National Reconciliation Week in the classroom

  • Published on May 24, 2019

National Reconciliation Week in the classroom

Next week, from 27 May until 3 June is National Reconciliation Week. It follows National Sorry Day which is observed on 26 May each year.  The theme for National Reconciliation Week this year is “Grounded in Truth. Walk Together with Courage.”

With Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures one of the cross-curricular priorities of the Australian Curriculum, this is a perfect time to ensure enough is being done to provide “the opportunity for all young Australians to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, deep knowledge traditions and holistic world views.”

Teachers are supported in delivering the curriculum with a richness of information on the National Reconciliation Week website and teaching resources on the Reconciliation Australia Narragunnawali website. Narrangunnawali is a comprehensive resource with much to explore and implement, including RAPS (Reconciliation Action Plans), Professional Learning, Curriculum Resources and Awards.

 Additional resources

Little J and Big Cuz, an animated series for early years children (K – 2). 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 others available for a small cost.

Young Dark Emu A Truer History by Bruce Pascoe

The recent publication of Young Dark Emu A Truer History by Bruce Pascoe, while aimed at upper primary and older readers, should be mandatory reading for all teachers. It is an excellent and accessible introduction to the truth of Australia’s past, before Europeans arrived. Through it, Bruce Pascoe “asks young readers to consider a different version of Australia’s history pre-European colonisation.”

Dimity Powell’s review provides you with a wonderful overview. She begins by saying,

“For those of you who are not familiar with Dark Emu, this younger reader rendition by Bruce Pascoe will soon bring you up to speed. Young Dark Emu: A Truer History not only depicts Australia’s pre-European colonisation, it gently prompts school-aged readers to consider a different version of this history.”

and concludes with the recommendation,

“Young Dark Emu easily fits into classroom discussions about cultural-awareness, and should be mandatory for providing a balanced and accurate understanding of our Nation’s history. After all, isn’t that paramount for moving forward.”

Surely acknowledging that history is necessary for reconciliation and fits perfectly with this year’s theme “Grounded in Truth. Walk Together with Courage.”

(While information from the publisher states the book will be available from 1 June, I purchased my copy from the Queensland Museum on 22 May.)

Picture books

 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.

Kookoo Kookaburra

In 2017, I 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.

In the interview, Gregg explained that Kookoo Kookaburra is based on the old yarn about “kindness is like a boomerang. If you throw it often – it comes back often. If you never pick it up and throw it – then it can never come back.” It was said that a kookaburra’s laugh is there to remind us to say or do something kind. That kindness will then come back to you with happiness and laughter. The next time you hear a kookaburra laugh – that is your reminder to say or do something kind.

Gregg has a beautiful new book out, published just this month by Puffin Books – Penguin Random House Australia, My Culture and Me.

Check out Gregg’s song through which he tells you about his book and his passion for sharing his culture.

Say Yes a Story of Friendship, Fairness and a Vote for Hope

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, held on 27 May, 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.

Papunya School Book of Country and History

The Papunya School Book of Country and History, produced by staff and students at the Papunya School. Beautifully illustrated and explained, the book helps to develop understanding of Australia’s history and the people who lived, and live, in it. These understandings help build connections that strengthen reconciliation.

Stradbroke Dreamtime

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.

Once There Was a Boy

Once there was a boy, written and illustrated by Dub Leffler, is a beautiful book about a boy living alone on an island until, one day, a girl comes. 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 to discuss. The Copyright Agency Reading Australia has some suggestions for teachers on its website.

You and Me Murrawee

You and Me Murrawee tells of a young girl camping beside a river in Australia with her family. She imagines what life would have been like for the people living there two hundred years ago. She imagines a friend Murrawee who guides us to understand through learning to observe and listen.

Ready. Set. Discover Logan

Ready. Set. Discover Logan tells of Yana, a new arrival to Australia, who meets up with Bunji, an Aboriginal boy, at the library. A true friendship develops as Bunji shows Yana around the local environment and they share information about traditions celebrated in their own and other cultures.

Stories From the Billabong

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.

Stories from the Dreamtime

Many other 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.

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 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:

When 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.

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.

 Other posts

Other readilearn posts which contain relevant links and resources include:

Celebrating NAIDOC Week (2017)

NAIDOC Week celebrations 2018 — Because of Her, We Can

From my bookshelf — 22 Multicultural picture books

Introducing author–illustrator Gregg Dreise

Indigenous Australian picture books and resources - a free printable list to download

A list of some of the picture books mentioned above is included in Indigenous Australian picture books and resources which can be downloaded and printed free.

friendship skills teaching resources

A range of lessons and resources for developing friendships skills is also available.

readilearn: teaching resources for the first three years of school
Resources beyond worksheets – lessons for teachers made by teachers.
Let readilearn lighten your workload.


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    Thank you, Debby. I agree. I think there should be a lot more recognition worldwide of all the injustices that have been perpetrated over the centuries. It would go a long way towards healing.

    What a comprehensive list of resources for this important time.
    Sadly our two countries have some similarities in our white-washed histories, but it is good to see this start on reconciliation.

    Thanks, D. I tried to find as many resources as I could to help teachers find them more easily. It is great to see that the truth is finally being told. Such sad histories though. We need to learn from them so they are never repeated.

    Thank you, Bette. Yes, it is important, and growing even more so. Thanks for sharing.

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

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