Ross Smith Secondary School

The school

Ross Smith Secondary School has 550 students including 55 Aboriginal students. It is set among new housing developments as well as older homes and government housing, and is surrounded by densely populated suburbs.

Contact details

Ross Smith Secondary School
181–201 Hampstead Road
Northfield 5085 SA

'Indigenous Youth and the Law': Program overview

'Indigenous Youth and the Law' was a pilot project in 2003 which was developed to raise awareness of the law, law enforcement and consequences of the law. The project stemmed from concern about some Indigenous students putting themselves at risk with the law, and aimed to reduce risk-taking behaviour among students. The program resulted from a series of meetings with various people connected to the law and the Adelaide Magistrates Court.

It was decided to adopt a hands-on approach and to involve as many Indigenous representatives from the law as possible. This was to break down the barrier that exists between Indigenous people and the law as well as to demonstrate to students that Indigenous people are also part of the law.

This hands-on approach created an awareness of what the law is, how to access information about it, who to obtain information from, and where to go to obtain support.

The program included visits from Aboriginal Justice Officers, Aboriginal Police Officers and the Chief Judge of the Youth Court, a visit to court, participation in a mock court and use of videos on, for example, the Nunga (Aboriginal) Court and the Youth Court. Students kept journals, developed a video and produced artwork.

Year levels: The program was designed for Years 7–8 as well as primary and lower primary students.

Key learning areas: Studies of Society and Environment, English and the Arts ('Literacy and the Law', 'History and the Law').

Length of the unit: The unit ran for ten weeks with three 50-minute lessons each week.

The students

Fifteen students with low to quite high literacy levels participated. Literacy needs were supported by the provision of written information and class discussion appropriate to students' learning levels.

Learning needs

The program was designed to inform students about the law, how it affects them and the areas where it can support them. The ultimate goal is to have students begin to work with the law and not against it.

Learning outcomes

As a result of their involvement in the program, students:

  • develop an understanding of the legal process, how it works, how it has developed and how it can be altered;
  • learn their rights and responsibilities as well as how to interact positively within the mainstream system.

Another goal of the project was to engage students' families in the process. Families play an ethical role for students. Many families feel alienated from their own children and disempowered in a system that they do not understand.

A future goal is to develop specific units of work targeting Indigenous students from Years 6–10 that lead directly into Australian Studies, Legal Studies and Social Studies at SACE (South Australian Certificate of Education) level.

Program outline

Term 3, 2003

Holidays – JulySelect day for 'filming'Student presentation and teacher orientation about law and justice
Week 1Intro – commence 21/7Student knowledge of the law determined through question sheets and discussion
Week 2 Purposes of the law
Week 3
School visits by support personnel

Roles of:

  • Aboriginal Justice Officers
  • Aboriginal Police Officer
  • Aboriginal Sherrif's Officers

Questions and answers

Week 4Continue from Week 3Issues: Nunga (Aboriginal) Court
Week 5
15/8 or 19/8
or both
Student court visitAdelaide Magistrates Court
Week 6Review of court visit (Ross Smith Secondary) 
Week 7Mock court preparationPreparation and filming
Week 8Continue with mock court preparationPreparation and filming
Week 9
9/9, 9.30 am
Mock courts/Adelaide Magistrates Court 
Week 10Summary
(Ross Smith Secondary)
  • Pictorial presentation/graphic
  • Wish list
  • Students identify preferred agencies to visit or be visited by (eg police and prisoner groups)

Term 4, 2003

Weeks 1 and 2
  • Work placement offers with Aboriginal Justice Officers and Sheriff's Officers
  • Identify students' future goals
Weeks 3 and 4 
  • Visits from Interpreters, Police Officers and Aboriginal Justice Officers
  • 'Lands' visit

Note: Aboriginal Justice Officers are responsible for packages of useful resources, contacts, phone numbers etc. Education Officers and Aboriginal Justice Officers are accessible by email to respond to questions.


Much of the resource material was accessed via the Adelaide Magistrates Court Education Unit. Materials were also developed via discussions with the police, judges, Aboriginal Justice Officers and materials from discussions with numerous youth workers and the Aboriginal community.

Adelaide Magistrates Court:

Curriculum resources

Aboriginal Education Enfield resources:

Adelaide Magistrates Court education materials (including a Magistrates Court Role Play and a Court Information Kit) available from:

Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary Units, Curriculum Corporation, 1998
'Law', pp 36–63 (The place of customary law)
'Democratic Struggles', pp 64–98 (The 1967 referendum, Aboriginal people's achievement of the right to vote)

References on Aboriginal law

The Essential Series: Legal Studies (SACE Stage 2 Workbook), Barbara Bash, Greg Eatner and Assoc, 1996

Investigating the Law, 2nd Edition: An Introduction to Legal Studies, Geoffrey Short and Stephen Russell, Thomas Nelson Australia, 1990

Aboriginal Court Day

This is a day set aside in a Magistrates Court to sentence adult Aboriginal offenders. In Port Adelaide, where an Aboriginal Court Day has been operating since June 1999, the local community has called it the Nunga Court. Aboriginal Court Days have also been introduced at Murray Bridge, Port Augusta and Coober Pedy, where local Aboriginal communities have given them different names.

How is it different from other court days?
Aboriginal Court deals only with Aboriginal people who plead guilty to an offence. The Magistrate sits off the bench, more at eye-level with the offender. An Aboriginal Justice Officer or a senior Aboriginal person sits beside the Magistrate, to advise on cultural and community matters. The offender sits at the bar table with his/her lawyer and may have a relative sitting with him/her.

Once the prosecutor and the defence counsel have had their say, the offender, the family and community members, or the victim (if present), have a chance to speak to the Magistrate. The Magistrate may ask them questions to help him/her in the sentencing process.

Family and community members are encouraged to attend.

Aboriginal Justice Officers and an Aboriginal Court Orderly work in the court. They can help the offender, his/her family and members of Aboriginal community if they have queries about the court process or outcomes, for example, payment of fines, conditions of bonds.


Various forms of assessment tasks were used. Students were asked to write up their contributions to the class discussions as well as note in a journal questions and interactions with guest speakers. They had the opportunity to present their thoughts through art during the unit. An example of students' work will be displayed in the Adelaide Magistrates Court.

A variety of questioning tools was used. These tested the students' recall of information, understanding of particular processes and ability to analyse their opinions when presented with a challenging issue.


As a result of the program, the students were able to:

  • express verbally what they understood 'justice' to be;
  • explain the dual justice system that faces Aboriginal people;
  • identify why it is important to have laws;
  • describe the origins of Indigenous law showing appreciation of the significance of 'dreaming';
  • demonstrate an understanding of the democratic process.

A lot of healthy classroom discussion emerged related to what is fair and not fair. In particular, students developed understanding of other cultures and their right to exist in Australian society. The importance of involving Aboriginal guest speakers with particular authority to speak on traditional issues, law enforcement and present-day court proceedings cannot be understated. The students at all times responded in a most positive manner.


Key achievements

Indigenous students developed an understanding of many aspects of the law. They were able to understand that difference does exist between tribal and European law. The greater community (parents) via their children were able to better interpret and understand the process of law. Students were able to 'verbalise' in discussion groups their new knowledge of European law.

Factors contributing to success

The hands-on approach was very successful. The program did not load students with theory and information input at the one time. Aboriginal facilitators taught most of the facts and this simple format proved effective. Students were able to have significant input in discussion groups with Aboriginal Justice Officers, Sherrif's Officers and Police Officers.

Obstacles to overcome

The group at times found it a little difficult to contribute to discussion and take part in classroom activities. A strategy to overcome this was to divide the class into small groups, which encouraged discussion.

An Aboriginal tutor assisted in all the lessons and worked one-to-one with students, and spoke at times independently on some issues relating to differing Indigenous concerns. A more collaborative approach via a group project would assist interaction with the students a lot more.

Changes in future programs

We found a need to work even more closely with people from the local urban and lands Aboriginal community in order to develop resources that are directly related to this topic. We would also aim to liaise more closely with the 'judicial' system via the court's educational unit to access appropriate resources.


Thank you to all the people listed below who assisted in a most generous manner:

Mr P Cewonus, Education Officer, Adelaide Magistrates Court
Mr Vin Dalton, Regional Manager, Sheriff's Office
Mr Les Wanganeen, Aboriginal Justice Officer
Mr Garth Dodd, Aboriginal Justice Officer
Ms Sue Morley, Acting Principal, NR consultant – Managing Diversity
Mr C Vass, Chief Judge, Youth Courts
Youth and social workers


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