It’s 2am in the morning and a child lies awake in bed. She clamps her hands over her ears to smother the shouted abuse she can hear through the thin walls. Only 12 years old, she’s learned all the swear words there are. She squeezes her eyes shut too, but can’t escape the picture of her parents that forms. Beer cans in hand, angry, red in the face.
A sudden crashing sound, something shatters against the kitchen cupboards. A dog starts barking next door, setting off a whole pack of them up and down the street. A few minutes later, blue and red lights strobe on and off around the edges of her window. Someone must have called the cops.
Every year, around 1,000 children are required to attend the Broadmeadows Children’s Court after nights like this. Removed from their homes after a domestic violence incident, they are placed in foster care overnight, often with nothing more than the pyjamas they’re wearing.
At Court the next morning, they must wait while their future is decided for them. The Cubbyhouse is their sanctuary, a couple of rooms and a deck tucked into a corner of the new courthouse. Inspired by traditional Disney cell-animation, it’s an inverted garden of figured plywood. Drawing on the layering technique of cartoons, together with the children’s own upside-down world, it’s a rolling landscape of hills and cities suspended from the ceiling. The carpet is the blue sky underfoot. Home is not a safe place, so the Cubbyhouse is something strange, a source of unexpected delight.
A collection of storage facilities house activities for distraction, and tools for a dedicated youth worker to care for the often disengaged children. There’s a DVD player, boardgames and craft materials. Out on the deck, there’s a blackboard for art and donated pot plants that need gardening.
We worked pro-bono on this innovative project to help get it started. It is a collaboration with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, a national charity working to end child violence, and the first of its kind in Australia.