. Fyodor Dostoevsky




Amanda Marr

Wadad Amacha

Trupti Oza

Queti Montero

Rita Ayoub

Almas Iqbal

Georgia Christou

Rabia Sert

Tracey L. Bostock

Fernanda Guerreiro

Gina Athanasopoulos

Penny Tsirakidis

Jessica Staines

Vicki Matelis

Marta Mae

Thi Nga Nguyen

Thanks to all the educators who shared their stories in the making of this book.



Sixteen stories appear in the pages of this book.

They are sixteen stories about sixteen women who make an extraordinary contribution to the lives of young children. And through those children, their families. And through those families, the entire community of Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west. Rabia, Almas, Vicki, Jessica, Georgia, Amanda, Queti, Aunty Tracey, Thi Nga, Marta, Rita, Fernanda, Penny, Wadad, Trupti and Gina all work with Marrickville Council’s Children and Family Services. Each day they, and the many educators who work alongside them, make the children they care for feel welcome. They listen to them. They teach them and support them. They feed their brains and comfort their hearts. They challenge them and lead them. And for all those reasons they become an inseparable part of each family’s experience. They belong to the Marrickville community and influence its future in a way few others can match. That’s why Marrickville Council chose to celebrate the 2010 Year of Women in Local Government with a book that honours these sixteen women and their many colleagues, and recognises the very great value of the work they do. In small but meaningful ways, all of these workers do every day the very thing that local government sets out to do on a large scale: to improve the quality of lives being led in every street and every home, and to foster a sense of wellbeing throughout the local community. The journeys that led these women to Marrickville have been complicated. Eight of the sixteen came to Australia as migrants from Lebanon, Portugal, India, Poland, Pakistan, Turkey and Greece. Two arrived as refugees from Vietnam and Chile in the 1970s. Three are Aboriginal women, descendents of the Gangulu, Bundjalung, Mulunjali and Wiradjuri people. Half of those profiled here speak English as a second language. These women have stories to tell: heroic stories of survival, inspirational stories of courage, stories of grace and love and discovery. They are women who have had their priorities questioned and their values tested and emerged with a clear understanding of the things that really matter. Family. Friendship. Community. At times these women have been uncertain about their place in the community. Now, sharing in the guardianship of the community’s children gives them a value that cannot be diminished. The love they receive from the children and the appreciation shown to them by the families they work with are evidence that they are treasured for who they are and what they do. It’s a daily reminder that this is where they belong.



Trupti Oza, India

In India we think about character-building. We think if you “build up the character of the child, you can build up the character

of the whole community. But it’s the joint responsibility of parents and carers and teachers. We respect teachers a lot in India.


Trupti keeps company with kids including Mila, Raahan and Olivia at Cavendish Street Children’s Centre. Darcy is in the foreground.



rupti Oza comes from Gujarat, a state in the far north-west of India, right on the border of neighbouring Pakistan. There, as everywhere in Trupti’s homeland, teachers are highly valued. In fact, they’re revered. “If I go to my hometown and I see my teachers I instantly bow down to them,” she says. “That’s the respect we give to them. It’s very special.” In India, Trupti explains, the task of building up a child’s character is seen as the joint responsibility of teachers and parents. It’s a philosophy that she carries through to her work with the children of Cavendish Street Children’s Centre in Sydney’s Stanmore where she’s employed as a part-time educator. She talks about the importance of fostering self-confidence, of helping children to recognise a pattern of small successes so that they develop some deep-set faith in their own abilities. And she talks about self-control. “That’s very important,” she says. “There are moments when we are tempted by our destructive emotions: anger or something. In that moment we should be able to control those emotions. We should be able to work out our problems in positive ways.” Trupti is also a mother and painfully aware of the emotional support that only a parent can provide. She moved to Australia with her family several years ago, leaving behind the trauma of a life upended by the Gujarat earthquake of 2001. In India her family needed her help to recover from the devastation of the quake. In Australia they continue to need her “positive guidance” in settling into a new life in a new land. But such intense relationships are not the slightest bit unusual in Indian families. “For us, closeness is very important. Parents really want to spend their time with the kids, just being with them,” Trupti explains. “And when the children grow up they want to spend their time with the parents at home because they loved being with them.”

Penny Tsirakidis, Australia

I have to catch them “before they get frustrated. I watch them and I say: Hello. What happened? And they say: I can’t do it. So I say: Ok, you have to turn it around. And then they say: Oh, that’s good. I have to keep them positive.

Penny and friends at May Murray Children’s Centre: (opposite page) Shirley and Brigid; (this page) Vicky, Brigid, Petra, Shirley and Saru.


hen the children at May Murray Children’s Centre feel their stomachs churning with anger or frustration, they very often find their way to the lap of Penny Tsirakidis. “They come to me because they need to communicate,” she says. “I am calm and patient and so they talk more and they communicate more and more and more, until they are happy. And then they go. It’s good for them.” Penny says the sense of stillness that draws and soothes the children is something she’s worked hard to develop over her five years at May Murray. “I have to be calm to be supportive for the children, because they need a calm environment.” That composure, she suggests, is not something that has come easily to her. The child of Greek parents, Penny is hearing-impaired and her childhood came with its challenges. “It took me years to learn patience because when I was young I was very withdrawn, I had no self-esteem,” she says with honesty. Buoyed by the support of her colleagues Penny has made an asset of what she off-handedly describes as “my problems”, teaching the kids of May Murray to sign in Auslan, one of two sign-based languages she can speak. “It means the children have the opportunity to learn more, to learn a language they’ve never learned before,” she says. She also concentrates on keeping the children positive, teaching them to communicate their way through problems and to be proud of their own decisions and what they’ve learned. It all contributes to one essential gift, according to Penny. “I want, myself, to give the children happiness.” TAKI NG CARE


Thi Nga Nguyen, Vietnam

T I have greatly enjoyed “bringing Vietnamese

culture and the community together. I feel we have developed a great sense of belonging and community and respect for cultures at the Globe Preschool.

Paper lanterns, mooncakes and lion dances: Thi Nga celebrates the Vietnamese Moon Festival with Melanie and Hoagy at Globe Wilkins Preschool.



here are grown men and women in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville who call out “Bà!” when they run into Thi Nga Nguyen. It means “Grandmother” in Vietnamese. Thi Nga, now silver-haired but still as rosy of cheek as she was in more youthful days, started working at the Globe Kindergarten in 1989. The children she cared for then are now well into their twenties, some with families of their own. Long before she came to Australia, Thi Nga was a teacher in her homeland. She had lost her mother as a very young girl and, though raised by a loving father, grew to adore her school like a second home. As a grown woman she was proud and pleased to be teaching at a village school until 1975 when the communist North conquered the South and the neighbourhood became a battlefield. “The school was often surrounded by bombs and it was very scary for the children, parents and teachers,” she says. “I saw children die in front of my eyes. I stayed teaching for three more years before I could not bear it anymore. I had to escape.” The story of how Thi Nga arrived in Australia as a refugee with nothing but her identity papers and the clothes on her back is one she readily shares with children and parents of the centre now known as Globe Wilkins Preschool. “The children say: Oh! Thi Nga had no money! ” says Thi Nga in her soft-sweet voice. Thi Nga spent more than a decade knitting and sewing to earn a living before returning to the role she loved most: teaching. These days she rejoices in the opportunity to share her Vietnamese culture with the children: singing songs, learning the skills of papercraft, celebrating special occasions like the Moon Festival. “I am here and it’s good because I am teaching,” she says, looking back on an eventful life. “I am a teacher in Vietnam so I just want to continue. I love being with the kids. This is just what I want to do.”

Almas Iqbal, Pakistan

you all sit down “atWhen the table it’s the perfect time for the family to talk about what happened at school, what the plans are now and so on. It’s a little family gathering three times a day.

Almas prepares another healthy feast in the kitchen of Deborah Little Children’s Centre.


ecently, Deborah Little Children’s Centre cook Almas Iqbal took ten months off the job to care for her seriously ill husband. Her husband’s health was, of course, a priority. But at the same time she describes her time away from the Deborah Little kitchen, in a tone both grave and merry, as “a living hell”. “All I could do was look at the clock and think: morning tea time … lunch … afternoon tea …” Almas moved from her native Pakistan to Australia with her husband in 1975. She worked in her husband’s retail business for a while then took time off to start a family. When her children got a little bit older she took up a casual position at the May Murray Children’s Centre in Marrickville before starting work at Deborah Little in Dulwich Hill. That was 26 years ago. “If my health keeps up I think I can do another 26 years!” she laughs. “The thing is, I enjoy cooking. If you don’t enjoy cooking you cannot last even for 26 months.” Every day Almas cooks from a six-week menu roster painstakingly designed to ensure variety and a high level of nutrition in the children’s diets. She prepares five meals a day – breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, late afternoon tea – all the while chatting to the children who crane their necks over the half-height door of her busy kitchen. There are Pakistani curries on the menu, but also dishes drawn from Lebanese, Thai, Greek and Vietnamese cuisines. Parents are often amazed by the kinds of foods their children will reach for in the supermarket, or the meals they ask for at restaurants, and Almas encourages them to keep up the diversity. She says it reminds her of her own childhood in Karachi. “There was no question of choices. Whatever was cooked was put in front of us and that was it. Whatever Mum cooked, we had to eat and in that way we learned to eat everything. There was no: I don’t want this … I won’t have that. Everything was put on the table, so you learned to eat all types of vegetables, lentils, seafood.” Since returning to work at Deborah Little, Almas’s fervour for her job has only increased. “I can’t wait. I’m like a kid,” she says, her face alight with pleasure. “I can’t wait to get back to work on Monday morning. I am speaking from my heart. I really enjoy cooking and I love to be around my staff and the parents. And the kids love me and I love them.” TAKI NG CARE


Gina Athanasopoulos, Australia

G A lot of parents think “academically and think

their kids should be ready with writing and counting, but the first thing is to be confident enough to walk up to the school gate, turn around and say goodbye, then walk into a group.

Gina, from Deborah Little Children’s Centre, spends a day with the children at Enmore Children’s Centre including Harley.



ina Athanasopoulos is Marrickville born and bred, the child of Greek parents who were among the great surge of Greek immigrants to populate the area in the 1960s. An educator at Deborah Little Children’s Centre since 2001, Gina can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to work with children. In Year 6 she was at the blackboard playing teacher to the younger kids she knew. In Year 9 she volunteered at a childcare centre through her school’s community service program. In Year 12 she helped with the high school orientation program for the local primary schools. After school she gained a diploma in early childhood education at TAFE and is now finishing an early childhood university degree. “You see the milestones over the five years,” she says, explaining the strong pull of early childhood education. “They’re five of the most important years of their lives. You see the changes and it sets the ground for them later on in life. You have an impact on that for them and I think that’s really rewarding.” Gina’s family background gave her an affinity with children, but it’s her cultural background as a Greek–Australian that gave her a standard for relationships that she brings to bear on her working life. “It’s the whole respect thing,” she says. “Respect, not as a student or as a teacher or as a parent, but just having respect in general.” When it comes to parents, she says: “We’re looking after their children. They know best. And we’ve got to support that.” And of the children she argues: “You mustn’t see it as a hierarchy of teacher to child. You should be embedded in that relationship.” Gina compares this generation with the generation she grew up in and observes that children in today’s Marrickville are encouraged to be aware of their place in the world, to have a voice and to speak up for themselves. Those are qualities that benefit any child, but especially those from socially marginalised groups. “What we’re doing is teaching children self-confidence now, at this stage, which is great because when they enter primary or high school they won’t see themselves as different or as ‘the other’.” It’s a hard job, a tiring job, an important job that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, but Gina is undaunted. “To be honest with you, as soon as you walk in those doors and those kids run to you and hug you – that makes it. You know you’re doing the correct job.”

Queti Montero, Chile


n her role as a project officer with Marrickville Council’s Children and Family Services, Queti Montero develops programs that make a big difference to the lives of local families and finds ways to connect government and not-for-profit agencies with the real people they hope to serve. She knows how vital her job is because she’s had first hand experience of what happens when those sorts of services aren’t there. Queti arrived in Australia in 1975 as a political refugee escaping the sudden and bloody conflict that followed the 1973 military coup in her native Chile. “It was very traumatic because I didn’t come for financial reasons. I had a good job, a good life. I had no reason to leave the country except danger to my life and my family,” she says, recalling her comfortable life as a high school teacher in Santiago. “It was family and friends and people that you knew that were missing and arrested and tortured, so I got out. I would have done anything to get out.” Queti, her husband and their two-year-old son were relieved when they were accepted by an Australian immigration program, but shocked to discover they were expected to establish themselves in a new country with almost no local support. “There were no services for new arrivals,” she recalls. “I was on my own pretty much, with a young boy, stuck in a little flat in Dulwich Hill. It was very lonely and I was very isolated.” Queti, though, was not to be defeated. She enrolled at Bankstown TAFE and studied until she had a good grasp of English. She made her way into a position as an ethnic outreach worker with Marrickville Council’s Children and Family Services. Some years later she earned a degree in early childhood education at university. Now, aged 60, she has the very great satisfaction of identifying what it is that local families need and finding practical, positive ways to meet those needs. “My cultural background is a political background. I can’t separate them. I have ideas and opinions and they drive my work,” says Queti. “I have a very strong sense of human rights and the rights of children and families. That definitely influences me and that’s connected to my Chilean background. That was where I was and who I was.”

For me it’s very personal “because I will never forget the circumstances when I came here and the lack of services. Now there’s a lot more, but we still have a long way to go.

From her office in Petersham Town Hall, Queti launches programs that make a world of difference to parents and children in the local community.



Rabia Sert, Turkey my own children, “butI have when I started work

I started thinking differently. The children are so clever, even the babies. In this nursery they are so understanding: they feel it. We don’t need to talk; they feel it. It’s amazing.


Rabia shares lots of love and smiles with Mirii in the nursery at Deborah Little Children’s Centre.

hen she was a young mother, Rabia Sert, only recently arrived from Turkey, would take her small daughters to play in Tillman Park, close to her home in Tempe. As they climbed ladders and slid down poles, Rabia would gaze over at the neighbouring childcare centre. “I would sit and watch all the children and the teachers supervising them and it was so nice and I thought: I wish I could work there, too.” Four years later, with both daughters at school, Rabia applied for a position as an untrained educator and soon after did her first day of work … at Tillman Park Children’s Centre. “I was so happy!” she recalls. “I said to the staff: I dreamt of this!” Rabia spent a year and half as a casual at Tillman Park before moving to Deborah Little Children’s Centre in Dulwich Hill. She loves to hear the kids struggle with her name (“They call me Dabia … Sabia …!”). She coaxes the restless ones to settle “the Turkish way” by laying them down on her outstretched legs with a pillow at her feet, singing Turkish lullabies. And she gently encourages parents to spoil their children with an early mark every now and then. “Spend some time with them,” she says with a simply irresistible smile. “It’s very important.” Thirteen years ago, in those first few months of her new life in Australia, Rabia had felt scared. She’d wondered how she would ever get used to life in this very different country. Now, she feels at home, loved and lucky. “This is the best job for me, coming from overseas and having English as a second language. I learn from the children – and we all grow up together, I guess!” TAKI NG CARE


Rita Ayoub, Australia

to the Centre “aCome few minutes earlier.

Spend a few minutes with your child before you go. It helps them to settle and makes a big difference for the rest of the day.


Rita prepares cut fruit for children at the Ferncourt Out of School Hours Centre, including Casey and Lillian.



ive mornings a week Rita Ayoub arrives early at the Out of School Hours Centre at Ferncourt Public School in Sydney’s Marrickville to prepare breakfast snacks and lay out games and activities for the kids who will soon arrive to start their day at school. Five afternoons a week she welcomes the kids back to the Centre after a long day in the classroom, again offering a bite to eat, some games to play – and perhaps a sympathetic ear. “I love their company,” says Rita of the kids she cares for before and after school. “Honestly, it’s what brings me in every day.” Rita grew up in a house in nearby Earlwood with her two sisters, a brother, Lebanese-born parents, a grandmother and a grandfather. It was a close and loving household, but with elderly grandparents and a sister with special needs, patience was required. Looking back, Rita believes it was an upbringing that equipped her very well for a working life with children. “I think that’s why I am how I am,” she says. “Very loving, very open to everything, very understanding.” Rita went to TAFE and picked up a diploma in early childhood education but, with her studies behind her, made a conscious decision to spend her time with older kids. “I just love to help people,” she says with a radiant smile. “My arms are always open. For anyone.”



Tracey L. Bostock, Australia


ged two years old, Tracey Bostock moved from Queensland to New South Wales with her grandparents, her uncle, her mother and her sister, all of them descendents of the Bundjalung nation through her grandmother, and Mulunjali country through her grandfather. Today, as a grandmother herself, she is just as tightly connected to her clan, living in a house in Sydney’s Tempe with two of her uncles, her mum, her sister, her daughter and her grandson. “We’ve always lived like that,” she says, with pride. “We’ve always had family and that’s the way it always will be.” The potent sense of family that is so much part of Aboriginal culture is something that Tracey – now known as Aunty Tracey – actively promotes among the children and families of Tempe’s Tillman Park Children’s Centre where she’s been working for the last nine years. “We do Acknowledgement of Country,” she says, referring to the words spoken in recognition of the traditional Aboriginal ownership of the land. “We do that as an everyday practice.” But when Aunty Tracey leads the kids in “touching the ground of the Cadigal land … reaching for the skies that cover the Cadigal land … and touching our hearts in the care of the Cadigal land” she also shares the idea that respecting the land means respecting the people. “I say: How do you care for the people in your community? And they say: Well, we look after our little brothers and sisters and things like that. And I say: Yes, and when you go to the shop, the shopkeeper is your local community, too. And the people who are your neighbours. And you make sure that they have your respect and that we’re all respecting one another.” Aunty Tracey worked briefly in childcare in her teens at the Murawina Aboriginal preschool in Redfern then spent years as a practising artist and arts administrator before returning to childcare almost a decade ago. Today she is a veteran of the childcare industry. “I’m still unqualified, but I think my experiences and my journey along the way and what I can bring to the Centre are quite valuable.” A bastion of strength and resilience, Aunty Tracey admits there are good days and bad days as an educator. But it doesn’t worry her. “Good or bad it’s all about knowing that, some part of that day, there was a connection.”

I think that idea of being “part of a unit, being part

of where you live, belonging – that should be part of their lives, even if it’s just two days a week. Then they’ve got a head start about community.

Aunty Tracey and some of the children at Tillman Park Children’s Centre including Tracey, Maple, Angelica and Ava with Alexa swinging in the background.



Georgia Christou, Greece


eorgia Christou spent the first twenty years of her life in a village on the Greek island of Samos. Now approaching 60, she has spent the most recent twenty years of her life as an educator at the Deborah Little Children’s Centre in the Sydney suburb of Dulwich Hill. The years in between, the twenty years from when she first set foot in Australia to when she finally found a job that fulfilled her, may have been the hardest. She had always wanted to be a teacher but, at the age of 20, was swept away by the man who was to become her husband. He was Greek-born but had been living in Australia for some time and, in 1970, she joined him. While her husband and his brothers established a business, Georgia took work sewing in a factory in the mornings and teaching Greek at a Greek-student school in the afternoons. “It was very depressing,” she says with complete frankness, but no despair. Years passed; she had children. “But I was feeling bored so I went to TAFE and said: What can I do? I need to do something.” The TAFE staff suggested a sewing course. Georgia declined and went back to being a full-time, stay-at-home mother. Then in the mid-80s she started studying early childhood education at TAFE part-time, setting her alarm clock for 5am to get her assignments done and attending classes in the evenings. “It was very hard for my kids,” she recalls. “They were pulling my clothes and saying: Mum, don’t go to TAFE! I felt a bit guilty.” By the end of the decade she’d finished her course and in 1990 took a place at Deborah Little. A teacher at heart, Georgia loves working with the older children, coaxing them towards school-readiness, drawing out their cognitive, language and motor skills through music, drama and craft. She shows them the book she has made about her own childhood in Samos, spending days in the fields with the sheep and evenings at the hearth, talking with her grandmother. Then she encourages the children to make their own books, about their own young lives in inner-city Sydney. It seems twenty years of work as a childcare professional have done nothing to dampen Georgia’s enthusiasm. “I love my job,” she insists. “It keeps me young. I’m 59! But working with the children, I don’t have to grow up.”

belongs “toThethefuture children. They are

our country’s hope. As parents and educators, we ought to nurture their tender souls and offer them love, security, stability and education for these most important years of their life.

Georgia spends time drawing with Audrey and Anika at Deborah Little Children’s Centre.



Wadad Amacha, Lebanon

Everybody is thinking “about themselves these

days. We need to give some time to others. Listen to them. Care for them. I think that’s what they need, these children: someone to listen to them and help them. Praise them. Acknowledge the work that they do.


marriage brought Wadad Amacha to Australia from Lebanon in 1977. A marriage and a war. Wadad was to marry a man from her hometown who had been living in Australia for some years, and the opportunity to escape the growing conflict in her homeland seemed a sensible one to take. “I wanted to come to another country, to explore the world and all that,” she says now. “But I was also very attached to my education and my school and I didn’t want to lose that.” In Lebanon, Wadad had been enrolled to start her studies in French literature, but in Australia settled into the role of homemaker. Soon she was busy looking after three young boys. But she was restless. “I always wanted to do something,” she says, eyes sparkling. Having experimented with office work and real estate, Wadad was persuaded by the mother of one of her son’s friends to do a course to become what was then called an “ethnic childcare worker” with Marrickville Council in Sydney’s inner-west. “So I did it, I tried it, and I liked it,” she beams. Wadad spent eight years on the casual roster, earning a TAFE diploma along the way, then five and a half years ago accepted a permanent position at May Murray Children’s Centre. She looks back at her own childhood in the 1960s in Lebanon and remembers days of risk-taking and adventure. By contrast, she says, the children of Marrickville are closely watched. “I find that, here, we’re very protective,” she says. Yet she also observes that Lebanese families then were much stricter with their children’s social behaviour than most Australian families are today and admits, candidly, that she had to unlearn some of those inherited beliefs when raising her own brood of boys here in Sydney. In recent years Wadad has come to believe that the great challenge facing the current generation of kids is the rise in schoolyard bullying. “We need children to be really socially skilled these days,” she says. “In here we have three or four staff so we can give children one-to-one attention when they need it. At school, they can’t do that. That’s why the children need to be able to help themselves. They have to have that confidence and those social skills.”

Wadad and Saru take it easy out on the back steps of May Murray Children’s Centre.



Jessica Staines, Australia involving children in “theByAboriginal community

and linking them to local Aboriginal elders, by doing that at an early age and by it becoming the norm: that’s the way to move forward. That’s reconciliation. I hope when they come up against prejudice or racism or bias they can turn around and say: Well, you know what? I remember Aunty Jess and Aunty Tracey and they weren’t like that. They spent time with us and they shared with us. I hope they do remember that.

Jessica is happy playing with Estelle and Bianca at Addison Road Children’s Centre, but is also focused on completing her studies in early childhood education.

t the age of 21, while most of her friends are still studying and dabbling in part-time work, Jessica Staines has committed herself, head and heart, to the care of children. She’d grown up in a household with her mother, an early childhood education teacher, her father, a descendent of the Wiradjuri people from around Dubbo, two brothers and two cousins, but while happy and loved at home she’d drifted out of school and into unemployment by her late teens. Then her mother pushed her to get casual work at a childcare centre and there, to her complete surprise, Jessica discovered her vocation. “I liked working with vulnerable families,” she says. “It put things into perspective for me, about my life.” For most of 2010, Jessica has been working as an educator at the Addison Road Children’s Centre in Marrickville. She talks now about working not just with children and parents but with the community to strengthen connections between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal local people. She talks about the sensitivity needed to welcome Koori families into mainstream childcare without spotlighting their presence. And she talks about how all the “black dolls” and “dreamtime storybooks” in the resource catalogues can’t match the transformative power of having Aboriginal elders come into the centre to sit down and play with the kids. “What we do with the children now will give them a foundation that takes them through the rest of their lives,” says Jessica. “But it’s also about the parents, especially parents in socially vulnerable circumstances, whatever they might be. It’s about giving them the support they need to enable them to give the best to their children. And they all want to. All of our parents do.” TAKI NG CARE


Fernanda Guerreiro, Portugal The children grow in confidence. They “build a trust relationship. They feel like part of the family. They come and go every day, but they belong to the place. And the parents feel like that, too.


ince 2005, Fernanda Guerreiro’s family home has been part of Marrickville Council’s Family Day Care network. Parents drop off their children with Fernanda in the morning, usually at around 8am, and collect them at the end of the working day. For the hours in between, the children play in the Guerreiro family’s playroom or outside on the porch, stopping now and again to enjoy Fernanda’s home-cooked meals and snacks. Sometimes there’ll be dress-ups, sometimes gardening, sometimes painting. “During the day, we go with the flow,” she says. “If the children are interested in something, then that’s what we’re going to do.” Fernanda and her husband arrived in Australia from their homeland, Portugal, in 1989. She was three months pregnant at the time. She had a son and then a daughter and worked in a retirement home for more than a decade, but once her eldest child reached high school, she was keen to spend more time at home. “In those days I would hear of teenagers getting into drugs and drinking and I thought: I don’t want that for my children. This is a critical time for me to be around them and to be there for them,” she says. In her five years as a family day care provider, Fernanda has looked after children as young as five months, all the way through to school-age. She remembers being quite unsure of herself in the first few weeks of her new role. These days, though, she confidently relies on the lessons learned in her own childhood in Portugal. “What my mother passed to me, I give to them,” she says. “Learn respect for each other. Have good relationships. Be friendly. Have manners when you are at the table or when you go out – these are all the things I learned in my childhood.” Fernanda is currently completing a diploma in early childhood education and recently spent some time working in a childcare centre as part of her studies. Though she enjoyed looking at childcare from a different perspective, she emerged a strong advocate of the family day care experience, especially for children under the age of three. “It’s important for children to have these close bonds.”

Rafael and Mckenzie are very much at home on the back porch with Fernanda.



Marta Mae, Poland


self-described “dreamer”, Marta Mae left her native Poland seven and a half years ago in search of new experiences. She journeyed to the other side of the world and settled down in sun-soaked Sydney. “I fell in love with it,” she remembers. “I absolutely loved the relaxed, laidback atmosphere.” Since arriving in Australia, Marta has completed a degree in environmental studies, started work as an Environmental Officer for Marrickville Council, become a citizen of Australia – and taken up a position at the Out of School Hours Centre operated by Council at Ferncourt Public School. It’s there that her varied interests collide as she gets the kids involved with the native plantings and vegie patches of the school’s Environmental Learning Area. “In Poland we live indoors mainly. Here, I love that we can take them up to the grass and they can play soccer in the middle of winter and run around in t-shirts. Children seem to live much more outdoors, and I love that.” Spending time with them at the end of the long school day, Marta is sensitive to the stress levels of the kids she cares for. “We provide them with ways of relaxing and having fun,” she says. “That’s why I like after-school care, because that’s our job: to give them a space to relax, to play.” In return Marta experiences the unaffected sense of belonging that she yearns for. “I love their minds and their honesty. Sometimes even when they lie, they’re honest about it. They’re very pure. I like being around them. It seems so much less complicated than adult interaction,” she says. “They tease me about how I pronounce things and with them it doesn’t really bother me. It’s nice to be embraced for being different.”

important for children “toIt’slearn respect for nature.

In Australia that’s fairly easy because nature is so beautiful and so present in our lives, but our industries don’t necessarily respect that. The personal experience of being around nature is important for kids so they have that understanding.

Marta and Stella forage in the Herb Spiral at the Ferncourt Out of School Hours Centre.



Vicki Matelis, Greece Spend time and talk “nicely to the children.

It makes them understand more when you talk nicely. When the children are doing something wrong, sit down and talk nicely to them.


hen she was just eighteen years old, Vicki Matelis came to Australia from her native Greece in search of a “better life”. “And for me,” she says, “not bad, thank God!” Vicki worked in a variety of jobs from the time she arrived in 1961 until 2001 when she first took up a position with Marrickville Council in inner-city Sydney. She worked first as a cleaner for the Council and then as an educator, a role she values enormously. “I love the children. I give love to the children and the children give love to me. And I’m happy.” Vicki shares her culture with the kids, teaching them Greek stories and Greek songs and cooking Greek food with them. “They are clever, very clever,” she says, adding that she believes children who spend time in quality childcare tend to develop skills at a faster rate. “They learn from each other.” She also sees it as her responsibility to teach the children manners. “I wish the children to grow up to be honest people. And I wish them to be nice people. If you talk nicely to somebody, you protect yourself, too,” she says, sharing her view that those who choose to behave well to the people around them are less likely to encounter conflict. “I wish to see the children grow up – high! high! – as nice, polite boys and girls.”



It’s another busy day for Vicki and the kids of Addison Road Children’s Centre, including Eve.

Amanda Marr, Australia


ust a few years ago Amanda Marr was a teenager working forty hours a week in a lawyer’s office and wondering where it would all lead. Then she noticed an advertisement for an Aboriginal childcare worker with Marrickville Council. Amanda’s mother is a descendent of the Gangulu people, the Aboriginal Australians who traditionally occupied part of modern-day Queensland. Her great-grandmother was one of the Stolen Generation and Amanda’s attempts to trace dispersed family members had been largely unsuccessful. The idea of working as an Aboriginal educator had great appeal for a young woman who had been searching for a way to connect with her own cultural heritage, so she applied for the job. That was in 2004. Amanda won the job and in the past six years has settled down at Tillman Park Children’s Centre, earned her TAFE diploma in early childhood education and made her way through a university teaching degree by correspondence. Relationships and how to handle them are at the heart of her interaction with the kids at Tillman Park. “It’s important to learn how relationships work and to understand that they can be a bit tricky. I think that’s one of the main things to work on with the kids because it’s something they’re going to use for the rest of their lives.” And she’s careful to avoid an unrealistically optimistic outlook. “I emphasise that people don’t always get along. If you don’t want to play with someone you don’t have to, as long as you don’t upset them. I think a lot of the time people say We’re all friends here but, in life, not everyone gets along, so I try to give them that choice.”

people get caught “upI think in the routine stuff,

changing nappies and feeding and stuff, and forget to just sit down and listen to the children. They’re full of ideas and they’re very clever. Sometimes we get caught up in it all and forget to just be with them. The kids really need that. It really helps them to be heard.

Amanda at the drawing table with Jonah and Alexa at Tillman Park Children’s Centre.



Supporting Marrickville’s families, educating Marrickville’s children Marrickville is a proudly and peacefully diverse community. Its families come from a wide range of social, economic and cultural backgrounds. As a result, the support those families need to manage their households and raise their children varies enormously. Marrickville Council’s Children and Family Services are committed to providing high quality education for those early years, plus care and recreation services that meet the many different needs of families and children. Through those services the Council strives to strengthen the connections between families, foster a sense of belonging throughout the community, and help parents get their children off to the best possible start in life. Working families in need of long day care are supported through the provision of six Council-operated children’s centres. These centres cater for children up to school age who require care to match the working hours of their parents. Council also runs a preschool that operates in regular school hours.  Low-income families are supported by a fee subsidy funded by Council. All centres receive some funding support from the NSW Government. For those working families with children at primary school, the Council runs five Out of School Hours Centres and three Vacation Care Centres, located on-site at public primary schools in the Marrickville area. Council also manages a Family Day Care Scheme. This is a network of experienced local carers providing flexible long day care and before and after school care in a home environment for children up to the age of twelve.  Marrickville Council recognises that sometimes families may need some additional support to secure housing and educate a happy, healthy family. The Child and Family Interagency, sponsored by the Council and partly funded by Families NSW, is there to connect families to the government and not-for-profit services that can best support them through difficult times.  And for families with young children who want access to free, stimulating and supportive playgroup environments, the Council operates the Magic Yellow Bus mobile playgroup service. Jointly funded by the State Government and Council, the Magic Yellow Bus mobile playgroup visits a different local park every day of the week, 50 weeks of the year. For more information on any of the centres or programs run by Marrickville Council Children and Family Services, go to or call (02) 9335 2222.

Back cover: Nicky hangs out under the hats at Cavendish Street Children's Centre.




Marrickville Council 2-14 Fisher Street Petersham NSW 2049 (02) 9335 2222 TO CELEBRATE 2010 Year of Women in Local Government COMMISSIONING EDITOR Josephine Bennett Marrickville Council   TEXT Julia Richardson   PHOTOGRAPHY AND DESIGN Bruce Daly PRINTED BY Nationwide Advertising Group
 Level 5 26 Ridge Street North Sydney NSW 2060 (02) 9955 4777   All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part is prohibited without the prior permission of Marrickville Council.    



Taking Care  

Sixteen women making a differencein the Marrickville community

Taking Care  

Sixteen women making a differencein the Marrickville community