Remembering Indigenous Servicemen and Women

This NAIDOC week’s theme is Serving Country: Centenary & Beyond.  If you are fortunate enough to live in Canberra (or can travel there), you can visit the Australian War Memorial and learn from Aboriginal Veteran Gary Oakley.  We had Gary come out and speak to our school assembly and he was an engaging and powerful speaker.  Both staff and students got a lot out of the presentation, and his relaxed style makes students feel comfortable.

Gary also has materials he can share such as war poetry by Indigenous servicemen.  Highly recommend you investigate for English/History units:

1994. Australian War Memorial Educational Series. “Too dark for the light horse : Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people in the defence forces” / compiled by Judy Crabb, researched and written by Judy Crabb, Trevor Geary, Suzy Nunes and Gary Oakley, edited by Madeleine Chaleyer.
ph. +61 (02) 6243 4211

National Accelerated Literacy Program (NALP) and Aboriginal literacy

This is a program developed by Charles Darwin University, specifically for improvement of literacy in schools with high Indigenous populations.  It uses accelerated literacy and scaffolding literacy practices.  The ‘PQAR’ strategy is a central aspect of this program.  See explanation from Charles Darwin Uni below:

“Literate Orientation is a strategy through which students gain a literate interpretation of a text – including where appropriate its illustrations – right from the start of their study. This helps them understand what the text is about and they can then draw on this meaning to develop skills in decoding and monitoring.

Literate orientation uses questioning techniques that allow students to answer questions successfully.  By giving cues, called ‘preformulation’ in the program, teachers signal their purpose in asking the question that allows a student to answer correctly.

Explaining why the question was important, why it was asked and what it meant is called ‘reconceptualisation’ [or ‘recapitulation’]. It allows teachers to accept students’ answers and ‘broadcasts’ the reason for asking the question. This information feeds into the next lesson as common knowledge.  It also alerts students to the fact that the teacher asks a question expecting them to find the answer in the illustration or the actual wording of the text.” (

I have found this strategy to be very useful in all classroom environments.  In the attached document, I use the strategy with a short story (not by an Indigenous author or with an Indigenous theme – I do diversify my teaching content!).  I have included the whole lesson plan, of which the NALP strategy is one part.  This lesson plan was presented with my colleagues Rita van Haren and Michelle Morthorpe at an ACTATE professional development workshop earlier this year.

Lesson example using NALP and learning by design


Why Indigenous perspectives in school?

This is an excerpt from my ACTivATE journal article, 2011


Being in Western Australia for the 2010 Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE) Conference provided an interesting opportunity to reflect upon some of the state’s seminal Aboriginal authors whose works have made their way into Australian consciousness: Sally Morgan, Archie Weller, Jack Davis, Doris Pilkington Garimara, Glenyse Ward and Jimmy Chi, to name a few.  What I wondered was, if there have been so many great Aboriginal authors and scholars in Western Australia alone, why is it that the Australian education system, however inadvertently, continues to exclude and marginalise Aboriginal peoples and cultures?  Why don’t our Aboriginal leaders (in literature, arts, politics or any other field) have enough impact on the Anglo-Australian school system to make schools a place where all Aboriginal students are expected to achieve similar greatness?

Award-winning author Sally Morgan spoke to us about the Indigenous Literacy Project, whereby students produce books about themselves and record and translate the songs of their elders.  The project also supports Aboriginal authors to write books for children that are published with biographical information and maps outlining each author’s country and heritage.  Teachers have reported their students’ enthusiastic reactions to these books and the pride they felt when seeing that an author was from the same country as them.  Sally emphasised that this was an important aspect of the Indigenous Literacy Project – inspiring young Aboriginal students to write by providing adult role models.  The improvement of Aboriginal participation and achievement in the education system hinges on the ability to create space for Aboriginal cultures and voices in the classroom.

Sally Morgan’s daughter, Ambelin Kwaymullina, spoke about how important it is for Aboriginal students to “see themselves” in the classroom.  I would wholeheartedly agree, noting that in my own childhood, the classes in which I was most engaged and achieved the best results were those where Aboriginal perspectives were included.  Teachers worry about tokenism, but I think it is better to include some Aboriginal perspectives than to exclude a whole section of the population entirely.  When you have quality texts by local Aboriginal authors, as Sally’s project is producing, you have a wonderful opportunity to provide powerful, contextualised and relevant learning materials; however, when these are not available there is no reason to give up.  You can still provide texts by Aboriginal authors across the nation or with Aboriginal themes and ask your students how the text represents a similar or different understanding of the world to them, just as we do in any English classroom with any text.

In the ACT context it is perhaps more important that teachers do not shy away from including Aboriginal perspectives in the classroom just because they think that there are no ‘real Aboriginal’ students in their classes.  Ambelin Kwaymullina spoke of the stereotypes about ‘traditional’ Aboriginal people that pervade the way in which people relate to her and her writing.  She remarked on how people have always assumed they have the right to pass judgement on her identity and decide whether she really ‘qualifies’ as an Aboriginal person.

Just before attending the conference, I had been reading the literature around Aboriginal literacy for my masters research, and I was able to reflect on how the current literature echoes some of the important messages Sally and Ambelin conveyed.  Regarding the identity debate, Sharifian et al (2004) assert that communication difficulties between Aboriginal students and non-Aboriginal teachers occur just as frequently in metropolitan contexts where the Aboriginal students appear to be using Standard Australian English.  Thus “cultural schemas”– worldviews influencing the way experiences are conceptualised – are also at play (Sharifian et al 2004, p. 203).  The “schemas” of many Aboriginal students (regardless of the extent of their traditional Aboriginal knowledge) are often different to many other Australians.  I can remember feeling this as a student, even though I knew how to perform in the SAE educational world.  The message is that regardless of how many Aboriginal students you have in your classroom, and regardless of your personal opinion of ‘how much’ they are Aboriginal*, it is important to include their perspectives and voices.  Besides that, cross-cultural understanding (‘reconciliation’) among all students cannot be achieved without making a place for Aboriginal voices in the classroom.


*No-one has the right to question another person’s identity and discount their identification, so if your students identify, then they are Aboriginal.  Do you question and arbitrate other students when they tell you they have some Scottish, German or Irish heritage?


Resources/further information:

Sally Morgan is best known for her acclaimed autobiography, My Place, which won the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission humanitarian award in 1987, the Western Australia Week literary award for non-fiction in 1988, and the 1990 Order of Australia Book Prize.

My Place is available in picture book adaptation and on e-book.  The original novel is generally taught to Year 9-10 students.

Morgan has written the Stopwatch series with her children, aimed at (mainly) boys 7-9,

She has a long list of other titles, many written in collaboration with her children, at Fremantle press,

Ambelin Kwaymullina has written books for children, including the heartwarming story The Two-Hearted Numbat, teaching about the need to be kind and compassionate but also strong and tough, available through Fremantle Press, Her latest book, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, has just been published by Walker books and I intend to post a review on this blog shortly.

The Indigenous Literacy Project:  Donations can be made to this organisation and schools can celebrate Indigenous Literacy Day in September.

For more on the Aboriginal identity debate, see the recent memoir by Anita Heiss, Am I Black Enough For You?


Sharifian, F, Rochecouste, J & Malcolm, I 2004, ‘But it was all a Bit Confusing . . .’,

Comprehending Aboriginal English Texts’, Language, Culture and Curriculum, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 203-228.

Lesson plans: Jali Boy by Ricky Macourt

The Yarning Strong series by Laguna Bay Publishing, an Oxford University project, features stories written by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers on subjects such as identity, family, law and land.  The books are suitable for upper primary to lower secondary and are relatively simple in presentation and language, though some scaffolding will still be required.  Jali Boy in particular has some rich language that needs to be unpacked for kids, as well as conversational language that plays on Aboriginal English.

The Yarning Strong series can be purchased in packs in the abovementioned topics of identity, family, law and land (containing all the Yarning Strong novels plus an anthology of poems, artworks, historical information, primary sources and plays).

Teacher guides are also available for purchase and contain fantastic little clips which could be shown at staff meetings as part of cross-cultural awareness training.

Ricky Macourt is a Gumbaingirr man   from the north coast of NSW.  As a teenager  he spent six years at St Joseph’s College in Sydney. After completing a law degree at Bond University, Ricky began working in Canberra in 2012 in a Federal government department.

At the end of 2011, my school were lucky enough to have Ricky come in and run a 2 day writer’s workshop, culminating in an anthology of the students’ stories.  Before Ricky came, we studied Jali Boy, and here are my lesson plans for the novel study.  These plans are for lower secondary students who require support in literacy.

Yarning Strong lesson plans for Jali Boy

Find out more about Yarning Strong at

Hear a feature about Ricky on Triple J’s Hack: