A Sydney mother of two claims she was excluded from an inner city playgroup for being caucasian.
Tara Coverdale told The Daily Telegraph she was asked to leave the Alexandria playgroup with the facilitator telling her: “I’m sorry you can’t come here. It’s a multicultural playgroup.”
The article claimed the incident proves “reverse racism” is acceptable in Australia – but for people who run multicultural playgroups around Australia it is a story causing division.
“It concerns me that playgroup is being tied up in a cultural division conversation which is much bigger and is very political,” said CEO of Playgroup WA, David Zarb.
“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if someone accidentally showed up to a playgroup for children with autism. The same thing would have happened if she’d showed up with a four-year-old to a playgroup for babies.”
Multicultural playgroups exist across Australia, but so do thousands of other types of playgroups for the community.
"Playgroup mums, dads, grandmas, granddads - they're are as diverse as the population so they more than anyone understand the value of social support in the community," said Zarb.
"Everyone is entitled to it and there is a playgroup for everybody but not every playgroup is for every single person," he added.
Zarb says the story's coverage has been "unfortunate" and reveals a community divide in Australia.
"Supported playgroups are set up specifically for families with additional needs, " he says.
"Like any funded program, whether it’s playgroup or counselling or a medical service, if you don’t have some boundaries as to people who use them, then people would complain you’d be wasting money."
Playgroups WA run a "fabulous" multicultural playgroup in Ellenbrook an outer suburb of Perth, specifically targeted to isolated families.
"They [people who use the playgroup] are often away from family, they don’t understand the system, the services, how the schooling system works so the playgroups are a good way of letting them learn from each other and learn about the local system sooner rather than later."
Mum of two, Natalia Muszkat, runs a multicultural playgroup in Gladstone.
Muszkat, who moved to Australia from Argentina in 1999, says the group wouldn't turn away anyone based on race.
"We call it a multicultural playgroup because we encourage every person from all different cultural and religious backgrounds to join. That includes people from Australia. When we call it multicultural, we are actually calling for all cultures. Australians are encouraged and more than welcome to come."
The group is made up of people from Australia, India, Japan, China, and The Philippines.
The facilitator says the playgroup provides a much needed bridge for community services to connect with culturally and linguistically diverse people.
It provides access and information to women's health, employment, training and education - operating beyond the norms of a typical playgroup.
"Lots of people then use services they didn't know existed or that they were eligible to use...everything the parents learn impacts on their ability to be better parents," said Ms Muszkat.
The mother of two said she would have gone along if something like that was available when she arrived in Australia - just like the 50 vulnerable families currently involved in the Gladstone group.
"We see a lot of mothers that like that connection and they're not sure about parenting. All of us have exactly the same struggles, Australians or non-Australians," said Ms Muszkat.
The federally funded Gladstone group has been so successful they are set to open another multicultural playgroup run from a mosque in Rockhampton.
"Most playgroups welcome everyone from all backgrounds and religions but the multicultural playgroup provides the opportunity for the cultural stuff to be highlighted, featured and celebrated. For us as parents who come from other countries we struggle."
"It's a place where we feel safe to share our culture with other people and show the kids it's ok to be proud of their parents' culture and their own culture and they can share it with other kids.
"Really, kids don't see the difference."
Mamamia has reached out to the Alexandria Playgroup for comment but has not received a reply.
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