The very heart of a playground is laughter and play, so the crowd gathered to celebrate the opening of Stuart Park’s latest playground area could only smile when two little girls couldn’t resist the temptation to dance through bubbles during the official speeches.
Finished four months ahead of schedule and just in time for the busy Christmas holiday period, the All Ages All Abilities playground was an instant hit with dozens of kids – and a Federal MP – giving it a test run on Monday (18 December).
Dr Shoshana Dreyfus was the driving force behind the playground, prompted by the experiences of her son Bodhi, 28, who has a severe intellectual disability.
Bodhi and his mates love playgrounds, but as they grew older they became too big to play on standard equipment.
Shoshana stopped taking Bodhi to playgrounds when he was about 14 because other families would take their little children off the playground when he went on them.
“I pinch myself every day that the idea I had in January 2019 is actually a reality now, here at the end of 2023,” she told Monday’s opening.
“Bodhi has taught me a great deal and one of the main things he has taught me is that people like him are among the most disadvantaged in the world, whether you look at social factors or economic factors, or educational factors or health and wellbeing factors.
“If they are to be included, it’s up to us to do it because a lot of them, like our son Bodhi, are nonverbal and don’t have a voice.
“So we need to be their voice. This playground is about that. It’s about how we’ve all come together to be that voice. We conducted some research with people like Bodhi, to find out what they wanted in this playground.”
Shoshana believes it is the first playground of its type in the world and has already had interest from other cities who want to create something similar.
The design and content of the playground was informed by the Playground Project, a collaboration between the University of Wollongong (where Shoshana is Associate Professor in linguistics and co-convenor of UOW’s Disability Research Network), the Disability Trust and Council.
Disability Trust CEO Carol Berry paid tribute to Shoshana and Bodhi, as well as the sponsors who made the playground possible.
“What this park signals to people with disability and their families is that we value the experience of people with disability, we value people with disability, we value your experience, the energy you bring, the qualities that you bring and the contribution that you make to our community,” she said.
“I think this park will be an inspiration not only to our region, but also across Australia and potentially throughout the world.”
Stage 1 of the completed playground includes a large trampoline big enough for a wheelchair, adults and small groups of children; multiple swings to cater to different ages and needs; balance beams to master balance and coordination; a carousel with an accessible platform to accommodate wheelchairs and a sensory garden for people to touch and smell a variety of textural plants.
New accessible parking for minibuses and vehicles has been provided, and picnic facilities and shelters have been updated.
Construction of the $1.4 million playground is being jointly funded by the Federal and NSW Governments, Wollongong Council and community and business supporters.
Federal Cunningham MP Alison Byrnes couldn’t resist the chance to try out the human-sized mouse wheel, resulting in a scratch on her knee and some wise advice for others.
“Every child with every ability deserves a place to play and what a great place this is,” she said.
“I’ve already had a go on the mouse wheel and a little pro tip – it goes very fast very quickly and I don’t know how to make it stop. But I’ve also been on the trampoline without incident, which is great.”