Ballarat Secondary College, East Campus

The school

Ballarat is one of the largest inland cities in Australia with a population of almost 82,000. It is 110 kilometres north-west and about 90 minutes travel from Melbourne. Ballarat is rich in history and has an important place in the story of the settlement of Australia. The town's history is told through significant local Indigenous sites, its gold rush architecture, Sovereign Hill and the story of the Eureka Rebellion.

Ballarat Secondary College is a multi-campus government school with 1,500 students. The two Years 7–10 campuses – East and Wendouree – are neighbourhood schools which provide educational settings tailored for junior students. The Barkly senior campus provides students with opportunities to undertake a wide range of VCE studies and Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs. The proportion of Indigenous students at the school for 2002 was 2.5%.

Ballarat Secondary College, East Campus
Ballarat Secondary College, East Campus

Contact details
Ballarat Secondary College
PO Box 1877
Ballarat Mail Centre Vic 3354
Tel: 5336 7200 (all campuses)

Program overview

The Year 9 unit 'Confronting Issues of Human Rights' was developed as a way of enabling students to investigate issues of human rights and how these are protected within our democracy.

In designing the unit, a key focus was to explore alternative approaches to class activities that would take account of different learning styles. An important element of this was recognition of the need to have students become involved with activities that were connected with the community and that had a purpose.

The following extract from a United States report encompasses some of the ideas that underpinned the initial development:

By solving real-life problems, students engaged in service-learning are challenged to exercise leadership and responsibility. Citizenship is something we learn, not something we merely inherit.

Improving Our Schools and the Challenge of Citizenship: A Declaration of Principles, Richard Riley (Secretary of Education) and Harris Wofford (1999)

Service learning in the United States is a form of experiential learning that actively engages students in their education. One key outcome has been the fostering of lifelong connections between students, their communities and the world outside the classroom. The extent to which this project might fit the service-learning model of the United States might be questioned, though we believed the underlying philosophy to be suitable.

In developing specific materials as well as the overall program we worked closely with staff in the Education Centre at Sovereign Hill. It was hoped that extending the studies to involve the community would enhance engagement of students.

Before beginning research we conducted an audit of materials that related to Indigenous issues. This included materials in the Discovering Democracy Secondary Kit as well as a range of additional material within the school and in the wider community.

The unit was designed for Year 9 students to last for one term (ten weeks). Students were to be involved in the following activities:

  1. engagement through initial investigation at Sovereign Hill;
  2. identification of key areas for research;
  3. use of original photographic images to be used as a stimulus for research;
  4. findings from research to be presented in dramatic form to an audience in the Sovereign Hill Theatre.

The students

The unit was initially developed for delivery to two Year 9 classes through their normal Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) class. As the unit developed, the original focus changed, though underlying all development was the emphasis on active learning and involvement in real-life learning in the community. The program developed to also encompass a drama elective for Years 9 and 10. The initial planning involved working closely with the Koorie Education Officer at Ballarat Secondary College.

One exciting element of the project was the way in which it developed to encompass a larger number of students as well as staff. This included science classes.

Learning needs

This program was developed in response to the need for a more engaging curriculum, especially at the Year 9 level, while ensuring adequate coverage of the skills and knowledge as outlined for the Victorian Curriculum and Standards Framework. It was also an excellent opportunity to establish ongoing community links and partnerships through involvement in developing interpretive resources for use in the Watha Wurrung exhibit at the Gold Museum, Sovereign Hill.

Learning outcomes

These included:

  • developing an understanding of the impact of European occupation of Australia – in particular on the people living here at the time;
  • knowledge of the struggle and successes of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to gain political and social rights and achieve full citizenship, including learning about their pursuit of land rights and self-determination;
  • engaging in rich discussions of historical events;
  • developing an understanding of the perspectives of people involved in historical events;
  • developing an understanding of and willingness to be involved in democratic processes;
  • developing respect for others and an acceptance of the importance of social justice in the community;
  • understanding and using a range of primary, secondary, oral and visual sources of information in research;
  • applying the research method in investigations.

Victorian Curriculum and Standards Framework

Studies of Society and Environment

History 6.3: Analyse the movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for civil and political rights
Economy and Society 6.2 (extension): Analyse a proposed change in the law in Australia and explain the legal processes to implement the change


Speaking and Listening 6.1: Listen to and produce a range of spoken texts to examine different perspectives on complex themes and issues
Speaking and Listening 6.3: Identify and control the linguistic structures and features of a range of spoken texts to present complex themes and issues
Speaking and Listening 6.4: Evaluate the strategies used by others to enhance presentation of spoken texts and select and use them appropriately.

Reading 6.5: Read a range of texts and use them to discuss different perspectives on complex themes and issues

Writing 6.9: Use a range of text types to convey detailed information and discuss different perspectives on complex themes and issues in writing
Writing 6.10: Identify the characteristics and expectations of particular audiences and accommodate or resist these expectations when writing
Writing 6.11: Identify and control the linguistic structures and features of written texts designed to present different perspectives on complex themes and issues
Writing 6.12: Use a range of strategies to plan, compose, revise and edit texts that discuss different perspectives on complex themes and issues

The Arts

Arts practice – ideas, skills, techniques and processes
Drama 6.1: Make and present drama which explores a range of themes, issues and ideas
Drama 6.2: Structure and present dramatic works appropriate to chosen styles and forms
Dance 6.1: Make and present dances which explore themes, issues and ideas
Dance 6.2: Structure and present dances appropriate to specific styles and forms

Responding to the arts – criticism, aesthetics and contexts
Drama 5.4: Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which drama is made in particular cultural and historical contexts
Dance 5.4: Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which dances are made in particular cultural and historical contexts

Program outline

The aim of the program was to develop in students a sense of engagement, an understanding of history, and the ability to apply research skills in a project that would then focus on presentation to a real audience. The main stages of this program are listed below.

Engagement (full day)

In order to develop a sense of engagement with the project, students were introduced by means of a 'brief' at Sovereign Hill. This involved giving students the role of a tourism consultant. Their brief was to identify the accuracy of the historical representation. Students were also introduced to issues of evidence, the notion that history is fiction written by winners and the importance that our written history has in developing a national identity.

Main Street, Sovereign Hill, Ballarat © Sovereign Hill
Main Street, Sovereign Hill, Ballarat
© Sovereign Hill

Following the exercise at Sovereign Hill in the morning, students met at the Gold Museum (across the road) to discuss their findings. One thing that is obvious with the Sovereign Hill display is that while there is an element of multiculturalism (Chinese, Irish, English and so on), there is no evidence of Koorie settlement.

During the afternoon session, students wrote a secret letter to themselves outlining what they knew about Koorie settlement and history in this area as well as their understanding of racism and the impact it has had.

Students were then introduced to the methodology to be used in their research.

Transformation (5 weeks, 12 lessons)

A lesson-by-lesson guide was difficult to develop at this stage as students were encouraged to develop their own directions for research, to be based on the engagement activity that had taken place at Sovereign Hill.

In class, students identified a number of areas for further research. These included myths and legends, especially those of the groups in the local area (the Watha Wurrung), the Stolen Generations, deaths in custody and the role of Koories in contemporary Ballarat life. Other areas were explored, but those listed proved to be the ones with the greatest possibilities.

As a result of initial research as well as student negotiation, three main strands of investigation developed. These are discussed below.

1 Drama oralysis
Drama oralysis is about bringing to life a character or person in a photograph through role-play. During this phase, students selected an image for research. The aim with any image was to develop an understanding of the people in the image in order to then bring the people and the scene to life on the stage. As with all good projects, there were a few hiccups that needed to be addressed. One of these included the fact that some of the SOSE students were not keen about the 'drama' element of their research.

2 Contemporary images
Because of their lack of interest in the drama element of the project, some SOSE students were given the option of researching contemporary images of the Koorie community in Ballarat. This retained the project's focus on the importance of community links, and was achieved by visits to the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative and interviews with a number of local Koorie people of various ages. Students were required to develop interview questions, visit local community resources and prepare a PowerPointä presentation of their findings. The long-term aim was also to collect a series of photos that might be used to enhance the collection currently on display at the Gold Museum.

3 Indigenous garden
A Year 9 science class completed this element of the research. Students investigated local indigenous plants. They then surveyed the area at the entrance to the Gold Museum and created a design (which included a Bora Ring) to be developed. The proposal for the garden renovation was presented to the Gold Museum Committee. Students worked with staff at Sovereign Hill to raise the initial plants that would ultimately form part of the garden. While this part of the project was not part of the original plan, it developed from the connections that had been established between the school and Sovereign Hill.



A key aspect of the research was the creation of a 'real' audience outside school. In order to facilitate this, Sovereign Hill provided students with the use of the Victoria Theatre and other facilities for three days.

Victoria Theatre, Sovereign Hill, Ballarat © Sovereign Hill
Victoria Theatre, Sovereign Hill, Ballarat
© Sovereign Hill


This was completed using a PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) form and discussed with students in the group. Students also opened the letters they had written earlier in the unit and discussed how their views had changed.

Curriculum resources

Discovering Democracy materials

Australian Readers Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary Collection: 'The Myall Creek Massacre', pp 17–19; 'Unity and Diversity', pp 51–62
Australian Readers Discovering Democracy Middle Secondary Collection: 'Law and Justice', pp 22–33; 'Equality and Difference', pp 36–62
Discovering Democracy Middle Secondary Units: 'Human Rights', pp 43–71
Discovering Democracy through Research: 'Introduction', pp 1–20; 'Struggles about Democracy', pp 147–81
Stories of Democracy CD-ROM: 'Mabo' section

Film and video

Making Pitchas (video of locally produced play)
The Making of Rabbit-Proof Fence
Rabbit-Proof Fence

Multimedia and downloadable resources

Lore of the Land: Reconciling Spirit and Place in Australia's Story, Fraynework Multimedia
National Indigenous Working Group on Native Title: Fact Sheets (see:
Study Guide: Rabbit-Proof Fence, ATOM
Telling Our Indigenous Stories, National Museum of Australia (see the 'Schools' section of the website:


Music of Archie Roach, Paul Kelly, Tiddas, Kev Carmody and Yothu Yindi


'For all of us', Nikki Barrowclough, Age: Good Weekend, 12 June 1996, pp 21–8
Indigenous Trees and Shrubs for the Granite Outcrops of Ballarat Region, Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands
'Prisoner dies after telling of bashings', Victoria Laurie, Australian, 25 May 2002
'On the Eve of the Goldrush: The Aborigines of the Ballarat Area', John Morris, paper read to the Gold and Aborigines forum at the University of Ballarat, 5 September 2001
A Study of Traditional Aboriginal Society  Bush Tucker, Swan Hill Aboriginal Learning Centre
Victorian Koorie Plants (2nd ed), Beth Gott and John Conran, Yangennanock Women's Group, Hamilton, 1998


Aboriginal Peoples of the Murray River, Longman, SOSE 2: 12.3, pp 227–9
Heinemann Outcomes: Australia in the Twentieth Century, 5.9 'Aboriginal Australia – Stolen Generations' and 6.4 'Aboriginal Australia – Civil Rights and Land Rights', Robert Darlington and John Hospodaryk, Heinemann, 1998
Playbuilding, Errol Bray, Currency Press, 1991


Australian Bureau of Statistics: (link to Crime and Justice – Deaths in Custody)
Native Trees and Shrubs of the Ballarat Region:
Pat O'Shane:
Research skills:
White Australia has a black history: (link no longer available)

Community resources

Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative
Gold Museum, Sovereign Hill
Sovereign Hill Collection: selected images including paintings, prints, photos (cc late 1850s to early 1900s)
Sovereign Hill: Education Officers and use of resources (including meeting rooms and theatre)

Descriptions of lesson activities

The research was not based on formal assignments or worksheets, but rather developed in response to the students' exploration of the subject matter.

For the initial research document see the accompanying brief 'Historical Accuracy Division  Sovereign Hill Historical Park' (pdf format).

Developing the program

As a result of the Middle Years Program, the school was exploring engagement and connectedness at the Year 9 level. One area of special interest was an exploration of alternative approaches to class activities that would take account of different learning styles. A key focus of this was recognising the need to have students become involved with activities that were connected with the community and that had a purpose.

Data was showing increased levels of absenteeism, especially at the Year 9 level. We were investigating ways of addressing this.

At the same time, there had been some meetings with Sue Pohl from Sovereign Hill discussing the absence of any sense of Indigenous history in the representation of the story at Sovereign Hill.

This connected with the idea of further investigating human rights and how these are protected within our community. This was a natural flow-on from what had been studied in the 'Democracy' unit in Year 8.

Links had been made with Janet Jackson in South Australia who had been using the technique of dramatic oralysis as a way of exploring historical and contemporary issues. She had noted that this technique was especially powerful in challenging perspectives and in enhancing the ability of students to see things through different eyes. Her paper The Promise of Dramatic Oralysis – presented to the Victoria 2001 Drama Conference – emphasised the possibility of using this technique as an engaging research tool. Further investigation showed that this technique had been used elsewhere, here and overseas.

Another study published in Ethos, vol 9, no 3, 2001 (Victorian Association of Social Studies Teachers) explored the use of artworks in studying aspects of historical periods. This quoted Douglas Selwyn:

Teaching is, among other things, the art of connecting students with course content in personal, relevant and exciting ways. Student learning is enhanced if they are given the opportunity of exploring and experiencing points of view of other cultures.

One effective and useful method is for students to engage in personal and collaborative research. Based on sound principles of student action research, students begin with a contemporary or historic image and follow agreed research processes to systematically challenge initial perceptions and perspectives.

Selwyn, Douglas 1995, 'Arts and Humanities in the Social Studies',
NCSS Bulletin 90, National Council for the Social Studies, Washington DC

Such exciting possibilities needed some support in order to make it happen. We applied for funding to provide the professional development support for staff involved. This would ensure the opportunity to audit resources and identify those most relevant to the task, and access additional professional development.

In the process of rewriting the Year 9 curriculum, teachers looked at various components of the Discovering Democracy Kits and began focusing on a unit that looked at Aboriginal peoples and their struggles for full citizenship status. Students were challenged to research and respond with their own dramatic presentation.

One important thing we noted was that while we had planned for certain things to happen, in the end the program developed in a number of different directions. This was exciting but it meant that at times we needed to rewrite the script.

From the drama point of view the students did not initially find much empathy with the historical images – they could not relate to the photos; they could have come from another planet. What did have impact, though, were the newspaper articles on deaths in custody, in particular the list of people who had died since the Royal Commission. What had the most impact was that these deaths involved kids just 15 and 16 years old. At this point the material became relevant to our students. The other activity that made an impact was taking some individual stories from the archive of the Commission and acting these through. This was a confronting process in class and led to some very emotional responses from students.

In class the students developed a presentation related to the Stolen Generation and deaths in custody based on this material. Additional scenes were developed including two dances, one based on the bringing of fire to the Watha Wurrung. This was inspired by the audiovisual presentation at Sovereign Hill. The second was based on a local story about the Emu woman of Burrumbeet.

At the same time, the Year 9 SOSE group worked on timelines of the history of Koories in Ballarat. As a result of their initial investigations, students chose to focus on the work of the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative. To do this, the class worked on effective interview skills, processing the interviews, photography and visual presentation of material. Students visited the Aboriginal Cooperative on a number of occasions and spent time observing the work there as well as interviewing a number of participants.

The culmination of this research was a performance in the Victoria Theatre, Sovereign Hill one evening, attended by a number of official guests as well as members of the school community. As with all public performances, students needed to be aware of cultural sensitivities and thus make some modifications to their work. For example, the names of individuals could not be used in the deaths in custody scenes. The role of the Koorie Education Officer was critical in advising the students as well as enabling the close links to develop between the school and the Aboriginal Cooperative.


Students completed an extensive evaluation of the project that included reflection on their learning in class, at Sovereign Hill and during the performance.

The skills students identified as ones they developed most were:

  • their confidence in dealing with people outside the school setting;
  • their ability to use video and still cameras;
  • their confidence in front of an audience;
  • their understanding of Aboriginal issues.

While these may not have been assessed by means of an assignment, the culmination of the presentation – and the buzz of excitement in the air on the night of the performance – was exhilarating. Students still wear with pride the T-shirts they produced for the night.


Our achievements

During initial discussions on the development of the project, attention was focused on developing links between school and the community resources. As the discussions continued, our vision began to widen. All sorts of opportunities became apparent. This was one of the most exciting elements of the program. We were able to run with other ideas while still pursuing the original proposal as outlined for our submission. The generation of additional opportunities that followed was not something that we had expected.

In the process we developed closer links with many outside organisations.

With the confidence generated through our initial discussions, we focused on the key elements of community and participation in projects with a purpose and an audience beyond school. Ballarat Secondary College, East Campus has in 2003 been involved in an Action Research Project facilitated by the University of Ballarat to interview past students to track their careers and discover what they see as having been important in their education.

It is hoped that this method of investigative exploration of issues will become part of the accepted research procedure by campus students.

Current findings and best practice indicate that broadening the parameters and styles of learning will be more effectively engage students because the learning and context becomes authentic, relevant, interesting and engaging. Initiating and establishing broad links with a variety of community organisations and individuals also caters for the different learning styles, entry points and rates of learning. This was especially relevant for 'at risk' students involved in the project. Several students who had spent more time in the corridor than in the classroom found themselves on centre stage, challenged and engaged in a range of activities that previously may have seemed out of reach.

Factors contributing to success

The energy and enthusiasm of the community organisations we worked with (especially Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative and Sovereign Hill), as well as the energy of Carlene Matthews – the Regional Consultant – were key factors in keeping us going with the project. To us, the success was measured by the confidence and enthusiasm displayed by the students as they ran the evening.

Obstacles to be overcome

While we had a 'script', a submission and a great idea, it was not ever something that would hit the ground running smoothly. Our enthusiasm got the better of us as the project began developing. It took a lot longer to gather resources than we had anticipated. Having done this, we will find future work in this area easier. As the project began to expand, we realised the need for more planning time – we were also working in an area that was relatively new.

One of the biggest issues was balancing the need to follow the outline we had originally submitted when applying for funding against the enthusiasm for following new ideas as they developed during the project. In the end, we kept adding, developing and looking for more.

While we had read the theory, it was not quite the same as having experience in the area. In the end, we organised for Janet Jackson from South Australia to spend some time working with the students to finetune their performance. This was also an opportunity to develop our own skills in the area.

Changes in staffing also created a number of difficulties along the way. While these were overcome, it did create some issues in ensuring continuity from one aspect of the research to another.

The nature of the research as well as the presentation meant that we were breaking new ground through the entire process. There was a lot to be organised outside of the class – and it is not an easy thing to get buses, permission forms, dinners and protocols all in place. There was a lot of finger-crossing!

What we might do differently

Experience does help. While most students really enjoyed the chance to develop their own research directions, there were still a number who would have preferred a more structured question-and-answer approach. This highlights the need to cater for a range of different learning styles.

We all learned from this experience – one thing we often do not have the time to do as teachers is reflect on what has happened during a unit or a class. We have learned new ways of working through a myriad of obstacles, most of which we did not anticipate at the start. We would certainly have preferred a better understanding of some organisational elements though, in the end, it was the adventure into the unknown that added a dimension of excitement to the learning.

Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative
Gold Museum, Sovereign Hill
Sovereign Hill: Education Officers (especially Sue Pohl) and use of resources (including meeting rooms and theatre)
Carlene Matthews – for her vision and support