Bring an expert into your classroom
When we talk about learning to live in harmony with our environment it can be easy to forget that there are people in Australia who have been doing this for longer than most of us can imagine. Australia’s indigenous peoples have a huge amount of knowledge about our country and a strong connection to the land. They also have a relationship with the environment that is incredibly sustainable.
What do your students already know about the ways that indigenous people live and their relationship to our environment? Engage your students in a discussion about this issue using the following questions to guide your discussion (suggested answers included):
- How did indigenous people in Australia feed, clothe and make shelter for themselves? – They used the plants and animals around them to satisfy all their needs, without taking more than they needed. Many indigenous people were nomadic, meaning they moved around rather than living in one spot.
- How do we do this differently? – We usually buy all that we need from shops. Products can come from anywhere in the world. Some things we buy were made on the other side of the world, this has negative impacts on the environment.
- How did indigenous Australians manage the landscape so that they could get what they needed and survive? – They never used up all of any one resource. If there weren’t enough all year round, they would move from one place to the next. They learnt from a young age about all the plants and animals around them and what they could be useful. As a result, they developed a respect for the importance of all living things and the interconnected relationship between all living things, including themselves.
- How do we do this differently? – Kids usually only know the names of a few plants and animals. That’s because adults spend very little time teaching kids these things. Most of us don’t really think about managing the landscape because we live in towns and cities and we have no direct need. We think instead about our jobs or schooling, how to make money and what to do with the things we buy.
- What changes were there in biodiversity when only indigenous people lived here? – The landscape’s biodiversity basically stayed the same. Yes, there may have been some use of fire but this was on a small scale and often helped support biodiversity.
- How have the landscape and the biodiversity of plants and animals changed since Europeans arrived? – Radically. Most of the most fertile areas around the coast have been stripped of their native vegetation to make way for farms, roads and the towns and cities we live in. Some species have already been lost and a lot more are close to being lost forever.
- What have been the major sources of these changes? – Land clearing and deforestation, and the introduction of non-native animals and plants.
- What could we learn from the way in which indigenous lived with the land? – Firstly, we should encourage a deeper appreciation of the interconnectedness of all living things, and more respect for and conservation of the natural landscape that we live in. Secondly we should try to incorporate more teaching and learning about the natural landscape we live in by engaging more indigenous people in education.
There’s much more to know about how indigenous Australians live with the land than what is on this factsheet. How about offering your students the opportunity to connect to our environment on a deeper level by arranging for your students to meet a local indigenous spokesperson who can share some of their knowledge about your local environment? You may want to invite this spokesperson to your school, or meet in a local park or find a local indigenous group that offers guided walks of your area.
Before you meet with your local indigenous spokesperson or guide, work together as a class to come up with some questions you can ask. Think about what things you would like to know and how you might turn these lines of query into questions, remembering to be respectful in your inquiries and the way you pose your questions. The best way to be respectful is to be prepared: read some texts by indigenous peoples before you meet your spokesperson, and when you do meet them, ask lots of questions but avoid proposing solutions.
Below is a list of some groups in your state that can help you find someone to come and talk to your students and can point you in the direction of printed and online indigenous educational materials. We’ve also included some links to websites that we think are interesting and useful.
- Australian Museum: http://australianmuseum.net.au/cultures
- Sharing Culture: http://www.sharingculture.com.au/
- Koori Mail: http://www.koorimail.com/
- Message Club: http://www.abc.net.au/messageclub/
- Us Mob: http://www.abc.net.au/usmob/