Through Whose Eyes? Aboriginal and European Perspectives in Literature

5. Analysing and Interpreting a Historical Account

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To analyse perspectives presented in artworks, oral and written texts

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can discuss the bias/viewpoint of an author and artist
  • I can explain the choice of images, text features and language used by an author and artist
  • Watkin Tench, 1788, Text Classics, Text Publishing Company, pp. 38-42.
  • Visual Stimulus: docx PDF
  • Questions for close, shared, guided or independent reading: docx PDF
  • French 2011, Nanberry: Black Brother White, Angus and Robertson, chapter 32 (optional)

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

In addition, it is suggested that teachers refer to these guidelines around establishing a safe & culturally respectful classroom in the ‘Before you use this sequence’ section of the resource.

Examine and discuss the different perspectives represented in visual images of early contact. For example, refer to the paintings of Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay and explore the European and Aboriginal perspectives presented in each painting.

Possible discussion prompts:

  • What is the possible story that each painting is telling?
  • What might be the possible perspectives of the artists?
  • Are there any similarities and differences between the images?
  • Why might it be important to consider when each painting was created?
  • How might artworks provide us with historical information about past events?

Encourage students to elaborate on the different perspectives presented in the artworks.

Model using a Venn diagram to record student responses.

Ask students to form pairs to collaboratively complete an analysis of a different artwork. Provide a range of artworks for the students to select from. Additional paintings could include the work of Joseph Lycett, Samuel Calvert’s illustration of Cook taking possession of Australia, drawings from the First Fleet or a collection available at the Dictionary of Sydney, particularly Governor Phillip and the Eora.

Possible strategies and protocols for students to use during discussion include:

Display the student analysis with the artworks for future reference.

1. Examine an oral text

View a discussion led by Geraldine Doogue discussing Governor Phillip and Eora. Stop at relevant points throughout the recording and discuss key points. For example:

  • What might the British government have meant when they instructed Governor Phillip to “deal nicely with the people of Sydney Cove”?
  • How might Phillip’s actions have changed when he realised that the Aboriginal people weren’t ‘simple, child-like and cowardly’?
  • Discuss the competing views of land; one being that establishing an agricultural settlement offered a better future for the convicts, the other being the dispossession of land and violence towards the Aboriginal communities.

Organise students into small groups and invite them to explore one of the prompts using a roundtable protocol. Encourage each group to discuss and summarise their responses.

2. Analyse a primary source

Distribute the account of early contact by Watkin Tench. (Watkin Tench, 1788, Text Classics, Text Publishing Company, pp. 38-42).

You may wish to provide students with biographical information about Watkin Tench. In 1786, Tench served a three year tour of duty as a lieutenant in the convict colony of Botany Bay. He was commissioned to write an account of his adventures by an English publishing company.

Model reading and interpreting the text to the students. Encourage questions and discussion to promote understanding of the language used in the text and the inferred perspectives of the author.

Provide guiding questions and prompts to direct student responses. For example:

  • Identify the purpose of the text.
  • Identify the language features of the text.
  • Can you locate any evidence that suggests what Tench thought or assumed about the Aboriginal people, their customs and behaviours and the land around Botany Bay?
  • How reliable do you think this text is as a historical source? Explain your thinking?
  • Do you think the people of the First Fleet were surprised by anything when they arrived at Botany Bay? Tench writes about the natives being ‘tolerably numerous’ and ‘more populous than Mr Cook thought.’ p. 40.

Questions specific to the events and descriptions in the text could be used in shared, guided, close or independent reading sessions.

Enable students to comprehend the text and identify the key features of historical sources by breaking the text into small passages and providing opportunities for a supported re-reading of the text. Select the strategy or strategies that will best support your students, such as shared, modelled or guided reading. Explicitly teach unknown or unfamiliar vocabulary.

Extend students suggesting they research Watkin Tench, to understand his purpose for writing. Students could also read an account by Tench of a scene depicted in the artworks of the time. For example, the taking of Colbee and Bennelong at Manly Cove. This primary account also could be compared and contrasted with the account of this event in a historical narrative, Nanberry, by Jackie French. (Chapter 32)

Review and evaluate student learning by inviting groups to share their responses to the oral text. Encourage peer feedback and evaluation while comparing and contrasting the roundtable summaries.

 Ask students to complete an exit ticket responding to prompts, such as:

  • What did you learn from Watkin Tench’s diary?
  • Describe the early encounter described by Tench and suggest what the Aboriginal people and the British people may have been thinking and feeling.
  • Provide an example of the language or a description used by Tench that illustrates his bias or viewpoint.
  • Write an ‘I wonder why …’ statement to share with the class.

ABC News, 2011. First Fleet journal entry of a drawing showing a boat in a cove and Aboriginals on the shore. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

ABC Radio National, 2014. Arthur Phillip and the Eora. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Dictionary of Sydney, n.d. Aboriginal Subject. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Dictionary of Sydney, n.d. Samuel Covert, Captain Cook taking possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British crown, 1770. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Finding Bennelong, 2013. First Encounters. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2016. Project Zero, What makes you say that?. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2019. Project Zero: See, Think, Wonder. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Historical Records of NSW, 1788. A letter from Port Jackson, British Library Papers Vol 2, Appendix E. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

French, J., (2011), Nanberry: Black Brother White, Harper Collins AU, Australia

National Library of Australia, n.d. First Peoples. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Tench, W., (2012), 1788, The Text Publishing Company, Australia

University of Texas, n.d. Collaborative Learning Structures and Techniques, Roundtable. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Williams, S. T., n.d. The Voyage of Captain James Cook: An indigenous Australian perspective on Cook's arrival, British Library. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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