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What is this? String bag

Learning activities

In the activities described below, students compare the system of food procurement and preparation in their home life with that of Aboriginal families in the early 20th century, and experiment with using and making a string bag.


  • 5-minute video about the string bag
  • historical images of Aboriginal people taken in the early decades of the twentieth century (click on the images below to enlarge for printing or display)


With your students, watch the video 'What is this? String bag'.

Print the photographs of Aboriginal people procuring and preparing food. (The images are drawn from the National Museum's collection database and you may find the accompanying text useful for understanding the scenes and activities depicted.)

1. Obtaining food and water – exploration


Discuss with the class how in their family they obtain water and food:

  • Where does your food come from? Who finds it, and how do they carry it home? Do you use a string bag like in the video, or something else?
  • Where does your drinking water come from? Does anyone have a well? A water tank?
  • Does anyone have a vegetable garden?
  • Does anyone know where the food in the supermarket comes from? How does it get to the supermarket?
  • How many people do you live and eat with? Find out who has the smallest household and who has the largest. Does anyone live with their grandparents, or an aunt or uncle, or someone to whom they're not related by blood (eg a step-parent or friend)?
  • In your home, who prepares the meals? Do you help with food preparation?
  • Do you share your home with any animals?

Explain to the students that you're going to show them some photographs of Aboriginal people obtaining food for their family, and that they were all taken about 100 years ago. (Make sure that everyone has a sense of 100 years ago – that's probably around the time when your great-great-grandparents were born, or your mum’s mum's mum's mum.)

Show the photograph of women carrying water. Explain that the women are carrying water and and ask the students to consider: where do you think the people's drinking water comes from? Can you imagine carrying your drinking water in a wooden container like that?

Show these three photographs and explain that they are all of people looking for food:

Ask the students what they think the people ate. Does anyone in your family go fishing or hunting? Does anyone collect fruit or nuts or vegetables from the garden? From the bush? Recall the discussion of family structures, who brings the food home and who prepares the meals. Can you notice anything in these photographs that is the same as your home life? How many differences can you spot?

2. Carrying a bag on your head


Bring to class a string bag and some fruit to share. If you can't find an actual string bag, any shopping bag that could be worn on your head will do. Show students these two photographs of women carrying a bag on their head:

Put the fruit in the bag and invite the students to try carrying it around their head. How much fruit is comfortable to carry? Afterward, share the fruit and encourage students to share questions that this exercise generated for them.

3. Making or drawing a fibre bag or basket


Explain to students that it is possible to make beautiful bags and baskets from plant fibres and dyes, such as these in the collection of the National Museum of Australia:

Sometimes wool was also used:

Make sure students understand that Aboriginal women are still making beautiful bags and baskets today. For clues about how they do it, look at the following pages from the same site, Bula'bula Arts, in Arnhem Land, east of Darwin:

Take the students for a walk to where there is some long grass or reeds. See if you can find some fibres or reeds that you might be able to use to create a small vessel or bag. Experiment with weaving or knotting to make a segment of fabric or – if you are really good at it – a vessel that might hold some weight.

Then invite students to draw a string bag or basket. What foods might they find in their neighbourhood to collect? Draw or list the foods they might find – or might like to find.


Go to What is this? and the teacher support video.

Go to other pages in this resource:


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