A warm and pleasant afternoon, my father and I decided to take a stroll into the bush and catch up – as father and son ought to do. We were only 500 meters out of our front door when we stumbled upon what can be likened to a crime scene. The local neighbourhood playground had degenerated to all time lows. A wire cage surrounds the playground that once was and is no longer. The only semblance of “play” is the frame for the swings, with no swings. A couple of wire brackets cemented into the ground show where the see saw once was. Broken glass is everywhere - under the swings, that are no longer swings. Hanging sadly in laminated sheets is something on the fence. “Push for Park” the laminated front page local newspaper article reads. Local hero Melinda Walker Smith, a 10-year-old at the time of the article, had written a letter to the local Wingecarribee Shire Council, asking for the park to be restored to something worthy of being called a playground. The article was in 2017, and to this day Melinda’s call has gone unanswered. Not only has nothing happened at all, but now the site has become full of broken glass and a dumping ground for people’s household trash.
I have since spoken to the Wingecarribee Council about this travesty. A member there has informed me that a “Wingecaribbee Play Spaces Plan” ( paraphrased) is planned to be discussed in May. Yet this also may not happen due to the current times we are in. This is allegedly the first proposal put forth to change this play space, and others, since the time of this newspaper article found hanging on the fence - 2017. I also asked for the broken glass and trash to be taken away by council, and the member said that she would put a ticket on it.
2020 - Remove the one child there, and add broken glass and trash. I understand that we face challenging times, and there are many factors that have assailed our systems over the past years – bushfires, droughts and pandemics inlcuded. I understand the need for compliance to health and safety measures, and proper playground development and planning. I understand the need to work with councils in providing play spaces that are safe, functional, and on point with the necessary compliance. Yet when I see the call to action from our youth go completely unanswered as years peel away from us, I cannot help but feel deeply un-easy. This playground, with its shattered glass, and broken hopes story strung to the wire fence as it gathers mould – is a deeply disturbing image. Symbolic to the childhood playfulness that is being stripped away from our youth, as we pivot from one crisis to another. The children of our local area gave their voice, and it was unanswered. Three years is too long! In three years of a child’s development, so much takes place. Childhood development can never be put on hold, it is a rapid, transformational, life-establishing process. No, I am not saying that without a park to play in that children will not develop properly. What I am saying, is that natural, outdoor free play has been scientifically established as vital, and necessary for the development of a child into becoming a healthy adult – so how are we creating those opportunities for our young ones to flourish and grow? I am saying that we need to create more opportunities for our youth, that do not involve waiting around for council’s bureaucratic meetings to take place, to create change in our communities for our youth. I am saying that I do not have all the answers on how to move this forward, but I am outraged that nothing has been done. I will be monitoring the site over the next few days to see how council responds to the call for a clean-up. I know this is not an isolated case. Children the world over are having their needs undercut by layers of bureaucratic decision making. But at which point to we become collectively outraged enough to make concerted reframe of our priorities. Early learning and development is priceless. So let’s get outside and make a difference in whatever ways we can. Like going for a walk with my Dad in the bush. That is where this post began. Some things we can control, like getting outdoors in nature, and playing outside. Some things we cannot reasonably control, like pandemics, or our local council. Change starts with ourselves, so the story goes. Let’s carry the flame of fun and playfulness, for our children and youth, in these challenging times. Play and fun, are two flames that cannot be allowed to go out. Not allowed. New policies, at a Governmental level. Because, seriously, which child can wait to have fun and enjoy nature, whilst adults sit around scratching their heads, and scribbling on paper to figure out ways to get it to happen! We can be the torch bearers of fun. It is adults who must keep the dreams of play and playfulness alive. So that the children of the Earth can have safe, fun and inviting natural outdoor places to play and develop in the best ways possible. Please share this story around The Southern Highlands if this is something that concerns you also, and have your say about it - many voices are better than none! Please share the story and share YOUR stories of this kind of occurrence happening in your local areas. Love and Playfullness in these times to All. Asher, from LifeRocks!