Making the best of the early years: The Tambellup way
James Cook University
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science
Introduction:Tambellup is a small rural town in the Great Southern region of Western Australia (WA), approximately 300 km south-east of state capital Perth. Tambellup has a much higher Aboriginal population than the national average and achieved very positive results for year one children in 2007 regional Australian Early Development Index testing. In 2009 the Great Southern GP Network (which has a facilitating role in providing early intervention strategies to families with young children at risk of disadvantage) requested that public health staff at Edith Cowan University, Perth, WA undertake an exploratory study to discover the factors protective of children’s development in Tambellup. This article describes the subsequent research and its findings. Methods:This 2009 qualitative study interviewed both adult members of the local Aboriginal community (Noongar people; n = 23), and non-Aboriginal leaders from a cross-section of organisations, services and the community (n = 14) to determine what made growing up in Tambellup a positive experience. Aboriginal participants were introduced to the researchers by a local cultural consultant. Non-Aboriginal participants were initially sourced from a list provided by the GSGPN and extended by asking those listed to identify other appropriate contacts. Face-to-face interviews were carried out with Aboriginal participants and telephone interviews were undertaken with non-Aboriginal participants. All interviews were conducted using a standard schedule of questions as a guide, supplemented by clarifying and broadening questions from research team members. Data were analysed in a multi-stage process of collation, extraction of common themes and verification of themes with study participants and other stakeholders. Findings were presented to local Aboriginal leaders at a community meeting and a final report was prepared and circulated to community members. Results:There was substantial evidence of widespread trust and positive relationships in this close-knit community, where adults looked out for and supported both their own and others’ children. The primary school played a key role in supporting children’s development even before children started school. Good relations generally existed between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents, contributing to the stability of the population and providing many role models in successful cross-cultural relationships.Conclusion: Aboriginal people in Tambellup played significant but often under-recognised roles in promoting child and youth wellbeing in the community. The community had the capacity to respond to local needs and challenges. Communication channels were effective and there was a sense of belonging, pride and ‘connectedness’ in the community that promoted and supported a safe environment for children. High quality services and staff (eg school and community health centre) reinforced children’s developmental opportunities. The results suggest that small rural communities offer significant and untapped resources for enhancing the health and wellbeing of children in the critical early years of life.