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Yolla Neighbourhood Street Play

"Mu-um! I’m going out for a bike ride!” I called out to the laundry room where Mum was busy on

a sunny bright weekend day. The year was 1989, and I was 11 years old.

“Where’s your brother?” Came the distracted reply.

“He’s down at the creek with Mathew. I think they’re fishing?” I called back, as I packed some

lunch into my backpack.

“Okay then. Be back by sunset.” I heard as I hit the front steps to go collect my bike.

I was off to see if I could make it to the Wingham Sporting Complex I had visited at school a couple weeks before. The road from the bus window had looked perfect to bike along.

I still look back and remember those days from my childhood. Exploring the creek at the back of our house with friends. Seeing the Manning River swollen from heavy rains after trekking through the bush to a good spot. Seeing my brother catch Bream fish out of the Cedar Party Creek. Discovering a storm water pipe that ran under the street and being dared to go climb into it. Telling each other scary ghost stories about the Grey eHaded flying fox colony that lived in the rainforest reserve “The Brush” (obviously vampires in disguise). These are the core memories of my childhood, and my neighbourhood. A neighbourhood that included the whole town of Wingham, NSW with a population of 5,000.

Despite playing hopscotch during my life moving between Australia and New Zealand, I finally landed in the suburb of Eagleby in South East QLD. A recent steady population growth had seen this suburb grow to over 13,000 people. Many new families have moved into this super convenient location set midway between the Gold Coast and Brisbane City.

We had moved into the quiet part of Yolla Street in January of 2014. Our little blended family

soon welcomed 3 more girls, including twins, who kept me very busy. Small walks around the

neighbourhood streets to visit the local playground with a double pram and a little girl on her

bike or scooter were the new version of my neighbourhood.

One late Thursday afternoon we took a walk to blow out some cobwebs while our slow cooker

finished working on dinner. As we arrived at the little playground, there were a lot of children and

people there. I was approached by a friendly Jordan who introduced herself and explained the Neighbourhood Play Network they were setting up in the area. Handing out fresh fruit

and bananas to my girls who were very happy to eat and play, I listened to the story of how this

initiative was trying to revitalise community and neighbourhoods by connecting children.

With three children to supervise, I often found the playground to be a challenge. However on

this afternoon, both Jordan and Hyahno helped me watch The One That Always Runs, and

engaged in conversation with The One Who Always Talks to Strangers. I had a moment to

consider the promotional materials, and decided to link up on Facebook to research more later.

They both asked me if I would consider running a similar group in my own street.

At the time I had preschool aged children, and knew my limits. It would become too much for me

right now. But once the twins were at school, or perhaps kindergarten? I decided to investigate

further. I watched the materials, and read more about this idea online. Thinking this over, I had a

conversation with my husband and we discussed it. The pros and cons, and how long we would

invest to try it on for size.

In July 2021 I got a message from Jordan to ask if I might be still interested in forming our own

group, and would I like to meet up? Yes I definitely was interested! We met at a local cafe to go

over all the details of how to set up a group in the neighbourhood and the kinds of styles other

groups used to organise themselves. I had some ideas too.

I explained about how I had accidently fallen into creating a little mothers group of friends who

met up once a week. Some of the things I had learned during that experience was the need to

create a consistent space to meet up, and being very relaxed about how many people come

along. My ideas for neighbourhood play were along the same lines. Create the weekly time, and

pick the space. Then invite the neighbourhood children to come along and play!

Jordan came along with me to do a leaflet drop, and knock on all the houses on my street to

introduce myself and explain what I would like to do. This is where my inner monologue

sounded like, “Wait. We have to knock on the neighbours’ doors? I don’t know any of these

strangers!” Which told me more than anything else, that I was doing the right thing. I had lived

on this street for 8 years and didn’t know any of my neighbours’ names.

The support I received from every house on my street was surprising, and I also discovered how

many older couples lived on our street. Without fail, every single older person we talked to had

grown children of their own and were extremely positive and enthusiastic about seeing the

neighbourhood children playing outside in the parklands and in the street. Many remarked that

they had fond memories of playing on the street when they were younger, and how sad it was

that the children didn’t seem to be outside much anymore. We ended up with 3 families with

children. But it was more than enough to start.

The following Saturday Jordan and Hyahno both helped me organise a Launch Day, including a

BBQ, some starting sports toys, and road safety signs. It was a brilliant success, and the

children all got introduced to the concept. I introduced myself, my husband and my girls, to

everyone who came along. I explained that I had two reasons to start this group up, the first

being the need to have a designated bike riding time and outside play so that our girls might

form neighbourhood friends. The second reason was to introduce my youngest girl who is

nonverbal, and is on the autism spectrum. A constant fear we had is that she might problem

solve her way out of the house into the neighbourhood. We wanted everyone to recognise her

and know her family and where she lived.

Today we have formed a group we host every Wednesday from 4pm to 5.30pm outside our front

door. We set up the road signs on the back of our wheelie bins and walk them down each end of

our street. My husband comes home from work a little early on Wednesdays, and helps set up

the soccer/ball goals in the parklands. I wheel over a trolley full of kites, balls, outdoor chalk,

bubbles, rackets, skipping ropes, and more. I pull out the scooters and bikes from the garage for

anyone who wants a turn.

I run a Facebook group to share with the neighbours if we are going to postpone due to weather

or illness, and it has become a place to share tips for families about play events in the area -

and occasionally a place where the street can share neighbourhood warnings about breakin’s or

missing dogs!

The last few weeks we have had new faces pop in to play a game with the Dad’s who kick a ball

in the park across our road. We have had a very blustery windy day focused on a lot of kite

flying, cheering as one kite soared above the tallest of the gum trees! One elderly neighbour

occasionally brings platters of chopped fruit for the children to share, and another one brings his

grand-daughter over when she’s visiting too. They all stop and share a chat saying it makes

them happy to see us playing together each week.

The children look forward to Wednesdays each week knowing they can play with their

neighbourhood friends, ride their bikes and play. They get some dedicated play time with Mum

and Dad around and engaged with them each week.

We get a chance to see other parents in our street and make those kinds of familiar connections

for our children. We have had neighbours come knock on our door to chat, to give us occasionally a gift of food, or baking, and on one occasion that lives in my heart a older neighbour came to ask me, “Is Katerina in there with you? We have found a little girl down the road!” My heart stopped beating for a moment, before I quickly checked she was still inside playing with her toys. (We helped the little lost one back to her home).

Since starting our group we have layers of community, safety and connection in our neighbourhood that for 8 years did not really exist here. Our children have created core memories that hopefully will live on with them for their whole lives, just as bike rides past the scary vampire bat rainforest will always live on with me.


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