Partnering towards a brighter journey ahead

Monday, 20 September 2021

The Guyati, Garraka wa Witing Speech Pathology Project is a ground-breaking program to address the critical shortage of speech pathology services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in rural NSW.

As guests sit around a circle at the launch ceremony of the speech pathology event at Kempsy they are welcomed to be a part of the smoking ceremony
A smoking ceremony performed by Uncle John Kelly (Kempsey) at the launch of the program attended by local Aboriginal elders, the Director and Board Members from Dalaigur and Scribbly Gum Dalai Preschools, the CEO and Chairperson of Gunawirra, donors Chris and Julie Vonwiller, University staff, the Mayor of Kempsey, and pre-school children

The University of Newcastle is honoured to partner with not-for-profit organisations Gunawirra, the Dalaigur and Scribbly Gum Dalai Preschools in Kempsey, and philanthropic supporters, the Vonwiller Foundation to establish this unique pilot program. This much needed program will see final year Speech Pathology students help to empower communities and address early speech and language difficulties.

Named by community elders, Guyati, Garraka wa Witing means Talk, Mouth and Lips in the Dunghutti language.

Watching this program come to life and seeing the beautiful collaboration form was just amazing to be a part of. Now watching and helping mould the program, seeing the students working with our children, staff and families has been truly wonderful. The emotions throughout the launch ceremony just showed the passion we all have to make a difference in our young Aboriginal children and their family’s lives. This program has so much potential, and this is just the beginning.”

Debbie Swanson, Director of Dalaigur & Scribbly Gum Dalai

Gunawirra has worked closely with Dalaigur and Scribbly Gum Dalai Preschools for many years. We have always understood the needs of these preschool communities and have always set about providing services that meet those needs. Working together with the Dalaigur and Scribbly Gum Dalai Preschools, Newcastle University and the Vonwiller Foundation, we will establish greater speech pathology services to assist in the child's educational development, which enables these children to be more confident and happier within themselves."

Graham Toomey, Chief Executive Officer at Gunawirra

Addressing the skills and services shortage

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children face many challenges around speech, language and literacy. Issues stem from complex health and social factors, compounded by long waiting lists for limited services.

This program will fill the high need for culturally appropriate speech pathology services for pre-school children and address the severe shortage of qualified professionals to fill the demand. It will also provide opportunities for final year Speech Pathology students to use their skills in real world situations whilst making a positive impact in the lives of children and families within this community.

University of Newcastle Speech Pathology Lecturer Dr Gwendalyn Webb said the aim was to develop a scalable model that can be rolled out to other rural and remote preschools to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in other communities.

“We know that early intervention for preschool-aged children is key to developing speech, language and literacy skills that will help children throughout the rest of their lives,” Dr Webb said.

“Extending this pilot program across NSW could have a huge impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s literacy and communication skills and ensure all of our children can reach their full potential.”

  • Only 4.5% of speech pathology practitioners provide services to rural communities, with a handful of these being in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  • Most states and territories have no speech pathology services in public school systems at all.
  • Rates of ear disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are amongst some of the highest in the world.
  • Hearing loss related to ear disease can have direct impacts on children’s speech, language and learning, social and emotional wellbeing and behaviour.

Students developing cultural knowledge and skills

Fourth-year Speech Pathology student Anuja Mehta was one of two University of Newcastle students selected as the inaugural students to complete her final year placement at Dalaigur and Scribbly Gum Dalai preschools as part of the program.

“Working with the children, care staff and families to build skills around hearing and communication and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children the best chance of success when they start school was hugely rewarding. As a qualified Speech Pathologist, I hope I can continue to make a difference in this area.”

Thanks to the generous support of the Vonwiller Foundation we can better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children develop literacy and communication skills and address the urgent need for speech pathology services in NSW.”

Dr Gwendalyn Webb (PhD, 2018), Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Science (Speech Pathology)

For more information about the impact this program is making, contact Leanne Innes on 02 4921 8612 or email

Read more stories featured in the GiftDownload your copy of the Gift

Aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

3 - Good health and well-being4 - Quality education10 - Reduced inequalities11 - Sustainable cities and communities17 - Partnerships for the goals

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.