Aboriginal Heritage 4: Activities


Activity 1. Sharing knowledge

The Aboriginal cultures associated with the wetlands shares with the wider community knowledge, history, religious beliefs and attitudes that enhance the heritage values of the region. In what ways does this sharing take place? In groups of two, complete the following tasks:

  • list the titles of books that offer information on Aboriginal bush tucker and the pharmaceutical properties of plants

  • list the titles of books that gives the Aboriginal names for NT plants as well as identifying their uses (search under ethnobotany)

  • name eight native plants (common, scientific and if possible Aboriginal/Gagadu names) and describe the Aboriginal uses for them

  • research the role of the Aboriginal owners of Kakadu National Park and their involvement in its management

  • research and describe the various tourist ventures of the Top End and Katherine that have Aboriginal heritage as a focus and that also have Aboriginal guides.

Activity 2. Connections

Working in pairs, read through the text looking for cause and effect relations: something happening as a result of something else happening. Classify them according to the types of causes and effects e.g. weather – plants – people, weather – animals – places, weather – plants – animals and so on. How do Aboriginal hunter-gatherers make use of these connected events?

Activity 3. Food

A number of Aboriginal foods are mentioned in the description of the seasons. Classify them into two groups, plants and animals, and construct a table that shows the habitat in which they were commonly found. Use a marker pen to highlight the staple foods. As a class, discuss how the tables demonstrate the need for mobility in the Aborigines' traditional lifestyle.

Activity 4. Habitats

Decide which habitat was the most important as a source of food resources. Hypothesise as to why this may have been so. Construct a wetlands calendar showing when some main events take place in the habitat you selected and explain how these events affect the people of the region.

Activity 5. Fruiting times

For this activity your class will need multiple copies of a bush tucker identikit. Divide into as many groups as there are copies and select eight plants to research. Prepare a poster or retrieval chart on which you have drawn eight grids or wheels showing the months of the year. On them show the fruiting times for each of the selected plants, along with a brief description of the plant and its uses. Discuss the combined results of the class. What is the main message that the charts convey?

Wightman, G., & Andrews, M. (1991).Bush tucker identikit: Common native food plants of Australia's Top End. Darwin: Conservation Commission of the NT.

Activity 6. Conceptual model

Key elements of traditional homeland Aboriginal life are:

seasons                        plants and animals                        technology

land                              spiritual beliefs                             law/kinship

art (visual/ singing/dancing)                                       fire

Working in small groups, arrange these elements in a logical pattern and link them together to form a conceptual model of traditional Aboriginal life. You will need to explain in what way the different elements are linked to each other and this will involve some way of fitting the explanations into the model diagram. The text describing the seasons and land/religion should help you to determine the processes by which the elements interact with each other.

Activity 7. Social contact

Working in the same groups, list the occasions when different groups of people from the same region would meet. You may need to read parts of the Procession of the Seasons again. What effects would these meetings and gatherings have on these people? What could be some possible outcomes? Consider the implications of living with or without any modern means of communications or written language.

Activity 8. Learning

In what ways do Aboriginal children learn about their culture, the significance of various places, laws and their origins, and the land and its history? Read the text for clues and give your answer in the form of an individual essay of 800-1000 words.

Activity 9. Feelings for the Land

It is difficult for a non-Aboriginal person to describe accurately the emotional links between Aboriginal people and the land to which they belong. In pairs, search in the library for a book (or article) that describes these links in Aboriginal words. Look for descriptive language used to convey a feeling of attachment to a particular place, one that has a strong meaning for the writer. Copy out some of the passages on good paper using calligraphy pens and mount the works for a class (or school) display. Be sure to state the author's name and the source of the quotation.

Green, J. (1988). Pmere country in mind. Alice Springs: Tangentyere Council.

Wanjuk, M. (1995). Life story. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press.

Crugnale, J. (1995). Footprints across our land. Broome: Magabala Books.

Activity 10. Art and inspiration

Research some aspects of the early history of art, looking for the creative motives of artists in different societies. What makes people paint? Consider spiritual beliefs, recording ancestral spirits, invoking protection and painting simply for the pleasure of it. Interview students who enjoy art as a means of expression. Are there any common factors linking the modern art student to artists of other places and times? Write an individual essay of 1500 words expressing your views on the subject and relating your findings to Aboriginal rock paintings.

Richardson, R. (1983). Introducing art. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire.

Activity 11. Aboriginal art and its value

In small groups of four or five, discuss the different shades of meaning of the following terms: monetary value, intrinsic value, cultural value and heritage value. Brainstorm for ideas of how each applies to the Aboriginal rock paintings of the Top End and elect a spokesperson to present your findings to the class.

Activity 12. Popularising art

Research the various ways in which motifs from Aboriginal art have become popular with the public and overseas tourists. What items in shops are decorated with patterns and designs that were inspired by Aboriginal art (from any region in Australia)? Discuss the question of whether such exposure raises local and overseas awareness of Aboriginal culture and is of significant benefit, or whether the overexposure of Aboriginal art motifs, often poorly imitated, tends to cheapen and trivialise Aboriginal cultural heritage. Consider the issue of copyright and how it affects Aboriginal artists. What steps have been taken recently to protect Aboriginal artists?

Activity 13. Time line

Draw a time line 1 cm in width by zigzagging across an A4 page 7 times. If each section is 15 cm long, and you make a scale of 1 cm = 100 years, you will have drawn a line representing 15 000 years of time. With the present time located at the bottom of the page, firstly mark in the 1000 year intervals. Next, enter the information on different periods and styles in the Kakadu art galleries at the appropriate times on the line.

Also include any changes in the Top End environment that occurred over the period that the time line represents. Your time line is a valuable aid to developing a concept of time: what we may have thought of as being very ancient history (e.g. pyramids built 4500 years ago) is shown to be comparatively recent in terms of Aboriginal culture. Remember, too, that a previous 45 000 years of occupation have not been included. 

 1. The procession of the seasons  2. Land and spirituality  3. Aboriginal paintings  

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