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This lesson is an introduction to Australia’s indigenous culture through poetry
Language Arts, Social Studies
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Title – An Introduction to Australian Indigenous Culture
By – Jill McDougall
Primary Subject – Social Studies
Secondary Subjects – Language Arts
Grade Level – 1-5
- This lesson is based on poems from
Anna the Goanna and other poems
- by Jill McDougall (available through
- ). It provides a colorful snapshot of the lives of modern-day indigenous children in outback Australia. You can also visit Jill McDougall’s website to learn more about her books and poems at
- The poet, Jill McDougall, taught for a decade in Australian indigenous communities.
Use a large map of Australia to locate some of the communities where Jill McDougall lived:
- Palm Island (off the coast of Townsville in Queensland)
- Yuendumu (north-west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory)
- Punmu (a tiny community half-way between Port Hedland and Alice Springs)
Explain that indigenous people have always lived in all parts of Australia, but when the settlers came, many were placed on reserves.
- Read the poem Going Hunting on page 6.
My father goes hunting for turkey,
My brother goes hunting for toys,
My mum and my nanna,
Go hunting goanna,
But sister goes hunting for boys!
Traditionally, Australian indigenous people used spears and other weapons to hunt animals such as kangaroo, emu and bush turkey. The women hunted smaller game such as goanna. Today some people still hunt meat to supplement store-bought supplies.
The illustrations show a combination of traditional culture (hunting goanna with a stick) and contemporary culture (riding a bike). Find other examples on the page of how Aboriginal culture has adapted over time.
- Read the poem Sleep p. 8
The illustration shows a cross-section with a goanna, a child and a crow asleep in their various ‘beds’.
Why is the child sleeping outdoors? Long ago indigenous Australians in the desert generally slept under the stars with a fire to keep them warm. These days, many indigenous youngsters still enjoy camping out, listening to the sounds of the night and enjoying the warmth of a campfire.
Note the red sand of the flat desert landscape of central Australia. Here the days are warm but the nights can be chilly.
- Read the poem Honey Ant p. 28
This is a fun performance poem for two groups. Before practising the piece, examine the huge illustration of the honey ant. Honey ants are a traditional food for some Aboriginal Australians and are still hunted today.
- Honey ants have a small yellow stripe on their backs and dig deep underground tunnels in areas where mulga tree grows. The ants are full of nectar and hang from the ceilings of the underground chambers. The nectar this is squeezed and eaten as a sweet treat. Finding and digging honey ants out of the ground is hard work.
- The Honey Ant Dreaming belongs to the Warlpiri people in central Australia. The term ‘Dreaming’ refers to a person’s or group’s beliefs and has connections with the landscape and the natural and spiritual worlds. Dreaming stories contain social and moral laws that provide a framework for life. Dreaming holds past, present and future as one.
- Give the class time to browse through the other thirty-three poems and pore over the illustrations. Allow students to share their favorite poems.
- Use the final poem Reconciliation as a springboard to discussing the connection between all peoples sharing our planet.
We are many
We are one.
E-Mail Jill McDougall !