Topic 2: Country and Place

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Deeper knowledge and understanding of Australian history is essential in the development of skills for students to be able to develop ‘critical and creative thinking’.

The topic presents  past, present and future interpretations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous contact from a range of perspectives.

In the primary classroom history content delivery is centred around: contact history (First Contact), invasion/colonisation (The Australian Colonies) and settlement growth (Australia as a Nation). The Australian History Curriculum outcomes allow for the exploration of topics which build students’ knowledge and skills in Australian History. In secondary classrooms Year 7 The Ancient World (60 000BCE‐ c. 650CE), Year 9 Making a nation and Year 10 The modern world and Australia.

Land (including rivers and lakes) and sea are at the core of belief for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and fundamental to our wellbeing. The land and sea is a whole environment that sustains us and is sustained by peoples and cultures. Apart from spiritual significance, where the very essence of history is embedded in features of the environment, land and sea provide everything we need: food, shelter, material for tools and identifiers.

Get StartedExplore the concepts, activities and assessment tasks below or use the Get Started button to work through the content in the suggested sequence.

Connection to Country

There are over 200 different First Nation groups in Australia, each with their own language and geo-cultural identities.
For an introductory illustration, view this First Australians video snapshot by Reconciliation Australia.

Our history, our story, our future

In every nation’s story there are important moments—events and crossroads—that shape the chapters to come.
For all Australians, this ancient land connects the stories of our past, our present and our future. The video clip below was produced by Reconciliation Australia to explore the theme of National Reconciliation Week 2016—Our History, Our Story, Our Future— and continues to have great resonance and relevance to the future of reconciliation in our nation:
After viewing the video clip, reflect on the 2016 National Reconciliation Week (NRW) theme: Our History, Our Story, Our Future –
‘Our History’ reminds us all, that historical acceptance is essential to our reconciliation journey. Historical acceptance will exist when all Australians understand and accept the fact that past laws, practices and policies deeply affected the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, often having devastating immediate impacts and causing much of the disadvantage that exists today. It is also a commitment to ensuring these wrongs are never repeated in the future. ‘Our Story’ reflects the fact that the journey towards reconciliation forms a significant part of Australia’s story, as do the stories of both trauma and triumph told by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It also encourages each and every one of us to make reconciliation part of our own story. ‘Our Future’ reinforces that reconciliation must live in the hearts, minds and actions of all Australians as we move forward, in the knowledge that we believe in fairness for everyone, that our diversity makes us richer, and that together, we are stronger.
Consider how the elements of this theme intersect with the importance of connecting to Country.

The Rabbits: An allegory of colonisation

Activity: Consider books or stories in which the setting plays an important part.
The Rabbits, written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan, is a partly allegorical fable about colonisation, told from the viewpoint of the colonised. A video of the story is available below.


Read the story about the way rabbits have invaded and taken over a country.
  • Explore the importance of “setting” by drawing on students’ previous knowledge. Draw on students’ responses to make a chalkboard statement that ‘The setting is the time and place in which a story occurs’
  • As a class, discuss other books or stories in which the setting plays an important part, e.g. Rosy Dock (Jeannie Baker), My Place (Nadia Wheatley), Idjhil (Helen Bell).
  • Divide the class into small groups and ask each group to list two or three books in which the setting plays an important role. Give each group a prepared chart so that information about stories can be recorded.
  • Conduct a whole class discussion about the importance of Place, relating back to the themes of land, Country, Place & colonisation.

Name of book or story


Importance of place/setting

You and Me, Murrawee River bank Continuity
My Place City Environment & cultural traditions
Angel’s Gate Country town People’s lives
The Fat and Juicy Place Behind the school Special things happen there


Baker, J 1995, The story of Rosy Dock, Random House, NSW. Bell, H 1996, Idjhil—and the land cried for its lost soul, Cygnet, WA. Crew, G 1995, Angel's Gate, Mammoth, Port Melbourne, Vic. Hashmi, K 1998, You and Me, Murrawee, Viking, Ringwood, Victoria. Kidd, D 1992, The fat and juicy place, Angus & Robertson, Pymble, NSW. Marsden, J & Tan, S 1998, The rabbits, Thomas C Lothian, Port Melbourne, Vic. Wheatley, N & Rawlins, D 1987, My place, Collins Dove, Vic.

Related content

[related_excerpt slug="module-3/topic-2/the-rabbits-2/"]

Delving deeper into history

Activity: Apply deep knowledge to the teaching of Australian History.

Year 4

The key inquiry questions at this level are:
  • Why did the great journeys of exploration occur?
  • What was life like for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples before the arrival of the Europeans?
  • Why did the Europeans settle in Australia?
  • What was the nature and consequence of contact between Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples and early traders, explorers and settlers?

Year 9

The key inquiry questions at this level are:
  • What were the changing features of the movements of people from 1750 to 1918?
  • How did new ideas and technological developments contribute to change in this period?


Write down 3 ‐5 dot points about why students might find the teaching of Australian History challenging. In small groups, draw a mind map of what might be included in these lessons in their content areas. The mind map might include: first contacts, Aboriginal warriors, Colonial expansion, Pemuluwuy, Walya, Musquito, Tedbury, Jandamarra, Cook, Collins, Frontier Wars, Penal colony, Free settlers, convicts. Select several concepts from the map and assign them to small groups for discussion. Have a speaker from each small group address the whole group to present what the group has discussed. Gain feedback from the class in relation to whether this activity changed their ideas about whether the teaching of Australian history might be challenging and whether it has assisted them to complete the assessment task. Clarify if necessary.

Use a mind map

Using a mind map in this instance is valuable in that visual cues help us to better recall and remember information; words are abstract and often difficult for the brain to retain, whereas visuals are concrete; the effective use of visuals can decrease learning time, improve comprehension, enhance retrieval, and increase retention; and abstract concepts can benefit from images, when course creators use visual metaphors (McDaniel, M & Einstein, G 1986 & Meier, D 2000).


McDaniel, M & Einstein, G 1986, 'Bizarre imagery as an effective memory aid: The importance of distinctiveness', Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 54‐65. Meier, D 2000, The accelerated learning handbook, McGraw‐Hill, NY.

The dark side of colonisation

Activity: Understand the impact of colonisation.


Understanding the impact that colonisation has had on the rights, recognition and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples is a big step towards understanding the importance of reconciliation in Australia. According to John Pilger (1985), ‘The secret history of Australia is a historical conspiracy of silence. Written history has long applied selectivity to what it records, largely ignoring the shameful way that Aboriginal people [and Torres Strait Islander people] were, and continue to be, treated.'


View The Secret CountryThe First Australians fight back  Warning: The Secret Country includes confronting themes and requires a considered approach to debriefing dark themes contained in the film. Any group discussion will require skilled facilitation.


Pilger, J 1985, The secret country — The first Australians fight back, video, YouTube, viewed 1 September 2016 <>

Land, colonisation and reconciliation

Activity: Reflect on what connection to Country, and an understanding of the intergenerational impact of colonisation, have to do with reconciliation.
Read the following reflection by Tace Vigilante, a social justice educator who joined the School of Teacher Education as a lecturer at Bathurst’s Charles Sturt University in 2011:

My name is Tace Vigliante and I am a lecturer in Teacher Education at Charles Sturt University. I wanted to share with you my experience of coming to understand the role education can play as a vehicle for achieving reconciliation in Australia.

When I started university I was confronted with many new and big ideas—ideas that were in some cases in conflict with ideas I had previously held, and that were held by the people around me about whom I cared and respected, such as my family, friends and teachers.

There are a few ideas that have been very powerful in determining the educator that I am today. I am going to share one of these ideas now. You might expect that such a ‘powerful’ idea would require a lengthy explanation or argument to be convinced but this idea can be explained as briefly as this:

Everything we have as Australians is a result of the land being taken from Indigenous Australians.

This idea, delivered in a single sentence in a social psychology lecture blew me away. It seemed so straight forward when I heard it. Here was a simple claim, and I could not counter it.

What’s more, I had recently also learnt at university (in another subject) that Indigenous Australians were deprived of land due to the concept of terra nullius. In essence, I extrapolated; Australians have benefited and still benefit immensely from land being taken from Indigenous Australians and conversely the effect on Indigenous Australians was devastating; and Indigenous Australians continue to be disadvantaged and feel the effects of colonisation today. What an injustice I thought. From this I came to think that, if non-Indigenous Australians benefit from this injustice then non-Indigenous Australians should (have an ethical obligation) be working towards and contributing to the process of reconciliation.

This all took place in my first semester at university and I wondered, why had no one ever shared this idea with me before? I probed further. It was not a particularly popular idea. Whenever I raised this idea of injustice or injustice towards Indigenous Australians I was met most often with contestation, sometimes anger and many times misinformation. Yet, I did not come across a good argument against this claim and the subsequent conclusion, that if we, as non-Indigenous Australians benefit from this injustice then we, as non-Indigenous Australians should contribute to reconciliation.

As I began at the start of my story, throughout my studies in my first year of university, I was challenged by many new and different ideas and it was at this point that I began to see that teachers and educators play a significant role in shaping society and have the potential to be agents of change. At the end of the year I enrolled in a Bachelor of Education.


The following questions have been designed to be discussed in a Community of Inquiry (see the guidelines for conducting a community of inquiry):
  1. How do you feel or react to new or different ideas?
  2. Does this story include any new or different ideas for you?
  3. Had you heard of terra nullius in your own schooling experience?
    1. If so, when (in high school, in history class etc.)?
    2. If not, why do you think it was not included?
  4. (How) has the dispossession of traditional lands impacted on or disadvantaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia? (Explain your answer).
  5. (How) has Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ dispossession of traditional lands impacted on or benefitted non-Indigenous Australians? (Explain your answer).
  6. Do non–Indigenous Australians have anything to lose by acknowledging or accepting such a claim?
  7. Do non–Indigenous Australians have anything to gain by acknowledging or accepting such a claim?
  8. Should those who benefit from a policy such as terra nullius make reparations to those who have been disadvantaged by the policy?
    1. If not, why?
    2. If so, what kinds of reparations?
  9. (What) do ideas around connecting to Country, and the intergenerational impacts of colonisation, have to do with education? Explain your answer.
  10. (What) do ideas around connecting to Country, and the intergenerational impacts of colonisation, have to do with reconciliation? Explain your answer.
  11. Do you think educators have a role in shaping and bettering society through fostering relationships, respect and reconciliation? Explain your answer.
Image: From Wikipedia; detail from 'A pioneering settler family, circa 1900'

Education, rights and economic justice

Activity: Assess the Australian education system through the framework of the International Labour Organisation's Convention No. 169.

In Australia, we have still not yet arrived at the best way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia to achieve cultural rights or economic justice as outlined in the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO169) (Ma Rhea, Z & Anderson, P 2011).


  1. Have Ma Rhea and Anderson’s paper ‘Economic justice and indigenous education: Assessing the potential of standards-based and progressive education under ILO169’ (six pages) available for students on e-reserve/equella so that it can be read in preparation. Full text available from Informit:;dn=337378394206835;res=IELLCC
  2. At the beginning of the tutorial, as a whole group, discuss what Ma Rhea and Anderson are advocating in this paper.
  3. Introduce/give background and as a whole group watch the YouTube clip QandA: Rosalie Kunoth-Monks: "I am not the problem" speech for John Pilger's 'Utopia'. Available at (this runs for 6m 31s).
  1. Synthesise: Rosalie Kunoth-Monks discusses that it is not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People who are the problem, but rather the failure of Australia to adequately place Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at the centre of the nation’s psyche.
  2. Think, Write, Pair, Share: With this in mind, how could you build the concept of personhood[1] into the knowledge of your learners through curriculum and pedagogy?
  3. Students raise questions about something they either were unsure about or about which they need clarification.
The Think-Write-Pair-Share activity poses the question to students that they must consider alone, jotting down points, and then discuss with a partner before settling on a final response. In this TPS activity partner "sharing" is followed up using student responses for a whole group shared discussion.


Kunoth-Monks, R 2014, '"I am not the problem" speech for John Pilger's 'Utopia', video, YouTube, viewed 18 May 2016, <>. Ma Rhea, Z & Anderson, P 2011, 'Economic justice and Indigenous education: Assessing the potential of standards-based and progressive education under ILO169', Social Alternatives, vol. 30, iss. 4, pp. 25–31.
[1] Personhood: the condition of being a person who is an individual with inalienable rights.

An Indigenous language program

Activity: Discuss the benefits of an Indigenous language program.
As a class discuss the benefits of the Wiradjuri Language Program at Forbes North School, considering the concepts of respect, relationships and reconciliation. You might also like further discuss specific benefits associated with:
  • Working with local community
  • Language and culture
  • Academic outcomes
  • Employment and education
Go to, register and search 'Forbes North'

Your story about Country

Activity: Write or draw your story about Country.
In small groups perform/share your stories about Country. Make sure you have considered the following questions:
  • What Country (Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Nation) do you currently live in?
  • What Country were you born in?
  • How long have you lived where you currently live?
  • How do you relate to the area you currently live?
  • Do your family live in the same area, the same Country?
  • Do your family have similar relationships to the area, to the Country that you do? Reflect on this.
  • What are your markers and what are the markers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had/have in this Country, this area?
  • How did Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people relate to the Country?
  • How do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people relate to the area today?
  • How can you draw on everybody’s relationship to the area, to the Country, to enrich the overall storying?

Related content

[related_excerpt slug="module-3/topic-2/your-story/"]
Image: Wikipedia - (Extract from) Map of Victorian Aborigines language territories

The importance of 'Place'

Activity: Reflect on the importance of Place as a concept.
Consider the following questions:
  • Do you think Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in cities, in the suburbs, have these same connections to Country and Place?
  • If so how is this expressed?
Read the following article: ‘Working with and learning from Country: decentring human author-ity’ in Cultural Geographies 2015, Vol. 22(2), 269–283. Reflect on the following questions:
  1. What does it mean to ‘attend deeply’? Illustrate how you do this in your daily activities.
  2. What does it mean ‘co-becoming’ with Country?
  3. How important are relationships, interconnections, connectedness in the story presented? Identify some of the connections.
  4. How do you relate to the way the story is told?
    1. How do you feel when you are asked to join the authors to go night fishing?
Once you have read the article and thought about the above questions work in small groups to identify all the threads of your thinking. Do this as a mind map or some other form that you can use to showcase your thinking. Ask questions… there may not be answers but identify these as well.


Bawaka Country, Wright, S, Suchet-Pearson, S, Lloyd, K, Burarrwanga, L, Ganambarr, R, Ganambarr-Stubbs, M & Maymuru, D 2015, 'Working with and learning from Country: decentring human author-ity', Cultural Geographies, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 269–283.
Image: Flickr; Alan Levine,

The Rabbits: Part 2

Assessment objective

As a class, or in groups, develop a mind map about the story The Rabbits, by John Marsden and Shaun Tan. Video of the story is available below.


The Rabbits is a partly allegorical fable about colonisation, told from the viewpoint of the colonised. A mind map is a diagram used to visually organise information. A mind map is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the centre of a blank landscape page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added. Your students may suggest any or all of the following, depending on their ages:
  • family
  • loss
  • dispossession
  • The Stolen Generations
  • displacement
  • wisdom
  • women
  • health
  • [sense of] place
  • kinship
  • languages
  • knowledge
  • Aboriginal English
  • connection [to land]
  • environment
  • oral history
  • The Dreaming
  • petroglyphs (and other visual forms of communication)
  • song, dance, storytelling, ceremony (and other ways of performing communication)
  • bush foods and medicine
  • interdependence
  • technology (designing, making and appraising: weapons, tools, baskets, etc)
  • science (seasons, astronomy)
  • land management (firestick farming, propagation)
  • introduction of hard-hoofed (strange and new) animals’ destruction of food sources
  • remains (middens, carbon-dating)
Write these on the back of “post-it” notes (so that they can be placed word/s side down).


  • Select one of these as the topic for writing a unit of work that could be used on your next professional experience placement.Assessment
  • Identify the key concepts of the story.
  • Explain briefly why you chose a particular concept.
  • Explain why you placed the concept where you did, on the concept map, in relation to the main concept (describe its distance from the main concept).

Related content

[related_excerpt slug="module-3/topic-2/the-rabbits/"]


Marsden, J & Tan, S 1998,  The Rabbits, Thomas C Lothian, Port Melbourne, Vic.

Write your story of Country

Assessment objective

Write a story about your chosen region in an essay that connects to a narrative about Country.
  • You are required to write your own story: one that explores the demographics and diaspora of a region.
  • You can choose a region that is significant to you.
  • You can use a map of Indigenous groups or draw on the area you live in, study in, work in or were born in—it may be an area you love to visit or holiday in.
  • Word count 2500 words.


Assessment Your story should include the following elements:
  1. An introduction to you, how do you describe yourself?
  2. How did you and why did you choose the region you did?
    1. What makes it special enough to choose and why?
  3. What groups of peoples, places, flora and fauna make up the chosen region?
  4. How are all of the elements of the region connected to stories about Country or Place in that region? For example if you are to look at the northern suburbs of Sydney, Kurringai Country and you visit the Kuring-Gai Chase National Park you would find the rock engraving of the Emu in the Sky.
    1. If you were to visit in autumn when the emu in the Milky Way stands upright above the rock engraving, this would tell you the emus are about to lay their eggs. Emu eggs are a valuable source of food, nutrition.
    2. Reflect in your story about how you use or think about the Kuring-Gai Chase National Park. Remember this is not about finding right answers—it is about sharing possibilities.
    3. How is this connected to other stories of the region?
  5. Explore the impact of colonisation and colonialism in the region.
  6. Can your telling of the story enrich and nourish the region and its identity? Describe.
  7. Describe how local heritage sites relate with the following critical understanding of culture in terms of identity, worldview, (perspectives), cultural diversity, multiculturalism, etc.
  8. As future professional teachers, discuss how the relationship between understandings of local sites can influence curriculum and pedagogy.
  9. Conclude with an overview that relates your story to your teaching practice.

Related content

[related_excerpt slug="module-3/topic-2/country-stories/"]
Image: Flickr; Pete the Poet, Coal & Candle Creek, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park,

The impact of history

Assessment objective

Consider the quote below and write a 2000 word report which explores the connections between contemporary Indigenous circumstances and Australia’s colonial history.

Indigenous education history cannot be considered in isolation. As it is deeply embedded within the totality of Australia’s colonial history, it is a complex nexus of social and educational policy. (Herbert 2012)


  • AssessmentFocus on the impact of historical experiences on Indigenous peoples and cultures both in the past and today.
  • Consider in particular contemporary issues around Indigenous education and provide recommendations for the effective delivery of Indigenous education.
Your report must use the headings listed here and cover the following content:
  1. Executive summary (100 words)
From your executive summary or introduction, we want to learn:
  • What your report is about.
  • What points it is going to cover.
  • What you overall argument/position is.
  • What is the broad significance of what you are arguing/writing.
  1. Cultural context (600 words)
  • Explain the key cultural concepts that inform a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander worldviews, including kinship and relations to land and sea.
  • Note the significance of each for Indigenous peoples and cultures. (Note the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, in particular the Legends of the Torres Strait and the location of Dreaming stories.)
  1. Historical circumstances (600 words)
  • In relation to the above, note what was detrimentally impacted on or lost as a result of the British colonisation/invasion of Australia.
  • Outline the major policies that impacted upon Indigenous ways of life, including dispossession, protectionism, segregation, assimilation and the Stolen Generations.
  1. Contemporary context (500 words)
  • Linking to the above, explain the impact Australia's history has had, and continues to have, on Indigenous peoples both in general and more specifically on education outcomes.
  • Note the contemporary policies of reconciliation, self-determination and social justice and what they are trying to achieve.
  • Note how they are different to previous policies (such as dispossession, protectionism, segregation and assimilation) in terms of human rights.
  1. Recommendations and conclusion (200 words)
  • Given the above cultural, historical and contemporary contexts, provide a detailed response as to why many Indigenous students today might feel marginalised within the mainstream western schooling system and give examples.
  • Give three recommendations for how this could be overcome and why the effective delivery of Indigenous education to Indigenous and non-Indigenous students is needed. Recommendations can be made within an education context, that is, in terms of curriculum formulation and choice of pedagogy.
  • Provide a brief concluding statement including the significance of your report, particularly in relation to the teaching profession.


Herbert, J 2012,‘“Ceaselessly Circling the Centre”: Historical Contextualization of Indigenous Education within Australia’, History of Education Review, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 91–103.
Image: Pathways to Knowledge, Denise Proud

Design a history lesson

Assessment objective 1

Using the concepts highlighted in The Rabbits by Shaun Tan (see Assessment The Rabbits) and the passage below, students investigate the history of Australia in the period 1750 – 1918 in depth.

The extension of settlement, including the effects of contact (intended and unintended) between European settlers in Australia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (ACDSEH020)

 The Australian Year 7 History curriculum content description invites  Students [to] investigate the history of an Asian society OR Australia in the period 1750 – 1918 in depth. Bruce Pascoe (2014), advises that at the time he was writing Dark emu, ‘a massive roller is at work crushing volcanic stone in [Victorian] Western District pastures. … The operator of the roller is “just doing what he is told”, but he wouldn’t be allowed to do it at Stonehenge or Easter Island’. Destruction of Aboriginal sites was perpetrated by the initial visitors and witnessed by many Europeans. William Thomas (an Aboriginal Protector) saw several aquaculture systems such as the eel traps around Lake Condah. According to Thomas (2013), one such system belonged to a particularly large village near Port Fairy, which had more than thirty houses capable of accommodating around 200-250 people. The whole village was burned and the sluice gates of the fishery destroyed (Pascoe 2014). OR

Assessment objective 2

Using the concepts highlighted in The Rabbits by Shaun Tan (see Assessment The Rabbits) and the passage below, design a lesson that might be used at the Year 4 enquiry.

The nature of contact between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and … the Europeans, and the effects of these interactions on, for example, people and environments. (ACHASSK086)

Destruction of Aboriginal sites took place in the 1800s, yet in 1963, “the dispossession was continuing. Police came at gunpoint under cover of darkness to Mapoon, an Aboriginal community in Queensland, and they ordered people from their homes and they burned those homes to the ground and they gave the land to a bauxite mining company. And today those people remember that as the 'Night of the Burning' ” (


Pascoe, B 2014, Dark emu: Black seeds: agriculture or accident?, Magabala Books, Broome, WA.

Topic review

Country and Place

The aim of this topic was to increase your awareness of the importance Australian history in the development of critical and creative thinking skills. To deepen your understanding of history there has been an emphasis on Country and Place.

Questions for review:

  • Were you challenged by the perspectives presented in this topic? Reflect on why/why not.
  • What is the relationship between knowledge and understanding of Australian history and supporting reconciliation in schools?
  • What are some actions you could take to further extend your knowledge and understanding to become more of a critical and creative thinker and cultivate this in your students?

Choose one Focus Area of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers where you could apply the knowledge and skills you have gained from Topic 2, such as:

2.1 Content and teaching strategies of the teaching area

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the concepts, substance and structure of the content and teaching strategies of the teaching area. (Graduate level)Professional knowledge

Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Graduate teachers)

« Return to Topic 2: Country and Place » Continue to Topic 3: Significant events