Tarwin Lower Primary School, Vic

The school

Tarwin Lower Primary School is a small rural government school of approximately 60 students, situated in the South Gippsland area of Victoria. The school is close to Wilsons Promontory and the area inhabited by the Bunnerong tribe. Although no Indigenous students attend the school, there is a mix of students, with some from Tasmania, New Zealand and the Northern Territory. As well, part of the school population is transient: a couple of families recently moved to outback Queensland and one to Alice Springs to work on an Aboriginal mission. We are in contact with these families.

Contact details

Tarwin Lower Primary School
School Road
Tarwin Lower Vic 3956
Email: tarwin.lower.ps@edumail.vic.gov.au

'Exploring Indigenous Art and Dance': Program overview

The unit 'Exploring Indigenous Art and Dance' used a multidisciplinary approach and, although much of the work centred on the Arts, much time was spent reading, writing and discussing the culture that produces such art and dance. The Australian Readers Discovering Democracy books were used widely within Grades 3–6 to discuss various aspects of Aboriginal culture and life and to make comparisons, not only with how other Australians lived, and the rights and privileges they enjoyed, but also in relation to other groups, namely African Americans and South Africans.

The idea of art and dance being used as storytelling mediums was widely discussed; along with the older children, children from Prep to Grade 2 told stories in pictures. Photographs of the younger children's artwork are included with this report.

The children corresponded with the mission near Alice Springs, but this was not as successful as hoped as we received little feedback from the Northern Territory.

The work has spanned much of the year, covering the key curriculum areas of English, History, Civics and Citizenship, Studies of Society and Environment, and the Arts. Our culminating activity occurred in December 2003 when we welcomed a professional dancer to school for three days. Mana taught a number of American Indian, Maori and Polynesian dances to the children while relaying the story or significance behind each dance. In this way the children gained a first-hand understanding of dance as a storytelling medium. The children learned a selection of dances and presented these and the story behind each dance to our parent body. This activity helped explain the importance of dance in relaying the history, ideals and cultural aspects of these Indigenous groups.

The students

The unit has employed a whole-school focus with all children and staff being involved. These studies blend in extremely well with our Studies of Asia focus, belief in the performing arts as a medium of instruction and our studies of Civics and Citizenship.

Learning needs

The program was designed to explore a variety of cultures in order to better understand our own culture. In studying various aspects of Aboriginal culture, along with a variety of South Seas and native American cultures, we hope our children will develop a greater understanding of Australian social customs and beliefs.

The key concepts that underpin our program are built around the idea of culture – the development and traditions of the various communities within Australian and nearby societies. These are:

  • Heritage of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • Citizenship – Australia's democratic tradition and the roles and responsibilities of its citizens
  • Conservation – ecologically sustainable use of natural and built environments.

Learning outcomes

Victorian Curriculum and Standards Framework (CSF)

  • Level 1 – Describe aspects of family and community life:
  • Level 2 – Describe the rights and responsibilities of members of school and community groups
  • Level 3 – Describe the history and contribution of other cultures to the growth of Australia's diverse culture
  • Level 4 – Explain the importance of art and dance in retelling the history of significant events in the development of a selected Asia-Pacific country's society

Program outline

Prep and Year 1

The focus in this group was on the lives of students and their families at home as a starting point to help them understand the world in which they live. A variety of appropriate reading material was used to draw comparisons with Indigenous groups in the Asia-Pacific region. These children explored storytelling through art; a selection of their work, completed during term 3, is included. (CSF Levels 1 and 2)

Grades 2, 3 and 4

The focus with this group was the retelling of traditional Aboriginal Dreamtime stories in art. The children read a great many stories and had to present their stories orally to the class. (CSF Level 3)

Grades 5 and 6

This group had a wider focus, which included reading, writing and oral presentations. They used the Discovering Democracy resources to explore a variety of topics, including the uses of land prior to 1788 and the effects of British occupation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies. This detailed study was followed by a one-week visit to Canberra by Grade 6 students.

The program finished the week of December 5 with a whole-school activity where Bernard Managakahia – a Polynesian born of a Maori father and a Fijian mother with native American ancestry – helped the children to learn, perform and develop an understanding of a number of dances from these countries. Knowledge of other cultures is one of the greatest ways to increase tolerance and understanding. This program included an American Indian hoop dance, the haka and a Maori poi dance, the slap dance from Samoa and the Hawaiian hula and hop dances. The response was overwhelming, especially from reluctant boys.


A is for Aunty, Elaine Russell, ABC Books, 2000
The Aborigines, A McLaughlin, AR Pittock and Company, 1994
Aborigines of the Rainforest, J Erbacher and S Erbacher, Cambridge University Press, 1991
The Australian Aborigines, Norman B Tindale and Beryl George, Golden Press, 1971
The Barmah Bunyip, Sue Briggs-Pattison and Ben Harvey, Scholastic Australia, 1998
The Birirrk: Our Ancestors of the Dreaming, David Gulpilil, L & S Publishing, 1983
Damper, Sue Briggs-Pattison and Ben Harvey, Scholastic Australia, 1998
Dunbi the Owl, Daisy Ulemorrah, Ashton Scholastic, 1983
The Echidna and the Shade Tree, Mona Green, Ashton Scholastic, 1984
Goanna Jumps High, Urandangi State School, Magabala Books, 1999
How the Birds got their Colours, Pamela Lofts, Ashton Scholastic, 1983
Last Winter, Sue Briggs-Pattison and Ben Harvey, Scholastic Australia, 1998
A Mob of Kangaroos, Sue Briggs-Pattison and Ben Harvey, Scholastic Australia, The
Vat and the Crocodile, Jacko Dolumyu and Hector Sandaloo, Ashton Scholastic, 1987
Waiting for Yabbies, Sue Briggs-Pattison and Ben Harvey, Scholastic Australia, 1998
Warnayarra – the Rainbow Snake, the Senior Boys' Class, Lajamanu School, Ashton Scholastic, 1987
When the Snake Bites the Sun, David Mowaljarlai, Ashton Scholastic, 1984

Discovering Democracy resources

Australian Readers Discovering Democracy Middle Primary Collection, Curriculum Corporation, 1999
Photograph of Junjuwa community council (p 13)
'My Girragundji' (pp 28–9)
'Aboriginal Defence of the Land' (p 34)

Australian Readers Discovering Democracy Upper Primary Collection, Curriculum Corporation, 1999
'Vote "Yes" for Aborigines' (p 5)
'The People of the South Land' (pp 13–14, from The Song of Wirrun, Patricia Wrightson)
'The Story of Tjirbruki: A Kaurna Story' (pp 16–17)
'Arooka Dreaming' (p 17, Peter Leo)
'The Land is My Backbone' (p 18, Galurrwuy Yunipingu)
'Australia is My Country' (p 27, Reg Saunders)
'Living Together, Working Together' (p 29, Kumanjayi Jakammara Nelson)


Assessment was varied. As much of this was integrated learning the assessment was consistent with outcomes in several key learning areas, and this unit was used as the vehicle to achieve these outcomes. Assessment of the dance aspect was based on levels of participation, presentation of the dances and enthusiasm. Based on that, the unit was very successful.


The younger children gained an understanding of 'culture' as it relates to families and groups. They learned about the need for 'rules' in society. The older children learned about Australia's diverse cultures and their contributions to both Australian and Asia-Pacific cultures. They learned about how many cultures, including Australian Aboriginal culture, relayed their stories, values and cultures through story, art and dance.

The older children also learned how the organisation and lifestyle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders has changed over time. This includes the occupation of Australia by the British and subsequent immigrants.


Thanks to Albert Thomas, Principal, Tarwin Lower Primary School, for providing this unit of work.