28 April 2014

Teaching Australia's True History to Young People

Many people are willing to admit they’re ‘bad with names’. Whilst I’m not too shabby in that regard, I have to confess, I am absolutely pathetic at remembering historical dates.
When was World War 2? No idea. What year did Bert Newton retire from Good Morning Australia? No idea (although I was so devastated I really should know). When was I born? OK that I do know, but probably because I’ve had plenty of practise writing it on a form. In fact, I only learnt my mum’s birth year a few years ago to be able to key it in to pay a phone bill. Point proven- my brain’s memory malfunctions as soon as I hear any four digit number directly after the words ‘in’ or ‘on’.
Anyway, I know there are plenty of you reading this nodding in agreement, that you too, are ‘bad at dates’. Which is why I’ve created a very brief (and I use the word  very because I’m probably missing some vital events that would outrage historians) timeline to lowlight some key dates in Australia’s history that have had devastating effects on the First Australians, the Indigenous people.
I’ve sourced the dates and information from the SBS documentary series ‘First Australians’. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to gain more insight into the mistreatment of the Indigenous people and learn about the key figures (both Indigenous & Non-Indigenous) who worked tirelessly to ensure the Indigenous race did not die out.

One thing I’ve come to recognize after researching information and developing the timeline is that most Non-Indigenous Australians, some-what unknowingly, prioritize stories and events that revolve around the white man, whether they are good or bad. I felt an immediate sense of guilt upon realising that although the ‘First Australians’ series introduced me to several courageous, intelligent Indigenous figures, I neglected to note down their name unless their actions had considerable effects on the historical outcomes of the white people. I’ve thought long and hard about why this is and have compiled a list of possible reasons; some of which I don’t necessarily believe to be true, but think are valuable to consider.

1.       Most historical Indigenous people go by one name only. In most cases, their names are difficult to spell and pronounce, as their letter combinations don’t reflect the English language. This may sound silly, but perhaps the unfamiliarity delayed my immediate reaction to write a name down before deciding whether or not it was purposeful for what I was doing.

2.       Australia has such a shameful history in regards to the treatment of the Indigenous people; it’s difficult not to focus on the role the white man played in the Indigenous peoples’ demise.  Most historical events involved the white man because the Indigenous people were never given the opportunity to speak or act on their own behalf.

3.       The Indigenous people share their experiences through song and verbal storytelling and therefore there are very little written historical records expressing their opinions and recollection of events. This forces us to draw our knowledge from the experiences recounted through the eyes of the European settlers.

4.       During my own schooling, the curriculum barely addressed the existence of the Indigenous people and therefore it’s subconsciously ingrained in me to stick to the ‘traditional’ retelling of Australia’s shiny history; starting with the daring Captain James Cook and ending by pointing out how lucky we are to be living in ‘developed’ Australia in such a functional, wealthy society all thanks to a stable, reputable government.

5.       People always assimilate best with their own culture, so being aware of the fact I am of European decent, I’m instinctively more interested in my own ‘peoples’ history.  

Whatever the reason may be, I feel like I’ve learned something from writing this post. It’s brought to my attention that educators like myself must push aside our own previous experiences and personal beliefs in order to mindfully teach the ‘true’ history of Australia.
 This term I am teaching an integrated studies unit called ‘Australia! Our Home’. I’ll be trying my best to provide my students with the most accurate representation of Australia’s history; the good and the bad. I’ll ensure through my planning that I not only speak the names of the Indigenous people who shaped our history, but together we will learn and celebrate their achievements and acts of bravery and resilience.

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