LisaHillSchoolStuff's Weblog

'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Tomlinson)

Archive for the ‘Australian History’ Category

Book Review: The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 29, 2014

The ANZAC Puppy

As you will know if you read my previous post sharing my school’s plans for a coherent approach to the Anzac commemorations this centenary year, I came across a New Zealand picture book called The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett.   I hadn’t seen it but thought it might be suitable as an alternative or supplement to Phil Cumming’s book, Anzac Biscuits which I’d chosen for Prep classes.  Peter contacted me, and very kindly sent me a copy of his book, which is now available in Australia from Wheeler’s Books.

Inspired by true events, The Anzac Puppy fictionalises the life of a Harlequin Great Dane called Freda, the mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade that served in World War 1.   She was acquired by a Sergeant Ashby who probably named the dog after a young woman from a family that befriended the young soldier so far from home.  The dog survived the war, and thanks to a campaign led by a retired serviceman, her remains are commemorated by a headstone in Staffordshire, and her collar and the original headstone are in the Army Museum at Waiouru in New Zealand.

In Peter Millett’s hands, these events have become a love story, with a young soldier called Sam acquiring the dog from a girl called Lucy when her family couldn’t afford to keep it.  He takes the dog to the battlefront, and together they survive the war.  Sam keeps his promise to bring the dog back to Lucy safe and sound, and they fall in love and marry.  Their first child is named Freda.

Lofty's MissionIt is a charming story, yet authentic in tone.  We know that soldiers did smuggle pets of all kinds into the trenches and took comfort from having something to love and care for  - but I think I’d use it with older children.  While the text doesn’t labour the point, there are allusions to the earth rocking and shaking all around him with illustrations showing injured men; to rats that scuttled about through the trenches; to Sam and the dog sharing everything even their fleas;  and to Sam’s letters which never mention the horrible sights or the sounds that surrounded him.  The illustrations, vividly rendered by Trish Bowles, include a battlefield scene with explosions and a plane on fire, a burial scene, and a devastated battleground after the armistice.   These are not aspects of war with which to confront five-year-old children who’ve (in April) only been at school for a few short months.  The text would also be too difficult for some of our EAL children whose command of English is still rudimentary.  I don’t think I’d use it with children in Year 1 or 2 either.

However, I think it’s a very appropriate text to accompany the unit of work that I do with my Year 3 and 4 students, called Animals at War, using the DVA kit, M is for Mates.  There are (inevitably) plenty of picture books about Simpson and his Donkey that are available for this unit, and I also have one called Lofty’s Mission by Krista Bell and David Miller, but there are surprisingly few stories about the other animals awarded medals.  (There’s one called Sandy the Waler (a horse) which you can download as a pdf from the Army Museum but it’s not a proper picture book and it’s a bit long winded and not very engaging).  So The Anzac Puppy fills this gap nicely, and because the illustrations show the dangers faced by the dog, the book also enables the kind of gentle discussion I’ve had with these older students about the ethics of taking animals to war.   It’s also appropriate for Australian children to have an opportunity to learn about our Kiwi cousins’ contribution to the Anzac story.

To download our school’s Prep-Y6 plan for Anzac Day to use or adapt for your own school, click here.

You can find out more about Peter Millett at his website.

Author: Peter Millett
Illustrator: Trish Bowles
Title: The Anzac Puppy
Publisher: Scholastic New Zealand, 2014
ISBN: 9781775430971
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author, and kindly autographed by him which will impress the students at my school!

Fishpond (which delivers free in Australia and New Zealand) claim that it’s unavailable on their website, but I bet they’ll get copies in if there are enough enquiries! Try this link:  The ANZAC Puppy


Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Book review: Meet the Anzacs, by Claire Saxby

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 4, 2014

Meet the AnzacsThis year, as everyone knows, is the centenary of the beginning of the Great War, and next year is the centenary of the Gallipoli landing – and it is obvious already that there is a flood of new books about the Anzacs. Teachers are going to have to be discerning about what they use and how they use these new books, because if there’s one bit of research that every teacher of history should know, it’s that students get very tired of covering the same topic again and again.

At my school, we already have a good collection of picture books from commercial publishers and numerous kits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Shrine of Remembrance and the Australian War Memorial.  Some of them are better than others, because it takes writerly skill to treat this topic in a way that’s suitable for primary school children yet isn’t too sentimental, mawkish or jingoistic. We want children to know their history, but we also want them to learn the processes of history: investigating evidence, exploring different points of view, and recognising that there’s more than one way of telling the story of Australia’s participation in this war.  At my school, we also need to tread warily: some of our refugee students know about war at first hand.   And I needn’t remind readers of this blog that we now have politicians revisiting interference in the history curriculum with nationalistic demands that sit uneasily with the spirit of teaching the history of this or any other topic.

Meet the Anzacs is the fifth in the the Random House Meet … series of picture books focussing on men and women of Australia’s history, but it’s the first that’s not about a particular person.  (The other one in this series that I’ve reviewed was Meet Mary McKillop)  but we’ve also got Meet Ned Kelly and due for release soon is my own personal hero, Meet Douglas Mawson.  Meet the Anzacs is pretty much what you’d expect it to be: it’s suitable  for primary aged children in content and style, explaining the assorted reasons men had for enlistment and the amateurish training they had, but tactfully omitting the hooliganism and worse of the Anzacs in Egypt, and leaving the carnage on the beach to the imagination.  I really liked the way this was handled: text telling the reader that the landing was not at all what the soldiers had expected, with a double page picture showing what a lost cause the venture was because of the geography of Anzac Cove.   This would be a great page for discussion, I think.  The art work, by Max Berry is particularly good because, as you can see from the front cover, it de-sentimentalises the men.  These soldiers look like real Aussie blokes.

But the arrival of Meet the Anzacs made me realise that my school needed a plan for 2014, so that each area of the school is covering a different aspect of the Anzac Story.  Using content from the Australian Curriculum for History, we’ve sorted out who’s doing what this year, and have left ourselves ‘wriggle-room’ for 2015.  Meet the Anzacs is well suited for the Gallipoli centenary next year because it explains the facts in simple terms that make it suitable for Year 1 & 2 and the illustrations by Max Berry are excellent.

The plan for Preps
We’re keeping it low-key for the preps.  anzac-biscuits_002No stories of blood and suffering for five-year-olds, it’s not appropriate.  Prep history is mainly concerned with learning about the past through photos and artifacts, so they’re going to read Phil Cumming’s lovely book, Anzac Biscuits about a child baking biscuits for her father, and the soldier eventually receiving the biscuits from his daughter at the front.  It’s a beautiful, tender book, and the pictures by Owen Swan link the family separated by war using visual symbols such as snowflakes at the front and flour being sprinkled on the kitchen table.  Classes will bake some biscuits too, of course.  I also found a terrific photo of a soldier posing with his wife on the eve of his departure for war: the children can talk about clothing of the past, including the uniform, and they can also investigate the concept of photos as evidence of events that happened long ago.  But I am hoping that someone will issue something else that’s suitably gentle for this age group, in time for next year.  (I found one called The ANZAC Puppy by New Zealand author Peter Millett at Fishpond, and it looks as if it might be suitable, but I haven’t got a copy of it yet.  Update: Peter Millett kindly sent me a copy and my review is here.)

Years 1 & 2

We Remember KitWe Remember Big BookThe AC content for Years 1 & 2 suggests investigating local buildings of historical significance, so these classes are going to walk to our local war memorial for the school’s wreath-laying ceremony.  They’ll also use the ‘We Remember’ kit produced by the Australian War Memorial: it has useful posters of memorials and symbols such as honour rolls and wreaths, and it includes a Big Book ‘Remembering Charlie Cooper’ about some kids who become interested in the names on their local memorial.  It’s not great literature and the illustrations are a bit pedestrian,  but the story covers the topic well without being too heavy-handed for this age group.  We’ve also got a full-sized poster of the Shrine of Remembrance, and they’ll use that too.  (There is a book called My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day but they had that one last year).  Publishers could usefully check out the Australian Curriculum for this age group and commission a really talented writer of children’s books to produce something appropriate for 2015 as well.

Years 3 & 4

The PromiseThe House That was Built in a DayThe AC for Years 3 & 4 includes looking at commemorations around the world, and we’ve tweaked this a bit so that we can use three books that we have in our collection.  The first is a new one called The Promise, by Derek Guille, and it’s a bilingual book, written in French and English, about how Australian soldiers liberated the village of Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April 1918, and how school children from Victoria raised money to help rebuild the village school.  With an unusual plot-line involving a commemoration by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the books shows how the villagers have kept their promise that they would never forget Australia. (There is another one on this theme called Le Quesnoy: The Story of the Town New Zealand Saved by Glyn Harper which might be worth getting hold of too.)

A War far AwayAnzac Cottage: The House That Was Built in a Day  by Valerie Everett isn’t a story from overseas, but this tale of a house that was built by 200 people in Perth for one of the first wounded ANZAC soldiers to return from Gallipoli is about the 90th anniversary of this community event, and I think it’s an appropriate text to use.  The other text is rather old one called A War Far Away by Pauline Cartwright.  It may be hard to find: it’s about a Kiwi teacher who goes away to war and is killed.  It’s a bit sombre, but I like the way it shows the human cost of war in the wider community and I think it’s all right for this age group.  (ISBN: 0170078205, EAN 9780170078207 & originally part of a set of books called The Highgate Collection, now out of print.  A smart publisher would reissue this).

Years 5 & 6

DevotionAustralian Women in WarYears 5 & 6 are going to research the role of women in WW1.  They’ll use a DVA publication called Devotion and another called Australian Women in War  (both of which you can download for free here) – we also have some posters typical of their era: one that shows the nurses of the 1942 Banka Island massacre needing to be avenged and another which proclaims that war is a man’s job.  I would also recommend that anyone doing this topic also read Kitty’s War by Janet Butler: it is a superb history which interrogates Nurse Kitty McNaughton’s diary, analysing what she included and what she left out, and why.  It’s also a vivid picture of the dangers nurses faced and the discrimination they dealt with, and any teacher who reads it will be able to enliven her lessons with an authentic and riveting story.  If you can’t get hold of it, read my review instead: it’s a poor substitute for the real thing but it’s better than nothing.  It’s high time that a publisher produced a picture biography of the nurses of WW1, and Kitty McNaughton would be an ideal subject.

M is for MatesIn the Library, I’m developing a unit for Years 5 & 6 called Indigenous Service.  Last year with Y 3 & 4, I taught a unit called Animals at War, using the DVA kit, M is for Mates. (Again, download it for free by clicking the link).  Students researched ways in which animals were used: donkeys (yes, including the famous one), horses, carrier-pigeons, dogs and camels.  This is an interesting way of making children aware of war beyond the trench warfare images: they learned about how the animals were and weren’t cared for, and at the end of the unit we had a lively discussion about the ethics of using animals in warfare, given how we now feel about animal welfare issues.  I’ll teach this unit again next year in 1915.  Update: Peter Millett’s book The Anzac Day Puppy is ideal for this unit, see my review here.

Indigenous ServiceThe Indigenous Service unit for this year will be closely based on advice in the Indigenous Service kit for Primary schools. (Make sure you download the one for Primary schools.

Other books you might use can be found at Kidsize Living.

Download our plan in Word and adapt it to suit your own school.  ANZAC COMMEMORATIONS (Whole School Plan) 2014-5 (2)


Click the book covers to buy these books from Fishpond.

Anzac Cottage: The House That Was Built in a DayThe ANZAC Puppy My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day Meet the ANZACs (Meet...) Kitty's War

Posted in Australian History, Book Reviews, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

Book review: Sir Henry Parkes, the Australian Colossus, by Stephen Dando-Collins

Posted by Lisa Hill on February 7, 2014

Sir Henry ParkesAs many school teachers know, the history of Australian Federation is a bit of a dry and dusty topic for students, and it takes a great deal of skill to make it palatable. Which is why I welcome this very readable biography of Henry Parkes a.k.a. ‘The Father of Federation’ because there are plenty of interesting titbits to liven up proceedings in the classroom.

He looks such a miserable old fogey, doesn’t he? It’s probably just the way his shaggy beard grew, but the drooping moustache makes him look positively sour. So it was a considerable surprise to discover that there was more than one young woman who took a fancy to him in his dotage: he had a mistress of long standing who was more than half his age and – aged 73 – Parkes married her very promptly as soon as his long-suffering wife Clarinda died. And gosh! three months after Nellie died he whisked off her nurse, 23-year old Julia Lynch, to the altar!

I lost track of all his children but the bio has a handy family tree to remind me that he fathered 17 children altogether, which is all the more remarkable considering his propensity for getting into debt. How they didn’t all end up in the Poor House or starving in a gutter is a minor miracle. He was absolutely hopeless with money, starting one futile business after another, declaring himself bankrupt half-a-dozen times or so, and finally dying with nothing more than a burial plot to his name. Still, next time I’m in the Blue Mountains near Faulconbridge, I think I might visit to pay my respects, because for all his flaws, this man was the visionary who united the Australian States, and much more besides.

The book begins with some Notable Quotes (sic) from H.P., my favourite of which is this:

On Australians’ Obsession with Sport

‘One danger to a sound and healthy public spirit in Australia is the inordinate appetite for sports and amusements … Man in a civilised state has capacities for something more.’

There’s more to this comment than meets the eye. (It’s from his book, Fifty Years of Australian History, 1892.) Parkes was an entirely self-made man. He emigrated to Australia with little more than hope and a wife (Clarinda), and through hard work, ambition and initiative he rose to become Premier of New South Wales when that was the highest political office in the land. He was self-educated, incredibly hard-working, and had no time for self-indulgence with amusements of any kind. So, reading between the lines, I suspect that he would have wished that there were more people like him at that crucial time in the colony’s history, more people of an ordinary background like his on the parliamentary benches, more people who understood the importance of improving the lot of ordinary people for the wealth of a nation.

The list of his initiatives is impressive. Most notable is his championing of the rights of women. At a speech in Adelaide in 1892, he said:

We cannot term ourselves a democracy as long as we exclude half the human race from the franchise… I have always favoured women’s franchise, and no one could be a democrat unless he also does so. I admit women’s claim to the franchise because of their common humanity, as intelligent, responsible members of the community. (p. 360)

And even though it doesn’t seem much of a big deal now, he put his beliefs into practice when he could. When the husband of the husband-and-wife team who ran the parliamentary dining-room died, he terminated the advert for a replacement declaring that the widow Agnes Dettman, was perfectly capable of running it on her own. Although unsuccessful, he also tried to have his daughter Menie employed as Australia’s first female journalist.

Among his other achievements, he also introduced the Public Education Act in 1866, requiring for the first time that teachers be properly trained, and was responsible for improvements in nursing standards when he asked Florence Nightingale to send nurse-trainers to the colony.

There were some less edifying aspects to his career. Quite apart from his frequent insolvencies involving astronomical amounts of money, he seems to have been involved in some dubious practices with cheques, and he borrowed huge sums of money when he had no real prospect of ever repaying it. What is remarkable about this is the extent to which his friends and supporters baled him out, time and again, because they recognised his remarkable leadership qualities. What he needed was a good accountant!

With the benefit of a more inclusive age, we can now see also that his acts to limit Chinese immigration were racist, and so was the exclusion of Australia’s indigenous people from the Constitution. (This latter omission is not something that is acknowledged by Dando-Collins, which it should have been.)

It was interesting to learn that elections in this turbulent period of NSW politics were almost constant, and they were not held for all electorates on the same day. This meant that Parkes could stand in one electorate and if he failed to win, he could then stand in another electorate in the next round and get a seat that way. On more than one occasion, after resigning his seat for one reason or another, he declined to stand, but his supporters nominated him in some country seat and he won it notwithstanding. There was also a quaint custom that required anyone appointed to a cabinet position to resign his seat and go back to his electorate for reindorsement. Imagine that today!

I hope schools invest in a copy of this biography: I’ve taken a look at the long, verbose and somewhat confusing entry for Henry Parkes at Wikipedia, and I think that students would be much better off using this book. The author’s style makes light work of a complex career, and it humanises the man as well:

Henry found that he could relax at Helene [their home at Ryde, then a rural outpost of Sydney], although he was only there one day a week at best. Setting up a camp bed in his new Empire office [where he ran his doomed newspaper], he spent six days a week there, only heading to Ryde by steam ferry most Saturday nights, returning to the city on Sunday nights. At Helene he filled his study with the books collected over the years, while outdoors he began to build a collection of birds and animals which would grow more and more exotic over the years. Every Sunday morning during 1855-56, Parkes would go for a tramp through Helene’s bushland, intent on trapping a wallaby to add to his collection. Ryde’s wily wallabies were always much too quick for him, and he would never succeed in catching one. Nonetheless, a wallaby would soon join his collection – in 1856, the master of Regentville, Robert Jamison, son of the late Sir John Jamison, Parkes’ first employer in New South Wales, would give Parkes one as a gift.

As comfortable as Parkes had made himself, and as happy as he had made his family, this new lifestyle was unsustainable. It had been built on a mountain of debt, which only grew larger. In late 1854, just as Parkes had been revelling in his first months in the legislature and planning the relocation to 173 George St and Helene, a recession hit the New South Wales economy, and advertising revenue at the Empire had halved. Yet, instead of tightening the belt, Parkes had thrown the belt away. It was a case of wishful thinking fogging reality, with Parkes seeing what he wanted to see. (p. 113)

The biography is also enjoyable reading for teachers who just want a bit of extra background to liven up their lessons about Federation!

The book includes B&W photos, an index, notes for each chapter, a bibliography and a family tree of Parkes’ wives and children. I would have liked a timeline too.

Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers.

Author: Stephen Dando-Collins
Title: Sir Henry Parkes, The Australian Colossus
Publisher: Knopf, 2013
ISBN: 9781742757971
Source: Kingston Library


Fishpond:Sir Henry Parkes: The Australian Colossus

Posted in Australian History, Book Reviews | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya! A Kaurna Learner’s Guide, by Rob Amery and Jane Simpson

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 17, 2014

Kulurdu Marni NgathaityaNaa marni?

That’s a Kaurna translation of a contemporary greeting now used in Pitjantjatjara and other Aboriginal languages, and it’s my introduction to learning the Kaurna language of the Adelaide Plains in South Australia.

It’s long been a concern of mine that although I can fudge my way around in Europe with a smattering of languages, I don’t even know how to say thank you in any of the indigenous languages of my own country. There is no better way to understand another’s culture than to learn a bit of their language, and that is why I am so delighted that Wakefield Press has sent me this book.

It is a beautiful, enticing, brightly-coloured book on glossy paper with lots of illustrations to complement the lessons, but it begins in a way that no other ‘teach yourself a language’ text does. In the preface there are 23 profiles of the people who contributed to this book, making the salient point that like nearly all Aboriginal languages the Kaurna language has been put at risk by a combination of factors arising from the colonisation of the continent by the British. In different ways and coming from different starting points, these profiles confirm what I already knew from talking to award-winning indigenous author Kim Scott, that the resurrection of these languages is difficult when so many indigenous Australians – whose birthright these languages are – were severed from their families, their culture and their language under Stolen Generation policies. That is why a book like this is so important.

Languages have all kinds of embedded cultural codes: Kaurna is a bit like Indonesian in that in some contexts what is said changes according to how many people are being spoken to, and how. For example, in Indonesian, unlike in English, the word ‘we’ can be inclusive of the people being addressed (kita), and exclusive of them (kami). In Kaurna the traditional ‘where are you going?’ greeting varies according to whether you are speaking to one person, two, or more than two. This distinction bothered me in choosing the contemporary greeting Naa marni? because I am not sure of the etiquette for addressing the readers of blogs! I assume that most people are reading this as individuals, but I expect that it will be read in toto by many, certainly more than two. In the end I went with more than two, but I am not confident that I am correct. It’s always, always better to learn a language from a native speaker who can help out with thorny issues like this …

My next stumble came with the word ‘thank you’. The text explains that Aboriginal languages didn’t have words for thanking people because in pre-colonial times people did things for others either because they were obliged to under kinship rules or because they wanted to. Indigenous Australians don’t expect to be thanked; what is more likely is an expression of affection such as Ngaityo yungandalya (My brother!) or Ngaityu yakanantalya (My sister!) Ngaityalya (My dear!) can be used for anyone regardless of age, gender or relationship to the speaker. This last form is an example of the way indigenous languages have adapted to contemporary needs. The suffix -alya on the end, is explained in a little grammar box on the side of the text: it expresses endearment. How nice to have a language grammar which expresses endearment! The only equivalent I can think of in English is adding -kin/s to the end of a word, as in lambkin, or using it to add to the name of my grandniece, as in Poppykins. I have a feeling that my use of this suffix -kin betrays either my age or my origins!

Look how much I’ve learned simply by exploring how to say ‘hello‘ and ‘thank you’! Even if I never ever get a chance to use this language, this book is invaluable. But I’m going to have a go with these chapters to guide me:

  • Tirntu-irntu Warrarna / useful Introductory Utterances
  • Nari Taakanthi / Names and Naming
  • Warrarna Tirkanthi: Kaurna Warra Tirkanthi / Learning Languages: Learning Kaurna (this section includes pronunciation)

I’m intrigued by the two long sections about Talking about Space and Time, because I already know from teaching indigenous children that their concepts about this are entirely different to ours, and I’m also keen to explore the differences between Talking with Children, and Talking with Elders.

The book is designed for people who are teaching Kaurna and assumes no knowledge of the language or even the culture: apart from the easy-to-understand lessons which are based on a communicative approach there are posters at the back (which can also be ordered from the creators).

The blurb at the back of the book sums it up better than I ever could:

Awakening a sleeping beauty tongue is a remarkable achievement of ethical, aesthetic and utilitarian significance. This textbook is an exquisite contribution to Revivalistics, a new field emerging in the wake of greater concern about intangible heritage, intellectual sovereignty, human wellbeing and social justice.

Professor Ghil’ad Zuckerman, chair of Linguistics and Endangered Languages, University of Adelaide.

Marni padni! (Go well!)

Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers

Authors: Rob Amery and Jane Simpson
Title: Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya! A Kaurna Learner’s Guide
Publisher: Wakefield Press, 2013
ISBN: 9781743052341


Fishpond: Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya!: A Kaurna Learner’s Guide
Or direct from Wakefield Press.

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Book Reviews, Indigenous Teaching Resources, Recommended books | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Big Book of Australian History, by Peter Macinnis

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 1, 2013

The Big Book of Australan HistoryIt’s when reviewing books like this that I wish that I had a proper degree in Australian history.  Not, of course, instead of my degree in Literature and Classics (which included history subjects exploring Ancient Greece and Rome), but as well asThe Big Book of Australian History is a comprehensive history, which tackles some aspects of Australia’s past about which I have little expertise, and the new federal government shows signs of restarting those unedifying History Wars, so this review isn’t going to tackle questions of historiography or factual accuracy.  That’s best left to professional historians.  I am going to restrict myself to commenting as to its readability, coherence, and appeal to the young people for whom it is written.

I loved this type of general history book when I was young, but I don’t remember ever coming across one that was about Australia.  My parents bought us many books when we were children, but they were (or purported to be) histories of ‘The World’ ancient and modern i.e. the 20th century world.  In these books, published in the 1950s and 1960s (almost always, for some reason, with a red cover) Australia was an afterthought.  They were probably published in Britain…

Written with the help of indigenous advisor and history editor and writer Dr Stephanie Owen Reeder (who won the 2012 NSW Premier’s Young People’s History Prize), The Big Book of Australian History covers many topics, conveniently arranged in ways that will suit students doing projects, but also appealing to kids who just want to browse through it to discover what they might be interested in.  Chapter length varies from six to twelve pages and more, with clear layout and headings, and profuse full-colour illustrations, sourced from the NLA and other libraries.   Most importantly it’s mostly written in kid-friendly language which may lure young people  away from Wikipedia which is so often incomprehensible to them.  Sentences are not too long, vocabulary is not too complex, and it’s mostly written in the active voice.

The book begins with Ancient Australia covering the birth of the continents. the fossil record and the period of megafauna. This chapter is a good starting point for students to follow an interest in palaeontology.

While there is much that is necessarily unsaid because of limitations of space and the complexity of indigenous issues, the chapter on The Dreaming seems respectful to indigenous Australians, and optimistic without denying Australia’s Black History:

Any human culture that survives for 40,000 years or more must be based on sensible, intelligent ideas.  In modern Australian society, we have written laws to tell us what we must and must not do.  Aboriginal society was based on accepted traditions that were passed down from generation to generation through the myths and legends that were taught to the young people.
For example, the story of Tiddalik the frog has a buried message about the value of sharing.  From the earliest contacts with Aboriginal people, Europeans failed to understand that Aboriginal culture was based on sharing.  In their hunter-gatherer society, the daily gathering of food by the women kept everyone alive, while the men’s hunting produced food on a less regular basis.  Meat did not keep for long, and so, when an animal was killed, people shared it.
When white people arrived, they had no idea about this.  Most of them did not even consider that other cultures might have different ways of doing things and different values which were as good, or perhaps even better than, their own.
(p. 20)

This chapter includes an explanation of how our First People came to Australia from Asia, First Contact with Europeans, the story of survival and the role of Aboriginal art work in the transmission of culture.  Big, bright graphics enliven every page and include artworks both by early settlers and Aboriginal artists such as William Barak.

Explorers: Filling in the Map of AustraliaThere is a welcome overview on the voyages of exploration, which is a year 4 topic in the new Australian Curriculum, though I would have liked a timeline because kids in this age group so often find this topic confusing and tend not to have a very good grasp of chronology – especially when it stretches back over several centuries and events take place on opposite sides of the continent. (One of the best books around on this topic is Explorers: Filling in the Map of Australia, by Chris Milne and published by Black Dog Books.  It does have timelines, and is manageable for capable year 4 readers).

The chapter entitled Founding Colonies is much longer, as you’d expect.  It begins, of course, with Sydney, and the convicts, and includes Aboriginal Resistance.  Unfortunately the section on Tasmania also includes the first settlement in Victoria at Sullivan Bay, which is not where students would expect to find it. Even more unfortunate is the opening paragraph of ‘Making Melbourne’ because most kids are not going to make sense of it without a bit of a struggle:

Those migrants who arrived in Adelaide knew nothing about Victoria but, logically, nobody should have gone to Adelaide when land was available at Port Phillip because it was far cheaper there – in fact, often land was just being taken and not paid for.  (p. 49)

Apart from tidying up this sentence to make it shorter and more comprehensible, I would have liked this section to make it clearer that at the time Henty and Batman squatted on what is now Melbourne, the area was not called Victoria until Separation in 1851.  And there isn’t anything about Batman’s scurrilous ‘treaty’ with the local Aborigines.  Indeed, the section on Melbourne, Australia’s second city in importance, merits only six paragraphs.

Exploring the Land includes all the major explorers – but I was surprised to find this little snippet about Major Sir Thomas Mitchell:

In many ways Mitchell was an unusual man.  His men probably killed more Aboriginal people, especially near Mount Dispersion, than any other party of explorers, and yet he preferred to use Aboriginal place names on the maps he drew.
It is hard for us to judge whether the killings were Mitchell’s fault, but he was blamed for them in an inquiry that was completed just after he died. (p. 60)

I probably know as much about Mitchell’s expeditions as most primary teachers, but my knowledge is rudimentary.  I have no idea what to make of this comment, and I suspect that students will be mystified by it.  Why is it hard to judge these killings?   Why wouldn’t the leader of an expedition be held accountable for what takes place?  Considering how many inquiries into violence against Aborigines were whitewash, and how few were undertaken in the first place, if this one did blame Mitchell, it seems only too likely that shameful behaviour did occur.  The implication is that there is some controversy about this matter, but will young readers interpret it this way?  It seems to me that this comment is an attempt to be even-handed that’s gone awry. (Mitchell is, after all, a Big Deal in NSW where the State Library bears his name).  This vague allusion will be confusing and frustrating for students who will, (as I did), reread the section to try to clarify what Mitchell did, or didn’t do, but without success.  Because apart from a reference to ‘a clash’ at Menindee, from which Mitchell backed off, there’s nothing about killing any Aborigines.  Students will go Googling for that (as I did) and unless their reading skills are up to dealing with the long entry at the Australian Dictionary of Biography, they may end up none the wiser.

The chapter about the Gold Rushes in the 1850s includes the Eureka Rebellion, while Settling the Land is a respectful homage to the hard life of the pioneers, and covers bushrangers, the Depression of the 1880s and the rise of unions.  But having noted in the introductory paragraph that settlement was ‘not good for the Aboriginal people who inhabited the land’ the chapter doesn’t make any further mention of them except to note that:

‘In the early years at least, ‘wild blacks’ – who were entitled to be upset at the sheep eating the kangaroo’s fodder – speared the sheep.  On the Murray River, the Aboriginal people gave this new food a name – ‘jumbuck’. (p. 78)

I think that being ‘upset‘ is a bit of an understatement.  There was considerable indigenous resistance to settlement, and rightly so, since (to paraphrase Henry Reynolds) as the settlements expanded, there were fewer and fewer places where the indigenous people could legally place a foot.  And they speared those sheep because they were starving.

The Growth of Cities is an excellent chapter, covering everything from transport to communications to entertainment, but I particularly liked the section about education in the early days.  This topic is always fascinating for young people, and they’ll be interested in the illustrations showing children at state schools in 1878.

What else?  Federation and the birth of Canberra is covered, and so is Mawson’s legendary expedition to the South Pole. There are 25 pages about WW1 and 18 about WW2; there are chapters covering advances in science, transport, and communications; and of course there’s a lot of stuff about sport but there is also a comprehensive chapter about achievements in literature, art and science – Patrick White even gets a mention!  The Vietnam War is included in the chapter on Controversial Issues, and so are issues such as the Dismissal in 1975, the Tasmanian Wilderness campaign, and Aboriginal Land Rights, Mabo and The Apology.

Over all, this is an impressive book with much to recommend it.  Of course there are omissions, it’s impossible to cover everything  and while I might quibble about the inclusion of this rather than that, or the amount of space devoted to one topic rather than another, I think that The Big Book of Australian History is a useful addition to any school library and would also make a lovely gift for a certain kind of child.

Author: Peter Macinnis
Title: The Big Book of Australian History
Publisher: National Library of Australia, 2013
ISBN: 9780642278326
Source: Review copy courtesy of the NLA


Fishpond: The Big Book of Australian History
Or direct from the National Library of Australia bookshop.

Posted in Australian History, Book Reviews | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

HTAV Primary Teachers’ Conference: Workshop#2: Vincent Lingiari: Aboriginal Land Rights

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

This session was blogged live, so apologies for typos, omissions, errors of interpretation and US spelling imposed by my software. It was presented by Amanda Carmichael and Marcus Mulcahy from Carrum PS.

The session began with footage from a 1960s Peter Luck ABC TV doco explaining the Wave Hill Aboriginal Land Rights issue.  It was chastening to watch it, knowing how things have turned out.  All these years later, there is still so much wrong to redress…

Education about these issues is one way to change attitudes, and Amanda and Marcus are on a mission to encourage knowledge and understanding.   They showed us various film resources to use, but noted that teachers need to do a lot of work on visual literacy with their students.  These were excellent background resources for teachers who don’t know much about the topic.  However, and maybe I’m selling my students short, I have to say that some of these films would be unlikely to keep my students’ attention for long, especially the students who are EAL and not very fluent in English.  These kids find voiceovers difficult because there are no visual cues to help them separate words and process long sentences.  The ones with sub-titles were the best, I think, and yes, teachers would need to do a lot of work on visual literacy.

Apropos the keynote address from this morning, it would have been good if they had begun this presentation with some explanation of how the topic fits into the Australian curriculum.  I can see how it addresses the Aboriginal History and Culture Priority, and also skills such as developing empathy, recognising other perspectives and so on, but I had to quickly scour the ACARA website to know which level the content of this topic is for.

The Year 6 work samples published by ACARA give some idea how this topic fits into the curriculum.

(To be fair, the presenters had MAC/PC technological issues so they couldn’t share their PowerPoint, so maybe they had intended to address this).

There are more resources to explore at Marcus’s website:  His sister Brenda Croft is doing a PhD about this and he recommends keeping an eye out for her name for future resources.

It is important also to use, as a lead-in to the topic, the Ted Egan song, Poor Bugger Me and From Little Things Big Things Grow by Paul Kelly.

Macmillan have also published the story of Vincent Lingiari in their Stories from Australia’s History series.  See Fishpond.

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Indigenous Teaching Resources, Learning and teaching, Professional Development | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

HTAV Primary Teachers’ Conference workshop#1: Teaching History through Literature

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

Blogged live, so apologies for typos, omissions, errors of interpretation, and US spelling imposed by the software.

Presenters Jo Clyne and Ingrid Purcell from HTAV are authors of a new resource called Dear Oma, A Story of Federation which is about to hit the bookshops.   The book was written with an awareness that in primary schools:

  • Composite classes complicate teaching a sequential curriculum
  • Literacy and numeracy take priority so there’s not much time for history
  • teachers also have to cover Civics and Citizenship
  • there is new AC history content to cover, and
  • Primary teachers are experienced at teaching through fiction.

Dear Oma aims to give context, to tune students in and to engage them emotionally, and is linked (of course) to the AC.  The authors actually chose Federation as a topic because it was a bit dry and hard to teach in an interesting way.  (A brave choice!) Set on the day of the Federation Parade in 1901, the book tells the story of a recent German immigrant to Melbourne, and is based on real people, real events, real places and real objects (using one of the digitised newspapers, The Argus, via Trove as a resource). Karl is a boy and he sells Federation souvenirs outside parliament (i.e. the Exhibition Buildings), and he meets a whole lot of people – which gives the authors the opportunity to show how Federation affects different sorts of people. Using Karl in this way also enables a child’s perspective on Federation as it happens, and the authors have used all kinds of clever ways to bring the period to life.

Karl, for example, meets a Chinese boy who’s not going to the parade.  The boy, Peng, explains resentfully why not: it’s because of the White Australia Policy which is to come in after Federation.  The authors faced a dilemma with using authentic objects as primary sources, because, for example, the souvenirs were racist, and unless these resources are used carefully they can have an unfortunate effect. So Jo and Ingrid have tried to problematise the issues rather than making judgements about them.  Some issues (such as the right to vote for Aboriginal people) are more complex than they seem at first glance, so teachers need to take care.

Most resources for Federation as a topic have been secondary focussed, so there’s a real need for primary resources that are age-appropriate. Jo and Ingrid have also provided web resources,  such as online mapping to find the actual places where these events took place; and worksheets analysing the multiple perspectives to develop empathy: immigrants, indigenous people, the old and the young.  These web resources include links to images, virtual history exhibitions and activities, i.e. it’s a 21st century teacher’s manual to support the book.

It sounds like a good package!

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

2013 HTAV Primary Teachers Conference Keynote address #2

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

Once again I am blogging this live, so I apologise in advance for typos, errors of omission or misinterpretation, and for the American spelling imposed by the software I’m using. 

Genevieve Grieves, curator at the Melbourne Museum began with the story of a forthcoming Melbourne Museum exhibition called First Peoples, Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. (I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the name of her country).  The other presenters were Amanda Reynolds and Rosemary Wrench from Melbourne Museum.

The presentation focussed on how the exhibition was created i.e. the process.  Curators’ job was to listen to Aboriginal communities across Victoria.


  • Using Aboriginal voices and languages
  • Curriculum
  • A collaborative voice
  • Victoria

The exhibition includes the ‘harder stories’ i.e. frontier violence.

The entrance includes welcoming message sticks: if you touch them you hear indigenous people from different parts of Victoria saying welcome in different languages. 

Victorian iconography – less familiar to most than iconography from desert areas e.g. dot point paintings – includes

  • cloaks – including rare examples
  • baskets and shields – people can touch them and learn how they were made.
  • an immersive experience using Bunjil the eagle

Aboriginal history and culture involves 2000 generations of stories, which are tracks back through time to when Aboriginal people lived with mega-fauna, and which explores knowledge coming from science and from storytelling by Aboriginal elders.  Elders used observation and ingenuity the way that scientists do, and visitors are encouraged to look at images of tracks, signs, rock art etc. to interpret it.  Some artifacts were made especially for the exhibition using traditional methods, and the modules are set up to be immersive.  Community narrators explain the complex concepts involved in reading country and knowing the interconnected nature of knowledge.   Visitors can also explore how knowledge is passed on, because Aboriginal lore isn’t passed on by specialists, everyone is a teacher.

Much of this presentation involved images, video and sound from the exhibition so I’m not doing a very good job of sharing how interesting it was.  I’ll try to give a sense of the different modules:

  • The exhibition covers old ways, and early encounters with ‘Strangers from the Ccean’ (and the sadness that befell people at that time) which includes artifacts of explorers such as George Bass.  There is a memorial to people who lost their lives too, and there are stories from oral history about what happened, e.g. kidnapping by sealers. Some of this will be confronting but it is felt that people are ready for this now. 
  • Then there is Our Shared History with modules called e.g. Treaty and Tanderum, i.e. two laws side by side,comparing Batman’s infamous treaty with laws as represented by message sticks. 
  • There is Call to Fight which includes massacres and battles but also indigenous service.  The key concept here is that Australia has many battlefields. 
  • Burdens to Bear covers oral history stories sharing personal stories about how their lives were affected by various pieces of legislation controlling Aboriginal lives. 
  • Standing Strong is another model about protest movements, land rights struggles and so on. 
  • Working Hard explores Aboriginal contributions to the modern economy as well as the traditional work ethic. 
  • Coming Together explores NAIDOC Week and other modern ways of celebrating culture, continuing stories, celebrations and knowledge.

The Many Nations component of the exhibition includes showcases of objects from the 19th century and contemporary objects from all over Victoria.  This covers

  • Keeping places – beautiful handmade pieces
  • Animal creations – creation stories, animals that bring good luck, items never displayed before
  • Marking identity – timbers, shields etc
  • Working Country – tools and so on
  • Celebrating Culture – body ornamentation, musical instruments, clothing including fibres, feathers and bones etc.

These showcases also include objects that show ways in which children are included:

  • mother and daughter digging sticks
  • child-sized shields

and there’s an activity table for 4-9 year-olds, with games and puzzles etc. for children to engage with.  There’s also a showcase called Toy Stories, with toys to look at.  (Do check out my review of Bush Toys, Aboriginal Children at Play, by Claudia Haagen, I hope there’s an exhibition catalogue for First Peoples too?)

Perhaps there will be a virtual exhibition as well, I hope so, because not all children can visit the museum, for one reason or another.

The final part of this presentation was about the Generations part of the exhibition, with stories from indigenous people from all over Victoria, of all age groups.  Every time you walk into the Deep Listening Space you get a different multimedia experience, where you are invited to ‘listen with your head and your heart’.

This is the kind of exhibition that teachers really need to attend because it will give us lots of ideas about how to introduce Aboriginal perspectives across all kinds of history topics.  Learning about Aboriginal culture and history is a core responsibility for all teachers of history and although it’s a long journey with no endpoint, we have an obligation to keep learning.  I’ll be visiting this exhibition during school holidays as part of my own professional development.

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Professional Development | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

2013 HTAV Primary History Teachers Conference: Keynote address#1

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

NB I’m blogging this live, so I apologise in advance for typos, omissions, the American spelling imposed by the software (Windows Live) and any errors of interpretation about the speaker’s address.

The first Keynote address was presented by Geraldine Ditchburn from the History Teachers Association of Victoria.  Her topic was Creating pedagogical airholes in the Australian Curriculum: History.

The AC requires us to teach history in a formal and disciplined way [and this is a challenge for primary teachers not trained in the method, and fond of teaching ‘integrated curriculum’, so-called].

Assumptions about curriculum impinge on understandings about pedagogy.  There isn’t always a shared understanding about this:

Geraldine hears lots of anxieties about implementing the AC – many feel daunted and overwhelmed, especially if there’s no academic background in history.  What we do have as primary teachers is experience in offering and engaging curriculum – and that’s a big advantage.  Geraldine shared her own story as a teacher of ‘social education’ – an integrated subject and there was no syllabus other than what they designed themselves.  ‘Not quite ‘curriculum on the run’ but they adjusted content when current events intervened.  This was a time with no national assessments, no directives about what to teach or how to teach it.  ‘Frameworks’ was the first framework that she used, and it was a watershed because it added ‘values’ and ‘actions’ to content and skills in the curriculum. This took curriculum beyond the classroom walls.

The point is that we all work within bigger frameworks, who or what constructs these can change, and the frameworks can change what is considered valid.  We need to be clear about what effective pedagogy looks and feels like.  We need to use our professional judgement and be ‘intellectual artisans’.  We deliver the curriculum, not ACARA – we have licence to do what works best.

Curriculum is –

  • a dumping ground for everything (including stuff that families used to do)
  • a depository for passing on culture – how do we choose what we value?
  • not always consistent with the agenda that’s supposed to be taken up – because it always embodies values, ideas about the future etc. It’s more about a nation’s soul than a technical task.

Is curriculum a noun, or a verb?  It depends on your assumptions. The choice affects a teacher’s engagement.

Curriculum as a noun implies a product, and therefore associated with content.  So teachers become implementers, and it may lead to ‘getting through it’ i.e. a ‘pedagogy of speed’.  Teachers may feel pressured by assessment and accountability …

If you see curriculum as a verb, it’s a process, it’s fluid and it needs input from those who use it.  It’s nothing without human input.  It requires us to be ‘artisans’ using it, developing curriculum that engages the students.  (Geraldine quoted assorted academics to support these ideas, but I didn’t catch their names. )

We need to adapt for our students and focus on a bigger pictures, make history come alive, select and integrate with other areas, expect professional and student input and expect change.  Yes, it’s messy.  What works with one lot of students doesn’t necessarily work with another, and teaching is hard enough without having to cope with bored students.

There aren’t that many supports for putting the people (teachers and students) into the curriculum.  What’s in the AC doesn’t help much with decision-making. Often we start with the content, but if it grows out from the focus Qs, or the CCPs. (I’ve forgotten what these are).  There are no principles in the document to guide us.  G thinks that the underlying principle is that curriculum is a noun.  [Whereas I think, it’s been designed to allow us to travel any way we like, and accommodate differences across States].

If we look at the AC:History from ‘above’ some elements stand out from the ‘forest’ of the document.  Geraldine says, start with the rationale and the bigger elements: skills, focus Qs and historical concepts.

Big ideas:

  • a discipline process of inquiry
  • curiosity and imagination
  • understanding ourselves and others
  • change and continuities
  • evidence, interpretations, debate, and respecting different perspectives
  • critical analysis
  • context,  substantiating interpretations and communicating them.

Key concepts – the pillars of the curriculum

  • cause and effect
  • empathy
  • evidence
  • perspectives
  • significance
  • continuity and change
  • contestability.

We need to make these big words meaningful for students.

Significance is a problematic concept.  It’s important to:

  • link the personal with the bigger narrative
  • use the vocabulary – both students and teachers need to use them
  • exist in the students world and can best be understood in their own world

Note that the achievement standards do not include content, they’re about skills and concepts.

Geraldine talked about integrating the curriculum in the usual ways – the important thing is to have the critical conversations with peers, and share what works and what doesn’t.  Any new initiative is going to have faults, supporting this critical evaluation with colleagues is the way to go.  Take ownership, celebrate, and share – especially online!

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Professional Development | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

2013 Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ LitLovers

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 19, 2013

As in 2012, my companion blog ANZ LitLovers is hosting Indigenous Literature Week during NAIDOC week (7-14 July 2013), and readers of this blog are also invited to join.

You are welcome to contribute in any way that helps to promote reading indigenous literature.  On the ANZ LitLovers blog, the focus is on literary fiction and the occasional memoir, but readers can contribute reviews of any kind of book, as long as it’s by an indigenous author.  AS you can see from the sign up page you can contribute your review on your own blog, on a GoodReads or Library Thing page, or with a comment on the reviews page.

I will also set up a dedicated Reviews page on this blog so that all the reviews of children’s books are together where teachers can find them.

There’s a reading list for contributors wanting to read adult books at ANZ LitLovers and Emma from My Book Corner has kindly shared her list of indigenous literature resources for those who want to read children’s books.

So, please, join in.  Through the new Australian Curriculum cross-cultural Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Priority, every teacher is a teacher of Aboriginal history and culture, and most of us need to learn more about Australia’s First People.

I’m hoping that this will be an imitative that grows and grows, and all teachers will read at least one book by an Aboriginal author each year, maybe more!

PS Oh, and feel free to share teaching activities to go with the books you read:)

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Indigenous Teaching Resources | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 75 other followers