Learning Through Story: Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

1. Thinking Critically About Texts: positioning and points of view

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To understand that ideas and viewpoints in literary texts can reflect or challenge individual or group values
  • To explore the way in which words and images are combined to represent groups and to position readers in relation to those groups
  • To explore the interconnectedness of Country and Place, People, Identity and Culture in texts by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can identify some of the ways in which texts reflect and challenge individual and group values
  • I can explain how the combination of words and images in a text can encourage readers to take a position on an issue
  • I can reflect on the way that place, country, people, identity and culture are represented by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors

This stage of the sequence focuses on building the context or field in order to support students to develop their understanding of the way in which texts provide a point of view and position readers. It is also intended to introduce students to the concepts of Country, Place, People, Identity and Culture in texts by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors.

It is strongly recommended that teachers view all suggested stimulus texts prior to their use in order to ensure their cultural appropriateness and to enable rich, respectful discussion. For guidance on text selection refer to the Teaching and Learning Resources — Selecting Appropriate Materials policy

Teachers should also refer to the guidance provided in the ‘Before you use this sequence’ document relating to the use of Inclusive and respectful language.

Consider creating a modified Ways Things Can Be Complex concept map for your class before commencing this stage or sequence, which can be revisited as appropriate. The map encourages the consolidation of critical thinking as students’ knowledge of a topic develops.

Exploring the notion of Country

Ask students to complete a 3-2-1 bridge routine to record their thoughts and questions about the concept of ‘Country’ as it is understood by Aboriginal Peoples. The routine will enable students to record their initial thoughts, ideas and questions about the concept before engaging in a follow-up reflection. Students will need to understand the concept of metaphor/simile to successfully use this routine.


Enable students to engage with this task by providing scaffolding questions as required. For example:

  • What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Country’?
  • What is the dictionary definition of the word ‘Country’?
  • What do you think the word ‘identity’ could mean?
  • How does the dictionary define the word ‘identity’? Can you put it into your own words?

In addition, EAL students may benefit by using their home language to explore and discuss the relevant vocabulary.

Invite students to view a range of visual stimuli that speak to the concepts of Country and Place, People, Identity and Culture in Aboriginal communities. Yankunytjatjara elder Bob Randall talking about country in ‘The Land Owns Us’ or Elders from the five clans of the Eastern Kulin speaking at the 2014 Tanderrum provide rich material for discussion. A picture book such as ‘Wilam: A Birrarung Story’ by Aunty Joy Murphy and Andrew Kelly would also work well.

After each stimulus, allow students adequate time to reflect on the texts via a think, pair share activity, using question prompts to guide their discussion. Use an interactive digital collaboration tool or anchor chart to record and display ideas, reminding students about the importance of maintaining a safe space for discussion. Prompts include: 

  • What do you think the authors or the people speaking in the videos might mean by the term ‘Country’? Give some examples of how the ideas of ‘Country’ and/or ‘place’ are talked about in this text.
  • How is this understanding of Country different to the dictionary definition?
  • How is the importance of family or community represented in this text?
  • What sorts of values and beliefs might be important to the author or participant’s sense of identity? E.g. the title of ‘Aunty’
  • How might the participants’ beliefs about Country and kinship be connected or intertwined?

Ensure that students provide evidence from the text to support their ideas.

Facilitate a group discussion with students to draw out and elaborate on their 'think, pair and share' responses to key concepts such as Country, Place and Identity. Common Ground’s ‘Connection to Country’, selected clips from the SBS ‘Learning How Development Impacts Heritage’ guide and Reconciliation Australia’s ‘Our Culture’ page may support students to further build their understanding of the concepts of Country and Identity.

Collaborate with students to develop a working definition of the term ‘Identity’. A placemat activity may assist with this task.

Ask students to revisit their 3-2-1 bridge, recording new responses about their understanding of the concept of Country.

Exploring ideas and viewpoints

Facilitate a reading of the essays Finding Ways Home by Evelyn Araluen, Growing Up Beige by Ian Dudley, Living Between Two Knowledge Systems by Todd Phillips or White Bread Dreaming by Shannon Foster for your class. Based on the needs of your students, consider reading to the class, offering students the opportunity to read silently or listen to an audiobook, inviting students to read in small groups or providing the opportunity to read aloud.

In small groups, invite students to use the Step In-Step Out-Step Back routine to explore the viewpoints presented in the selected essay and their own personal perspectives.

It is recommended that you model this thinking routine with your class before group work begins. Care should be taken to unpack the task prompts, especially those related to the ‘Step Out’ and ‘Step Back’ components. Consider using a topic familiar to your students when modelling how to use the routine.

Further resources for unpacking the essays in small groups can be found on the ‘Interacting with Others’ page of the Literacy Teaching Toolkit, where an excerpt from Zachary Penrith-Puchalski’s essay Abo Nose has been used as a stimulus.

Please note that in the title of his essay Zachary Penrith-Puchalski has strategically reappropriated language that it is not acceptable for non-Aboriginal teachers or students to employ. The title of the essay has been reproduced verbatim to respect the intentions of the author. However, care should be taken at all times to maintain culturally inclusive and appropriate language in the classroom.  

In addition to the question prompts provided in the ‘Step In…’ routine, focus student attention on the way in which ideas and viewpoints in texts can reflect or challenge both individual beliefs and the beliefs of our broader communities. Further prompts for reflection could include:

  • Can you think of any examples where the viewpoint of the author might be shared by people in your broader community?
  • Can you think of any examples where the viewpoint of the author might challenge the views held by people in the broader community?
  • What strategies do you think could be used to develop a shared understanding of important concepts like connection to Country? Record ideas on the board or in a shared digital learning space.

1. The work of words and images

If your students do not have prior knowledge of the historical narratives around early contact in Australia, consider inviting your class to peruse an interactive history like ‘Explorer, navigator, coloniser: revisit Captain Cook’s legacy with the click of a mouse’ before beginning this task.

If you would prefer students to respond to the artwork below using only their prior knowledge, proceed without using the resource above.

Introduce E. Phillips Fox’s work Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770 and allow students time to examine it closely. Facilitate a discussion using an adapted thinking routine like the one used in Stories to unpack the narrative around this historical event. For example:

  • What is the story that is presented?
  • What do you know about this story?
  • What story might not be presented?
  • What or who might be left out of this image?
  • What other angles could be missing from this representation of history?
  • Who do you think the intended audience for this painting might have been?
  • Is there an alternative story that you think could be told?

Next, invite students to compare E. Phillips Fox’s work to Daniel Boyd’s painting ‘We Call Them Pirates Out Here’. Repeat the question prompts above, with an additional focus on how the title of Boyd’s painting works alongside its visual images to create meaning.

Showing Daniel Boyd talking about his work will support students to build their understanding of the ideas behind the painting.

Additional discussion prompts that may be useful for this task include:

  • How might Boyd intend the audience to perceive the subjects of his painting (and their actions)?
  • Why do you think Boyd decided to reimagine this painting? What do you think his purpose might be? How might this differ to the purpose of the original artist?
  • What visual techniques and language has Boyd used to communicate his point of view? Why might the title of the artwork be important?
  • How are Aboriginal peoples represented in Boyd’s painting? How does this representation differ to E. Phillips Fox’s?

Offer students a graphic organiser such as the ‘Perspective, Purpose, Position, Ponder’ table to organise their thinking.

Enable students who require further support to engage with the task by inviting them to work in strategically constructed groups or pairs. Guide students to focus their initial attention on the ‘perspective’ and ‘position’ elements of the table. Alternatively, offer students a modified version of the Connect, Extend, Challenge thinking routine.

Extend students by offering them a work by Gordon Bennett such as ‘Untitled (dismay, displace, disperse, dispirit, display, dismiss)’ for analysis. Utilise a selection of question prompts for visual texts from the Literacy Teaching Toolkit to encourage students to explore the possible meanings of the  work.

The Literacy Teaching Toolkit provides detailed guidance about the analysis of visual texts and is a useful resource for sourcing both question prompts and visual metalanguage to guide explicit teaching where appropriate.

Areas for further exploration

Further materials that support critical thinking about how groups of people, ideas and viewpoints are presented in literary and historical texts include the animated interactive documentary K’Gari, which addresses ‘one of Australia’s first fake news stories’ and Bruce Pascoe’s book ‘Young Dark Emu’.

The documentary ‘Connection to Country’ (available on ClickView, sign in using your Department credentials) and explores the threat to sacred sites in the Pilbara region of Australia in the context of younger, yet more revered international sites, and SBS’s ‘On Country Kitchen’ (available on ClickView, sign in using your Department credentials) incorporates conversation about the importance of Country into an engaging series about food and cooking. In 'This Place', Bruce Pascoe talks about the importance of connection to country and the cultural significance of Indigenous place names.

News reports about the destruction of sacred sites in the Pilbara region in 2020 would also be a valuable resource. Articles about the Juukan Gorge rock shelters and about the potential destruction of other significant Aboriginal sites in the central Pilbara region would provide rich content for discussion.

A further critical area for exploration relates to the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ understanding of Country and Culture.

As Jason Goniman tells us in his essay ‘There are no halves’:

“Aboriginal people can’t be pigeonholed into stereotypes for convenience. We don’t just play sport and we don’t all look the same. We also don’t practise culture in the same ways, but we do all share an understanding of what it is to be Aboriginal through unique lived experiences. That is going to be different for every single person.”  

Students engage in research about the traditional custodians of the land on which they learn/live, and to explore the enormous diversity of cultures amongst Aboriginal tribal or nation groups in Australia. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Map of Indigenous Australia is a rich starting point for exploring the vast array of ‘intimate cultural relationships [Aboriginal peoples have] with the land and the sea.’ The First Australians and ‘Beyond Myths’ pages at Share Our Pride also dispel some common myths and stereotypes about First Nation’s peoples.

In pairs, ask students to reflect on the statement below: 

When referring to the lands, waterways and skies with which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples maintain a traditional and continuing custodial relationship, it is respectful to write about “Country” with a capital “C.” 

What do you think are some of the differences between the meaning of (lower-case) “country” in standard English, and the meaning of (capitalised) “Country” according to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives?

Ask each pair to form a group of four to share and consolidate their ideas, electing a spokesperson to share their combined thoughts with the class. 

If you have used the 3-2-1 bridge organiser (introduced in the ‘Get started’ section of this sequence), ask students to record developments in their understanding of the concept of Country.

The extract above is from the Teacher Notes for the documentary ‘Connection to Country’ directed by Tyson Mowarin. This excerpt has been reproduced with the permission of the author. You are encouraged to view the complete documentary and to explore the Teacher Notes further when using this sequence in the classroom.

Allam, L. W. C., 2020. Guardian Australia: BHP to destroy at least 40 Aboriginal sites, up to 15,000 years old, to expand Pilbara mine. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/11/bhp-to-destroy-at-least-40-aboriginal-sites-up-to-15000-years-old-to-expand-pilbara-mine
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, n.d. Map of Indigenous Australia. [Online]
Available at: https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/map-indigenous-australia
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Bennett, G., 2020. Museum of Contemporary Art Australia: Gordon Bennett: Untitled (dismay, displace, disperse, dispirit, display, dismiss). [Online]
Available at: https://art.base.co/product/1837-gordon-bennett-untitled-dismay-displace-disperse-dispirit-display-dismiss#:~:text=Gordon%20Bennett's%20work%20Untitled%20(dismay,subjugated%20the%20country's%20original%20inhabitants.
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Bergman, J., Creagh, S. & Mountain, W., 2020. Explorer, navigator, coloniser: revisit Captain Cook’s legacy with the click of a mouse. [Online]
Available at: https://cook250.netlify.app/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Boyd, D., 2006. We Call Them Pirates Out Here. [Online]
Available at: https://www.mca.com.au/artists-works/works/2006.25/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Common Ground, n.d. Connection to Country. [Online]
Available at: https://www.commonground.org.au/learn/connection-to-animals-and-country
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Foley, F. & Behrend, L., 2017. K'Gari. [Online]
Available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/kgari/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Fox, E. P., 1902. Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/5576/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Government of Western Australia, n.d. Placemat. [Online]
Available at: https://gdhr.wa.gov.au/learning/teaching-strategies/finding-out/placemat
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2015. Project Zero: Think, Pair, Share. [Online]
Available at: http://www.pz.harvard.edu/resources/see-think-wonder
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2019. Project Zero: 3-2-1 Bridge. [Online]
Available at: http://pz.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/3-2-1%20Bridge_0.pdf
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2019. Project Zero: Connect, Extend, Challenge. [Online]
Available at: https://pz.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Connect%20Extend%20Challenge_0.pdf
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2019. Project Zero: Step In - Step Out - Step Back. [Online]
Available at: http://pz.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Step%20In%20-%20Step%20Out%20-%20Step%20Back_1.pdf
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2019. Project Zero: Stories. [Online]
Available at: http://pz.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Stories%20-%20Exploring%20Complexity.pdf
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Heiss, A., 2018. Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia. Melbourne: Black Inc..

MCA Australia, 2016. Daniel Boyd interviewed in 2007 on 'We Call Them Pirates Out Here'. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8Fb1VFu_CU
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Melbourne International Arts Festival, 2015. Tanderrum. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzOvrcgG8dk
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Mowarin, T., Marais, R. & Moore, J., 2017. Connection to Country. [Online]
Available at: https://online.clickview.com.au/exchange/videos/4650066/connection-to-country
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Padlet, n.d. Padlet. [Online]
Available at: padlet.com
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Pixel Perfect, 2020. Flat Icon. [Online]
Available at: https://www.flaticon.com/authors/pixel-perfect
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Project Global Oneness, 2009. The Land Owns Us. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0sWIVR1hXw
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Reconciliation Australia, n.d. Our Culture. [Online]
Available at: http://shareourpride.org.au/sections/our-culture/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

SBS, 2017. Learning How Development Impacts Heritage. [Online]
Available at: https://www.sbs.com.au/learn/resources/learning-how-development-impacts-heritage
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

SBS, 2017. On Country Kitchen: Duck, Tapenade & Abalone. [Online]
Available at: https://online.clickview.com.au/exchange/videos/23018428/duck-tapenade-and-abalone
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

State Government of Victoria, (Department of Education and Training), 2019. Visual metalanguage for comprehending and composing visual meaning. [Online]
Available at: https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/teachingresources/discipline/english/literacy/multimodal/Pages/visualmetalanguage.aspx#link54
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

TeachHub.com, 2019. Randomized Group Work. [Online]
Available at: https://www.teachhub.com/classroom-management/2019/09/30-ways-to-arrange-students-for-group-work/#:~:text=Pass%20out%20cards%20and%20group,and%20randomly%20pass%20them%20out
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

The Healing Foundation, 2018. Intergenerational Trauma. [Online]
Available at: https://healingfoundation.org.au/intergenerational-trauma/
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

The Healing Foundation, 2018. Intergenerational Trauma Animation. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlqx8EYvRbQ
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Think From the Middle! Rochester Community Schools, n.d. Zoom In. [Online]
Available at: http://www.rcsthinkfromthemiddle.com/zoom-in.html
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Visme, 2019. 15 Graphic Organizers and How They Help Visualize Ideas. [Online]
Available at: https://visme.co/blog/graphic-organizer/#organizational-chart-graphic-organizer
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Wahlquist, C., 2020. Guardian Australia: Rio Tinto blasts 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site to expand iron ore mine. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/may/26/rio-tinto-blasts-46000-year-old-aboriginal-site-to-expand-iron-ore-mine
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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