Science cross-curriculum perspectives

I know this is primarily an English teachers’ blog….but wanted to share this great work led by Joe Sambono, a Jingili man working with ACARA:

Wardaman Dreaming

What a wonderful site for learning about one Aboriginal community and their history/culture – and this is an example of how many Aboriginal communities want to share their knowledge with others (in the public domain).  I point to examples like these when teachers make excuses for not including Indigenous perspectives like “I don’t think it’s my place to teach Aboriginal culture”, and “What if I showed something I was not allowed to show?”

Aboriginal people have over 60000 years’ experience sorting knowledge and deciding what can be public and what is secret/sacred, who can know what, etc.  The chances of the layman stumbling across content they shouldn’t see are pretty slim.  A resource like this is an example of a group of people actively choosing to make their culture public and choosing what knowledge they want made available.  It is surface level information and there would be many other layers of knowledge that we would not be privy to, which will never make it on to this website.


Aboriginal poets: beyond Oodgeroo

Oodgeroo Noonuccal is an important figure in the Australian literary landscape, and her work has been on school syllabi for a long time now.  But has your school moved beyond “We are going?”  Because Aboriginal people have!!!  Show your students contemporary poems which move beyond lamenting loss of land and culture and move toward reconstructing new ways of living and being Aboriginal.

A good starting point if you are looking for poems by Aboriginal authors is at

More to follow soon.

Review: Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane

This is a warm and funny novel about two Aboriginal sisters growing up near Gundagai in the 1960s.  Raised by their nan and aunties with limited connection to their free-spirited, ‘restless’ mother, the girls grow up in a loving environment under the older womens’ strict moral guidance.  These women have been through the protection era and have worked hard to establish their financial independence and create a better life for the girls.  They are strong women who love to read and take an interest in politics.  For a brief episode, the girls’ mother, Petal, returns and takes them to Queensland to live with her and their father, an Anglo-Australian man with whom she has an unstable relationship. The girls are exposed to racism and the questioning of their identity (their father defends Petal to his mother: “Looks to me like she’s less than half abo, and the kids you can hardly tell”), but they are not there long before Petal gets restless again and sends them back to their nan and aunties.

Based on Jeanine Leane’s own childhood, this novel is very easy to read and engaging.  It makes references to a range of issues/events which could be studied further within a classroom study.  Topics it touches upon include:

  • Christianity, in particular its role in Aboriginal lives (part of protectionism in the mission era and then adopted into many Aboriginal communities as an important part of their identity)
  • Environment and sustainability – drought, farming, Aboriginal knowledge of the land
  • Life in a small country town
  • Welfare/protection era
  • 1967 referendum
  • Older womens’ stories about the war, the Depression
  • Racism from the Anglo-Australian side of the family and at school

The dialogue is carefully crafted to show the structure/style of Aboriginal English, which we are encouraged to consider within the Australian Curriculum: “All students will develop an awareness and appreciation of, and respect for the literature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples including storytelling traditions (oral narrative) as well as contemporary literature…Students will be taught that there are many languages and dialects spoken in Australia including Aboriginal English…” (Cross-curriculum priorities in English, )

As a Wiradjuri girl with family in Dubbo, I identified with the depiction of country life and the no-nonsense, straight-talking older women.  Reading it was like being back home on holiday, spending each afternoon hearing a new story over a pot of tea.  The story flows quickly and the different threads weave around each other effortlessly.

This would be great for Yr 9-12 students as part of an Australian Identity/Life stories unit and is nice and short at just over 150 pages. It won the 2010 David Unaipon Award for Indigenous Writing and is published by Penguin Books.

Helena Kadmos from Murdoch University has completed some excellent literary analysis of Leane’s work, as well as the work of Mununjali/Yugambeh author Ellen van Neerven:

Review: Things a map won’t show you

‘Things a map won’t show you: stories from Australia & beyond’ is a short story collection edited by Susan LaMarca and Pam MacIntyre, published by Puffin Books in 2012.  It is beautifully presented in a fun ‘map’  theme that is reminiscent of a snakes and ladders game; however, when you look below the surface it’s not the best source of Indigenous texts.  The Indigenous authors showcased are listed below with a comment about their piece.

  • Obed Raggett, Two Little Round Stones – a simple dreaming-style story about boys finding stones which help them to navigate their landscape on a hunting trip, but with a dark twist as the boys reject their stones for ‘better-looking’ ones and nature retaliates by killing them.  This would be a challenging story to teach to young readers but if the content could be explained without disturbing students it would be good for storyboarding.
  • Jack Davis, Integration – Davis is an important figure in Australian literature, well known for his poetry and his play The Dreamers.  Integration is a poem about reconciliation and moving forward together as a united nation.
  • Oodgeroo Noonuccal, All one race – another important figure, but one who is already in most English syllabi somewhere (Noonuccal has made the crossover to ‘mainstream’ literature classrooms where many other Indigenous authors haven’t).  All one race is about us recognising our similarities with all people across the globe as human beings.
  • Tara June Winch Cloud busting – Winch is a fantastic young author but I was disappointed that this book just included a chapter from her novel Swallow the Air, which I’d already read and would recommend for older students (Year 10-12) as a whole text (see the following for some good teaching ideas
  • Pat Lowe, an English born writer who married Walmajarri artist Jimmy Pike, Yinti’s Kitten – this is an engaging and fairly simple story about the relationship between humans and animals, looking at the introduction of cats to Australia and telling the story of an Aboriginal boy who takes in a sickly orphaned kitten and nurtures it into a good ‘hunting cat’.  There are only 3 sketches by Jimmy Pike, so his contribution appears to be limited (although he may have contributed to Pat’s story); nonetheless I think this story would be enjoyed by Yr 6-7 students.
  • The highlight as far as pushing boundaries and stretching our understanding of Indigenous literature goes is the inclusion of Brenton McKenna’s comic The Art of Hunting, discussing the modern practice of hunting cruelly for fun.  It’s quite a confronting piece and the drawings are gritty, so this could in fact be more suited to a Yr 9-10 audience.  There is a lot in it to unpack (myths and realities about ‘Aboriginal sorcery’, pre-colonisation traditions around seeking permission to visit other people’s land as compared to today’s reality where Australians travel all over the country virtually uninhibited, notions of hunting in traditional Aboriginal vs modern non-Aboriginal contexts).  This is also a great example of the traditional comic style.

As a source of short stories by Indigenous authors, this offers fairly basic fare and I suspect there will be much better collections published in the near future as educational publishers focus on supplying resources for the National Curriculum.

As a general collection of stories, there are a few gems: James Roy’s Out of the Yellow (sibling rivalry never gets old); Sonya Hartnett’s The Second-last Baby Tooth (the ordinary events of a summer holiday and a baby tooth falling out are told with warmth and humour); Tanveer Ahmed’s The Exotic Rissole, a rib-tickling story about a boy cringing at his father’s “1970s Bangladeshi fashion” and trying to fit in with Aussies who add ‘o’ or ‘y’ to the end of each others’ names.

Consider purchasing a copy or two for the school library, but perhaps hold off on purchasing class sets until a few teachers and classes give it a test run to see how it fits within your school context.

For more information and teachers’ notes, see:

Media links – Triple J stories on Indigenous affairs

National youth radio station Triple J’s Hack program often includes stories relating to Indigenous affairs.  The podcasts are available for download and sometimes there are videos to accompany stories.

Here are some of my picks, on various topics.  The short sound grabs and videos are always useful for discussion starters in the classroom.

Bush bands

Charcoal lane, Melbourne, Archie Roach, community

Josh Sibosado, Footballer

Leaders, Largest Urban Indigenous population, Miimali program

Music, Hip hop

Music, Yung Warriors

NT Intervention

Politics, future leaders


QLD Rivers

Racism, Aussie Entertainment Industry


Women workers in Alice Springs

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.