Introductory activities

NOTE: Welcome to Country: Youth Edition is a general guidebook to support cultural competence and the understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. It is highly recommended as a professional learning resource for any educator in any learning area or year group. It is also a valuable text to support student understanding across the curriculum; it would be especially pertinent to HASS, Science and the Arts as well as English. See the comprehensive teachers’ notes on the Hardie Grant Publishing website.

This resource provides suggestions for linking Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country: Youth Edition to a study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poetry in an English unit. This could be easily adapted to English units in other year levels and paired with any novels or films dealing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

Pre-European life in Australia

The first chapter of this book, ‘Prehistory’, summarises some of the archaeological, historical, scientific and cultural evidence of Aboriginal occupation of the Australian continent for 65,000 years or more. It discusses:

  • key rock art sites
  • Lake Mungo evidence of human burials dated 35,000 years ago
  • historical records pieced together in Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia
  • the seminal text on Aboriginal agriculture and complex societies, Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu
  • stories and art as records of the past, including a map that shows 21 sites where stories passed down for 7,000 years refer to sea levels rising and inundating Australia after the last Ice Age
  • the clues that shell middens give us about Aboriginal life
Timeline activity

Students will have learned about the ‘Out of Africa’ theory for the movement of peoples across the globe in Year 7 History. They will also have learned about Ancient Greece/Rome/Egypt in Year 7 History (and in popular culture). Challenge students to think more deeply about Ancient Australian history and where it sits in relation to this previous learning.

Have students contribute to a visual timeline around your classroom, corridor or school grounds to contextualise prehistory, ancient history, and post-colonial history. The following resources may be useful:

When did modern humans get to Australia?’ by Fran Dorey (Australian Museum) This resource contests the ‘Out of Africa’ theory and presents new evidence of human movement, as well as setting out some key evidence of ancient Australian inhabitants.
Prehistoric period (until 1050 AD) (National Museum of Denmark) This resource outlines Denmark’s prehistory, from the Mesolithic period to the Viking Age, from the Scandinavian perspective.
Timeline: the evolution of ancient empires’ by Peter Jones (History Extra) This resource, originally written for BBC History, presents significant moments in the timeline of the world’s ‘first great civilisations’, highlighting key events in Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Chinese and Mayan societies.
Australian colonisation and the post-colonial eras of protection, assimilation, self-determination and reconciliation Explained simply in the history section of ‘Working With Indigenous Australians’ (Muswellbrook Shire Council), and in more detail on the BlackWords Historical Events Calendar (AustLit).

Select the appropriate resource for your class, allocate sections to groups of students, and have them summarise and present information on cards (with images) for the class timeline.

For another visual, see the timeline at the bottom of the Discover Murray River ‘Aboriginal communities’ page, which plots time from the original Lake Mungo inhabitants to the Murray River people today.

Frontier conflict

Documenting First Nations’ experiences of colonisation may lead to a discussion of the frontier conflict and massacres of the 19th century. Covering this sensitive and confronting content is an essential part of ‘truth-telling’ and presenting a true version of history. It is important to liaise with the local Aboriginal community and families regarding the best approaches to this topic, as well as any sensitivities. The SBS Learn teacher notes for Occupation: Native provide some useful tips for setting up challenging topics in the classroom. It is also important to carefully debrief with all students to support their reactions and responses to the information. A useful reflection exercise would be to draw students’ attention to healing, focusing on uplifting and inspiring stories and quotes from First Nations people. The final chapter of Welcome to Country: Youth Edition (‘Looking to the future for Indigenous Australia’) may provide some ideas.

If appropriate for your class and context, and with some careful introduction, students can look at the Colonial Frontier Massacres Map available from the University of Newcastle. They can read about how these massacres were represented historically, and how they were hidden or denied by the government and colonising communities. This research provides rich opportunities to discuss how an ‘Australian’ history and identity is managed and portrayed, and to consider who is silenced in the process (see the related article from The Guardian). Students could identify events on the map that occurred close to their school and add these to the class timeline. Further context and information can be found in the Australian Museum’s Unsettled exhibition, led by First Nations academics and curators, and in the accompanying learning journey.

Culminating discussion

Once the class timeline has been established, draw out some key discussion points with students:

  1. Did you notice how much longer Indigenous Australian societies have existed compared to the Ancient Greek/Roman/Egyptian societies you learned about in Year 7, or the Vikings we mythologise and idolise in popular culture?
  2. How impactful is it to visualise the length of Aboriginal occupation of this continent, compared to the length of European occupation?
  3. Considering all the atrocities that have been committed against the Indigenous peoples and the environment of this continent – as well as the length of time it has taken for these atrocities to amass and have a serious impact – what observations can you make? See this Guardian article for useful facts about the destruction of the landscape since colonisation.
  4. What is interesting about Peter Jones’ timeline of ancient empires? Why are these the civilisations promoted and discussed in popular media, on school syllabuses, etc.? Read the timeline’s subheading and respond to it by asking: whose perspective is this? Whose perspective are we missing?
  5. How important is it to educate people about Ancient Australia and the post-colonial eras of protection, assimilation, self-determination and reconciliation? What difference will it make if we equip future generations with this knowledge and understanding?

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Resources to support an alternative view of pre-colonial Indigenous societies and continuing land management practices
  • Reading Australia’s teaching resource for Dark Emu (book by Bruce Pascoe, resource by John Thomas and Ben Wilson) interrogates the ‘mainstream’ view of Australian history, discussing how point of view and selective representation influence the ways in which histories are presented and understood. This unit supports students to investigate theories of ‘civilisation’ and Aboriginal law, and to develop informed opinions about the pervading ‘deficit view’ that Indigenous Australians were not productive users/owners of the land (i.e. terra nullius: the view that ‘justified’ colonisation). You can read an excerpt from Dark Emu here.
  • The website for Mungo National Park includes videos from Aboriginal elders, scientific and archaeological explanations and images, and geographical information about the area.
  • Through Our Eyes is a documentary project about Elders and knowledge-holders caring for Country in north-western NSW. Series 1 and Series 2 are available on YouTube.
  • Resources about connection to Country – specifically, Aboriginal connections to water – are available here.
  • ABC Education has produced some short videos about caring for Country:
  • You can read about shell middens from the following regions:

Personal response on reading the text

You can introduce the following general discussion points after a first reading of Welcome to Country: Youth Edition. Fuller engagement with the text, in conjunction with analysis of First Nations poetry, is covered in the Close Study section.

  1. What was your reaction to reading about frontier violence in Chapter 2 (‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and post-colonial history’)? Have you come across the term ‘frontier wars’ before? How do you think Australian society, and schools, should deal with this side of our history?
  2. Had you known about or considered the perspectives of First Nations LGBTQIA+ communities before reading Chapter 2? What interested you in this section?
  3. It is not often recognised that First Nations communities are incredibly resilient. What have you learned about the continuing cultural and spiritual connections that First Nations peoples maintain with Country, ancestors and traditional knowledges?
  4. What do you understand about the connection between language and culture? Does this enhance your perspective on protection and assimilation policies, which banned the use of Indigenous languages? See the missions, stations and reserves page on the AIATSIS website.
  5. What does kinship law mean, and what are its benefits? How do you think Aboriginal societies would have been impacted by colonial government practices that contradicted and ignored this law?
  6. What are some key examples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledge of the land and the environment (e.g. fire use, astronomy)?
  7. What are some of the ways in which art and performance (e.g. dance, song, film) can preserve culture, challenge stereotypes, fight against colonial viewpoints and assert a modern, empowered First Nations identity and culture?
  8. Reflect on the Stolen Generations and the political imperative behind them – what are the contradictions in the narratives around ‘protection’ and ‘assimilation’?
  9. In what ways have self-determination and activism around citizenship and land rights improved conditions for First Nations communities?
  10. How can you, as a citizen, contribute positively to reconciliation and change for the better?

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Synthesising task

An oral presentation

This is both a culminating task for the Initial Response section and a preparatory task for the analysis of First Nations poetry. It does not require sophisticated literary analysis, but rather acts as a ‘way in’ to considering how First Nations artists express themes of survival and hope for the future.

On p. 116 of her teachers’ notes, Melinda Sawers identifies survival and reconciliation as the main ideas in Welcome to Country: Youth Edition. Students are to select 2–3 examples where these ideas are evident in the text, and link them to a song by a First Nations artist that they feel exemplifies the themes of survival and/or reconciliation. They will need to justify their choices and highlight key quotes from the song that they feel are particularly powerful and effective.

Suggested songs for this task include:

Students should present their responses with an accompanying Prezi, PowerPoint or Captivate project, sharing the lyrics and playing part of the song where possible.

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Reading the text through comparisons with poetry

This section contains a range of activities and suggestions through which Langton’s Welcome to Country: Youth Edition can be applied to a study of First Nations writing (predominantly poetry). Most First Nations literature is so embedded with cultural and historical references that it is impossible to analyse them without the understandings that Langton summarises. The information in her text can be unpacked and understood in an empathetic way through the political (some would say emancipatory) texts of First Nations writers, which weave historical fact, personal experiences and story together.

Chapter 2: ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and post-colonial history’

Frontier wars and massacres

This chapter outlines Cook’s possession of Australia and the ensuing brutality that has scarcely been recorded or commemorated (see the University of Newcastle’s work in this area under Initial Response > Frontier Conflict). Jeanine Leane’s poem ‘The Colour of Massacre’ is a powerful record of this history in poetic form.

Leane summarises Australia’s historical minimisation of Aboriginal massacres on lines 14–30. The use of exclamation marks suggests uneasiness with this ‘whitewashed’ view of history; the narrative pushed by indignant ‘right wing historians’ sits precariously on the carpet under which the real story has been swept.

In a clumsy appropriation of First Nations’ cultural practice, these historians try to ‘sing’ the new historical narrative into being (lines 7–10). The nervous energy in this stanza is palpable, highlighting the fact that no authentic reconciliation or peace can be achieved until there is truth-telling.

Leane then cleverly juxtaposes Aboriginal genocide with the Port Arthur massacre (lines 38–44). In comparing the responses to massacres on Australian land, she provokes the reader to consider the titular question of the colour of massacre (lines 45–47).

Students can explore and compare the history of colonial massacres, the views of former Prime Minister John Howard, and the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. While no loss of life should be trivialised, and while we may agree with Howard’s response to the Port Arthur event, what is poignant about these comparisons?

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Ancestral connections and ‘deep time’

Langton emphasises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples maintain strong and varied connections to Country, ancestors and prehistory. At the same time, it refutes past popular beliefs that these peoples were stuck in the Stone Age and incapable of adaptation or change.

Tony Birch writes about the ancient Birrarung river (known as the Yarra River in Melbourne) and the concept of ‘deep time’: the prehistory and epoch of time 40,000–60,000+ years ago. First Nations peoples’ ancestors carry this history down through the generations, never forgotten, but any consciousness of it in broader Australian society has – until recently – been ‘sleeping’.

As part of the Six Walks series commissioned by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Birch walks the Birrarung and tells stories about the local area. He recites excerpts from his 2015 novel Ghost River and his 2021 poetry collection Whisper Songs (there is an explicit language warning here). You can access this episode of Six Walks as both a podcast and a transcript.

Birch’s writing, steeped in place and people, not only asserts First Nations’ connections to land and ancestry; it also infuses the cultural landscape with a new post-colonial identity and expression that, while changed, remains distinctly Indigenous. Urban cultures and landscapes marry with a reverent acknowledgement of the Dreaming.

Some language features and discussion points of note in these poems:

‘Swimming Whole’ This poem highlights the Indigenous connection to Country and relationship with the land: it is part of ancestral connection, cultural knowledge, religion and health.

Line 1 plays on the word ‘current’, emphasising the unbroken line from ancestors to the present.

Lines 11–12 allude to the Dreaming as a religion and connection to Country as an important factor in health and wellbeing.

‘The Arteries’ This is a powerful poem about the environmental destruction brought about by modern society, focusing on the development of Melbourne around the Birrarung.

Birch uses powerful imagery to describe the eight-lane highway overrunning the river (lines 4–6). He lingers on the irony that these roads were diverted away from wealthy suburbs so as not to disturb them (lines 10–12); we can wonder what might have happened had the same courtesy been extended towards First Nations’ communities. We see the lack of integrity in such decision-making and the reliance on lies to (re)assert colonial power.

Lines 13–17 pummel the reader with images of a land ravaged, abused and broken. Here the reader comes to understand the land as First Nations people do: it is part of us, we are part of it, and our history is buried within it. When its heart falters, so does ours. When the land is sick and devastated, so are we.

‘The Great Flood of 1971’ This homage to Country reminds us of Mother Earth’s ultimate power, surpassing any power that colonisers could ever have over a person or community.

The poem ends with the protagonist surrendering themselves to the storm (lines 12–20). This is a powerful image of redemption, cleansing and returning to Mother Earth, which (according to Dreaming stories and Aboriginal lore) occurs after death. All pain and suffering is healed and washed away by the sacred Birrarung. But nothing is forgotten, for the memories are forever held in Country’s presence (as we learned from the opening line of ‘Swimming Whole’).

Another related text is the short story ‘Split’ by Cass Lynch, originally published in Stories of Perth (ed. Alice Grundy) and reproduced in Flock: First Nations Stories Then and Now (ed. Ellen van Neerven). This story explores the parallel history of the Swan River in Perth, WA: both the ancient Aboriginal creation story from ‘deep time’ and the ‘re-creation’ of the river by colonisers, who gave it new banks and used dams to change its flow.

Students can complete a journal reflection on how First Nations’ connection to Country and ‘deep time’ has remained strong, while also adapting to the present.

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The unpaid workforce

Langton also refers to the various ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were exploited and enslaved in early settler history.

Fire Front: First Nations poetry and power today is a collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poetry edited by Gomeroi poet Alison Whittaker. In ‘Domestic’ (p. 20), Narungga activist-poet Natalie Harkin presents historical records of Aboriginal servants alongside her own searing commentary. This can be studied in conjunction with Whittaker’s ‘Many Girls White Linen’ (pp. 57–58). Rich with literary devices and powerful truth-telling, these poems would add depth to students’ reading of Langton’s chapter (see also the Fire Front teachers’ notes available from UQP).

Support students to discuss how the removal of traditional ways of surviving on the land led to the enslavement of Aboriginal peoples, who were forced to work for their own ‘protection’ (including clothing, housing and rations) and subjected to the abuse outlined by Harkin and Whittaker in Fire Front. Langton also notes that many communities could not access social security until the second half of the 20th century (p. 19); in what ways does this evidence, put together, challenge the narrative about ‘handouts’ given to Aboriginal people?

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Langton discusses the complexity of identity among a population that has been displaced, marginalised and actively removed from its cultures and languages. This identity is now re-emergent in various urban and reconstructed regional communities (pp. 20–21, 23–24, 29). Langton also dedicates some time to exploring gender identities and LGBTQIA+ identities among First Nations peoples (pp. 25–29).

Poems dealing with identity and belonging that could be studied together in an exploration of this topic:

Yúya Karrabúra (Fire is Burning)’ by Alice Eather On being of mixed heritage and walking two worlds.
Say my name’ by Meleika Gesa-Fatafehi On being of mixed heritage, how this is reflected in their name, and how important this name is to them (see the final three lines in the poem).

Commentary available from The On Being Project.

This topic acknowledges complex identities and how racism is perpetuated through Australian constructions of what is a ‘real Aborigine’. This was explored in the Australian media through the Eatock v Bolt decision of 2011. Wiradjuri author Anita Heiss released her own statement on the matter, while comedian, actor and writer Steven Oliver made a broader comment in ‘Real’, an accessible spoken word poem that he performed at the 2015 NAIDOC Awards.

Students can complete a double-entry journal reflecting on any personal connections they can make to these portrayals of identity:

  1. Do they face similar challenges or ignorance from others around their heritage?
  2. Do they feel uncomfortable or guilty if they don’t know much about their heritage?
  3. Do they feel they don’t have any heritage? Why?

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A good resource for LGBTQIA+ perspectives in First Nations communities is Ellen van Neerven’s short story ‘Each City’, originally published in Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories (ed. Michael Earp) and reproduced in Flock. ‘Each City’ challenges discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community by imagining a future (the year 2030) where such discrimination no longer exists:

Absolutely. Queer families are protected. Eight gender identities are acknowledged. We are very lucky. We do not have to go through the struggles you have to go through. We live in a safe place. It’s a great place. (Kindred, 2019, p. 201).

The irony is that the protagonist lives in exile because of her political views. In this story, the Australian Government is repeating past mistakes by moving First Nations populations into ‘Indigenous cities’, further dispossessing them of their land and cultural connections. The protagonist – an Aboriginal hip-hop activist – is suddenly ripped from her home and her loved ones and forced to flee the country in fear of political persecution. The dramatic nature of her high-risk existence is juxtaposed with mundane yet beautiful memories of her life with her partner:

I miss cooking with her and her toothbrush left beside the bed. (Kindred, 2019, p. 199).

Students can discuss the suggestion that, by 2030, discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality will cease, but persecution of First Nations people will continue (if not worsen):

  1. Can students imagine this possibility in Australia’s future?
  2. What about other issues, such as climate change?
  3. What issues do they see being resolved, worsening or staying the same – and why?
  4. What political motivations or community narratives will drive this?

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Chapter 3: ‘Language’

This chapter focuses on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages: the state of languages today, projects underway to reconstruct them, and the importance of language in the preservation and continuation of cultures.

The teachers’ notes for Welcome to Country: Youth Edition include some useful activities around Yolŋu languages (spoken in north-eastern Arnhem Land, NT) and Kriol. Pidgin, Kriol and Aboriginal English are adapted languages born out of dispossession and displacement. It was common for many tribal groups to be placed together in missions, away from their land, and to be banned from speaking their languages during the protection and assimilation eras. Hybridised languages and Aboriginal adaptations of English have therefore supported communication between First Nations peoples and, more importantly, a sense of identity and solidarity – even when the original aspects of culture have been lost. On top of this, Aboriginal English has developed in response to the more urbanised environments in which most Aboriginal communities now live. For more on hybridised languages and identity, see these resources from the 2014 AATE/ALEA National Conference.

First Nations writers can reclaim language and culture through their writing. Some good texts for exploring this concept are outlined below.

Yolŋu artist and Young Australian of the Year (2019) Baker Boy is an ambassador for young Indigenous people, and his track ‘Black Magic’ is an anthem of hope. As with much of his work, ‘Black Magic’ alternates between Yolŋu and English, with the Yolŋu verse encouraging Yolŋu kids (and Aboriginal kids in general) to be proud, know who they are, remember their culture, and overcome obstacles. By teaching Yolŋu Matha in this track, Baker Boy is empowering his listeners.

Burraga Gutya/Ken Canning’s poem ‘Old Clever Woman’, published in Fire Front (pp. 120–122), focuses on a spirit woman who has been sitting in the same spot since white colonists first came to her region. She places herself by the road to manage the non-Indigenous tourists coming through her Country by the busload. The reader gets the sense that she is a gatekeeper of sorts, steering these visitors (and their drinking, disease and physical/sexual violence) away from her community: ‘she keepin’ pink demon movin’ on’ (p. 122). The poem is written using Aboriginal English in ways that highlight the absurdity of non-Indigenous culture:

‘Slow dronin’ noise comin’ / along a road like one big firefly.’ (p. 120)
‘starin’ one – pink face. / They lot silly that one / sittin’ long – long time / on motor – hardly touchin’ earth.’ (p. 120) Ridicules the tourists who sit on the bus without setting foot outside – an absurd concept to someone so connected to Country.
‘click – click – click – click, / they just love picture, / no remember – head must be empty.’ (p. 121) Pokes fun at the tourists who photograph everything, suggesting that they have poor memories. Compare this to traditional Aboriginal cultures in which people remember landscapes, songlines and maps in their minds, painting them over and over as they share and uphold Dreaming stories.
‘put ‘em in big book. / Tell ‘em world they good, / they just love blackfella.’ (p. 121) Highlights the hypocrisy of the tourism industry: Australia projects to the rest of the world an image of pride in its ancient cultures, but in reality those cultures have been disrespected and desecrated.

At first glance, some readers may conflate the use of Aboriginal English with a lack of education or intelligence. Upon closer reading, however, there is no denying the Old Clever Woman’s perceptiveness and wisdom:

‘Click – click – same one, / gun – camera no matter, / all part of killin’ thing.’ (p. 121) Alludes to the uncomfortable relationship between black and white Australians, including the appropriation of cultures through the tourism industry (stealing art, taking images of sacred sites not intended for the public eye, etc.).
‘she knows but not tellin’.’ (p. 120) Suggests that the Old Clever Woman makes very conscious decisions about what information and aspects of her culture she will share.

Paul Collis’ poem ‘Cult-charr Jammer’, also in Fire Front (pp. 127–128), strings together popular phrases from urban Aboriginal culture while asserting that ‘Whitefullas got no cult-charr!’ (p. 127). The speaker compares their culture to that of ‘whitefullas’ by highlighting new urban cultural signifiers:

  • ‘With my arm fulla tatts’
  • ‘Deadly, un’a?’ (‘u’na’ or ‘unna’ = yeah, hey, isn’t that right)
  • ‘Always was / Always will be / ABORIGINAL LAND.’
  • ‘ Blak, proud and deadly …’
Further resources

Language diversity and adaptation are celebrated in two key initiatives by Red Room Poetry: Poetry in First Languages (PIFL) and Guwayu – For All Times.


Support students to reflect on how they feel reading these texts with language:

  1. Do you feel uncomfortable or confused? Accept and interrogate that feeling: how does it feel to be positioned as an ‘outsider’ who can only understand limited amounts of the text?
  2. What richness does language add to the texts? If you replace those words with their English translations, how does this change their impact?
  3. In what ways is the use of language empowering?

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Chapter 9: ‘Native Title’

This chapter outlines Eddie Koiki Mabo’s contribution to the land rights movement: having the declaration of terra nullius overturned in the High Court of Australia.

There are some useful resources about Mabo on pp. 90–91 of the Hardie Grant Publishing teachers’ notes. Another Reading Australia unit that deals with Native Title is the Year 12 teaching resource for Alex Miller’s Journey to the Stone Country.

A connected topic is the debate around Australia Day/Invasion Day, which provides a way in for students to reflect on land rights and dispossession. The following resources are recommended:

Invasion Day’ by Elizabeth Jarrett In this poem, Jarrett describes Australian history using words normally associated with the two World Wars and the September 11 attacks: words like ‘terrorism’, ‘genocide’, and ‘prisoners of war’. First Nations communities are often told to ‘get over it’ by Australians who are uncomfortable with truth-telling and reflecting on our history. Jarrett counters this by asking when Australia will move on from Anzac Day.
Hate He Said’ by Steven Oliver A poem in a similar vein to Jarrett’s. Oliver discusses the disconnection Aboriginal people feel from Australia Day.
‘The Grounding Sentence’ from Love Poems and Death Threats by Samuel Wagan Watson This prose poem (also published in Fire Front, pp. 46–48) reflects on an incident from 26 January 2006 when a teenager targeted Aboriginal people with an air gun. Wagan Watson’s discussion of identity, culture and history is interspersed with lines from the Australian National Anthem. He directly challenges our national identity as a multicultural nation that values ‘a fair go for all’, instead arguing that Aboriginal people continue to be controlled, endangered and ‘hunted’ as recently as 2006 (and sooner).
‘Kite’ from Born Into This by Adam Thompson This short story portrays the typical Australia Day beach scene through the eyes of an Aboriginal man. He thinks of the beach as a ‘demilitarised zone’ where race does not matter – but it is different on Australia Day. The Anglo-Australians have zinc on their faces: a cultural practice, their version of ochre. The sea of Australian flags makes the narrator feel uneasy (p. 191), and he does the ‘walk of shame’ carrying his Aboriginal flag-themed kite. Someone tells him to ‘fuck off with [his] Abo flag’ (p. 193), but he persists, and is soon amazed by the strength of the kite in flight. He compares it to the movement of muttonbirds (p. 194), which serves as a metaphor for the strength of his continuing culture.

The narrator senses that he has been somehow ‘divisive’, and the story ends when his kite accidentally injures a dog and he is approached by the police. We are reminded of how ‘political’ it is to be proud of one’s Aboriginality. Broader Australian society continues to manage, suppress and place conditions on Aboriginal cultural expression, and this is particularly heightened and keenly felt around 26 January.

For more support delving into this political debate, see the Australia Day/Invasion Day classroom resources from the Social & Citizenship Educators Association of Queensland (SCEAQ).

Chapter 10: ‘The Stolen Generations’

The experience of the Stolen Generations has been retold countless times in family histories, films, literature and other media. There are equally many victims and families who do not talk about it, as it is too painful to remember and articulate. This makes it all the more poignant and sacred when personal stories are offered to us.

Gunditjmara and Bundjalung songman and storyteller Archie Roach was famous for his song of the Stolen Generations, ‘Took the Children Away’. The song has been turned into a picture book (with a unit of work on Reading Australia), and a set of resources has been developed by the Archie Roach Foundation in collaboration with ABC Education and Culture is Life.

Alf Taylor’s short story ‘Wildflower Girl’ provides an intimate and heart-rending description of the moment a child is taken from her mother by the authorities.

‘Nanna Emily’s Poem (Mt Isa Cemetery 2014)’ by Declan Furber Gillick is an emotive, personal account of the poet’s father’s experience as a stolen child, taken with his sister and flown far from his Country to an island reserve. In this poem, also published in Fire Front (pp. 92–94), Gillick reflects upon this history while visiting his grandmother’s grave.

Synthesising task

NOTE: This website may be useful for revising poetry forms and techniques.

Students will select two poems or songs by First Nations artists to read, annotate and analyse. If possible, display each text on A3 paper and provide different coloured highlighters so that students can identify different features (alternatively, they can annotate the texts in Microsoft Word).

Students should make a key for their coloured highlights and annotate around the text to explain what they are identifying. Encourage them to include:

  • questions and comments they may have had while reading the text
  • personal connections with their own experiences, or identification with characters, places, events and issues
  • language and structural features, including imagery
  • contextual influences (e.g. biographical, historical, literary)
  • exploration of themes and ideas

Students will then choose ONE of their annotated texts and write a short analysis, drawing on the relevant section of Welcome to Country: Youth Edition to explain how their chosen text provides a deeper, more empathetic understanding of the topic.

Close reading is recommended to identify the subject matter/ideas being expressed or alluded to in the poems/songs, as well as the tone and mood being conveyed. The analysis of poetic elements (e.g. structure, language choices, imagery, rhythm, sound) should focus on how these aspects are conveyed and/or represented in the text.

Analysis frameworks include the SPECS and SLIMS models:











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Ways of reading the text

Postmodern critical theory interrogates 20th and 21st century societies with particular concern for the ‘other’. To recognise the continuing intergenerational trauma of a colonised people is to understand that it is not solely a response to the historical actions of unenlightened governments, but also to fresh traumas wrought daily by contemporary society and politics.

In this context, it is worth mentioning that many First Nations peoples do not consider Australia to be a post-colonial country. See the chapter ‘Post-Colonial – NOT!’ from Anita Heiss’ Dhuuluu Yala (to talk straight), reproduced as part of the online teaching guide for the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature.

The rhetoric around reconciliation in Australia has evolved to focus on cultural integrity, sensitivity and capability:

  • If we are to truly reconcile and move forward, workplaces and institutions need to demonstrate cultural integrity in approaching, including and catering towards the specific needs of First Nations peoples.
  • This requires cultural sensitivity and an understanding of diverse perspectives, remembering that First Nations peoples have been exposed to a myriad of traumas as a result of colonisation.
  • Organisations and systems cannot demonstrate this sensitivity and integrity unless the individuals who work for/associate with them take responsibility for developing their personal cultural capability.

Many people who are newly exposed to the realities of colonisation, and who are beginning to understand the extensive depth and value of First Nations’ cultural knowledge (such as that revealed in Dark Emu), are confused as to why this is not commonly known or systematically taught in schools. For this to change, educators must be proactive in developing their own personal cultural capability, while schools and the systems that govern them must embark on the journey toward cultural integrity in practice. The current Australian Curriculum review, which recommends teaching colonisation as having been experienced as an ‘invasion’ by First Nations peoples, is set to spark a national debate. This is a worthwhile consideration for the study of Welcome to Country: Youth Edition (see related articles in EducationHQ and The Guardian).

Comparison with other texts

The Close Study section of this resource highlighted key poems and short stories by First Nations writers that could easily connect with, and further enhance understanding of, the topics covered in Welcome to Country: Youth Edition. Below is a list of recommended personal development/cultural competency resources to help teachers build understanding and confidence in teaching these topics:

  • As was mentioned elsewhere in this unit, teachers’ notes for Welcome to Country: Youth Edition (written by Melinda Sawers) are available from Hardie Grant Publishing. They include a rich set of resources to develop background knowledge of key events, people and cultural considerations when teaching a First Nations’ historical perspective.
  • Riding the Black Cockatoo by John Danalis is the true story of an Anglo-Australian man’s journey of reconciliation. As an adult, John began to question his family’s possession of an Aboriginal skull and embarked on a journey to return it to its traditional owners. This non-fiction book (which reads like a novel) is marketed towards young adults, but it had an enduring impact on a teacher from the ACT – the late Viviane Gerardu – who believed it made for excellent professional development (find out more in this Q&A).
  • Anita Heiss, an authority on First Nations literature in Australia, has published some great resources to support teacher professional development. See her BlackWords essays, along with her memoir Am I Black Enough For You?, her edited anthology Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, and other works referenced throughout this unit.
  • Treading Lightly: The Hidden Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People is a collaboration between Swedish knowledge management professor Karl-Erik Sveiby and Nhunggabarra man Tex Skuthorpe. It explores storytelling and levels of meaning in Aboriginal stories, sustainability, and Aboriginal leadership in creating resilient societies.
  • The third edition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education, ed. Kaye Price and Jessa Rogers, provides an introduction to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and communities (2nd edition, 2015).

Trusted institutional resources


The following discussion questions about Welcome to Country: Youth Edition are designed to build on those from the Initial Response section, and to challenge students to consider the broader place of this text in Australian culture.

  1. Does this text place you in a better position to be ‘a well-informed ambassador for the long history of Australia, most of which was Aboriginal’ (p. xii), as Langton hoped? In what ways?
  2. What knowledge have you gained that you are surprised you had not already been taught?
  3. What do you feel are the most important concepts in this text that need to be taught across the Australian Curriculum to all students?
  4. In what ways do you think historical government attitudes and policies (outlined in Chapters 2 and 10) have influenced the broader Australian culture and way of life in terms of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people?
  5. Does the notion of Australia as a ‘racist’ country fit with your understanding of Australian identity and culture? Does this text help you understand why some people might feel this way?
  6. What do you see as the key issues that need to be addressed today in terms of Australia’s race relations and the lived experiences of First Nations peoples?
  7. How do you think Australia is seen internationally in relation to its past and current treatment of First Nations communities? How do we compare to our neighbours? See the ‘Additional Strategies’ for the Racism. No Way! lesson, ‘What about a treaty?’, comparing Australia’s terra nullius to New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi (1840) and Fiji’s Deed of Cession (1874).
  8. Langton makes the point that First Nations peoples have an ancient history in Australia and should therefore be recognised in our Constitution (p. 159). Consider this in relation to the recent debate around the line ‘we are young and free’ in our National Anthem, and its change in January 2021 to ‘we are one and free’. Does reading Welcome to Country: Youth Edition help explain why the word ‘young’ is not an accurate description of this country? Do you agree with the change to the National Anthem? Explain your position.
  9. While there are some challenging sections of this text that outline the reality of Australian history and some of the negative experiences of First Nations peoples, Welcome to Country: Youth Edition largely presents a positive view of resilient communities with leaders who are helping to revive language, protect and share culture, and lead positive change. In what ways does Langton avoid positioning First Nations peoples as victims with a hopeless future?
  10. If you wanted to correct someone who had a discriminatory or stereotypical opinion of First Nations peoples, what things would you say to try to provide a more positive view?

(ACELA1565)   (EN5-7D)   (ACELT1640)   (EN5-5C)   (ACELY1749)   (EN5-8D)   (ACELY1752)   (EN5-8D)

Reflection activity

Have students investigate a recent example of ongoing discrimination and dispossession of First Nations communities, including any action or movement for change. Select relevant stimulus material (e.g. articles, poems, songs, artwork) to promote discussion and further research.

Ideally, this material should draw upon current affairs that are local to your students. You could refer to National Sorry Day marches, Bridge Walks, and National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week activities, all of which reflect on the ongoing struggles and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Students could also work in groups to learn about different issues. Support them to find out what action is happening in the space, what is being led by First Nations communities, what is being supported by the wider community, and what the government response has been thus far.

Good sources of current media commentary on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs include:

A nationally recognised and highly controversial government policy that Aboriginal communities felt reinstated the ‘mission days’ culture of government control was the Northern Territory Intervention. Two great resources on the Intervention include:

A more recent issue (fuelled by the Black Lives Matter movement in the US) is the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by police, their experiences of the justice system, and a review of outcomes from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody:

Students should summarise the issue and their research findings in a 2-page explainer (refer to this example from The Conversation).

(ACELY1756)   (EN5-1A)   (ACELY1776)   (EN5-2A)   (ACELT1639)   (EN5-8D)

Rich assessment task (receptive and productive modes)

Ask students to become agents of change for the issue they have discussed and researched in the previous Reflection Activity. They are to craft a media response that calls for action, specifying what steps are needed and how others in the community can help the cause (students may find some pointers in this article about being a ‘good Indigenous ally’).

Some examples of media texts that call for action have been listed below:

Larger projects may be completed in groups.

Students must also submit a 300-word rationale that explains their editorial and design choices, how they have considered First Nations’ viewpoints, and how they would seek to collaborate and consult with First Nations communities if they launched the campaign outside of the class context.

The audience is the rest of the class. Depending on your school context, there may be scope for students to launch their campaigns beyond the classroom as part of community/leadership projects, pastoral care lessons or extra-curricular activities (if they are given support and time for true collaboration with local First Nations groups).

(ACELY1813)   (EN5-3B)   (ACELY1756)   (EN5-1A)   (ACELY1776)   (EN5-2A)   (ACELT1639)   (EN5-8D)

Synthesising core ideas

In ‘Teaching Indigenous Literature: An Ethics of Voice’ (published in Teaching Australian Literature: From Classroom Conversations to National Imaginings), Alice Healy Ingram writes about being a non-Indigenous educator teaching texts by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors. She makes the point that ‘Indigenous writing is necessarily political, whether the purpose is to speak back to past colonial injustices or to offer a more affirmative celebration of Indigenous people’. Similarly, in her Sydney Review of Books essay on Too Much Lip, Martu author Karen Wyld states that:

Writing is a political act, in the same way that surviving as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person in Australia is a political act. First Peoples’ literature is truth-telling and, sometimes, it provides a mud-map for us to move forward, together.

Finally, in an essay entitled ‘Too Little, Too Much’ (published in Fire Front), Bundjalung poet Evelyn Araluen traces the development of First Nations poetics and the ways in which non-Indigenous publishers have attempted to frame, control and ‘curate’ their work to make it more palatable for mainstream society.

Discuss these stimuli in light of students’ close study of Welcome to Country: Youth Edition and key First Nations poetry.

  • Refer students back to the Initial Response > Synthesising Task in which they discussed survival and reconciliation in both Langton’s text and a song by a First Nations artist. What richer understandings can they now add to their original oral presentations?
  • Read and discuss the Common Ground resources on truth-telling and the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
  • Have students summarise their responses in a journal reflection. An excellent and straightforward writing guide (with sentence starters and vocabulary assistance) is available from the Australian College of Applied Professions (ACAP), both online and as a PDF.

(ACELA1565)   (EN5-7D)   (ACELT1639)   (EN5-8D)   (ACELT1640)   (EN5-5C)   (ACELY1749)   (EN5-8D)   (ACELY1752)   (EN5-8D)

Rich assessment task (productive and receptive modes)

Write a discussion essay (1,000–1,500 words) in response to the following statement:

For First Nations peoples, writing is a political act that both represents and promotes the survival of their cultures and communities. Its reading by wider Australian audiences supports reconciliation.

Students may wish to structure their response around the following themes:

  • writing – and, indeed, surviving – is a political act (Wyld, 2018), given Australia’s colonial history and targeted attempts to decimate Indigenous populations and cultures
  • truth-telling is crucial for change to occur
  • reconciliation in practical terms – ‘a mud-map to move forward, together’ (Wyld, 2018)
  • broader political considerations that may challenge true reconciliation AND/OR ways to be positive agents of change

Students may draw upon their previous journal reflections, Close Study responses and Initial Responses, as well as class discussions and further research.

(ACELT1639)   (EN5-8D)   (ACELT1640)   (EN5-5C)   (ACELY1749)   (EN5-8D)   (ACELY1776)   (EN5-2A)   (ACELY1756)   (EN5-1A)