NOTE: This picture book is about the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families. The content is based on fact, but it may cause distress to Indigenous children and children with Indigenous family members. If you are teaching Indigenous children or children with Indigenous family members, please consult with their families before introducing this unit.

Connecting to prior knowledge

Commence with a formal Acknowledgement of Country. Tell students that they will be discussing matters relating to Indigenous Australia. Discuss what they know about the purpose of a formal Acknowledgement of Country.

Show students the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia and locate the name of the language group that is spoken where the lesson is taking place.

Ask students to research the name of the Indigenous language group that is spoken at their place of birth (if born in Australia) or where they first entered Australia (if born overseas). Explain that the language group boundaries are not exact or fixed; they can change over time, and some are still being researched.

Also look specifically at the Gunditjmara language group (shaded grey and includes Warrnambool, west of Melbourne). Talk about the sounds in this word, such as ‘tj’ coming together to make one sound and this being different to English words.

In this region, further inland, is Framlingham Forest. Look up images of this area; discuss the beauty of the native forest of stringybark and manna gum savannah, and the crystal clear Hopkins River. Also note images featuring the Aboriginal flag and photographs of Aboriginal families. The Traditional Custodians of the Framlingham Forest and Hopkins River are the Gunditjmara peoples.

Through teacher-led class discussion, create a T-chart that records what students know about Framlingham Forest (lefthand column) and any other questions they might have (righthand column). Keep the chart for later reference.

(ACELA1515)   (EN3-5B)   (ACELY1712)   (EN3-3A)

Exploring the text in context of our community, school and ‘me’

Watch the ABC Education video in which Archie Roach explains the story behind his song ‘Took the Children Away’. Through teacher-led class discussion, encourage students to reflect on Roach’s story and his comments about this part of Australian history.

Now read the book Took the Children Away with your class and discuss the focus words listed below. Identify instances where words are used by Indigenous Australians in a way that is special to their dialect:

Elder A person who is recognised by their community as a custodian of knowledge and lore, and who is permitted to pass this on to others
Spirits After death, an Aboriginal person’s soul lives on as a human, animal, plant or rock spirit. For example, Roach’s mother’s spirit is the wedge-tailed eagle and his father’s the red-bellied black snake; Ruby’s spirit is the pelican.
Circle A place where people come together, such as a meeting place, fireplace, campsite, waterhole or ceremonial site.
Dark day Refers to a day with tragic consequences, such as Invasion Day, or the day the authorities stole the Aboriginal children from their families.
Me and my brothers Grammatical structure differs from Standard Australian English, but is consistently used in the Aboriginal English social dialect.
Proud Being proud in identity, e.g. a proud Indigenous Australian.

In small groups, students are to explore other words used in Aboriginal languages that have transferred to Aboriginal English and Standard Australian English. Some examples might be bunji, cooee, yidaki, coolamon, woomera, Canberra (means ‘meeting place’ in Ngunnawal language), deadly, gammon, shakealeg, gubba, tidda, mob. Talk about the sounds in the words, such as ‘ng’ coming together to make one sound similar to ‘n’, and this being different to English words. For more information on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander words and phrases, see Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson’s book Nganga.

Also explore Aboriginal place names near your school and in the wider community. See the Wikipedia page on Australian place names of Aboriginal origin for guidance.

Visit the SBS website for a short interactive documentary on the true story of K’gari (Fraser Island, Queensland).

(ACELA1515)   (EN3-5B)   (ACELY1709)   (EN3-8D)

Rich assessment task

The Roach text uses particular language features. Have students read it again in small multi-ability groups, noting impactful examples of authorial choices and how these influence personal responses to the text. Come together as a whole class and discuss the points of conversation.

Some language features that may be discussed are:

  • The circle is an example of personification – it has human characteristics, such as being whole, being broken, being healed, and the reason people can link together.
  • ‘Dark day’ is a euphemism – it refers to tragic events that continue to cause deep pain when they are spoken about.
  • ‘They fenced us in like sheep’ is a simile – it compares the treatment of the stolen children by the authorities with the treatment of animals by farmers, making the description more vivid
  • ‘That mighty river of stars in the sky’ is a metaphor – it compares the Milky Way to a river without using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’

(ACELT1615)   (EN3-6B)

Responding to the text


Aboriginal missions, also known as ‘reserves’ and ‘stations’, were places to which Aboriginal people were forcibly relocated. Visit this website for a brief history of the Framlingham Aboriginal Station.

In a teacher-led class discussion, create a mind map of the human experience for residents at Framlingham Aboriginal Station. As students offer suggestions, encourage them to cluster their ideas into themes. This might necessitate some designing and redesigning of the mind map.

Identify the contributions that are stated literally in the book or website text (e.g. meat not provided) and those that can be inferred (e.g. a balanced diet not provided). Use the L (literal) and I (inferred) codes, as well as the B (book) and W (website) codes, for each point added to the mind map. This will help students to keep track of their sources as they make suggestions.

(ACELY1713)   (EN3-3A)

Rich assessment task

In the back of the book, Roach mentions that ‘Took the Children Away’ tells not just his or Ruby’s story, but the story of all children around the world who have been taken from their families. He also says that the song has become a healing song for these children and the families and communities that miss them.

In Australia, as part of the healing process, former Prime Minister (2008) Kevin Rudd offered an apology to the Stolen Generations. View his speech and read the transcript. Sorry Day, written by Coral Vass and illustrated by Dub Leffler, may also be useful.

Step students through the transcript. Draw attention to new vocabulary and ask questions to build literal and inferential comprehension, identifying the shades of meaning, feeling and opinion.

New vocabulary (left to right, top to bottom):

the Speaker the Clerk motion honour
mistreatment blemished righting the wrongs successive
inflicted profound grief descendants
indignity degradation respectfully resolving
continent embraces resolves harness
determination expectancy economic enduring
mutual origins stake

Discuss that strategies for interaction become more complex in the formal environment of the House of Representatives in Parliament House, Canberra. Review the video and identify the seating positions, including the spatial design of the House of Representatives. Explore the current seating plan, which lists the names of current members and the electorates they represent.

Note that the overall architecture is a ‘U’ shape (compared to Indigenous yarning circles) and that positions and roles are very specific. Some roles to note are Speaker, Clerk, Hansard, Serjeant-at-Arms, front bench and back bench. Note the golden (yellow) mace on the central table.

Another proactive way Indigenous people seek to heal is through the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Visit this website and watch the video that explains the statement and its history.

(ACELA1525)   (EN3-6B)   (ACELA1516)   (EN3-1A)   (ACELA1524)   (EN3-1A)   (ACELY1709)   (EN3-8D)

Examining text structure and organisation

The Roach text has three sections: the personal recount section, the ballad/song section and the photograph section.

Set up a retrieval chart with the lefthand column filled in as below. Label the second, third and fourth columns according to the three sections of the book. Note that, although Roach does not use headings, there are some textual features that denote a change from one text type to another. Some responses that students may offer to complete the chart are shown below.

Area of investigation Personal recount section Ballad/song section Photograph section
Primary or secondary source documents Primary source (firsthand evidence) Secondary source from Uncle Banjo’s memory (which is the primary source) Primary source (firsthand evidence)
Names given to human participants Personal names (helps to connect with reader) General pronouns such as ‘they’, ‘us’, ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘them’, ‘he’, ‘we’ Personal names (helps to connect with reader and to archive history)
Background of each page Border of photograph decorated with boomerangs (represents coming back)

Watermarks of animal spirits and flora, complete circles (unbroken)

Watermarks of meeting circles and travel between groups mostly complete at the front of the book; start to fade and disappear as the ballad/song progresses; return on final page when the children came back Watermarks of complete circles (unbroken)
Images used Photograph of Ruby and Archie

The wedge-tailed eagle and red-bellied black snake made into a logo

Contrasting images of (i) black penned children in ceremonial dress, facial emotions clear, and (ii) colour depictions of the authorities’ arrival, characters often faceless, flora and fauna absent Very personal images, faces shown looking at camera, confident and proud

Split the class into four groups, each with their own copy of the book and a piece of butcher’s paper. Choose four pages from the text and assign one to each group. Students are to respond to the images on their assigned page, identifying what they can see and infer. Some observations might be:

Paddock scene (pp. 6–7) top-down camera angle to show that the participants are powerless

students in a paddock, fenced in like sheep; an adult has a shepherd’s crook to manage the ‘sheep’

some children are very young (wearing nappies)

the students are all dressed alike, which takes away their individual identity; the adults (authority) are allowed to keep their identity

Reading, writing, praying scene (pp. 8–9) bottom-up camera angle to show power, but the students are faceless, so we don’t know how they feel about this context

absence of flora and fauna

students are being assimilated into someone else’s culture (written knowledge) and religion (praying)

Welfare and police scene (pp. 10–11) bottom-up camera angle showing the power of the welfare and police officers

they have their heads held high; compare to the fear in the eyes of the Aboriginal people in jail

welfare and police set up as different agencies, but have similar clothing and operate the same way (rounding up and locking up Aboriginal people, taking them away from their community and culture)

only two choices: welfare or prison

the word ‘care’ is added to ‘Foster Care’ and ‘Adoption Care’ to hide the injustices

compare to the drawing of the Aboriginal child on the opposite page, painted with the earth and wearing ceremonial dress made from local flora

Campfire page (pp. 22–23 bottom-up camera angle, so the participants are supposed to feel empowered, but they aren’t

the fire symbolises the conflict between Aboriginal identity and European training (sitting in school uniform reading books around the campfire)

students are caught between two worlds and may feel as though they don’t belong in either

we are close enough to see the expressions on their faces, and they are not joyful

the stars in the sky are the Dreaming spirits of people who have passed on

compare to the drawing of the Aboriginal child on the opposite page, painted with the earth and wearing ceremonial dress made from local flora

(ACELY1713)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELT1616)   (EN3-5B)   (ACELY1708)   (EN3-7C)   (ACELT1616)   (EN3-5B)

Examining grammar and vocabulary


Some participants in the ballad/song are not named, and are instead referred to using pronouns such as ‘they’, ‘us’, ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘them’, ‘he’ and ‘we’. Other pronouns refer not to people, but to events or abstract nouns (e.g. ‘it’, ‘that’, ‘this’). Read through the text again so students can identify who or what is being referred to by each pronoun. Also discuss why the author has chosen to use general pronouns rather than refer to individuals by name. In the ABC Education video, Roach says that the book tells not just his story, but that of many other people throughout Australia (2:09–2:36).


Read the Wikipedia entry for Framlingham, Victoria and discuss literal comprehension. Identify complex sentences in the entry and focus on the purpose of the subordinating conjunction. Some key sentences are below:

Second paragraph Sentence beginning ‘In the decades’ uses ‘as’ to elaborate idea

Sentence beginning ‘After various attempts’ uses ‘After’ as a sequencing conjunction

History, 1840s Sentence beginning ‘A store opened’ uses ‘in order to’ as a causal conjunction (explaining cause)
History, 1861 Last paragraph, sentence beginning ‘When the reserve’ uses ‘When’ as a time conjunction and ‘although’ as a conjunction of concession

Last paragraph, sentence beginning ‘As parts of’ uses ‘until’ and ‘when’ as time conjunctions

History, 1970–1987 Last paragraph, sentence beginning ‘Although the title’ uses ‘Although’ as a conjunction of concession

Last paragraph, sentence beginning ‘The Kirrae Whurrong Aboriginal Corporation’ uses ‘in order to’ as a causal conjunction (explaining cause)

Conduct a word study (Latin and Greek roots, prefixes and suffixes) based on the texts examined so far. Split students into small multi-ability groups and ask them to explore the etymology of one word from the following retrieval chart. Each group will report back with their findings to complete the chart.

Focus word Source text Origin Root word Meaning Word family
acknowledgement Acknowledgement of Country Middle English ‘knowledge’ which means ‘to know’ to show you know acknowledge, acknowledged; know, knowledge; known, unknown
humiliate Roach Latin ‘humus’ which means ‘earth/ground’ make someone feel ashamed or low humiliation, humble, humbled, humiliating, humiliated, humility
prejudice Roach Latin ‘praejudicium’ with means ‘judgement in advance’ or ‘pre-judgement’ negative judgement of someone based on their membership of a particular group prejudices, unprejudiced, prejudicial, prejudicious
connect Roach Latin ‘conectere’ which means to ‘join together’ to bring together connection, connective, connector, disconnect, interconnect, reconnect, unconnected, connectivity, connectedness
complete Roach Latin ‘completes’ which means ‘full’ fulfill, finish a task completeness, completely, incomplete, complement, comply, replete
foster Roach Old English ‘fostrian’ which means ‘to supply with food, nourish, support’ to supply with food, nourishment and support fostering, fostered, foster mother, foster child, foster care

(ACELY1712)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELA1520)   (EN3-6B)   (ACELY1709)   (EN3-8D)   (ACELA1525)   (EN3-6B)   (ACELA1526)   (EN3-4A)

Rich assessment task

Play the music video for ‘Took the Children Away’. Roach was a much younger man when he recorded this.

Students are to view five scenes from the video and talk about the significant visual design features. Distribute a task sheet with the timestamp and focus columns filled in, and have students complete the impact column. Some possible responses are outlined in the table below.

Timestamp Focus Impact of visual design
0:08 Archie is sometimes shown in shadows, or looking away from the camera This indicates how sensitive the topic is, and how difficult it is to talk publicly
1:06 Close up of Archie’s face Sometimes the camera comes very close to Archie’s face so we can see his emotions
2:33–3:03 Pans through the car journey The movement from home to the mission is shown by footage of a car journey, moving from the forest to the farms and into the industrial areas of the city
3:09 The camera angle changes to top-down This is to show Archie’s lack of power; compare to the bottom-up view at the end of the video when the children have come back
4:57 Changes to use of colour Identifies the current time

View Indigenous Film Services’ short film for Reconciliation Australia, ‘The Apology’ (5:49). Discuss the storyboarding of this film, including dominant camera angles and breaks between visual and worded images. Also discuss the power of the range of visual and language devices.

(ACELT1617)   (EN3-7C)

Play Amnesty Switzerland’s YouTube clip ‘Human rights in two minutes’ (2:33).

Allow students to just watch the first time. Then set them up in small multi-ability groups, each with their own device. Suggest that they play the clip again with CC (closed captions) on.

Give each group a few of the questions below, then discuss the answers as a class.

  1. Fact or fiction: were dinosaurs living in caves in the mountains? What is the evidence from the clip?
  2. What are atrocities? Explain this in your own words.
  3. What are values? Explain this in your own words.
  4. What is a declaration? What is a declaration of human rights? Explain this in your own words.
  5. In the context of this video, what does ‘adopted’ mean?
  6. What is the UN General Assembly?
  7. What does ‘translated’ mean?
  8. What are rights? Explain this in your own words.
  9. What are some of the civil and political liberties listed in the clip?
  10. What does ‘interdependent’ mean? Explain this in your own words.
  11. What is a violation of a right? Explain this in your own words.
  12. What are some of the economic, social and cultural rights listed in the clip?
  13. Is the UN Declaration of Human Rights legally enforceable?
  14. What is a collective conscience? Explain this in your own words.

(ACELA1525)   (EN3-6B)   (ACELY1712)   (EN3-3A)

Rich assessment task

Working in small groups, students are to identify the violation(s) of human rights that took place on Framlingham Aboriginal Station from 1861–1890. They will produce a 3–5 minute multimodal persuasive text to convince a reader/viewer/listener that Framlingham Aboriginal Station violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The persuasive text should have the following structure:

  • Title
  • Opening statement (grab the reader’s attention and clearly state your position)
  • Main body made up of at least three paragraphs, each with their own argument and supporting evidence
  • Conclusion (remind the reader of your position and leave them with something to think about)

Each group will present its persuasive text as an oral presentation with purposeful and persuasive background images. These should be displayed via PowerPoint while the oral presentation is being delivered.

(ACELY1711)   (EN3-1A)   (ACELY1713)   (EN3-3A)   (ACELY1714)   (EN3-2A)   (ACELY1715)   (EN3-2A)

As a concluding activity, loop back to the Uluru Statement from the Heart (see the Rich Assessment Task from the Responding section) and invite students to consider what action they might take.