More than a movable playgroup, the Katherine Isolated Children’s Service provides a valuable social outlet for families and communities across remote NT.

Story Mandy McKeesick  

On a grassy lawn under a shady tree on Moroak Station, two hours east of Katherine, there’s a party going on. Lauren Hoar’s four children join friends from neighbouring stations to construct a teepee, make playdough and argue the benefits of particular bull breeds. Educator Jamie O’Brien launches a toy rocket while his wife Liz holds a craft session. In child-sized chairs, adults pull up alongside child-sized tables for a cuppa and a chat. 

This is playgroup NT style.

The Katherine Isolated Children’s Service, or KICS as it is fondly known, is a Territory institution that has been supporting almost one-third of the state since 1988. “KICS is a remote mobile playgroup and parent information service that visits over 40 pastoral stations, 21 Indigenous communities and three small townships,” coordinator Mandy Tootell says. “We have two field teams and we visit on rotation, aiming for a visit twice a term, or at least eight times a year. If there are a few stations in an area they will come together for playgroup and to socialise, because we find playgroup is as much about the parents, carers and educators as is it about the kids.” 

In her role as coordinator Mandy oversees the logistics of organising teams and timetables over a 750,000sq km area for socially or geographically isolated children aged up to 12, 73% of whom identify as Indigenous. “Playgroup is a soft-entry point for education and we want to encourage families to come with their children. All the playgroups are outdoors, sometimes at or near the school or at a park, or the shadiest tree, and we take chairs, tables and mats and set up play stations. We always have playdough – that is a given – and I’ve been able to source toy bulls from every breed worldwide, which the kids love,” she laughs.

This story excerpt is from Issue #137

Outback Magazine: June/July 2021