Student handout 4: A Just Punishment

The goddess of justice

(Click top image)

Aboriginal and British law

Australian Aboriginal law
Aboriginal law had existed in Australia for more than 60,000 years when the British arrived. This law was passed down from generation to generation under the guidance of the elders. It dealt with the land, which is sacred in Australian Aboriginal belief, and the people's relationships with each other.

Although Aboriginal people did not mine or farm the land, they took their shelter, food and clothing from the land. This meant that they needed to move around within a large district so that the plants and animals which they needed had time to regrow and multiply before they came back to that same place. Their beliefs and their stories were full of messages about how the land had to be respected and about how it was part of them, not something separate from them.

Because of this way of life and these beliefs, no individual ‘owned’ land.

British law and the land
In British law the land is not sacred. Instead, British law says that land is something which is owned by people and many people believe that it should be used to produce as much as possible.

The British believed that you could show that you owned the land by the fact that you farmed it. Because Aboriginal people did not have farms as the British did, the British thought that the land wasn't really being used. They said that no one really owned the land in Australia; that it was just as if it was uninhabited.

From the point of view of the settlers, land was needed for farms. They believed that people could own land, livestock and property, that trespassing is against the law and that taking an animal owned by someone else is stealing.

(Discovering Democracy Upper Primary Units, ‘The Law Rules’, p 72)

  • How does the way that Aborigines viewed the land different from the way that the British viewed the land?
  • Why did the Aborigines not settle on the land?
  • What was ‘ownership’ to the Aborigines? to the British?

Exploring the text

1. ‘One rule he told us we must strictly obey. When we went hunting, we must understand that our weapons were to be used only for the gathering of food. We must never use them for the sake of killing. This is in fact one of the strictest laws of the Aborigine, and no excuse is accepted for abusing it.’ (‘A Just Punishment’, p 40)

  • What does this rule tell us about the relationship between Aboriginal people and the natural environment?
  • What does this part of the story tell us about how we learn about rules and laws?

2. ‘He asked for no excuses for what we had done, and we did not offer any. We must all take the blame. That is the way of the Aborigine.’ (‘A Just Punishment’, p 41)

  • Why are all the children held responsible?
  • Is it fair not to ask for excuses about why the boy broke the law?
  • Is this the way that non-Indigenous people apply law? How does it differ?
  • What does the 'way of the Aborigine' tell you about the values of their community?

3. In small groups discuss whether it is right that all the children are punished for the 'kookaburra incident'? Use the following table to record your reasons for both points of view:

Yes, they all deserved to be punished

No, they shouldn't all have been punished


Share your group's responses with the rest of your class.

4. Who has passed judgment on the case and decided the punishment?

  • What is the purpose of the punishment?
  • What is your opinion of the punishment given to the children?
  • What other punishments could they have been given? Give reasons for your ideas.

Working beyond the text

5. Complete the mind map below to show what you think the word ‘justice’ means.

(Click middle image)


6. Create your own symbol (like the goddess of justice) that shows your understanding of what justice is. Write a paragraph to explain what each part of your symbol means. You can do this task on poster paper or use a computer to create a web page to display your work.

7. Think about the different communities of which you are a part – home, school, local council area, sports club, religious group etc. For each group answer the following questions:

  • How have the 'rules' been established?
  • What happens when rules are broken?
  • Who makes judgements about how lawbreakers should be dealt with?
  • What is the purpose of the punishment?
  • What form/s does the punishment take?
  • Do you consider these to be fair?
  • What alternatives can you suggest?
  • What do the rules and punishments tell you about what is valued in this community? Draw some simple diagrams to answer this question. For example:

(Click bottom image)

8. In small groups discuss the following:

  • We often talk of 'the punishment fitting the crime'. What do you think is meant by this?
  • Can you think of some examples that illustrate this idea? Are there times when the punishment can't fit the crime? What are some examples of this? Why does this situation occur?
  • Share your answers in a whole class feedback session.

9. Write a real life story about a time when you were punished. Use the story to make your ideas about just punishment clear – as does Oodgeroo Noonuccal in her story. Make a storyboard of your written piece to display in your classroom.

10. From where did you get your ideas about justice and punishment? How have they changed as you've grown up? What experiences have changed your thinking?

11. Find our more about the work of Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker). You can visit

Overview | Notes for teachers 1 | Notes for teachers 2 | Notes for teachers 3 | Notes for teachers 4 | Student handout 1 | Student handout 2 | Student handout 3 | Student handout 4 | Student handout 5 | Student handout 6 | Student handout 7 | Student handout 8 | Student handout 9 | Student handout 10

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