Celebrating NAIDOC Week

  • Published on July 7, 2017

This week, from 2 – 9 July, is NAIDOC Week in Australia with celebrations occurring all around the country. The purpose of the week is to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Islander Peoples and acknowledge their contributions to our country. The acronym NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.

The theme of this year’s celebration is Our Languages Matter. When Europeans first arrived in Australia a little more than 200 years ago, more than 250 Indigenous languages were in use across the land. As the languages were spoken, not written, many of these languages have been erased. Fewer than half that number remain, and many of the young people are no longer familiar with the language of their ancestors.

According to the NAIDOC website,

“The 2017 theme – Our Languages Matter – aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.”

This article in the Conversation provides a little more information about Australian Indigenous languages and the Dreaming.

By now, NAIDOC Week celebrations are almost over, and most Australian school children are enjoying their mid-year break. However, many teachers will be looking for ways to share the celebrations with their students when school resumes. As any time is a good time to incorporate learning about Indigenous culture and history, in this post, I provide links to resources and suggestions you can use with your class in celebrating NAIDOC Week, or at any time of the year.

The NAIDOC website has some suggestions to get you started, and you can download a free copy of the 2017 NAIDOC Week poster there too. You can also check out their calendar for events near you.

Check out ABC Splash for a great Indigenous Language Song Competition that runs until 18 August. Schools are required to work with their local indigenous community in translating, singing and recording a song. There’s lots of support on the website.

Other suggestions:

Little J and Big Cuz, an animated series for early years children (K – 2), launched on NITV in late April. The series is about Little J, who’s five, and Big Cuz, who’s nine. They live with with their Nanna and Old Dog and, with the help of Nanna and their teacher, learn about culture, community and country. Each episode is supported by numerous teaching suggestions and resources for both classroom and home. While the resources, developed by ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research) and Indigenous Educational Consultants, were written with Indigenous Australian children in mind, the stories will have wide appeal.

The website Creative Spirits holds a wealth of information about Australian Indigenous culture. It includes many free resources for teachers and students, and has a bundle of NAIDOC Week resources available for a small cost. The website is curated by Jens Korff, an Australian-born German who, faced with the lack of readily available authentic information about Indigenous culture, decided the situation needed to change. Jens says,

“My decision for Creative Spirits was to write quality articles, fully referenced, and give voice to Aboriginal people as much as I can.”

Magabala Books, an Indigenous publishing house based in Broome W.A. “committed to publishing quality, culturally significant literature”, is a great place to source stories by Indigenous authors and illustrators. Their website includes classroom resources that support many of their publications. I recently interviewed Gregg Dreise, author and illustrator of Kookoo Kookaburra which, along with his other books Silly Birds and Mad Magpie, was published by Magabala Books.

Educate.Empower has a list of Books that have Indigenous links. Accompanying the list is a short synopsis or explanation of each book with suggestions for using the book in the classroom or at home. There are also links to the Australian curriculum where appropriate and, sometimes, additional follow-up activities.

The following books, from my personal collection, are also suitable for celebrating Australia’s Indigenous culture with young children. The list  is available to download free as a pdf in Cultural studies. Of course, there are many other wonderful books available. This is just a selection.

The Papunya School Book of Country and History, produced by staff and students at the Papunya School, begins

“At Papunya School, ngurra – country – is at the centre of our learning. It is part of everything we need to know.

We learn about our history and our country from our elders and our community. We learn by going to our country, by living there and being there. We learn through the Tjukurrpa yara – The Dreaming stories. We learn through the different songs and dances and paintings, that belong to different ngurra.

But as well as learning in this traditional way, we can also find out about our country and our history by putting some of the pieces of the story into a book. That’s two way learning: Anangu way, and Western way.”

Beautifully illustrated and explained, the book helps to develop understanding of our history and the people who lived, and live, in it. These understandings help build connections that strengthen reconciliation. It is not a book for reading in one sitting.

Say Yes, A Story of Friendship, Fairness and a Vote for Hope by Jennifer Castles tells of two young girls whose friendship is strong despite the attempts of segregation to keep them apart; and of the 1967 referendum in which Australian people voted overwhelmingly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to be recognised as people in the Constitution. It is a beautiful picture book with much to discuss.


Stradbroke Dreamtime is a collection of stories by Indigenous author, poet, and political activist Oodgeroo. The stories, beautifully illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft, tell of Stradbroke Island and of the Old and New Dreamtime. Some stories are from Oodgeroo’s own life, and others from those of her ancestors.


Stories from the Billabong are ten traditional stories of the Yorta-Yorta people retold by James Vance Marshal and illustrated by Francis Firebrace. In addition to the Dreamtime stories, the book includes information about Aboriginal Australians, a glossary, and a guide to Aboriginal symbols and their meanings. Children will enjoy hearing stories of creation, including How the Kangaroo got her Pouch and Why the Platypus is such a special creature.

Kookoo Kookaburra

Kookoo Kookaburra, written and illustrated by Gregg Dreise, inspired by the stories of his people, is a modern story of kindness, respect and friendship.

once a boy

Once there was a boy, written and illustrated by Dub Leffler (another Magabala publication) is a beautiful book about a boy who lived alone on an island until, one day, a girl came. When the boy leaves to gather food, he tells the girl to not look under his bed. Should he trust her? Can she overcome her curiosity to honour his request? This book about friendship, trust, temptation, and reconciliation has many themes for discussion. The Copyright Agency Reading Australia has some suggestions for teachers on its website.

Many books retell stories from the dreamtime, including:

The Quinkins, by Percy Trezise and Dick Roughsey, is a story about mythical dreamtime creatures, the friendly Timaras and the evil Imjims.


Luurnpa The Magical Kingfisher, told by Bai Bai Napangarti, is a dreamtime story of the Kukatja people of Western Australia.


Wargan the Crow, retold by Cindy Laws, is a dreamtime story of the Boorooberongal/Darkingjung people of New South Wales.

Tasmanian tiger got stripes

How the Tasmanian Tiger Got Its Stripes, told by Leigh Maynard, is a dreamtime story of the Nuenonne people of Bruny Island off the coast of Tasmania.

why koala cries

Why the Koala Cries, told by Della Walker Sr, is a dreamtime story of the Yaegl people of New South Wales.

A popular series of Aboriginal dreamtime stories retold by Pamela Lofts include:

4 booksWhen the snake bites the sun

How the birds got their colours

The echidna and the shade tree

Dunbi the owl


Tiddalick The frog who caused a flood, by Robert Roennfeldt is a retelling of an Aboriginal dreamtime story.

last of tribe

The Last of His Tribe, a poem written by Henry Kendall in 1864 and republished with illustrations by Percy Trezise and Mary Haginikitas, is a sad but beautiful reflection on a history of loss and loneliness.

An internet search of “Youtube Aboriginal Legends” will produce a list of many videos. Be sure to preview them for suitability before showing to children.

I hope you find this list of books and resources helpful. Most of the books are available for purchase in stores or online, or for borrowing from your school or local library. Be sure to ask the librarians for their recommendations as they will have many more available.

This list of Indigenous Australian picture books and resources is available to download free as a pdf in Cultural studies.

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    This is lovely to read about, Norah. The whole world needs to celebrate history and culture. Not to mention acknowledging contributions that helped shape their country. What a fantastic collection of books! I’m going to check out some of these wonderful links here, too. I’ll say one thing that really made me smile: “Schools are required to work with their local indigenous community in translating, singing and recording a song.” 🙂

    Thank so much for reading and commenting, Sarah. Isn’t it wonderful that schools must work with their local indigenous communities to enter this competition? I hope it encourages many to do so. We have a lot to learn from each other. History and culture are just one part of it. Understanding, empathy, and acceptance are even more important.

    Thanks, Christy. I’m pleased your enjoyed the post. It is very important to honour our indigenous cultures.

    It sure is! I’m pleased we agree. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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