Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware that the web site links on this website may feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, or burial sites, art sites, and artefacts. I apologise for any distress this may inadvertently cause.

Community Links

The 8-Ways Learning framework talks about Community Links in two key ways: (i) in terms of Aboriginal relationships with both insiders and outsiders and the centrality of these relationships to the development and acquisition of all knowledge; and, (ii) in terms of the belief that all knowledge and learning should relate to, and benefit, the community.

Aboriginal relationships to insiders and outsiders also operate essentially in two ways. Firstly, there are the relationships between different Aboriginal communities: when Aboriginals travel through the land of different communities they must acknowledge that they are “outsiders” and seek permission to enter. It applies, for example, in the recognition by Aboriginal artists they do not have permission to paint another clan’s country. It also applies to Aboriginal researchers seeking to work in Aboriginal communities not their own, as outlined in the prologue to a paper by Aboriginal researcher Frances Peters-Little titled The Community Game: Aboriginal Self-Definition at the Local Level. Secondly, Aboriginals also have relationships with non-Aboriginals – those that visit their traditional country and, in the case of Aboriginals living in urban areas, their non-Aboriginal neighbours.

The term community can refer to people who live in the same space (ie: the same town) or to people who identify with each other in some important and tangible way. Most Aboriginals identify as belonging to the larger Australian Aboriginal community because they share a history, culture, values, sense of identity, and experience as “the other”, that is, as non-white Australians. But even notions of shared culture and experience can be problematic as Aboriginal researcher Frances Peters-Little found. Further, Aboriginals also identify themselves in terms of their language group, kinship, and land.

Kinship is an important aspect of Aboriginal life because it defines the relationships between people and their relationship with their country. It exists wherever people use links of descent and marriage to establish their connection with each other. When Aboriginals meet they will identify their kinship group not only to introduce themselves but also to help determine whether they are related in some way. The Central Land Council notes that the kinship system is a particularly important feature of Aboriginal social organisation and family relationships across Central Australia. It describes it as “a complex system that determines how people relate to each other and their roles, responsibilities and obligations in relation to one another, ceremonial business and land. The kinship system determines who marries who, ceremonial relationships, funeral roles and behaviour patterns with other kin.” The Central Land Council’s web site has a very good description of how the kinship structure operates.

Even within a community that lives in the same physical space there will be people who are not Aboriginal but who feel a member of that community because they work with a shared purpose or goal such as education and maintenance of the community. What differentiates the non-Aboriginal from the Aboriginal members of that community is that while they may share common interests they are, in the end, the outsider. Nevertheless, a non-Aboriginal teacher, for example, can still be committed to ensuring that her work benefits the Aboriginal community.

8 Ways Learning emphasises that education must not ignore the importance of “insider” community knowledge and that the concept of Community Links is best understood in terms of Aboriginal relationships with both “insider” and “outsider knowledge” coming together to benefit the community as a whole. This relationship – and the success of incorporating “insider” Indigenous knowledge and approaches to learning to externally determined curricula – is highlighted by a study conducted by Tyson Yunkaporta and Sue McGinty in their paper titled, Reclaiming Aboriginal Knowledge at the Cultural Interface. In this paper they note that challenges for learning rest with both Indigenous students and non-Indigenous teachers. Indigenous students face the challenge of dealing with Western curricula with its logical and linear approach to learning. Non-Indigenous teachers face the challenge of learning new cultural approaches to developing curricula that do not merely incorporate “local lore, language and the sentient landscape” as content, but use it as a means to “provide innovative ways of thinking and problem solving.”

Activity: What cultural experience influences your sense of community identity and the way you go about learning? How does your cultural or national identity affect how you think about the concept of community? Do you think that your culture thinks about community differently? If so, how and why?

Activity: Do you know any Aboriginal people? How do you feel about them? What influences your attitudes? If your attitudes are negative who is responsible for these negative attitudes? What could change any negative attitudes you might have? What would you say and feel if you found that your best friend is Aboriginal?

Activity: How does what you learn at school or at university benefit your community?

ImageImageCommunity Links is connected to Story Sharing because a sense of community is fostered through sharing stories that bind and create a sense of belonging and pride.

ImageImageCommunity Links is connected to Deconstruct Reconstruct through the way that Indigenous identity is formed through both the past and present, land and community.

ImageImageCommunity Links is connected to Non-verbal because in Aboriginal communities non-verbal communication cues such as body language, eye movement and hand signs can mean as much as words.

ImageImageCommunity Links is connected to Symbols & Images because Indigenous cultures communicate important community knowledge through visual metaphors as well as words, dance and song.

ImageImageCommunity Links is connected to Land Links because for Indigenous communities, identity, Country and culture are indivisible.

ImageImageCommunity Links is connected to Non-Linear through the way that Indigenous people take different routes to reach the same complex understanding of how the world is formed as Western scientists.

ImageImageCommunity Links is connected to Learning Maps because successful community members can act as “learning maps” – or role-models – for young Indigenous people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware that the web site links on this website may feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, or burial sites, art sites, and artefacts. I apologise for any distress this may inadvertently cause.

History – Who’s Story? History Writing and the Story of Indigenous Australia

Deconstruct Reconstruct

8-Ways Learning describes Deconstruct Reconstruct as relating to the Indigenous way of learning through understanding the whole concept before breaking it down to its parts. This approach is generally opposite to the usual Western approach to learning which often involves a sequenced process whereby the student builds on small pieces of knowledge and moves to developing an understanding of the whole. (Link to this Learning Map to see how I "mapped" One Country: Different Voices.)

A good insight into the differences between Australian Indigenous and non-Indigenous approaches to learning is found in a paper by Marika-Mununggiritj and Christie (1995)i who note that a common metaphor for learning in English is to uncover something that is hidden. Thus students “find out” or “discover” information or knowledge. Implicit in this, they suggest, is the sense that “...knowledge is not something that is constructed through negotiation but is something that we find if we look hard enough and if we are lucky enough” (p59). While I believe that this is perhaps a limited view of learning it does serve to highlight some of the different approaches to learning taken by non-Indigenous and Indigenous people.

Research done by Marika-Mununggiritj and Christie in the Yirrkala Community School in northeast Arnhemland has found that the Elders, who have been consulted about developing a Yolgnu curriculum, use five different words for learning: galtha, dhin’thun, lundu-nha:ma, dhudakthun, and gatjpu’yun.

Galtha is a connecting spot which could be a meeting place or a sacred site. People meet at these places at particular time of year to participate in ceremonies or activities such as hunting. People from different places, families or groups sit on the ground and negotiate the ceremonies or activities. Every meeting place is a galtha and it is important that those involved make contact with the earth - they never sit on blankets or seats:

“Every ceremony must be different, because its art lies in creating that ceremony to specially reflect the participants and the place and the time. This takes a lot of planning and discussion on the part of the most knowledgeable people – discussions about which songlines to choose, which people should be involved, what roles they will play, and how to make this particular ceremony special and unique – to reflect this particular moment and place” (p60).

Galtha is the name that the Yirrkala Elders gave the Indigenous curriculum taught in the school. The lessons on how to develop this curriculum were given by Yirrkala Elder Daymbalipu Mununggurr who used metaphors for hunting to guide the teachers. First he used the metaphor of dhin’thun which involves identifying and following animal tracks. By learning about the environment the student learns about surviving on and through the land in both a physical and spiritual sense. According to Marika-Mununggiritj and Christie,“Dhin’thun, in this sense, speaks of research. We use it to find out about our history, and about the way we follow up decisions that have been agreed upon” (ibid).

Lundu-nha:ma refers to “the pattern and style of the past” and the things that can be learned from the ancestor beings and the Elders of the present. Students undergo a journey on which they must “see” the knowledge and learning of the past and the present acquired by the ancestor beings and their community’s Elders. This involves identifying the land, the people that the ancestor beings and Elders have interacted with, “their loyalties, their ideas, and everything else which has made them great” (p60).

Successful dhin’thun and lundu-nha:ma results in dhudakthun which has the effect has the effect of putting the Yolgnu student “in tune” with their spiritual past, shaping them like their ancestors while still allowing them to adapt the lessons from their ancestors to modern times (p61).

According to Marika-Mununggiritj and Christie gatjpu’yun refers to the sense of happiness that the Yolgnu person feels when they know their past and their land, and have the skills needed for spiritual and physical survival. This knowledge means they can face the future with confidence (p61).

A number of Indigenous academics, including Aileen Moreton Robinson (2004) and Martin Nakata (2007), have argued that important Indigenous knowledge such as that described above is lost or ignored because the focus on Eurocentric knowledge in Australia’s schools has constructed Indigenous peoples as objects to be studied and ignores that they have their own wealth of knowledge that non-Indigenous people could benefit from knowing. Hart, Whatman, McLaughlin and Sharma-Brymer (2012)ii have summarised this succinctly as “learning about” Indigenous peoples and their knowledges, rather than “learning from” (p717).

Nakata – who has inspired much of Yunkaporta’s work in developing the 8-ways Learning model – has proposed a model called the cultural interface which posits that there is a constant tension and negotiation between Indigenous and western knowledge systems which compete for validity and authenticity. It is only by recognising this tension and working with it can the teacher begin to think about embedding both Indigenous and non-Indigenous elements in the curriculum. Hart, Whatman, McLaughlin and Sharma-Brymer have developed the following model to illustrate the cultural interface:


Hart, Whatman, McLaughlin and Sharma-Brymer (p711).

This is not to say that the application of theories about teaching and learning such as scaffolding do not exist in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous classrooms. Clearly, the Yirrkala example of Indigenous curriculum is informed by scaffolding which is also an important teaching and learning strategy in non-Indigenous classrooms. Indeed, an important aspect of this process is what the 8-Ways Learning framework refers to as the use of Aboriginal scaffolding methodologies that engage whole processes and texts which involves building on the student’s basic skills and identities and then transferring them to unfamiliar contexts.

In education theory scaffolding instruction as a teaching strategy originates from Lev Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development. This zone of proximal development refers to the distance between what the student already knows and can do by themselves and the next learning that they can be helped to achieve with competent assistance. In scaffolding a more knowledgeable other, for example an Elder, parent or teacher, provides scaffolds or supports to facilitate the learner’s development.

Scaffolding involves the teacher using a teaching and learning approach in which the teacher identifies the level at which the student is working and then providing learning experiences that will improve their learning. These learning experiences include the teacher providing some information about the content of a particular lesson and then modelling how to go about the learning task rather than just letting the student make their own perhaps misguided journey of discovery. Over time, with proper teacher direction, the student learns how to work independently.


The Scaffolding Cycle.

In the scaffolding cycle the teacher first prepares the student for the learning task by providing them with information that sets the context for the learning task. Then the teacher clearly tells them what the learning task is, what will be involved and what the learning outcomes will be. Lastly, the teacher elaborates by discussing issues that might need to be addressed and how to go about them.

While the way that scaffolding is used in Indigenous contexts is fundamentally the same as the way that it is generally used in non-Indigenous contexts, there is one important difference: in the Yolgnu Yirrkala example students start with the big picture: learning lessons from their past and their present, from their environment and their Dreaming stories, about how to deal with day-to-day life. In the non-Indigenous classroom students start with the small picture: a particular problem which they use to work towards big picture explanations and theories which will provide them with answers. To apply the model of the 5-E Learning Cycle, we see that in the non-Indigenous classroom the student engages with a particular problem, explores ideas relating to the problem, explains what they have learned, elaborate what they have learned to see if it can be applied it to similar problems, and then evaluate the validity of what they have learned by relating it to problems to see if the results are the same.

Activity: The National Library of Australia has a site called Treasure Explorer. You can sign up with this site for free to create your own story with the Create my Gallery option. You can choose “treasures” from the library’s collection of treasures or upload your own photos to create a big pig picture of some aspect of yourself. This activity is targeted at primary and secondary students but it is still interesting to use and think about the kinds of “treasures” the National Library showcases and why they are considered important in terms of presenting aspects of Australian national identity.

ImageImageDeconstruct Reconstruct is connected to Story-Sharing because, as Nakata contends in his Cultural Interface model, Indigenous and non-Indigenous students receive different cultural stories about their land.

ImageImageDeconstruct Reconstruct is connected to Non-Linear because as Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) showed, even poetry can be used to achieve to combat white oppression.

ImageImageDeconstruct Reconstruct is connected to Land Links because you can learn to survive by clearly observing the land.

ImageImageDeconstruct Reconstruct is connected to Community through the way that Elders recognise that their community can only survive if they also accept non-Indigenous education.

ImageImageDeconstruct Reconstruct is connected to Learning Maps because the knowledge of the ancient beings as told through Dreaming stories and visual representations provide the contemporary Indigenous person with valuable lessons.

ImageImageDeconstruct Reconstruct is connected to Non-verbal in the way you can connect to knowledge reflectively, ancestrally, critically and physically and through song, dance and visual representation.

ImageImageDeconstruct Reconstruct is connected to Symbols & Images because visual representations can act as a metaphor for representing important aspects of physical and spiritual life.

Return to Deconstruct Reconstruct Main Page

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware that the web site links on this website may feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, or burial sites, art sites, and artefacts. I apologise for any distress this may inadvertently cause.


In 1969 essay titled Nourishing Terrains i, Deborah Bird Rose talks about Aboriginal views and beliefs about country. She draws on stories, songs, and song poems told to her by Aboriginal people because these forms of expression “...begin to communicate something of the fullness of people’s relationships to the nourishing terrains of their lives.” She continues: “Evocative, expressive, and frequently beautiful even in translation, songs and song-poems are often profoundly insightful for strangers in spite of the fact that they cannot bring the context of local knowledge to bear in understanding the meanings of the words” (p1). Later she says:

“Country is multi-dimensional - it consists of people, animals, plants, Dreamings; underground, earth, soils, minerals and waters, surface water, and air. There is sea country and land country; in some areas people talk about sky country. Country has origins and a future; it exists both in and through time. As I use the term here I refer to areas of land and/or sea including the subsurface and sky above, in so far as Aboriginal people identify all these components as being part of their particular country” (p7).

While Rose is not an Australian Indigenous person, I believe she has captured much of what 8-Ways Learning describes as the Non-Linear way which encompasses the ideas of cultural innovation through the interaction of cultural systems, and as a way of approaching higher order thinking by incorporating seemingly unrelated domains to create complex, real-life problems to be solved by using holistic thinking and innovative processes.

Another interesting insight into Non-Linear way was made by Barbara Gloweczewski ii who observed that her work with Australian Aboriginals living in northern Australia had led her to believe that there was “...a strange confluence between their traditional way of thinking and the development of artificial intelligence.” This insight was inspired by her observation that, “Aboriginal people’s perception of memory as a virtual space-time, and the way they project knowledge on a geographical network, both physical and imaginary, was beginning to echo with the network and hyperlink programs of the first computers” (p25). She goes on to say that many Indigenous Australians now use the internet to promote and share their culture between themselves and other people.

Gloweczewski refers to Australian Aboriginal thinking as being reticular, thats it, networks of understanding are created from many pieces of knowledge. In her words:

“Data that we record from people’s experiences are snapshots seen through the eye of the person who describes those experiences. It can never be a general description of a society, even if the society is holistic, because the holistic approach — accessing the whole from any part — is always related to singular places. It is like having hundreds of different eyeglasses that you change according to where you stand. Seeing the reality from this point of view is going to be different from what would be seen from another one, but you need these two, or three, or many ‘points of view’ to make alliances, to perform a ritual, to regenerate the society” pp28-29).

According to Gloweczewski, the pieces of knowledge can be diverse, human and non-human - an animal, a plant, a Dreaming story, a song, a geographical space or physical object, an alignment of stars, a group of people – which criss-cross to produce particular meanings to those who have experience of them all.

This concept of reticular thinking is related to the work done by Jacques Deleuze and Felix Guattari on the rhizome as a metaphor for thinking and the construction of knowledge. Rather than using the metaphor of the tree – which is fundamentally hierarchical in its structure in that it is posited on a central trunk from which other branches of knowledge are created:

Deleuze and Guattari use the metaphor of the rhizome which is the network of spreading root tendrils that form underground much like that which occur with a mushroom or aspen tree. The advantage of the rhizome as a metaphor for knowledge is that it is not premised on a single source of authoritative knowledge and can be entered from many different points, all of which connect to each other. The rhizome does not have a beginning, an end, or an exact centre. “The rhizome is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple...it is comprised not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion.” iii

Gloweczewski offers the following examples:

“Thousands of stories and songlines stage separate entities (a Dreaming, an ancestor, a group, a person, an animal, a plant), but they criss-cross one another and the meeting points produce singularities. They can be sacred places, encounters with conflict, or alliance and the emergence of new meanings. They can be new manifestations like a spirit child being born into a child, or a new song or painting being dreamt for that place. Non-linear or reticular thinking mostly stresses the fact that there is no centrality to the whole, but a multipolar view from each recomposed network within each singularity - for example, a person, a place, a Dreaming — allowing the emergence of meanings and performances, encounters, creations as new original autonomous flows” p28).

The work of Aboriginal artist Emily Kam Kngwarray (or Kngwarreye) is often described as being rhizomatic because she uses the metaphor of the yam root which spreads underground as a metaphor for representing complex ideas about her, country and culture. Indeed, the curators of National Gallery Australia say her 1989 painting Ntange Dreaming is like a self portrait because “...it is an image of her identity expressed in terms of her ceremonial status, her role in Anmatyerr society and her intimate relationship with the ancestrally created landscape of her birth.” She uses lines to connect the various important features and influences in her life and dots to represent the seeds of the ntange (yam) plant that the Anmatyerr women collect to grind into damper.

Perhaps one of the best known non-Indigenous examples of non-linear thinking is offered by Edward De Bono who used the term lateral thinking. He defined lateral thinking in part as thinking outside the box for solving problems, or using creative but perhaps unorthodox ways to find solutions. For De Bono lateral thinking is a way to challenge the Western tendency to rely on what he termed vertical thinking which relies on traditional, logical thought which in many ways takes the path of least resistance. Vertical thought avoids the challenge of tackling problems in new ways. Lateral thinking is more challenging – but ultimately more fruitful, according to De Bono – because it involves looking at alternative approaches to thinking about the problem; non-sequential thinking in which you are asked to jump out of the frame of reference or work from several points and link them together; pursuing solutions that don’t seem logical at the time; and, changing the focus of the problem to see if it leads to new solutions.

It is interesting that a significant example of lateral thinking taken by Western scientists – who usually follow processes of vertical thinking – is the work being done by physicists in the area of string theory. According to Rachel Dinsmore Australian Aboriginals and string theorists are coming to a similar explanation for the origins of the universe – but from different frames of thinking. She refers to Dreamtime stories that tell of the creator ancestors travelling across the earth, hunting and marrying and making war. During these travels they created the geographical features of the land created plant and animal species. The ancestors sometimes left traces of themselves in the earth in the form of guruwari, or seed power, which Dinsmore describes as a “vibrational residue that continued to govern natural processes.” She says that in “...other cases, the ancestor spirits morphed into living beings or inanimate objects, thus imbuing an entire species or class of matter with the energy inherent in the spirits. This energy from the past still remains in the present, according to the Aborigines.”

According to Dinsmore, string theorists are also interested in the concept of vibration as a factor in the creation of matter and phenomena in the natural world and that string theory advances a similar line of thought to that taken by the Aboriginals in their Dreamtime stories. String theorists are now arguing that particular sorts of matter and forces that we now observe in the physical world “...can be attributed to the energy present in the moments following the big bang and the way that energy was distributed as the universe cooled over millions of years. In both perspectives, the present is forever linked to the past as a result of these residual vibrations" (p7).

She concludes:

“Yet at the heart of string theory and of Dreamtime spirituality lie a story that is very much the same: a universe harmoniously interconnected and vibrant, invisible energy that makes its presence known in the forms and cycles of the natural world, and a creative origin whose development continues even today. Both stories have arisen out of a willingness to look beyond what we think we know about the universe at first glance and find a hidden pattern that creates order and unity in a world that seems inexplicably diverse and chaotic to the physical eye.” (p64)

ImageImageNon-Linear is connected to Symbols & Images because for many Aboriginal people such as the Walpiri visual representation and storytelling are vital ways of passing on cultural knowledge. Their complex symbolic system acts as a mnemonic, for example in linking landscape to stories, and this is reinforced by repetition in ceremonies.

ImageImageNon-Linear is connected to Story-Sharing because through stories people such as the Walpiri learn about their past and their present.

ImageImageNon-Linear is connected to Deconstruct Reconstruct because by using creative approaches based in traditional Aboriginal practices Indigenous students can transfer what they know to new contexts.

ImageImageNon-Linear is connected to Community Links because through creative approaches to activities such as eco-tourism Aboriginal communities and culture can be preserved.

ImageImageNon-Linear is connected to Non-verbal because you can learn as much about subjects such as mathematics through observation, listening, visual representation and actions as from reading.

ImageImageNon-Linear is connected to Land Links because by caring for the land you learn more than by seeing it just as a resource to be exploited.

ImageImageNon-Linear is connected with Learning Maps because insights and understanding often comes from mapping your imagination.

i Rose, D. (1996) Nourishing Terrains. Canberra: Public Heritage Commission. http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/ahc/publications/commission/books/pubs/nourishing-terrains.pdf Accessed 07/06/2013.

ii Glowczewski, B. (2005) “Lines and criss-crossings: hyperlinks in Australian Indigenous narratives,” in Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy, No, 116 (pp24-35). http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/17/79/51/PDF/03-GlowczewskiMIA.pdf Accessed 25/11/2012.

iii Deleuze, J. and Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (p21).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware that the web site links on this website may feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, or burial sites, art sites, and artefacts. I apologise for any distress this may inadvertently cause.

Land Links

“For me, country is fundamentally about community, culture and identity. Country serves to link us to our past and provides a space within which family and community can be acknowledged and celebrated. Country is more than issues of land and geography; it is about spirituality and identity, knowing who we are and who were are connected to; and it helps us understand how all living things are connected. The symbiotic relationship Indigenous people have with country and how it defines our identity are as old and profound as the land itself.” Bob Morgan, “Country – A Journey to Cultural and Spiritual Healing,” in Heartsick for Country i (p202).

The Australian Indigenous connection with land has existed for many millennia. The land not only provides food and the materials for shelter, but also spiritual sustenance. Richard Broome (2010) ii describes the relationship to land as holistic and as the source of stories about how ancient ancestors formed the land and became to be embedded in it. The people, in turn, are connected to land “through totemic animals determined by their birthplace and clan” and have responsibility for its upkeep and revitalisation through ritual and ceremony. “Each family was attached to a land-owning clan, which owned an ‘estate’ of land that was theirs to manage and nurture iii. It had recognised boundaries, denoted by hills, a river or some recognizable landform.” Clans can move through or hunt in other clan areas through agreements based on kinship, marriage or other agreements that are affirmed through ceremonies. Broome concludes: “Thus land was owned and mutually recognised as owned, the title deeds being the stories told and the paintings emanating from those stories. The land of others was not coveted, for without ownership of the story, ownership of land was meaningless” (p10).

The stories about how the land and everything on it was formed by the ancient beings are commonly referred to as the Dreaming. The Dreaming relates to past and present, which are both connected in the great cycle of time. Philip Clarke (2003) iv notes that for many Aboriginal people the question of when their biological ancestors arrived is irrelevant “as they consider they originated with the landscape.” He refers to an Aboriginal Elder saying to him: “… ‘Walpala has nyiri. Annungu has Tjukurpa,’ meaning, ‘While Europeans have paper documents, Aboriginal people have the Dreaming’.” (p17)

For 8-Ways Learning, Land Links refers to the way in which concepts of place and country can offer paths to developing curricula that is relevant to a particular community’s country. This is illustrated by the work done by Tyson Yunkaporta and Sue McGinty v in developing curricula for the “Garriya community college,” a remote Indigenous community in western New South Wales, which used the junction of three local rivers as a metaphor for “... working synergistically in the overlap between multiple social realities and ways of knowing...the theoretical model for the project was constructed visually and mapped onto local geographical and political notions of place.” (pp56-57) They found that the theoretical diagram they developed based on the junction of the three rivers was particularly useful in combining local and non-Indigenous knowledge to create new curriculum designs and ideas. For example:

“From [the local Wamba Star] story came the notion that local Aboriginal ways of thinking and innovating took a winding path rather than a straight line, a concept that had considerable overlap with De Bono’s (1996) lateral thinking techniques. Both ways of thinking were explored and used not only in product design, but also classroom design, as the students practised the technique initially by customising the classroom environment, procedures, activities and content to suit their needs. In this way they became active participants in the study rather than passive objects of the research.” (p68).

This approach of grounding learning in country has also been adopted by the Indigenous Land and Sea Management vi program which is based on an experiential learning approach incorporating the concept of “learning through country”. Some of the program’s key insights included:

Embedded in the learning approach taken by both 8-Ways Learning and the Indigenous Land and Sea Management program is the idea that the land both forms and informs the community, and that by utilizing the concept of “learning from country” the community both learns from the land and feeds this learning back to the land. Further, by using a land and place-based model for learning which taps into ancestral and personal relationships with place, the student’s sense of community identity is reinforced and traditional knowledge valued. This process merely articulates what happens at an unspoken and unconscious level in non-Indigenous classrooms when lessons are premised on an implicit Eurocentric view that European culture is superior to all others.

Activity: Find Aboriginal sites of significance in your neighborhood – it may be a tree, a creek, a piece of land, etc. Is this site recognised and acknowledged by the community at large? If not, why do you think this is so? Why should the site be acknowledged – or not?

Activity: There has been much debate about climate change and its affect on the land. What position do you take in this debate? Have you noticed any signs from your observations of your local area of climate change? Do you think that living in a sustainable way can make a difference to the environment? What steps can you take to live sustainably? Would you bother? If so, why? If you think sustainable practices are ineffective, explain why you think so.

ImageImageLand Links is connected to Community Links in the way that the land both forms and informs Indigenous identity and sense of community.

ImageImageLand Links is connected to Non-Linear because stories about the land can teach important ideas in a lateral way.

ImageImageLand Links is connected to Story-Sharing because it is through Dreamtime stories that young Indigenous Australians learn why the land is so important to their physical and spiritual lives.

ImageImageLand Links is connected to Non-verbal because Dreamtime stories can be told through music as well as words.

ImageImageLand Links is connected with Learning Maps because visual images and diagrams based on the land can be used to “map” learning goals.

ImageImageLand Links is connected to Deconstruct Reconstruct because looking at the land as whole can help us learn how to manage its parts.

ImageImageLand Links is connected to Symbols & Images in the way that Symbols & Images depicted in cave paintings can teach through example what food and animals can be found on the land for survival.

i Morgan, S., Mia, T. and Kwaymullina, B. (2008). Heartsick for Country. Stories of Love, Spirit and Creation. Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press.

ii Broome, R. (2010) Aboriginal Australians. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

iii This link is to the National Library of Australia’s Treasure Explorer site. You will need to create a free account to access the resource called Mabo’s Map. You can find it by entering the link called Teacher Stuff.

iv Clarke, P. (2003) Where the Ancestors Walked: Australia as an Aboriginal Landscape. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

v Yunkaporta, T. and McGinty, S. (2009) “Reclaiming Aboriginal Knowledge at the Cultural Interface,” in The Australian Educational Researcher, Vol. 36, No.2. (pp55-72).

vi Fogarty, W. and Schwab, R.G. (2012) Indigenous education: Experiential learning and Learning through Country. Working paper No. 80/2012. Canberra: Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research. http://caepr.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/Publications/WP/WP%2080%20Fogarty%20Schwab.pdf. Accessed 17/11/2012.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware that the web site links on this website may feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, or burial sites, art sites, and artefacts. I apologise for any distress this may inadvertently cause.

Symbols & Images

8-Ways Learning defines Symbols & Images as a visual metalanguage which forms the building blocks for memory and the making of meaning. This metalanguage is cross-cultural and dynamic. In 8-Ways Learning symbolic learning is seen as a strategy which teachers can use to present students with both concrete and abstract imagery which focus on the micro level of content rather than the macro level of processes. Christine Watson offers an excellent example of how this process works in traditional Aboriginal communities such as the Balgo people from the Great Sandy Desert when the women use sand drawings – or walkala – to teach children important skills:

“Public sand drawing – walkala or walkula – is a multisensual social activity comprising the marking of the ground with the finger or a stick, to the accompaniment of a verbal or chanted narrative. It is a storytelling system to show children how to hunt, gather, or cook bush food, to teach them how to behave in important social situations, or about things that happened to family members in the past. It includes illustrations, small models demonstrating processes, as well as facial and hand gestures. Walkala stories shared between adults tell of the events in their everyday lives, their plans, or memories.” Christine Watson, 2003 Piercing the Ground, p. 64)

The Balgo women using walkala for teaching purposes instinctively understand importance of visual learning as highlighted by Linda Verlee Williams in her book, Teaching for the Two-Sided Mind (1983). Williams says that symbols and images serve as visual metaphors because they provide connections between new concepts and previous experience by constantly focussing on “the process of recognising and understanding patterns and general principles which give meanings to specific facts” (p59).

The use of symbols as metaphors can work at both the oral and visual levels. When using metaphors you substitute, verbally or visually, one thing for another. It is the expression of an idea through an analogy or figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. Think about the way you might use a sketch on paper or in the sand, or figurative gestures, as means for clarifying what you mean. Or the use of common symbols in public places to convey meaning. Many have become so ubiquitous that we don’t think twice about their meaning.

Many cultures use symbols to convey complex ideas and this website attempts to convey this by using alternate symbols used by other cultures to represent similar ideas as those used by 8 Ways Learning.

Adrian Frutiger in his fascinating book Signs and Symbols. Their Design and Meaning suggests that over time since the earliest human development, speech and gesture merged so that a symbol or image came to represent the same meaning. When this occurred, he says, pictures became a script that fixed thought and speech that could be read at any time. Frutiger also suggests that symbols act as a kind of mediation between two worlds, visible and invisible, with the symbols conveying important information about philosophical or religious beliefs and the material world. Important symbols in Christianity include the concept of the Trinity and the symbol of the cross.

Some of the earliest Australian Aboriginal rock carvings which utilize many Symbols & Images have been dated as old as 40,000 years and many of the same symbols and images are still used today by Aboriginals in paintings to convey complex ideas. One example is the image of the Rainbow Serpent which is not really a snake but a representation of a creation Dreaming. The Rainbow Serpent can represent both how the rivers and waterways were formed and laws about how to use water wisely to survive on the land.

Activity: Symbols and images in the form of logos form an important of advertising, particularly in the area of creating an identity or brand with which people can identity in terms of life style. One of the best known brands is Coca Cola. Not only did Coca Cola help create the modern image of Santa Claus, but the company is also doing its best for world peace through its Cocoa Cola Small World Machines – Bringing India and Pakistan Together program. Its website features many life style stories and it has health tips to help fight obesity.

Three of Coca Cola’s best known logos are the following:

Pic  Pic  Pic

What do you think these symbols represent? What do you think about Coca Cola represents itself? Do you think that non-English speakers would describe the meaning of these symbols in the same way?

ImageImageSymbols & Images are linked to Non-verbal communication and learning which 8-Ways Learning refers to as hands-on learning, learning by watching and listening and the use of gestures and body language.

ImageImageSymbols & Images are connected to Land Links because for Aboriginals rock carvings and paintings act as a symbol for a particular important place as well as a sign for what food is available in a particular area.

ImageImageSymbols & Images are connected to Community Links because rocking paintings such as hand stencils may act as signs that provide information about a particular clan, food gathering, or convey messages to other clans entering their land.

ImageImageSymbols & Images are connected to Story Sharing because important cultural information is shared through symbols and signs represented in painting and rock carvings.

ImageImageSymbols & Images are connected to Learning Maps because Australian Aboriginals understand how to map their learning and their lives.

ImageImageSymbols & Images are connected to Deconstruct Reconstruct because Aboriginal Australians work in partnership with scientists to share their knowledge of land for conservation.

ImageImageSymbols & Images are connected to Non-Linear because many Australian Aboriginals are able to apply lateral thinking to solve problems.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware that the web site links on this website may feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, or burial sites, art sites, and artefacts. I apologise for any distress this may inadvertently cause.

Back to Symbols & Images Main Page

Alternate Symbols

As you point your mouse over the symbols in the 8-Ways Learning navigation on the main page of this website, you will see alternate symbols appear. Many cultures use symbols to convey complex ideas and this website attempts to convey this by using alternate symbols used by other cultures to represent similar ideas as those used by the 8-Ways Learning framework.

8-Ways Learning defines Story-Sharing as teaching and learning through narrative. When you scroll over the Story-Sharing symbol on the 8-Ways navigation on the opening page of this website you will see that:

Story-Sharing Image alternates with Image

Symbols representing some kind of triad occur in many cultures from China, India, the Middle East, and Europe. In Christianity it is seen as representing the Holy Trinity. In China it is represented as the three hares. It is also used to represent a way of preserving the past, present and future through sharing of cultural stories and knowledge.

Community Links Image alternates with Image

This Celtic symbol tells that we are more than our bodies and more than the confines of this earth. It also reminds us to pass our positive energy out to others and the world, ultimately making the universe a better place to live and grow. In the Celtic tradition the spiral lies on the rippled sand of a sea shore but it could also lie on the wind-rippled sands of the desert.

Learning Maps Image alternates with Image

This African Adinka symbol represents the Adinka saying, "He who does not know can know from learning" It is a symbol of knowledge, life-long education and continued quest for knowledge.

Non-verbal Image alternates with Image

In Mayan culture the eagle represents contemplative thought. Eagles are also a symbol of community and cooperative unity amongst a diverse group.

Non-Linear Image alternates with Image

This is Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher’s 1960 woodcut called the Path of Life. It folds in on itself moving from the three-dimensional to the two-dimensional in a seamless flow of cycles that draws your eye both inward and outwards.

Land Links Image alternates with Image

This is the Adinka symbol for God. It also symbolises the circularity of life and land as the backbone of culture.

Symbols & Images Image alternates with Image

This symbol includes other elements such as arrows connecting ideas and concepts represented as fruit on this learning tree. The ideas are readily recognisable by Western people and include symbols for music, reading, science, museums, and so on, each of which represent aspects of Western culture.

Deconstruct Reconstruct Image alternates with Image

The Adinka symbol for learning is the Ghanaian maze in which the person sits next to the maze of knowledge. The person simultaneously represents the teacher and the student.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware that the web site links on this website may feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, or burial sites, art sites, and artefacts. I apologise for any distress this may inadvertently cause.

Myself as a Learner and Teacher

Learning Maps

8-Ways Learning refers to Learning Maps as relating to the way that Indigenous learners have a preference for thinking about knowledge in a visual way and how they use metaphors grounded in culture and country. Indigenous students also have more successful learning outcomes when learning activities are made explicit in a visual way using diagrams or visualisations which map the whole learning task. It is a much more holistic approach to learning.

Dr Raymond Nichol, in a paper titled, Indigenous pedagogy and perspectives in the curriculum (2009) i defines holistic learning as “complete, cooperative, integrated and all-encompassing” and involving the concept that “everything is interrelated and all relationships are important.” (p.8) He also argues that “[H]olistic, integrated and creative learning approaches do not compartmentalize learning according to academic disciplines or subsets of apparently unrelated skills,” rather, all areas of study “…are concurrent and integrated so that learning flows smoothly between content areas, and the interrelationship between knowledge and skills is apparent.” He notes that Indigenous students “prefer to observe and discuss a task or topic before working through components and activities” and that their learning outcomes are more effective “…if the overall concept and direction of a lesson is outlined, discussed and modeled before specific learning activities are introduced.” He argues that this approach is more “real life” and “is more reflective of their Indigenous worldview.” (p.9)

A good example of integrated and holistic learning versus more compartmentalized learning comes from Michie and Linkson who mapped the differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge of rock formations in a way that clearly differentiates the Indigenous holistic, integrated approach from the sequential and specialized approach of non-Indigenous science:

Concept: Landforms Australian Indigenous knowledge Western scientific knowledge
Explanation Results from the effects of religious events in the Dreamtime. For example, the actions of the Rainbow Serpent travelling across the land. Results from the effects of erosion. For example, the effects of wind, the movement of water in rain and rivers and heating from the sun.
Evidence Comes from stories, songs and dance. Comes from observations, theories, predictions and experimental confirmation.
Available to Particular people who are related to that land and own the knowledge. Others can be aware but will not claim the knowledge publically. Anyone who is able to access it and has some background science knowledge.
Can be accessed by Participation in ceremonies; oral transmission; art; singing; dancing. Manipulation of media containing Indigenous knowledge: print, video, audio, CD-ROM, internet. Participation in science education. Manipulation of media containing Western scientific knowledge: print, video, audio, CD-ROM, internet.

Comparison of the origin and acquisition of Australian Indigenous knowledge with Western scientific knowledge about landforms (Michie and Linkson, 1999) ii.

Nichol also describes Indigenous students as being “imaginal”, that is, their learning is “…relatively unstructured and consists of thoughts, images and experiences of learning” which is facilitated by observation and imitation rather than verbalisation. He quotes a Yipirinya teacher who found that, “Aboriginal students form pictures of tasks in their minds and then perform them through imitation. They prefer to see the ‘whole’ rather than ‘little bit by little bit’. In this way they have the task and the expected outcome and are then prepared to give it a go… They often need concrete materials to conceptualise what they need to learn. For example, when teaching a social studies lesson we might take students on a ‘bush tucker’ excursion.” (p. 9)

A learning map is one form of concrete conceptualisation because it allows a teacher to “map out” or represent the learning journey or experience to be undertaken in class. Through these means students are able to connect the various elements of a learning task and understand the “big picture”. According to Nichol, Indigenous students “… rely on and enjoy visual images, symbols, diagrams, maps and pathways to acquire new information and understandings. One might argue that their, often uncanny, skills in football and other positional sports derive, in part, from this form of learning.” (p. 10)

Learning maps are a tool that a teacher uses to help students visualise their learning journey. Mind maps, on the other hand, are a tool for a student to visually explore ideas. They involve writing down a central idea and thinking up new and related ideas which radiate out from the centre. By starting with one or two key ideas and then including other ideas that branch out and connect with the central ideas you effectively map your knowledge. This activity has been shown to help students understand and remember new information. Concept maps are generally organized with broad concepts at the top and more specific concepts hierarchically listed below to represent knowledge and show the relationships among concepts.

Activity: Are you aware of the degree to which your culture influences your view of the world and the way you go about learning? Work through this Identity Map to gain some insight into yourself and the cultural influences that shape your life. To get access to the Identity Map you may need to ask to join the 8-Ways wiki. One you have been accepted scroll down the left-hand navigation bar to find the Identity Map.

Activity: Kanyini is a must-see film made by Melanie Hogan which looks at the world's oldest living culture in a way that's never been seen before. The film features traditional owner of Uluru, former Indigenous Person of the Year, Bob Randall as the guide to ‘Kanyini’ which he describes as the principle of connectedness through caring and responsibility that informs all aspects of Aboriginal life. Kanyini deals with Aboriginal history as told from the perspective of Aboriginal culture and also looks at issues confronting contemporary Indigenous people.

ImageImageLearning Maps is connected to Story Sharing because Indigenous Australians form their identity through stories that map their culture’s past and present.

ImageImageLearning Maps is connected to Non-verbal because paintings act as a visual metaphor for important cultural knowledge and information.

ImageImageLearning Maps is connected to Symbols & Images because through visual representations such as painting, sand drawing, bark painting, and rock carvings Australian Aboriginals can map their story from the Dreamtime to the present.

ImageImageLearning Maps is connected to Land Links in the way that the land provides a guide for learning and life.

ImageImageLearning Maps is connected to Non-Linear because learning maps are an excellent example of non-linear thinking for solving problems such as how to embed Indigenous perspectives in schools.

ImageImageLearning Maps is connected to Deconstruct Reconstruct because from looking at the big picture you can identify small details that tell the whole story.

ImageImageLearning Maps is connected to Community Links because visual representations can act as maps of identity, community and a way of life.

i Nichol, R. (2009) “Indigenous pedagogy and perspectives in the curriculum,” National Curriculum Perspectives Conference, “So What Do We Teach?” August 14th, Canberra: Rydges Lakeside.

ii Michie, M., and Linkson, M. (1999). “Interfacing Western science and Indigenous knowledge: A Northern Territory perspective.” Paper presented at the 30th Australasian Science Education Research Association Conference, Rotorua, Aotearoa New Zealand, July 1999. http://members.ozemail.com.au/~mmichie/interfacing.html Accessed 13/06/2013.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware that the web site links on this website may feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, or burial sites, art sites, and artefacts. I apologise for any distress this may inadvertently cause.

Return to Learning Maps Main Page

Myself as a Learner and Teacher
The Road to Developing One Country: Different Voices


In this reading I will describe and discuss some of the key events and insights into teaching and learning that I experienced on the journey that led to making One Country: Different Voices. I will examine why a central tenet of its creation and development reflects French feminist Luce Irigaray’s contention that teaching has always to deal with “becoming” and with transcending the limitations of fixed cultural beliefs. i She refers to this process as moving from “looking at” to “listening to.” “Looking at” refers to reading and learning in an uncritical way, “listening to” refers to developing the skills of hearing and recognising, the unspoken values and attitudes of the information that is being communicated. For example, the curriculum taught in Australian schools is based on Euro-centric philosophies and attitudes and implicit in this is the belief that Euro-centric ideas are superior to every other belief and philosophy.

This process of “listening-to” involves both the student and the teacher. For Irigaray, the act of listening to the student and encouraging them to develop their own listening skills creates a different more equal relationship in which the right of the individual – both teacher and student - to a hold particular point of view that is respected. Through this process the teacher is able to present her knowledge in a way that keeps “open the dimension of the present and the presence in teaching” and allows the student to not only open their mind to the other, but also allow them to become the other while maintaining their own values, beliefs and identity. The good teacher “has to teach the students how to dwell and how to find and keep a way of thinking that allows each one, but also present and future humanity, to dwell.” (Irigaray, Kindle Locations 3692-3694)

Reflection over time on my teaching experience has led me to believe that one way of doing this is to allow you, the student, to gain some understanding of me, the teacher, as a learner so that you can begin to perceive that teachers are not the only source of knowledge but act as a learning facilitator who guides and provides resources to encourage you to learn reflectively, independently and collaboratively. In this environment I try to encourage you not only to engage in independent problem-solving and exploration of ideas, but also to set your own learning goals and to teach yourself. It also encourages you, the student, to reflect on your learning so that you can transform experience into knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and emotions.

In this reading I will also look briefly at why it is important to teach you about cultural literacy and the strategies I use in One Country: Different Voices to help you develop insights and understanding into other cultural perspectives and how they are represented.

This reading also includes a reflection on how I have come to “write” myself as a teacher who has interacted with, and been has shaped by, a cast of significant “others” including teaching colleagues, and key learning theories that have led me to believe that creative use of technology can significantly enhance student-centered learning.


In the forecourt of Swinburne University of Technology former Lilydale campus there was an installation called Bukker Tillibul by New Zealand artist Chris Booth. The installation stood in front of architect Glen Murcutt’s award-winning modern glass-fronted design for an education building. In many ways together they served as a wonderful metaphor for One Country: Different Voices in the way they represent both Indigenous and Western ideas about knowledge and how, through One Country: Different Voices, I am attempting to introduce an Indigenous approach to learning to non-Indigenous students.

The installation Bukker Tillibul consists of three standing structures symbolising crows and a large rock symbolising Bunjil the Eagle. The concept for the installation came to Booth after he visited the campus a number of times and was inspired by the way the building seemed to thrust out towards the landscape. He was also taken by the large numbers of crows (really ravens) that could be frequently seen flying around the campus. Booth always consults with the local Indigenous peoples in the place where he is to create an installation and was told by Wurundjeri elder and then Swinburne Adjunct Professor Joy Murphy that two of the most important totems of the Wurundjeri people are Bunjil the Eagle - the Great Creator Spirit who made the mountains, the rivers, the rocks and the stones and created all living creatures and taught them how to behave - and Waang the Crow – a trickster who also brought the gift of fire to people. Booth sited Bukker Tillibul in front of Murcutt’s building which featured an atrium which has glass on three sides so that students and Indigenous community people can look over Wurundjeri land.

Murcutt’s modern and minimalist building was designed to reflect the way that this particular Swinburne campus would operate differently from the rest of the university. It was to be a forward-looking “Multi Modal Learning” campus (Jeffrey, Smith and Weal, 1998 ii, Signor, 2003 iii) which would encourage students to engage in off-campus learning assisted by Learning Guides, via web-based access to teachers and on-line learning materials, and Study Centres located in places dotted around the Outer Eastern region which provided tele-conferenced lectures and tutorials. As students would spend only one third of their study time on campus this meant fewer classrooms and only one lecture theatre were required.

Booth’s installation was officially named Bukker Tillibul by Joy Murphy on October 16, 2002. Loosely translated, “bukker tillibul” means “bottomless pit” and refers to the land where the David Mitchell Limited quarry now stands (behind the Lilydale campus). The large rock symbolizing Bunjil the Eagle came from the quarry, hence the relationship between the sculpture and its name. The three standing structures, symbolising crows, are constructed from granite from a quarry near Bendigo (Dja Daja Wurrung land).


Bukker Tillibul. The three standing structures representing the crows are at the foreground. The rock representing Bunjil the Eagle is located behind them. The installation is located in front the Swinburne University’s Lilydale Campus. The building was designed by prize-winning architect Glen Murcott.


This rock hewn from the Mitchell quarry located behind the Lilydale Campus site represents Bunjil the Eagle


The atrium of the Lilydale Campus

Earlier, in 1997, during her “Welcome to Country” at the opening of the Lilydale Campus, Joy Murphy said that she felt her people would approve of the building because its glass walls meant they could still see what was common to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people “and that is our land.” She also said that it was important that Dreaming Stories - such as how Bunjil created the world and Waang the Crow brought fire to people – should continue to be taught by Wurundjeri Elders, the caretakers of traditional Indigenous wisdom and knowledge, in order to maintain the culture of the people.

She concluded her speech with some comments that made a profound impression on me - in particular that the new Lilydale Campus offered an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and their cultures and educations to come together to form a better partnership “to educate our people”. She also said that she felt pleased with the work that Swinburne was doing to encourage local Indigenous students to enrol in higher education courses, concluding: “I’m not an academic in the contemporary sense but I believe that my traditional values and education and knowledge that has been passed down from my elders will help build this university to what I believe will be a great partnership of people.” iv

Moving from “Looking At” to “Listening To”

A lot of research done into teaching practice has shown that when teachers speak about their practice they tend to present their experience in narrative form, that is, they tell the story of their teaching. Indeed, Elbaz goes so far as to argue that “[s]tory is the very stuff of teaching, the landscape within which we live as teachers and researchers, and within which the work as teachers can be seen as making sense.” (1991:3) v Researchers Kuntz and Kaplan (2012) vi reflecting on their teaching experience, found that “narrative, life, learning and teaching intertwine with each other” and that the “narratives we tell are ways for constructing ourselves.” Their reflection on themselves as teachers led them to conclude that an essential aspect of students’ participation in learning and for developing insights into their own learning was to see how the teacher goes about learning. The experience described by Kuntz and Kaplan is referred by Adair and Goodson (2006 vii) as a process of “acquisition and construction and participation” whereby the teacher and student gains insight into their learning journey through the shared experience of the classroom.

One Country: Different Voices reflects and is the product of my personal learning and teaching experience and for this reason I think that it is important to review – tell the story - of some of the key events and experiences that led to its form and content.

Myself as a Student and Teacher

At the beginning of the process of developing One Country: Different Voices I was confronted with two key questions: What kind of teaching and learning resource am I developing, and what has influenced its form and content? I believe that these questions can be answered through telling a story consisting of a number of “chapters” that describe how and why One Country: Different Voices came to be developed. The chapters in my story include: Chapter 1: A Short Summary of One Country: Different Voices in which I briefly summarise its form and content. Chapter 2: Student and Teacher: Finding the Path to a Teaching Philosophy describes my life as a student and teacher and how I found the path to developing a teaching philosophy. Chapter 3: Technology and Creativity discusses how the development of One Country: Different Voices evolved from my explorations of using technology for teaching and how I came to believe that effective use of technologies can lead to creative ways of teaching and learning.

Chapter 1: A Short Summary of One Country: Different Voices

One Country: Different Voices is a web-based online teaching and learning resource that is intended to work on at least three levels. Firstly it provides students and teachers with opportunities to develop a deeper understanding into aspects of Indigenous life in Australia. It does so by providing a range of resources intended to encourage you to reflect upon and challenge your extant knowledge and assumptions about Indigenous Australia. For example, many of you are probably not aware of the Coranderrk story, nor be aware that many Coranderrk descendents still live in Healesville, Victoria, near where Coranderrk was located. The accounts and stories of the Coranderrk descendents included on the web site are intended not only to provide you with insights into Coranderrk’s history, but also to consider it in terms of a place that continues to have importance to contemporary descendents of its original inhabitants.


The second level on which One Country: Different Voices works is to challenge what you know about learning and how you construct knowledge. For example, you may believe that history is somehow an objective account of past events. The reading included on One Country: Different Voices about writing Indigenous history (titled History – Who’s Story? History Writing and Story of Indigenous Australia) is intended to show you that every historical account reflects the disciplinary and ideological position of the historian or the cultural experience of the history teller. One way that I achieve this is by including an introductory statement that tells you that the content of the essay reflects my personal position on how I believe Indigenous history is written and on my stand on the Indigenous experience.

By establishing my ideological position in the text of this essay I provide you with an opportunity to identify with, or against, the ideas represented. This is further achieved by including in the body of the essay a series of what I have termed “Counterpoints” which provide you with links to more information on the WWW which either support or contradict some of the statements made in the body of the essay and invite you to consider which points of view you agree or disagree with, and why you do so.

This use of “Counterpoints” has a double purpose of both tacitly revealing my personal ideology and my approach to teaching which encourages you to actively engage in critically evaluating the information I provide you. By including contradictory points of view in the “Counterpoints” you are encouraged to make decisions about the ideological positions you take.

The strategy of providing you with links to the WWW was evolved when I developed websites for undergraduate Media Studies subjects and a Master of Arts (Writing). Similarly, this reading about its underlying teaching and learning is intended to provide you with the opportunity to gain insights into your learning experience based on insights into my approach to learning: that is, the reading attempts to reveal what is in at least my head when I am conceiving of a teaching/learning experience and through this process you may gain insights that will allow you to begin to develop some understanding of how you go about learning.

The third level at which One Country: Different Voices works is by providing you with the opportunity to broaden your first-hand understanding of issues dealt with by the website by exchanging ideas, insights and experiences with other students from different cultural backgrounds. This occurs through a link to a Wiki discussion forum where you will be invited to discuss and write about your responses to issues such as media stories about racism in Australia, or the experience of young asylum seekers attending school. Through these means the One Country: Different Voices website will give you an opportunity to reflect upon the cultural constructions of your own lives.

Chapter 2: Student and Teacher: Finding the Path to a Teaching Philosophy

The development of One Country: Different Voices is deeply grounded in my more than 18 years of exploration and experimenting in the use of technology to enhance learning. It is the sum of my continuing reflections over that time on what I have learned about effective and creative approaches to using technology for learning. Goodson and Gill viii refer to this process as “narrative cognition” which involves reflecting on the past (what you have learned), the present (reflecting on what you are learning now), and the future (what you intend to do with this information). This helps us form an understanding of “...the ideological, structural and chronological coherence of our particular life experience.” (p139)


One Country: Different Voices uses an Indigenous approach to learning as well as non-Indigenous learning theories including constructivism, critical pedagogy and narrative pedagogy. As I will show in greater detail below, I was introduced to and inspired by the concept of constructivism by a series of teaching and learning workshops in 1992. Critical pedagogy became an important influence in later years as I began to reflect upon the teacher/student relationship in a multicultural classroom and to think about the importance of introducing students to the concepts of cultural skills. Narrative pedagogy refers to the way in which narratives (story-telling) act as a form of meaning-making for the individual and larger social groups as well as acting as significant sites for learning. Through narratives individuals and larger social cultural groups learn their sense of self and acquire values and attitudes that go beyond knowledge and skills.

One Country: Different Voices demonstrates a constructivist approach to learning by providing you with a series of resources that allow you to build your knowledge on the base of what you already know. Constructivism, a theory of learning that has roots in both philosophy and psychology, has at its core the belief that learners actively construct their own knowledge and meaning from their experiences and exploration of ideas. This approach to teaching and learning integrates strategies that encourage you to engage in reflective active learning to build knowledge and to develop a deeper understanding of information through questioning and debate. This is one of the reasons the Wiki discussion forum has been included as a resource on One Country: Different Voices because it allows you to discuss issues with other students from different cultural and social experiences. The role of teacher in the constructivist approach is to ensure that they guide you through a learner-centred experience.

Through experiences such as the FWiki discussion forum One Country: Different Voices also aims to transform your understanding of how ideology works. This purpose and goal is inspired by Paulo Freire’s work in critical pedagogy. According to Freire, education and knowledge are “weapons to change the world.” (Boff, 1997: xi) ix and it is the role of the teacher to help the student recognise – through classroom dialogue -how dominant values are embedded even in the system of formal education which works to maintain the status quo. Freire contended that the classroom was the site for developing a critical consciousness which would lead students to engage in reflection, evaluation and dialogue on the issues that shape their lives and result in the potential for changing the power structures of their society. For Freire, education should be a dialectic involving “...the conversion of transformative action into knowledge and the conversion of knowledge into transformative action.” His concept of classroom dialogue is premised on the belief that just as the teacher has knowledge, so the student’s knowledge about their own world has value which they share with their fellow students and their teachers. Through these means the teacher is both teacher and learner, and the student both learner and teacher.

Narrative pedagogy is described by Goodson and Gill argue as a means by which the individual is provided with the potential to transform their understanding of themselves. They define the transformational process that occurs through narrative learning as an “enhanced understanding of oneself and the other, one’s lived experience as a person over time, one’s position in the world, and how histories, cultures, socio-political forces have helped shape who we are, as human beings were, who we are now, and the journey we have travelled so far and the journey we are to travel together.” (2011:119 x)

In many ways their definition of narrative learning is close to definitions of Indigenous Dreaming as narrative learning in that Dreaming knowledge relies on memory, is transmitted, orally and through performance, is a means of transmitting cultural knowledge from generation to generation and allows the Indigenous person to know who their ancestors were and who they themselves are. Through traditional knowledge, which exists both in the past and in the present, the Australian Indigenous person can make cultural statements appropriate to contemporary events and situations.

The Journey Begins

My interest in on-line teaching – and in teaching practice - was first fostered in an applied way after attending an inspirational intensive two week teaching and learning workshop conducted by Swinburne University of Technology in 1992. This workshop featured lectures and workshops delivered by leading education researchers including Paul Ramsden, Phil Candy and John Biggs. The lectures and workshops included topics such as learning styles, different approaches to teaching, being a reflective practitioner, assessment strategies, and so on. I found the workshop to be revelatory because it confirmed many of my self-derived approaches to teaching and learning as well as opening new directions and ideas based on education research that I could explore and implement.

I spent most of the two weeks being excited, challenged and inspired. At the end of the workshop I was awarded two prizes: The Swinburne Vice Chancellor’s Award for Innovation in Teaching and a $6000 Vice-Chancellor’s Grant to develop approaches to on-line teaching and learning. As will be discussed in further detail below in Chapter 3: Technology and Creativity, I decided to share this money with my colleagues in the Media Studies department so that we could collaboratively develop an on on-line learning resource which in turn led to a series of successful grant applications to the Committee for Advancement of University Teaching (CAUT) to develop more sophisticated technology-based learning resources.


My excitement about the teaching and learning workshop should be understood in the context of my prior teaching experience. I had started work as a tutor, and later lecturer, in Media Studies in 1982 with no formal teacher training. I was employed as a tutor on the basis of professional experience as a journalist with now defunct Melbourne evening newspaper, The Herald. Like many starting tutors at that time I experienced the “sink or swim” approach to university teaching. In each of the three institutions where I taught Media Studies and Journalism – Chisolm Institute of Technology, RMIT and Swinburne – I was given a subject name and code and essentially told to create a course that covered the general areas outlined by the academic who had hired me.

My approach to teaching involved reflection on the positive and negative experiences of my own teachers as well as deep reflection on myself as a learner. Intuitively I became a reflective practitioner who spent time considering my beliefs about what constituted good teaching and how my enthusiasm, interest and understanding of my understanding of my subject matter could be conveyed in a way that engaged student interest. I also become very interested (and initially fearful) in how to elicit student feedback that could be usefully integrated into my teaching in order to achieve more satisfactory learning outcomes. Much of my intuitive approach involved thinking about my preferred personal learning approach.

[One insight into myself as a learner that I developed during my matriculation year was that I was prepared to challenge my teachers - often in mischievous ways. On one occasion I suggested to the English Literature teacher that I did not really believe that my fellow students had developed a real appreciation of poet John Keats and that I would prove this by writing a poem in the style of John Keats and asking him to present it to the class alongside Shakespeare’s Sonnet number two (When Forty Winters Shall Besiege Thy Brow). My teacher agreed and asked the class to discuss the two poems and vote on the one they thought was the better. To his horror (and my delight) they felt that my poem was the better of the two.]

This reflection led me to recognise that my learning style involved a high level of self-awareness about my motivations for learning, the barriers that prevented my learning, and my preferred learning style. I learned that my motivation for learning springs from a keen desire to develop a deep understanding of the subject matter and how to apply it. I recognised that I can be easily distracted from learning if there was no classroom opportunity for classroom discussion and debate and that surface and rote learning (learning things by heart) bored me. I enjoy activity-based learning because it gives me an opportunity to apply the theories that I have been introduced to in class, but I am also an intuitive learner who loves discovering new relationships and connections between ideas. I also enjoy auditory, visual and kinaesthetic classroom experiences.

While attending the teaching and learning workshop in 1992 I was excited that my intuitive approach to teaching and learning was confirmed by Ramsden, Biggs and Candy. I was particularly taken by Ramsden’s assertion said that effective teaching and learning outcomes are more likely to occur when the teacher reflects on practice and applies their insights in an iterative cycle based in an action learning paradigm, and also by Biggs who contended that every teacher has some kind of implicit theory of teaching that they arrive at through reflection on their own practice. He asserted that teaching is a personal experience and that the context – both theoretical and situational – in which each teacher works is different. Phil Candy also emphasised the importance reflective practice for lifelong learning and noted four principal domains of self-direction in life-long learning: personal autonomy, willingness and ability to manage one’s overall learning endeavours, independent pursuit of learning without formal institutional support or affiliation, and learner-control of instruction. xi

Another important outcome from these workshops was the insight that my preferred learning – and teaching – style was collaborative. As will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3: Technology and Creativity of my teaching story, this recognition of my preference for collaboration led to my decision to share the $6000 Vice Chancellors Award with my colleagues so that we could develop an on-line learning application.

Significant in my journey as a teacher committed to learning about effective teaching and learning and the development of One Country: Different Voices, was the co-authoring in 1999 of a report, Indigenous Inclusion in Curriculum, with Dr Josie Arnold, Indigenous academic Sue Atkinson and Indigenous learning co-ordinator for Swinburne Lilydale, Lorraine Lilley. This report looked at the ways in which Swinburne University of Technology could enrich its awareness of Indigenous matters and apply them to the development of teaching and learning materials that would advantage both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. The report surveyed best practice approaches to teaching Indigenous students in Australia, Canada and United States and made a series of recommendations to the University as an institution committed to enhancing awareness of Indigenous life in Australia and providing excellent teaching and learning experiences for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. It also included a series of checklists that academics could use to facilitate Indigenous inclusion in their curriculum.

In recent years an important inspiration to understanding of learning and teaching has been the work of Luce Irigaray. From Irigaray I have learned that my approach rejects an authoritative (“masculinist?”) practice that has implicit in it the position of the teacher as the font of all knowledge and who uses formal language to convey information and ideas which has the effect of creating distance between teacher and student. Irigaray contends that from the early days of Greek culture when Socrates first conceived of a new form of critical pedagogy that asked the student to question, teaching practice has evolved into a practice that encompasses a relationship between teacher and student that involves the teacher - who is always represented as being masculine - ensuring that the student “sees” knowledge in the same way as him.

The model is essentially teacher-centered because it relies on the teacher “transmitting” the same knowledge and world view that he acquired in turn from his teacher. This is in spite of the fact that while the model is based on Socratean pedagogy which invites the student to critically evaluate information presented to them, it nevertheless inevitably leads the student to perceive the world in the same way as the teacher. This leads, according to Irigaray, to a position whereby “the discussions, the presumed dialogues, between master and disciple are based on the correct perception of the things or objects of the world and their correct arrangement in a whole.” (Irigaray, 2006) xii

The problem with this approach, Irigaray argues, is that this way of teaching is no longer appropriate to our times because it “presupposes that only one world can amount to the universal truth, and it does not take into account that different worlds exist which do not envision the truth in the same way.” (ibid) To address this issue she proposes that teachers must shift from just “looking-at” (or perceiving) information and ideas – “truth” - in any dialogue to “listening to” what is being said. In Irigaray’s formulation “looking at” implicitly involves accepting the “pyramid of values” contained in the information; “listening to”, on the other hand asks the student to assess information according to its particular pyramid of values.

I decided that Irigaray’s finding that the difference between boys and girls is not only sexual in a limited sense, but sexuate in that it is not confined to simple gender and bodily differences but also to their whole subjectivity, xiii can also be applied to multicultural approaches to teaching and learning. It was Irigaray’s insight that boys and girls could be taught to recognise their differences through thinking about how they use language that led me to include an exercise on the One Country: Different Voices Wiki discussion forum that invites you to reflect upon how students from different situations, cultures and experiences use language to discuss issues such as racism. This exercise is informed by Irigaray’s contention that [t]he way in which a child speaks or lives in is not an unimportant matter. It bears witness to the child’s manner of dwelling - of relating with himself/herself, with the other(s), with the world in general. It reveals the child's own world, a world in which he/she lives, a world which takes part in some way in the identity of the child.” xiv

It was Irigaray’s emphasis on the importance of understanding how language is used that led me also to believe that a key purpose of One Country: Difference Voices should also be to introduce you to the concepts of cultural literacy.

Cultural literacy

Broadly, cultural literacy aims to help you to understand the way that you construct the world is determined by your own and others’ values and actions. Cultural literacy refers to the individual’s understanding of how the world works in terms of the taken-for-granted idioms, allusions, social practices and language that are used in different contexts within their own culture(s) as well as by other culture(s). Thus, the culturally literate person understands that even their own life consists of different “cultures” and how they speak to and interact with their parents is different from speaking to and interacting with peers on the playground, or how they write an history essay is different from writing text messages to a close friends or an employer, and so on.

Cultural literacy also involves recognition of how one interacts with people from “foreign” cultures, even those living in Australia - such as Indigenous Australians or migrants to Australia. As Irigaray warns, cultural literacy is increasingly important in an age of globalisation which has the danger of an even more dangerous form of colonialism with all cultural production being produced by the West. She warns that “[W]e Westerners cannot impose our logic on all people, on all the peoples of the world. We rather have to listen to those who talk, think and act according to another logic than our own.” xv


My interest in embedding cultural literacy in my teaching arose from my experience that most non-Indigenous students at Swinburne Lilydale’s campus had limited general exposure to Australian Indigenous history or life and very little or no awareness of local Indigenous history or contemporary life. This led to my commitment to Indigenous inclusion in curriculum which was engendered through several influences, including: personal philosophical support for the actions being taken by Indigenous Australians to have their situation recognized and changed; a belief that that when teaching subjects that involved the examination of cultural modes of representation such as the mass media, it was desirable for the broader education of all students - Indigenous and non-Indigenous - to be aware of how issues such as Indigenous culture and activism are reported; to make the content of subjects relevant to Indigenous students ;and, the need to acknowledge and cater to the different approaches to learning of Indigenous students.

The 8-Ways Learning framework

Another significant influence in the development of the One Country: Different Voices website was the 8-Ways Learning framework developed by the Elders and Owners of traditional knowledge of Western NSW, and the custodial owners of 8-Ways RAET - Western New South Wales Regional Aboriginal Education Team, DEC.

8-Ways Learning offers teachers a way to include Aboriginal perspectives in classes by using Aboriginal learning techniques and examining mainstream lesson content from an Indigenous perspective. It is targeted primarily at Indigenous students and teachers of Indigenous students. However, One Country: Different Voices adapts 8-Ways Learning, and targets it primarily at non-Indigenous students, introducing you – the non-Indigenous student - to the value of Indigenous learning approaches for your learning. At the same time it highlights that learning for non-Indigenous students is based in mainstream Australian culture and has a fundamentally Eurocentric focus; that is, it conveys the values and attitudes of our European heritage with all of its implicit ideas about learning, culture and community.


8-Ways Learning is interesting in that it seeks to avoid any sense of “us” and “them,” the binary oppositions that can occur when both Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers fail to recognise value in each others’ cultures and knowledge, or the richness in the different approaches to learning taken by Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Instead, 8-Ways Learning seeks to develop what Tyson Yunkaporta describes as a dialogical approach which brings together “the highest knowledge in both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal learning systems to find a productive common ground.”xvi (p161)

In a paper that he wrote with Sue McGinty titled, Reclaiming Aboriginal Knowledge at the Cultural Interface,xvii he argues that the way to achieve this dialogical exchange between Indigenous and non-Indigenous learning systems is through Martin Nakata’s concept of the Cultural Interface which provides a model and a means for contemporary Indigenous people to operate between their Indigenous cultural lives and communities, and their live in non-Indigenous culture and communities. Hart, Whatman, McLaughlin and Sharma-Brymerxviii have developed the following model to illustrate the cultural interface:


Yunkaporta and McGinty note that while Nakata contends the Cultural Interface is highly political and contested, it also offers the opportunity for reconciliation, innovation and creative exchange and to harness two systems in order to create new knowledge (p58).

According to Yunkaporta, 8-Ways Learning takes as a guiding principle what he describes as the basic laws of Nakata’s Cultural Interface: “The shallower the knowledge, the more difference is found between cultures. The deeper the knowledge, the more common ground is found between cultures.” He argues that “the most productive form of deep common ground knowledge found at the Cultural Interface is meta-knowledge, particularly knowledge about ways of learning” (2009:ibid). By drawing on what he considers the most beneficial aspects from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous approaches to learning 8-Ways Learning develops an Indigenous pedagogical model which can be equally applied in the Indigenous and non-Indigenous classroom. Yunkaporta contends that this intercultural approach allows the teacher to embed Aboriginal perspectives into how they teach rather than what they teach, thereby “making all existing curriculum content culturally responsive while also increasing quality teaching practice” (200, p162).

The key elements of the 8-Ways Learning framework are to approach learning through narrative; use learning maps to elucidate learning processes; maximise non-verbal, intrapersonal and kinaesthetic skills; use images and symbols to maximise understanding of concepts and content; use eco-pedagogy and place-based learning; encourage lateral thinking; scaffold learning; use holistic learning; and, focusing on local viewpoints and applying what is learned to benefit the community.

In developing One Country: Different Voices I sought to develop a learning resource that is informed by both the 8-Ways Learning framework and the learning theories and paradigms discussed earlier (constructivism and critical pedagogy) and combines mainstream, non-Indigenous, learning styles.

The 8-Ways Learning Framework



First Way: Story-Sharing: learning through narrative


Story-Sharing is based in what Yunkaporta terms “Aboriginal yarning modalities” whereby Elders teach by using stories to encourage the listener to engage in introspection and analysis. It can also be understood as “narrative as pedagogy, narrative as process, stories experience, cultural meaning-making, place-based significance, and as dynamic frameworks for memory and cognition” (8-Ways Wikispace). In grounding learning in the exchange of personal and wider narratives, Story-Sharing has synergies with and overlaps Goodson and Gill’s (2011) xix concept of narrative as being transformational. Their definition of narrative learning is close to definitions of Indigenous Dreaming as narrative learning. Dreaming knowledge relies on memory, is transmitted, orally and through performance, is a means of transmitting cultural knowledge from generation to generation and allows the Indigenous person to know who their ancestors were and who they themselves are.

One Country: Different Voices puts this into practice by including My Story, the reading about me as a learner and teacher; asking you to complete the Identity Map; and, through exchanging your stories on the Wiki discussion forum.

Second Way: Learning Maps: making learning pathways and process explicit visually.


Learning Maps are also understood in terms of “Aboriginal intellectual processes that can be visualised using metaphors grounded in culture and country.” (http://8ways.wikispaces.com/) Learning Maps incorporates teaching practices such as scaffolding – where your teacher guides you to build on the knowledge you already have, and using diagrams and visualisations to map out processes for you to follow which allow you to see the whole of the learning journey. I developed several learning maps when I was conceptuaIising One Country: Different Voices and I believe that the use of learning maps would also be a very useful strategy for you to use when you plan school assignments.

Third Way: Non-verbal: thinking, acting, making and sharing knowledge without words


Non-verbal includes hands-on (kinaesthetic) learning by students and the use of body language by teachers to convey meaning for learning and disciplinary purposes. It also taps into the way that Indigenous people use silence in their interactions with others while they reflect on what is being communicated. Non-verbal also refers to the way in which Aboriginal people use reflection as part of being critical thinkers. They also convey important cultural information through song and dance.

One Country: Different Voices recognises the value of the Non-verbal way in that it provides you with many web links to information that may challenge your taken-for-granted assumptions, encourages you to consider them critically, and, through interactions on the Wiki discussion forum, to listen and consider other points of view.

Fourth Way: Symbols & Images: using visual representations to convey complex ideas


For Indigenous Australians use of visual representations such as painting (including sanding drawings, rock painting and body painting) is an important way of recording and communicating cultural information. In the non-Indigenous world painting and visual representation also fulfils a similar function.

Much of the design of One Country: Different Voices is based on the recognition that the World Wide Web (WWW) has become one of the most important visual sources of cultural knowledge and a great deal of thought has been given to how its visual presentation is an integral aspect of constructing a particular view of teaching and learning.

Fifth Way: Land Links: learning from land


8-Ways Learning relates learning to land and place. For most Aboriginal communities this learning is place-based and is linked to a community’s Country with its ancestral links.

One Country: Different Voices attempts to show non-Indigenous students that the concept of Land Links is equally valuable to their learning by providing them by encouraging them to learn something about Australian Aboriginal relationships to land and to think about how what they learn can be applied to their own lives and sense of self. Questions raised through suggested activities and the Wiki discussion forum include: How does this land Australia shape my identity? What does it mean to be Australian? How do I ensure that this land survives at a time when climate change is being voiced as a major concern?

Sixth Way: Non-Linear: combining different ideas to create new knowledge


Indigenous Australian learning includes the practice of thinking in non-sequential and lateral ways to solve problems. Implicit in this is the capacity for critical thinking and independent learning.

The difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous modes of thinking has been described as lateral versus sequential – or big picture versus focus on detail. However, this is a rather simplistic view. One Country: Different Voices implicitly emphasises the importance of a range of learning strategies, encouraging you to reflect on your individual learning style, and when and for what learning outcomes you might use lateral thinking and sequential thinking.

Seventh Way: Deconstruct Reconstruct: learning from wholes to parts and watching then doing


This way of learning is holistic, global, and uses scaffolding to help you build your knowledge from what you already know. In Australian Indigenous society young learners start with understanding the whole structure first and then moving to an understanding of its parts. In Western education it is common start the learning process with small steps and details before moving to an understanding of the whole.

One Country: Different Voices recognises that, depending upon the desired learning outcome, both approaches are important. Through critically evaluating the web links and engaging in suggested activities you will come to recognise that you use both surface and deep-learning approaches.

Eighth Way: Community Links: learning that is group-oriented and connected to community


Community Links is one of the most important learning ways proposed by 8-Ways Learning. This way emphasises that learning is always fundamentally a community-based activity – whether it be in the classroom, in the family, among friends, sporting club, or in the large community of nation. Through community-based learning you learn values and ethics. For Australian Indigenous communities learning is also motivated by a desire for inclusion and acceptance in the community.

The suggested activities included on the website and participating in discussions on the Wiki discussion forum, One Country: Different Voices encourage you to think critically about the nature of the various communities you belong to (such as sports teams, friends, and so on), the kinds of values these communities have and what you learn from them. These activities will also ask you to think about how you can make positive contributions to your communities.

Chapter 3: Technology and Creativity

The One Country: Different Voices website uses the 8-Ways Learning framework as its navigational structure. It includes eight interconnected learning ways:

One Country: Different Voices adapts 8-Ways Learning by using the icons as interactive links to readings and interpretations of each of the 8-Ways Learning ways. It includes links to many other websites that provide further insights into the ideas being discussed; It has four case studies that explore how 8-Ways Learning can be applied (Art, Sport, Technology and Science), and a link to a Wiki discussion forum where Indigenous and non-Indigenous students can engage in discussion on topics such as racism in sport or their sense of identity.


The construction and content of One Country: Different Voices reflects my continually growing belief that the creative use of technology can lead to effective enhancement of student learning. The creative use of technology includes variables such as the aesthetics of the application and the belief that a positive response from students is more likely when the application is attractive, has good design that facilitates usability, and avoids falling into the trap of merely using new media to merely replicate old or traditional classroom practices. Diana Laurillard has pointed out the contradiction that the use of paper in education is never questioned in terms of its effectiveness as a teaching medium, but the use of digital technologies, which has much more creative potential than paper, is still being evaluated. (2012: Kindle Locations 4694-4696.) xx

One Country: Different Voices also reflects my personal enjoyment in the act of creativity. Smith and Smith (2010) make a distinction between teaching for creativity, that is, constructing learning experiences which encourage you to engage in creative thinking; creative teaching, which may mean just trying something new but is generally part of a broader more conservative approach to teaching; and, creativity in teaching which takes an overall new and experimentally creative approach (2010, p256). xxi Although I am interested in all three aspects of the act of creativity, I am inevitably more drawn to creativity in teaching.

As noted above, at the completion of the 1992 workshop I was awarded the inaugural Swinburne University Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Innovation in Teaching in order to further my interest and application of on-line teaching. At that time I was already exploring approaches to effective activity-based on-line learning through desktop publishing. This involved students learning about reporting and the news process by producing on-line student publications as well as being involved in a community newspaper project, The Hawthorn Herald, which was produced monthly and distributed free to homes and businesses in the Hawthorn area. These projects were designed to give students both theoretical and practical experiences in news publication. Their assessment involved reflection and discussion of the ethical and practical considerations influencing the news process, news production and team work, as well as acquiring practical desk-top publishing skills which involved them developing their digital literacy.

[Another example of my sometimes mischievous approach to learning – and in this case teaching – can be found in my experience in beginning to teach desktop publishing in 1988. I only saw the desktop publishing program that I intended to use (PageMaker) about 20 minutes before my first class. When students came to class I asked them to look carefully at the navigation design of the program and they quickly noticed that it used a navigation style and structure not dissimilar to Windows and Word. I suggested to them that it was always a very useful strategy to build on what you know when learning new computer-based programs and that they should spend the first class using their extant knowledge of Word to see how much they could learn about PageMaker. By the end of the class they had taught themselves to create simple publications and after two weeks they were producing more complex publications. By this time when one of the students asked me if I knew how to use the program I had to admit that I did not and they proceeded to teach me. When I resigned from teaching job with Swinburne in 2008 I was telephoned by one of my students who then held a senior in another faculty who told me that his experience in my desktop publishing class had been one of his most significant experiences in life in terms of thinking about learning.]

Other examples of using computer technology to enhance student learning included involving students in a blog discussion with leading digital culture theoretician Nicholas Negroponte. Whilst exploring the internet I found a site created by Negroponte in which he invited people to comment on the latest drafts of his work in progress, Being Digital (later published in 1995). I set my students with the task of responding to Negroponte and to my delight he engaged in ongoing discussions with them.

This experience inspired me to use discussion threads and web links in Media Studies class web sites. I also involved students in an early computer program that used avatars - in this case an email program which allowed users to choose a graphic character and fictional identity to represent them. I arranged with the campus technical support to give them temporary email access to the characters they chose so that they could write to each other and reflect on the implications of effective anonymity on how they perceived themselves and others, and on how they communicated with each other.

After winning the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Innovation in Teaching I decided to invite four of my Media Studies colleagues to collaborate in an on-line learning project (From Book to Film: Textuality and Discourse) that used the latest on-line technologies to create an application that would allow students to explore complex culture and communications theories in a way that would open up opportunities for them to engage in their own reflection and application of these theories and technologies.

During 1993 my colleagues and I discussed theoretical approaches to effective use of cultural communications technologies, considered a range of teaching and learning theories that could underpin the application we were working on, as well as well as the over-arching cultural theoretical framework of the application. The goals of the project were to provide students with an environment through which they could explore cultural and textual theories at the same time as questioning how new electronic technologies are influencing the way in which we think and communicate; to create a practical environment through which students could problematise or question the value of new information technologies; and, to develop strategies by which these technologies would become substantive resources for learning rather than mere aids for learning. (Arnold and Vigo, 1996, p77) xxii

This project established the framework within which subsequent research and projects focusing on learning and teaching undertaken by myself and my colleagues over the next 12 years were conceived. Each of the projects focussed on the implications of the shift from a print to an electronic culture for how we conceptualise and communicate information (that is, representation, narrativity and discourse). They also focussed on the implications of the shift from print to electronic culture for pedagogy, that is, changes in teaching practices and how students learn. Each of the projects also contributed to the construction and development of One Country: Different Voices and its implicit ideas about teaching and learning.


i Irigaray, L. and Green, M. (2008) Luce Irigaray: Teaching Kindle Edition. London: Continuum. Kindle Edition: (Kindle Location 3791).

ii Jeffery, P.L., Smith, R. N., and Weal, S.E. (1998) “The Role of Learning Guides in Multi-Modal Learning at the Lilydale Campus of Swinburne University of Technology.” AARE Conference Paper. http://www.aare.edu.au/98pap/jef98078.htm Accessed 15/12/2012.

iii Signor, L. (2003) “Virtual lectures versus face-to-face lectures: A four year study exploring the impact on student’s results,” in Integrate, Interact, Impact Geoffrey Crisp, Di Thiele, Ingrid Scholten, Sandra Barker, Judi Baron (eds). Proceedings of the 20th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE), Adelaide, Australia 7–10 December 2003. Accessed 15/12/2012.

iv Murphy, J. (1997) Welcome to Country. Swinburne Lilydale Campus Opening. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIEhI45cb3U. Accessed 12/06/2010.

v Elbaz, F. (1991) “Research on teachers’ knowledge: The evolution of a discourse. Jounal of Curriculum Studies, Vol. 23, No. 1. pp 1-19.

vi Kuntz, S. a Kaplan, C. (2012) “Life Narrative and Intergenerational Pedagogy, 2nd Global Conference Storytelling. November 2012, Salzburg, Austria. http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/probing-the-boundaries/persons/storytelling-global-reflections-on-narrative/conference-programee-papers-and-abstracts/session-2-narrative-in-teaching-and-pedagogical-research/ Accessed 10/11/2012.

vii Adair, N. & Goodson, I. (2006) “Coming to know: Personal knowledge, expert knowledge and the construction of knowledge in research knowledge”, ECER (European Conference on Educational Research), (Geneva, September).

viii Goodson, I.F & Gill, S.R. (2011) Narrative Pedagogy. Life History and Learning. New York: Peter Lang.

ix Boff, L. (1997) Foreword to the third edition. In P. McLaren, Life in schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundations of education. (pp. xi-xii). New York: Longman.

x Goodson, I. & Gill, S. R. (2011). Op. cit.

xi Candy, P. (1991). Self-Direction for Lifelong Learning: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

xii Irigaray, L. (2006) “Listening, Thinking, Teaching”, in Luce Irigaray: Teaching, Luce Irigaray and Mary Green (eds). London: Continiuum. Kindle Edition, Kindle Locations 3625-3627.

xiii Irigaray, L. (2004) “Teaching How to Meet in Difference”, in Luce Irigaray and Mary Green (2006) Teaching, op.cit. Kindle Edition. Locations 3202-3203.

xiv Ibid. Locations 3350-3352.

xv Irigaray, L. (2004) op. cit. Kindle Locations 3751-3754.

xvi Yunkaporta, T. (2009) Aboriginal Pedagogies at the Cultural Interface. Draft Report for DET on Indigenous Research Project conducted by Tyson Yunkaporta, Aboriginal Education Consultant, in Western NSW Region Schools, 2007-2009.

xvii Yunkaporta, T. & McGinty, S. (2009) “Reclaiming Knowledge at the Cultural Interface,” in The Australian Educational Researcher, Vol. 36, No.2. http://eprints.jcu.edu.au/8651/1/0902_d.pdf Accessed 23/09/2012.

xviii Hart, V. , Whatman, S., McLaughlin, J. & Sharma-Brymer, V. (2012) “Pre-service teachers’ pedagogical relationships and experiences of embedding Indigenous Australian knowledge in teaching practicum”, in Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, Vol. 42, No. 55 (pp703-723).

xix Goodson, I. & Gill, S. R. (2011). Op. cit.

xx Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. London: Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.

xxi Smith, J.K & Smith, L.F. (2010) “Educational Creativity,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity, James C. Kaufman and Robert J. Sternberg (eds). New York: Cambridge University Press.

xxii Arnold, J. & and Vigo, K. (1996) “Hyperteaching in the IMMaterial World”, Media Information Australia. Sydney.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware that the web site links on this website may feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, or burial sites, art sites, and artefacts. I apologise for any distress this may inadvertently cause.


“People who live in the open air read the light and shadow of the day, the movement of the stars, the colour, direction and shape of clouds as they traverse the sky, the signs of smoke and dust in the landscape, the level of water in waterholes, the direction of birds flying across the sky in the evening, and the tracks and scats of animals. They predict the weather from rings around the moon, the season, and the movement of ants and birds. To eat and to live well depends on attention to these details.” Marcia Langton, 2000 i

The 8-Ways Learning framework defines Non-verbal as the Aboriginal way of relating and connecting to knowledge reflectively, critically, ancestrally and physically. It stresses that in Aboriginal culture communication also occurs through body language and that silence and listening respectfully is considered to be just as important as speaking. It underlines the importance of kinaesthetic or hands-on learning and that testing knowledge non-verbally through experience, introspection and practice, the Aboriginal student develops independent critical thinking skills.

These kinds of non-verbals modes of communication are also addressed in the Guide for Engaging respectfully with Aboriginal and Torres Islander People ii, prepared by the Indigenous Lead Centre of the Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE, which includes the following advice:

Styles of non-verbal communication – such as making direct eye contact, avoiding direct eye contact, silence, and the of gestures - vary and are interpreted differently by different cultures. The use or avoidance of direct eye contact and silence in conversation by Indigenous Australians is one area of communication frequently misunderstood by non-Indigenous Australians. For many non-Indigenous Australians direct eye contact is considered a sign of sincerity, respect and willingness to listen. However, in Indigenous societies, direct eye contact may be interpreted as a sign of rudeness, lack of respect or even aggression with people who are not family members or close friends (Fryer-Smith 2002) iii. In other Aboriginal communities, the avoidance of direct eye contact can be intended to demonstrate politeness, respect, or shame.

The use of silence also differs between Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies. In non-Indigenous Australian society, a pause in conversation can be cause for embarrassment. In Indigenous society, however, silence is an important and valued feature of non-verbal communication, and can indicate a desire to think about a matter or to become comfortable with the social situation. (Fryer-Smith 2002. p5.4)

Fryer Smith also notes:

“Sign language and gestures are significant aspects of communication in traditional Aboriginal culture11. Sign language may be especially important in hunting and mourning practices. Many gestures are common to Aboriginal people throughout Australia, particularly those which are intended to identify relatives or other people.

“For example:

He also points to other more subtle gestures which are frequently missed by non-Indigenous people such as eye, head or lip movements “to indicate direction of motion, or the location of a person or of an event being discussed.” Gesture is also used in touch between Aboriginal people, either to initiate conversation or in place of conversation. “However, uninvited touch by a non-Aboriginal person may be interpreted as a sign of aggression.” (ibid)

8-Ways Learning uses Non-verbal as a way for teachers to manage classes through looks and gestures. The teacher and the class agree on a range of small gestures, eye direction and facial expressions to act as coded messages which convey meaning about behaviour. 8-Ways Learning also warns teachers that they need to be deeply committed to teaching Indigenous students in a positive and inclusive way because if they are not they may betray their true feelings through unintended non-verbal cues such as rolling of their eyes, hand gestures and smirks.

8-Ways Learning encourages teachers to critically analyse the texts they use, examining them for unspoken values and assumptions and making them clear to the student. Through this process of problematising or questioning texts, the teacher encourages students – Indigenous and non-Indigenous - to engage in critical reflection and independent thinking.

Activity: Have you ever played charades? It is a game that relies on non-verbal communication. Make up a charade game that involves the first meeting between a non-Indigenous person and an Australian Indigenous person. The non-Indigenous person is asking the Indigenous person who only speaks their own languages for help finding a river to camp beside. Your audience has to guess what help the non-Indigenous person is seeking.

What kinds of non-verbal communication would you use? You MUST avoid using cultural stereotypes such as assuming that the other person is ignorant because they cannot understand your spoken words. Avoid shouting and showing frustration.

ImageImageNon-Verbal is connected to Symbols & Images because important cultural information is communicated through visual representations such as art.

ImageImageNon-Verbal is connected to Story-Sharing because sometimes important community stories are told through a complex combination of song, dance and painting.

ImageImageNon-Verbal is connected to Non-Linear because sometimes you have to use Indigenous classroom practices to challenge dominant ideologies.

ImageImageNon-Verbal is connected to Land Links in the way that for Indigenous Australians and the colonists the concept of the silence of the land had different meanings.

ImageImageNon-Verbal is connected to Deconstruct Reconstruct because education is also about learning about your relationship with your environment (Country), spiritual and philosophical life (Dreaming), and your community. It is also about how school and university can also help you to engage in a dialogue with each of them.

ImageImageNon-Verbal is connected with Learning Maps because a song and visual images can encompass the story of a civilisation.

ImageImageNon-Verbal is connected to Community Links because you need to understand non-verbal communication if you work in an Aboriginal community.

i Langton, Marcia (2000) “Homeland: Sacred visions and the settler state.” Artlink, Special Issue 20(1), Reconciliation? Indigenous art for the 21st century. pp 261-262

ii Different Cultures. Common Ground. Guide for Engaging respectfully with Aboriginal and Torres Islander People. Cairns: Lead Centre of the Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE.

iii Fryer-Smith, S. 2002. Aboriginal Benchbook for Western Australian courts. Melbourne: The Australian Institute of Judicial Administration Incorporated. www.aija.org.au/online/ICABenchbook/BenchbookChapter5.pdf. Accessed 13/06 2013.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware that the web site links on this website may feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, or burial sites, art sites, and artefacts. I apologise for any distress this may inadvertently cause.

The Story of the Girl, the Rock Pool and the Stars

“There was once a girl who wanted to travel among the stars, but she did not know how to reach them. She asked her uncle and he told her of the high hills – ‘Surely from there you can reach the stars.’ But though the girl climbed to the very top of the highest hill she could find, the stars were higher still, and she could not reach them. Next she asked her brother and he spoke to her of the place where the great river met the sky – ‘Surely from there you could reach the stars.’ But though the girl followed the river for many days and nights, the place where the water met the sky was always just a little way ahead, and still the stars were beyond her grasp. Finally she asked her grandmother, and her grandmother took the girl by the hand and walked with her to a great pool of water. Together they swam out to the rock that rose upwards from the centre of the pool, and together they waited until the sun set. But then, though the girl stood on the tips of her toes and stretched out her fingers, the stars were still too high. Thinking she had waited all day for nothing, the girl was angry – until her grandmother pointed to the water. For when she looked down, the girl saw the stars twinkling all around her. And when she knelt on the rock to lean over the pool, she saw her own face smiling back, and the stars shining in her eyes. “As the girl grew, she became renowned for her wisdom – and when she was herself grey-haired and a grandmother, people came from miles around to ask her advice. And whenever she met anybody who wanted to travel the stars, she would tell them the story of the rock pool, and say to them, ‘The universe isn’t out there. It is here. Whatever is above our heads, is beneath our feet. Whatever is in the sky, is in earth. And whatever is in earth, is in us’.” (From: Seeing the Light: Aboriginal Law, Learning and Sustainable Living in Country, by Ambelin Kwaymullina.)

Plato – the importance of stories in shaping lives

“Then we must first of all, it seems, supervise the storytellers. We’ll select their stories whenever they are fine and beautiful and reject them when they aren’t. And we’ll persuade nurses and mothers to tell their children the ones we have selected, since they will shape their children’s souls with stories much more than they will shape their bodies by handling them.” (Plato, Republic, Book 2, 337c.)

These two accounts of the relationship between stories and knowledge share the important insight that stories help us learn who we and our people are, and that the stories we hear shape our identity. But they also offer some insight into an important difference between Australian Aboriginal and Western culture: in Aboriginal culture an individual’s identity is formed by and connected to the land; in Western culture identity is formed by and connected to the nation we live in. The Story of the Girl, the Rock Pool and the Stars is a Dreaming story that tells us that our sense of identity is inextricably linked to our country and everything above, on and in it. The quote from Greek philosopher Plato tells us that the most important cultural stories are those that support the values and practices of the country – or State – we live in.

Story-Sharing as learning

The 8-Ways Learning framework defines Story Sharing as cultural meaning making, a way of teaching important information about ethics and values and as a means of ensuring that important information is learned and remembered. When Australian Indigenous people share stories they understand that story-sharing involves teaching about life and relationships with people and land.


From Plato to the present, the concept of Story Sharing – or learning through narratives – has played a central role in every human culture. Story-sharing as an important way of teaching that is recognised by other contemporary non-Indigenous teaching academics such as Goodson and Gill who argue in their book Narrative Pedagogy. Life History and Learning (2011) i that one of the most important outcomes of learning from stories is the potential to transform the individual’s understanding of themselves. They define the transformational process that occurs through stories – or narrative learning - as an “enhanced understanding of oneself and the other. Narratives tell us who we were, who we are now, the journey we have travelled so far, and the journey we are to travel together.” (p.119) This notion of story sharing as transformation is also recognised by Melissa Kirby in her yarn-up with Tyson Yunkaporta about 8-Ways Learning when she says:

“It’s overwhelming how yarning is a transformation for oneself. Often we hold these thoughts, processes and images in our head for days just to have that one important yarn. How is it we can retain so much information? Looking at the eight-way diagram, the boomerang/Story Sharing element is the starting point for memory, and for conversation in any shape or form.”(8-Way – A yarn-up)

Toronto-based Métis writer Lee Maracle puts it in a much straight-forward way:

“Words are not objects to be wasted. They represent the accumulated knowledge, cultural values, the vision of an entire people or peoples. We believe the proof of a thing or idea is in the doing. Doing requires some form of social interaction and thus, story is the most persuasive and sensible way to present the accumulated thoughts and values of a people. (1990, Oratory: Coming to Theory. p3). ii

Australian Aboriginal Elder Gladys Idjirrimoonya Milroy writes that Aboriginals have different ways of knowing and that one way they make sense of the world is through stories given to them through the Dreaming: “Stories tell us about the spirit of the world, and they come to us from the trees, animals, rocks, rivers, the moon, stars, and the country itself. “ (“Different Ways of Knowing: Trees Are Our Families Too,” in Heartsick for Country, p 22) iii

How stories contribute to our sense of place

The idea that we who are – our sense of identity – comes through stories is also explored by American academic Margaret Somers (1994 iv) who draws on narrativity theory and identity-politics. She argues that stories or narratives that help us learn who we are consist of both individual narratives and larger social narratives. Personal narratives allow us to make sense of ourselves and our relation to their immediate world, such as family, friends, work, school, and so on. Public or cultural narratives, which may be local, national, or global, shape and are in turn shaped by particular understandings of the world. For example, Australians are fair, love sport, support the underdog, etc. Conceptual or theoretical narratives are the theories that researchers such as sociologists use to make sense of social life, Finally, there are meta-narratives (which include master narratives such as democracy, freedom or a doctrine of progress based on capitalism, etc. (pp.618-619).


Somers links these narratives with developments in identity politics which, since the early 1990s has seen people’s sense of identity being influenced by things such as gender, colour, generation, cultural background, etc. Thus, people who have similar life experiences, will behave in certain ways because they choose to do so and because they strongly relate to particular social categories. In Somers’ terms, “I act because of who I am” (p.607, italics in original). She also argues that there is no reason “to assume a priori that people with similar attributes will share common experiences, let alone be moved to common forms and meanings of social action, unless they share similar narratives and relational identities” (p.635). However, these narratives and relational identities shift over time and space.

Sense of Identity and Dreaming

Somers’ concept of over overlapping but moving narrative networks that shift over space and time introduces the possibility for understanding of how Indigenous Australians can experience multiple narrative identities that are influenced by historical /cultural narratives concurrently with personal/cultural experiences. The role of Dreaming in shaping Australian Indigenous identity provides an example of how historical/cultural narratives operate in this context. Damousi(2005 v) describes Dreaming as the term coined by Western anthropologists to describe the narratives that relate to “the Aboriginal belief that the land holds religious and philosophical knowledge, and that everything that inhabits the land (whether animate or inanimate, human or animal) has a fundamental connection to it.” In Yunkaporta’s words, “[i]n the Aboriginal world, stories are in the land - stories are places” (Yunkaporta, 2009a: 32). However, Dreaming also encompasses the notion of experience existing in parallel with “normal” time as well as in the past. Dreaming knowledge relies on memory and is transmitted, orally and through performance. It consists of stories that relate to specific places that shape their content and it is a means of transmitting cultural knowledge from generation to generation (Damousi, 2005, p.96). This traditional knowledge allows the Indigenous person to know who their ancestors were and who they themselves are. Traditional knowledge exists both in the past and in the present and can be used to make cultural statements “appropriate to contemporary events and situations” (Watson, 2003: 204). Thus Dreaming – which exists both in the past and the present – becomes an integral part of Indigenous identity.


This sense of connection between past and present through land is clearly revealed by Aunty Dot Peters in her interview about her links with Coranderrk. For Dot Peters, Coranderrk embodies both her internal self or consciousness and her external embodiment. It connects her spiritual past with her physical present. Indeed, for many Indigenous people land and body (the internal self) are indistinguishable. For example, Stewart and Strathern refer to the way in which Indigenous Australians “saturate the perceived landscape with values and meanings that provides a rich material network of associations for identity constructions, from the personal and emotional to the social and political-legal.” vi Strehlow (1947) refers to the way in which for the Aranda people of northern Australia “various physical objects in the landscape” are not mere “signposts that ‘mark the spot’ where the important events in the lives of his totemic ancestors took place at the beginning of time”, rather, they regard them as the “actual bodies of [their] ancestors.” (p.28) vii Swain (1993) argues that “Aborigines do not, or once did not, understand their being in terms of time, but of place and space.” The Aboriginal sense of being located in place and space, contrasts with the primacy placed by Western thought on temporality (1993: 2). viii

Personal/cultural experiences relates to the Indigenous person integrated into contemporary Australian society (for example, the urban Aboriginal) who lives in both an Aboriginal world and a non-Aboriginal world This experience is illustrated by the interview with former Wurundjeri Nurungaeta the late Juby (James) Wandin in which he reveals his identification as both an Indigenous person and as an “invisible” Indigenous person living a “white” lifestyle. His Indigenous identity is strongly associated with his Indigenous relatives and Coranderrk, a place that in many ways represents his Indigenous life. While his Indigenous identity is important he in effect sets it aside and develops an identity as a successful person operating within “white” society, doing well at school and finding success as a St Kilda football player. In this context, while he is widely recognised as being Indigenous this is seen as irrelevant in terms of his success to both himself and white society.

While he was living his “white” lifestyle he says that he had little relatively little knowledge of Wurundjeri customs and practices and it is only later in life, when he is appointed as the Nurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people that he comes to learn more about his people’s traditions. At that point traditional knowledge comes to the foreground in shaping his Aboriginal identity. In Somers’ terms, Wandin has shifted in time and space in what she terms his relational setting. She defines relational setting as “a pattern of relationships among institutions, public narratives and social practices” (p.625) in which identity-formation occurs. Thus for Juby Wandin, for much of his life his identity is formed within the relational setting of “white” society, and later, when he is appointed as the Nurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people, his relational setting shifts to the narratives and practices of his traditional Aboriginal heritage.

Traditional knowledge as cultural narrative

Bain Atwood offers interesting perspective on the importance of traditional knowledge as a cultural narrative. Attwood contends that traditional knowledge has become important for many Indigenous Australians because it conflates, past, present and place for Indigenous people living in urban contexts in contemporary Australia. He notes that the act of identifying with traditional knowledge allows many contemporary Indigenous Australians academics to include references to their traditional land and knowledge in order to establish Indigenous identity. “For some Aboriginal people, the past has been seen as the source of real Aboriginality, often considered to be that of traditional or classical Aboriginal culture; for others, it has been treated as a resource for learning more immediately who you are because of where you come from and who your people are.” (p.45 ix.) Thus, Andrew Peters, an Indigenous academic at Swinburne University of Technology asserts his Aboriginal identity through teaching about Aboriginal culture as well as embedding in his lessons his story about his journey of discovery about his Aboriginal past. Similarly, when young Aboriginal students Anne Jenkins, Michelle Stewart and Rhys Kinsey talk about Indigenous relationship to land, they introduce not only their names but their country.

Non-Indigenous Australians as “the other” and perceptions of country

One way of understanding this process is through applying Somers’ definition of cultural narratives which she describes as stories which are local, national, or global, and which shape – and are in turn shaped by - particular understandings of the world. Cultural narratives, she says, tend to prioritise one meaning over another. This definition provides a context for understanding that while most people living in Australia are ostensibly “Australian” (that is, they are Australian citizens or residents) they nevertheless have different individual and cultural histories and experiences. Both Aunty Dot Peters and James (Juby) Wandin perceive themselves as being inextricably linked with the land for their identification and their spiritual and physical existence. They see the non-Indigenous people as being “the other”. Non-Indigenous Australians are descended from “outsiders” who have through invasion imposed their particular (“other”) cultural values and identities on this place called Australia. For them the Indigenous Australians – and indeed people with other different national heritages - are the “other”.


This sense of “otherness” is also felt by non-Indigenous Australians and is explored by David Malouf in his 1998 Boyer lectures. x Malouf discusses the “complex fate” of Australians of European origin as being “the paradoxical condition of having our lives simultaneously in two places, two hemispheres” and the tension that exists “between environment and culture.” He argues that this tension “is not simply between the old world and the new, or even ….between new and newer”. Rather the tension relates to the need to reconcile a new physical environment (with “…different seasons, unfamiliar vegetation and birds and flowers ….different and disorienting stars overhead….”) and an inherited culture based in a different hemisphere and which was transplanted to the new land. According to Malouf, “We have our sensory life in one world, whose light and weather and topography shapes all that belongs to our physical being, while the larger part of what comes to us through language for example, and knowledge, and training, derives from another.”

The power of language in shaping cultural and environmental consciousness is illustrated by Malouf when he points to Judith Wright’s insight in the 1960s that “except for the wattle . . . there is very little mention of trees, flowers and birds by name or by recognisable description in Australian verse during the nineteenth and early twentieth century.” He argues that this was not because early white settler poets did not appreciate the environment, but because the environment had not yet entered the language of allusion and meaning used in poetry written in the “old” country. In his words, “Currawong and banksia carried no charge of emotion like ‘nightingale’ or ‘rose’.” By the mid-1960s this had changed and Australian poets were at last including Australian environmental references in their lexicon of cultural references. Malouf describes this as “that great process of culture, and also of acculturation, that creates a continuity at last between the life without and the life within. It is one of the ways - a necessary one - by which we come at last into full possession of a place.”

ImageImageStory-Sharing is linked to Land Links because many stories contain lessons that come from the land.

ImageImageStory-Sharing is linked to Symbols & Imagesbecause many stories are told through sand paintings and rock carvings.

ImageImageStory-Sharing is linked to Community Links because through stories community members learn about their traditions, values and ethics.

ImageImageStory-Sharing is linked to Non-verbal because Indigenous people also learn from listening and watching their Elders.

ImageImageStory-Sharing is linked to Non-Linear because Australian Aboriginals have a holistic approach to learning that often combines both community and school-based knowledge.

ImageImageStory-Sharing is linked to Deconstruct Reconstruct because Australian Aboriginals build on their knowledge and apply what they have learned from familiar to unfamiliar contexts.

ImageImageStory-Sharing is linked to Learning Maps because much of traditional Aboriginal learning is grounded in visual metaphors.

i Goodson, I.F. & Gill, S.R. (2011). Narrative Pedagogy. Life History and Learning. New York” Peter Lang.

ii Maracle, L. (1990). “Oratory: Coming to Theory,” in Galerie. North Vancouver, British Columbia.

iii Milroy, G.I. and Milroy, J. (2008) “Different Ways of Knowing: Trees Are Our Families Too,” in Heartsick for Country. Stories of Love, Spirit and Creation, Sally Morgan, Tjalaminu Mia and Blaze Kwaymullina (eds). North Fremantle: Fremantle Press.

iv Somers, M. (1994). “The narrative constitution of identity: A relational and network approach.” Theory and Society, Vol. 23. pp 605-649.

v Damousi, J. (2005). Freud in the Antipodes. A cultural history of psychoanalysis in Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.

vi Stewart, Pamela, J. and Strathern, Andrew (2001) “Origins versus Creative Poweres. The Interplay of Movement and Fixity¸ in Emplaced Myth. Space, Narrative, and Knowledge in Aboriginal Australia and Papua New Guinea. Rumsey, A, and Weiner J.F. (eds). Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. P. 80.

vii Strehlow, T.G.H. (1947) Aranda Traditions. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

viii Swain, T. (1993) A Place for Strangers. Towards a history of Australian Aboriginal being. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ix Attwood, B. (2005). Telling the truth about Aboriginal history. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

x Malouf, David. Malouf, Nov. 22,1998. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/boyers/index/BoyersChronoIdx.htm#1998)

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be aware
that the web site links on this pagemay feature images and voices
of people who have passed away, orburial sites, art sites, and artefacts


The Story of Coranderrk


The white settlement of Victoria had a devastating effect on traditional Aboriginal life in Victoria. Richard Broome, in his book titled, Aboriginal Victorians. A history since 1800 i, writes: “Remnant clans, devastated by population decline and loss of land through colonial dispossession, looked to formerly hostile groups for wives, partners and, perhaps unconsciously, the critical mass to form viable new Aboriginal communities” This process was both facilitated and imposed on the Aboriginals by the Europeans, who from the 1860s, sought to “centralise them” for their own convenience, “be it on a mission, school or government settlement.” Broome writes that this led to traditional identities being “enlarged by new colonial identities.” “Thus, a person who was of the Wurudjeri-balluk clan of the Woiwurrung language group, which was part of the Kulin confederation, became also one of the Coranderrk mission people.” (p.119).

The idea for Coranderrk was first mooted by the Kulin people in 1843 when head man Billiberry spoke to European officials, saying that his people needed a place to settle. It was raised again in 1859 when a deputation of Kulin men met in with members of a government-appointed Select Committee who were investigating into how Aboriginal settlement issues should be dealt with. During this meeting clan head Simon Wonga said they wanted land where they could grow vegetables and “work like white men.” The committee were concerned that the Kulin people had been reduced from 600 to 32 in just 20 years and so in 1863 approved 931 hectares of land be given to them on the banks of Badgers Creek, near Healesville. The land was called Coranderrk (meaning white tea tree). It was settled by members of the Kulin nation – Daungwurrung, Woiwurrung, Boonerwurrung, Wathawurrung and DjaDjawurrung.

In many ways Coranderrk was remarkably successful: the inhabitants built permanent buildings, planted crops such as vegetables and hops, made other goods for sale such as rugs, and sold their produce in Melbourne. However, it was also a place where Aboriginal children from other areas of Victoria were taken who were deemed by the Central Board for the Aborigines to be “neglected” or “unprotected” (Broome, p.134). Broome notes that by the 1870s there were up to 40 “orphan” children housed in its boarding house, “...all of whom were kept under lock and key at night” (p.136).

By 1868 white settlers were casting covetous eyes on Coranderrk lands and proposals were made to sell the land and move the Aboriginals to a new reserve bought with the proceeds. (Broome p.169). This proposal was vigourously opposed by William Barak who was appointed ngurungaeta, or head man, of the Kulin people after Simon Wonga’s death in 1974. A government Inquiry was held in 1881 into Coranderrk and it produced two conflicting reports – one that suggested that Coranderrk be retained and conditions improved, the other that if the Coranderrk “discontents” were not resolved the reserve should be broken up and sold and the residents moved “to an isolated part of the colony, under missionary management”.

The 1896 the government ordered that the Coranderrk lands be reduced. In 1916 so-called “half-castes” were banned from living on Coranderrk and denied access unless they had permission. By 1924 there were only 12 people living in Coranderrk and in 1924 the government “compassionately” allowed them to live the rest of their lives on the greatly reduced Coranderrk lands. The late James (Juby) Wandin was the last baby born at Coranderrk.



Activitity: Post a comment here about your responses and feelings about the Coranderrk story.

Activity: Search the internet or your local library to see if there was an Aboriginal community or reserve like Coranderrk near you. If you do find a community or reserve find out more about the people who lived there. See if you can find some descendents still living in the area and ask them to tell you their stories.

i Broome, R. (2005) Aboriginal Victorians. A history since 1800. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.