Family Fun Day for Inclusion

Melven Ratcliffe and Sally Strobridge from educational TV series 'Sally & Possum' will visit Townsville this weekend. IMAGE: Supplied (Deaf Services Queensland)

Several celebrity guests are flying in for this weekend’s Hear for Kids Family Fun Day, and they have a very special link to Townsville.

The Family Day Out, hosted by Deaf Services and Hear for Kids, aims to raise awareness for the deaf community in Townsville as well as the use of Australian sign language (Auslan) in child development, and will be the official launch of the Hear for Kids service in the Townsville region.

In attendance will be the titular characters in Sally & Possum, a show produced by the Queensland Government in consultation with the deaf community, which uses Auslan and proven play-based learning techniques to boost children’s literacy, numeracy and communication skills.

Sally & Possum’s Script Writer, Dr Geoff Ward, and Art Consultant, Cherry Ward, call Townsville home.

“Townsville has a strong involvement in Sally & Possum, through a number of the ‘real kids’ elements being filmed here, the engagement with the Deaf Education Unit at Vincent State School, the Townsville Bureau of Meteorology and other sites such as Billabong Sanctuary and Reef HQ,” Geoff said.

“The key characters are Sally (Sally Strobridge) who is totally deaf, and Possum (Melven Ratcliffe) who lives in a tree in Sally’s yard. Melven is a CODA (child of deaf adults), who uses Auslan to communicate with Sally.”

Initial funding for Sally & Possum focused on a single 15-episode series – but the program has grown significantly since then and 90 episodes have been filmed to date.

“Each program highlights a key concept for language/ signing which initially focused on touch and movement contrasts such as hot, cold, fast and slow. But now we’ve been able to expand into wider understandings such as how plants grow and where milk comes from, introducing quite sophisticated concepts in STEM.”

Geoff said the response from not just the deaf community, but parents and educators all over Australia, has been fantastic.

“This project has brought great delight to a community that has had little offered to it in terms of quality television or classroom resources that foreground signing and concept development for deaf children. The response has been spectacular all over Australia; Queensland has been foregrounded by the quality and innovative nature of the programs.”

Deaf Services Chief Executive Officer Brett Casey said Sally & Possum is as much about collaboration as education.

“Deafness (and certainly the way Sally and Possum is produced) is not about a hearing loss but what can you gain from seeing and understanding someone who communicates differently. It adds value to the diversity of our society,” Brett said.

“Just having a deaf person on TV using the language of the deaf community provides a role model for those that think they can’t be aspiring actors. Having deaf actors is an opportunity to educate the community but more powerfully, it brings both the deaf and hearing community together and offers capacity to collaborate further.”

The Hear for Kids Family Fun Day will include a special guest performance by Sally and Possum and will also feature food trucks, live music, a baby animal farm, rides, and a full program of workshops and activities for both deaf and hearing children and their families.

Catch the Hear for Kids Family Fun Day at Jezzine Barracks this Saturday from 10am-3pm, with more information available here.

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