Kalkadoon State High School

The school

Kalkadoon State High School in the outback town of Mount Isa is a government, coeducational school with about 400 students in Years 8–12. Indigenous Australians comprise approximately one-third of the students.

For further details about the school, visit their website at: http://www.kalkadooshs.qld.edu.au/ (link no longer available)

With a population of approximately 23,000 people, drawn from over 50 nationalities, including Europeans and Asians, Mount Isa has the most multicultural community in Queensland. It has grown into the mining, industrial, business and administrative centre for north-west Queensland.

Further information about the Mount Isa community and region can be found at:http://www.mountisaicn.org.au/default.htm

Program overview

The Year 8 unit 'Laws and Rights' was an 11-week unit developed as part of the Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) program by teachers Terry O'Neill and Ashleigh Quested. The program ran for five classes per week for a total of 175 minutes per week.

A major focus, given the school's remote location and access to Indigenous communities, was the local history of contact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and the development of self-governing Indigenous communities within the context of the Australian system of government.

The teachers developing the program drew on the expertise of Mr Ken Isaacson of the Kalkadoon Tribal Council, who is an internationally acknowledged expert on Indigenous art.

Material was adapted from the Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary units 'Law' and 'Should the People Rule?', as well as additional resources.

The students

'Laws and Rights' was developed for three Year 8 SOSE classes, each with between 20 and 25 students.

Student literacy levels varied enormously. There were students in the classes with learning disabilities. These students were assisted by teacher aides, while other students within the groups participated in the school's gifted and talented program.

Students came from different sociocultural backgrounds, such as remote north-west Queensland Indigenous communities and professional households in Mount Isa.

Learning needs

One of the most pressing learning needs for the Year 8 SOSE program was to rectify the lack of local knowledge about local Indigenous history and the story of the colonisation of the district by all groups in the student population.

Learning outcomes

The Queensland learning outcomes addressed in the program were from the then draft (now current) SOSE curriculum document. Some of these have since been re-worded or re-numbered. The current SOSE learning outcomes are at: http://www.qscc.qld.edu.au/kla/sose/syllabus.html

  • Culture and Identity 4.1: Students compare effects and responses related to cross-cultural contact on Australian and non-Australian Indigenous groups.
  • Culture and Identity 4.2: Students design an ethical and socially just code of behaviour based on personal responses to stereotyping, discrimination and harassment.
  • Culture and Identity 5.1: Students investigate aspects of different cultural groups, including Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander groups, and how these aspects are perceived by others.
  • System Resources and Power 4.1: Students compare and analyse changes and continuities in government and citizenship in pre- and post-federation Australia.
  • System Resources and Power 4.4: Students report information about representative governments and the rights and responsibilities of citizens in Australia.
  • System Resources and Power 5.3: Students use a structured decision-making process to suggest participatory action regarding a significant current environmental, business, political or legal issue.
  • Time, Continuity and Change 6.5: Students develop criteria-based judgements about the ethical behaviour of people in the past.

Program outline

The program investigated the need for laws and how different societies rule themselves. (See 'Year 8 SOSE: Teacher plan for 'Laws and Rights')  

As part of the unit, the students:

  • studied Lord of the Flies
  • devised their own set of rules, rights and responsibilities as a class
  • compared Ancient Babylonian, Roman and traditional Aboriginal law
  • undertook a detailed study of Indigenous Australia's traditional law and the changes that occurred with European arrival
  • studied how a present-day community in north-west Queensland governs itself
  • looked at how modern laws are made, including the Mabo decision.

Curriculum resources

  • Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary units: 'Law' and 'Should the People Rule?'
  • Discovering Democracy: Stories of Democracy CD-ROM (Upper Primary): 'The Law Rules' (courtroom simulation game 'You be the judge')
  • Lord of the Flies video text (obtained from the State Library of Queensland)
  • Jacaranda SOSE 1, chapters 1 and 2
  • Jacaranda SOSE 2, chapter 9 (mainly as a teacher reference)
  • local government websites for the Northern Territory and Queensland: http://www.nt.gov.au/localgov/localgov/localgov.shtml   http://www.dcilgp.qld.gov.au/index_lgp.html
  • development of a CD-ROM of local Indigenous source materials, including the history of Battle Mountain

Community resources

  • Kalkadoon Tribal Council Elders
  • Members of the Alpurrurulam Community Government Council
  • Mount Isa Mayor
  • School-based police officer
  • Teachers and some students took a trip in the school bus to Alpurrurulam Community, located 350 km west of Mount Isa. Their aim was to video the democratic process in a self-governing Indigenous community at a grassroots level. This video was then edited using school facilities and employed as a learning resource for all students.
  • Visit to the Mount Isa Magistrates Court to view a contrasting legal system at work

Developing the program

The program was conceived by the Head of Department and SOSE staff.

Professional development for key staff members was funded by a Discovering Democracy grant of $3,000 for curriculum development.

Professional development undertaken prior to developing the unit included:

  • in-house cultural awareness activities, including field trips with Indigenous Elders to local sites and sampling bush tucker
  • field trips to Alpurrurulam (Lake Nash) community and Battle Mountain
  • staff members' attendance at the Education Queensland SOSE conference, Brisbane 1999 (valuable in assisting them to use learning outcomes).

Aboriginal Education Workers organised field trips and links with local elders and community members. (Aboriginal Education Workers in Queensland schools act as teacher aides and one-on-one tutors, and assist with parent liaison and truancy issues.)

Tribal Elders arranged artefacts for classroom use and organised permission to visit sensitive areas.

Teachers drew on the expertise of the Kalkadoon Tribal Council's Mr Ken Isaacson, an internationally acknowledged expert on Indigenous arts, to develop the 'Battle Mountain' materials. Staff accompanied him to a variety of sites associated with the local history of contact, resulting in a greater awareness of, and sensitivity to, the issue. This greater awareness fed into the development of the course materials. (See 'Year 8 SOSE: Individual work plan for 'Law' – Battle Mountain')

Following this successful activity, they negotiated a visit to the Alpurrurulam Community to document the democratic process at this grassroots level. This approach was chosen because the Alpurrurulam Community has developed a successful self-management model despite their remote location and cultural dislocation. This model provided an interesting contrast to the more conventional Mount Isa City Council. (See 'Year 8 SOSE: Individual work plan for 'Law' – Isolated Community')

The Discovering Democracy grant funded the out-of-school professional development activities detailed above and much needed planning time.

As part of the planning, the teachers adapted units of work such as Hammurabi's Code from the Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary unit 'Law', and designed self-paced student activities around the case study of a local community.

Information such as the Mabo decision, contained in 'Law' (pages 50 and 58) and the Stories of Democracy CD-ROM, were used primarily as teacher reference.

Where appropriate, and at the class teacher's discretion, activities were used straight from the Lower Secondary booklet, for example, page 58, Activity 4: The Mabo Decision.

Videos of the two field trips, individual student plans, samples of student worksheets and examples of student work were included on a CD-ROM produced and used as an ongoing curriculum resource within the school.


Methods of assessment

Students were assessed on key classroom activities that were identified at the planning stage as meeting core learning outcomes.

The Discovering Democracy assessment tasks were adapted for use by individual teachers based on the teacher's assessment of the class.

Learning outcomes

There was a spread of achievement:

'We would say that students did develop a basic understanding of the differences between customary and European law, but the difference between self-governance and local council government was much better understood.

Students stayed on task, were able to work at their own pace, and developed competency in accessing the electronic reference material via the server and completing most outcomes.

The most positive feature was the involvement of Indigenous Elders in the classroom activities and the use of a booklet written some years previously on local Indigenous history and gathering dust in the school library.'


Key achievements were:

  • building links with the local community
  • developing a CD-ROM as an electronic resource for use on the server
  • designing effective self-paced materials for this age group
  • the successful transition from conventional test-based to continuous outcomes-based assessment practices and the recording of results using 'outcomes achieved' as the motivator
  • increased awareness among students of the local history of cross-cultural contact.

Factors contributing to success were:

  • staff enthusiasm to learn about local issues
  • availability of technological resources such as video editing equipment, which staff used to produce the video resource based on the visit to Alpurrurulam (Lake Nash) community
  • access to 'seed money' from Discovering Democracy project
  • community willingness to volunteer time and knowledge
  • access to school vehicles
  • supportive school administration.

Obstacles to be overcome included:

  • One frustration, which may only be relevant in Mount Isa's situation with high staff turnover, and, therefore, lack of continuity in programs, is how successful programs such as this can be when swamped by the forces of change and compromised by changing systemic demands.

Changes in future programs

Terry O'Neill and Ashleigh Quested believe that the program was too ambitious:

'Individual units contained too many toimages and we should have been more focused on the local issues and then extrapolated to a national focus. Toimages such as the modern system of courts could be taught as a subsequent unit.'

For further information on this program, email Terry O'Neill: teone0@kalkadooshs.qld.edu.au


Curriculum Corporation wishes to acknowledge the work of the staff of Kalkadoon State High School, particularly Terry O'Neill and Ashleigh Quested, in developing the original curriculum on which this case study was based and thank them both for all their work in this project.

Illustrations reproduced courtesy from the book 'Homelands and Frontiers' written and illustrated by Alan Tucker. Text and illustrations copyright © Alan Tucker, 1999. First published by Omnibus Books, an imprint of Scholastic Australia Pty Ltd. Reprinted by permission of Scholastic Australia Pty Ltd.