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Indigenous culture & history

Classroom activities for students in years 5 to 12

Knowing & understanding

1. Read an Aboriginal Dreaming story and:

  • enact or retell the story through mime, dance, drama, music or a series of paintings
  • compare stories from other cultures and look at the similarities and differences, particularly with the messages and themes of the stories

2. Make a poster showing traditional and contemporary Aboriginal dance, music and art. The poster could be a collage or include multimedia. Use

3. Paint or draw an object you saw in the First Australians gallery at the Museum – use feathers and sticks as paintbrushes. (Although this suggested art activity is simple, it is not intended to trivialise Aboriginal art. Rather, the purpose is to introduce students to the complexity of Aboriginal artworks.)

4. Research the Aboriginal group or groups in your local area and:

  • find out what plants and animals they used for food, shelter and tools
  • find evidence of occupation on the land
  • discover if any of the street, creek or place names in your area are from an Aboriginal language. Do the names originate from the Aboriginal group in your area? What do the names mean and are their meanings still relevant today? If there are no Aboriginal names in your local area find out why.

Applying & analysing

1. Collect articles relating to Indigenous Australians over time. As a class, search newspapers and other media sources over a designated period of time, such as a month or school term. Include in your collection articles from the Koori Mail.

  • Which issues and/or people were reported the most during the period?
  • Comparatively, how many positive and negative stories are in your collection?
  • Do you think the stories present a balanced/fair perspective?
  • Did any of the Koori Mail articles cover the same stories? Did the Koori Mail present a different perspective on the same story?

2. Hold a class debate on a topic such as:

  • The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was the major turning point for the passing of Indigenous Land Rights.
  • On the 13th February 2008 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to Indigenous Australians for the "profound grief, suffering and loss" caused by past government policies. Did this apology make a difference?

3. Make a timeline for Australia starting at 60,000 years ago. Do this in groups or as individuals. What events will you include on your timeline? Does Indigenous history stop after 1788? Compare your timeline with the History Wall, You could create your timeline online at

Evaluating & creating

1. Create an exhibition on a topic such as:

  • The history of the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander group or groups in your local area
  • Traditional Indigenous objects used in your local area and/or your state or territory
  • The history of the development of Indigenous rights in Australia

Do this as a class or in groups. Remember to include a selection of objects and images in your exhibition with detailed labels identifying what the artefact is and why it was selected for your exhibition. Enlist the support of your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to assist in the research and development of your exhibition. Your exhibition could coincide with NAIDOC week.

2. Reflect on the endurance of Indigenous people and culture. Indigenous activist, artist and author Kevin Gilbert (1933–93) once said:

People should remember that we are the oldest surviving race of people, culture of people, in the world. We know that our people have been here from the beginning of time.
As a class, make a paper chain to represent the period of Aboriginal occupation in Australia, with each link representing one thousand years.
  • Discuss how long your chain should be, and make one link per student out of red, black or yellow paper.
  • Make a list of all the Aboriginal groups that occupied Australia before 1788 and write each of their names on one paper chain.
  • Compare the finished chain with to the length of time non-Indigenous people have lived in Australia.

3. Imagine you are an Indigenous rights campaigner.

  • Write a letter to a friend about your activities with a particular campaign, for example the Tent Embassy, Freedom Rides or 1967 Referendum.
  • Create a multimedia poster at for your chosen campaign.

4. Write a children's story. Many Aboriginal stories taught children how to behave. Write your own story to teach children why it is important to look after the environment.