The legacies of colonisation and resistance be found in more recent practices and initiatives in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education


Assignment 2

With reference to ALL the readings from Topics 1-6 below, answer the following question:

To what extent can the legacies of colonisation and resistance be found in more recent practices and initiatives in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education?

Assessment criteria for Assignment 2

Through reference to central concepts, problems and issues identified in ALL the readings from Topics 1-6, and by using substantial evidence and analytical sophistication, your essay will need to:

  • evaluate the ways in which Australian colonisation influenced Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education. (Outcome 1)
  • consider contemporary issues and debates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education in relation to their historical, sociological and political contexts. (Outcome 2)
  • identify and discuss current understandings of curriculum, pedagogy and power in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education. (Outcome 3)
  • compare and contrast some initiatives in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education in relation to other developments in educational and social reform. (Outcome 4)

Topic 1: Colonisation

The colonisation of Australia is a complex phenomenon that has remade itself over the last two centuries to meet the conditions of the time. It occurs in both subtle and overt forms. Indeed, colonisation has operated unevenly – more subtly or more overtly – in different locations at different times across Australia.

John Pilger (2002) pulls no punches about the processes and results of colonisation. He draws an extreme contrast between the lives and interests of Australia’s elites, whom, he feels, have benefited disproportionately from colonisation and the lives and interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. He declares that the enormity of ‘what has been done to and taken from the native people’ is so great that these elites marginalise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights to avoid the costs of reparation. In other words, colonisation, with its processes of dispossession, despoliation and attempted cultural obliteration as well as resistance to these, continues to be a reality in contemporary Australia.

Lorna Lippmann (1994) gives a brief run-through of key aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education and sees a significant improvement in later years, especially with the development of a national education policy and Aboriginal schools. Yet, at the time she wrote her book, she also found a continuing, historically-conditioned distrust by Indigenous peoples of the efficacy of government-directed educational initiatives.

Nigel Parbury’s (2011) chapter is the classic short account of the schooling imposed on Aboriginal peoples, with its main focus on New South Wales. He periodises the twists and turns in policies into broad phases like Protection, Assimilation, Integration and Self-Determination, and includes Aboriginal commentary on experiences of education. He alerts us to always taking a critical orientation towards issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education: it is likely to remain a contested and contradiction-riven field of endeavour for some time.

Anthony Welch (1996) contrasts traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander understandings and pedagogies and non-Indigenous ‘white Western views of educational philosophy and practice’ in the strongest terms. In colonial Australia, he sees a combination of ‘scientific racism’, imported religion and Malthusianism used to subvert both traditional Indigenous societies and Enlightenment ideas of egalitarianism and liberty: ‘to preserve both the profitable forms of discrimination and exploitation…made it necessary to deny humanity to the oppressed groups.’ Welch’s stages of ‘black-white relations’ encapsulates the increasingly contradictory nature of those relations as Indigenous peoples gradually gained rights but always within the parameters of exclusion or assimilation. Finally, he notes the unfinished business of land rights and official accommodation of Indigenous ‘learnings’ in a context where self-determination is offered but often not achieved and where ‘economism’ trumps social justice.

Today, it seems that the relationship between the colonising state and the colonised population is changing once more, but underneath this the political demands of Indigenous peoples and the motives of governments appear to be remarkably consistent. For example, see the Barunga Statement of 1988>;
the Yirrkala Bark Petition of 1963; and the response <,_1963-71>.

Required reading

Pilger, J. (2002). The chosen ones. In The new rulers of the world (pp. 158-207). London & New York: Verso.

Lippmann, L. (1994). Education. In Generations of Resistance: Mabo and Justice (pp. 132-150), 3rd edn. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire.

Parbury, N. (2011). Aboriginal Education: a history. In R. Craven (ed.) Teaching Aboriginal Studies (pp. 63-86), St Leonards: Allen & Unwin.

Welch, A. (1996). Aboriginal education as internal colonialism: The schooling of indigenous peoples. In Australian education: Reform or crisis? (pp. 24-53). Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

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Topic 2: Interpretation

The broad facts of colonisation and their expression in Australian education systems and policies are not significantly disputed. However, how to characterise the importance and legacy of these events has led to debates over interpretation. These debates actually are discussions of the problems of certain methodologies: how should commentators approach providing an analysis of the motives informing these events, their effects on Indigenous peoples, their reflection in educational policies and practices, and the responses of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

Linda Smith (1999) places issues of Indigeneity and colonisation in their widest context: as part of an imperial conquest of parts of the planet that was accompanied by attempts to integrate or pacify the colonised peoples as well as the imported labour force. This contextualising of the exercise of imperial power provides something of an antidote to debates about what properly constitutes ‘authentic’ Indigenous culture and ‘authentic’ Indigenous responses to colonisation since it suggests that imperialism is an ongoing, variable and unresolved process of conquest and resistance.

A common characteristic of debates about colonisation and Indigeneity is their recourse, to a greater or lesser degree, to what Cathryn McConaghy (2000) calls ‘culturalism’. According to McConaghy, culturalism distorts a contextual understanding of the core issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education because it over-emphasises a cultural approach to understanding events, even to the point where commentators, sometimes inadvertently, move towards cultural essentialism: that Indigenous cultures exist as unchanging ‘traditional’ assemblages of practices and understandings; or similarly that ‘Western’ culture is an uncontested and homogenous singularity. McConaghy feels that presenting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander actions and non-Indigenous responses in this way displaces an understanding of both the history and politics of policy development. [For a similar critique of cultural essentialism in teacher education, see Carmen Mills 2008.]

Martin Nakata (2007) also rejects culturalism and emphasises the concept of a ‘Cultural Interface’ where students usually are made to move between the cultural expectations of at least two different situations, but often without the full cultural knowledge required for either context. He seems to be suggesting that recognition by educational authorities, communities, parents, teachers and students of the existence of this ‘Cultural Interface’ and becoming educated about the cultural expectations held by either side may ameliorate educational disadvantage.

Kevin Keeffe (1992) believes he has discovered that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders express a pair of contradictory but core cultural values that have developed since colonisation. Keeffe’s conceptualisation may be a way through the dual minefield pointed out by the other authors in this Topic: on the one hand, of over-emphasising cultural difference with the accompanying strait-jacket of having to identify precisely what constitutes a particular cultural identity and the associated dilemma of how an educative relationship could be formed in a situation of considerable or even complete cultural incompatibility; or, on the other hand, of ignoring or subsuming cultural difference by simply emphasising political or economic or policy concerns while ignoring their expression at a cultural level.

A recent and very important addition to the field of interpretation of Aboriginal Education, history and biography has been made by Chris Sarra. As former Principal of Cherbourg State school in central south-western Queensland, Sarra has reflected in an ongoing fashion about his experiences and in 2011 published his book, Strong and smart – towards a pedagogy for emancipation: education for first peoples. The book is informed by a theory called ‘critical realism’ whose key originator is Roy Bhaskar. Bhaskar provides a largely materialist and social understanding of people’s actions and distinguishes in all his conceptualisations between an ontological level (i.e. what can exist and/or be known: i.e. what is ‘immanent’) and an epistemological level (i.e. what does exist and is known). This allows a distinguishing between different types, degrees and levels of ‘truth’ or reality and ‘power’. From this it follows that people absorb and reproduce these ‘truths’ from positions of power and powerlessness, but also that people can use types of ‘power’ to modify, reject or overturn these ‘truths’ or ways of being. Since these ‘truths’ may stand in contradiction with each other, since society itself has a core contradiction between the powerful and the powerless, then people can lead contradictory lives based on contradictory realities and contradictory perceptions.

In his book, after a demolition of what he sees as McConaghy’s overstatement of the power of culturalism to the extent that the real oppression that it’s referring to disappears, Sarra attempts to set things right by referring to the notion of the ‘totality’ and that by knowing this totality of experiences, perceptions and relationships, then poor perceptions of Aboriginal Australians, not least by some Aboriginal Australians, are understandable as the product of the real and ongoing oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. While not framing most of his argument in terms of colonisation and resistance, nevertheless he quotes Linda Smith approvingly and Sarra’s book (and future projects) could be seen as a critique of and attempt to overcome the ‘mental’ colonisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, not least through appropriate education, as spelt out in the chapter ‘School strategies to reinforce Aboriginal identity’. To me, it is a little puzzling that Sarra is dealing with what he feels are the real results of oppression that produce contradictory responses by Aboriginal people, yet he completely ignores the work of Keeffe in this regard. In a way that can be extrapolated from Keeffe’s perceptions, Sarra’s ‘solutions’ around reconstructing identity and schooling rely very much on the idea of channeling resistance and persistence in particular and constructive directions.

Required reading

Smith, L.T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples (pp. 20-25). London & New York: Zed Books.

Nakata, M. (2007). Concluding remarks. In Disciplining the savages, savaging the disciplines (pp. 218-225). Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

McConaghy, C. (2000). Rethinking Indigenous education: Culturalism, colonialism and the politics of knowing (pp. 43-49). Flaxton, QLD: Post Pressed.

Keeffe, K. (1992). From the Centre to the City: Aboriginal Education, Culture and Power (pp. 48-58). Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press (Extract: Aboriginality-as-Persistence versus Aboriginality-as-Resistance).

Sarra, C (2011). ‘School strategies to reinforce Aboriginal identity’. In Strong and smart – towards a pedagogy for emancipation: education for first peoples (pp. 103-131) Abingdon: Routledge.

——————————————————————————————————————————Topic 3: Fabrication

The election of the Howard government in March 1996 brought to a head the debate over the past treatment of and future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. Verity Burgmann (1997) believes that John Howard’s rejection of the ‘black armband’ view was linked to lessons from his own education and was given more recent purchase by commentators like Geoffrey Blainey. Burgmann (1997) argues that the neo-liberal response to native title claims was reflected in this battle over ‘armbands’ and ‘blindfolds’.

The ‘history wars’, especially the academic debate over Indigenous history after the invasion, raged off-and-on from the late 1980s and then persistently from the late 1990s, reaching its high point with the publication in 2002 of Keith Windschuttle’s (2003) The fabrication of Aboriginal history. This first volume studied Tasmania from 1803 to 1847 in which Windschuttle maintained that most historians of post-invasion Indigenous history had distorted evidence and exaggerated their claims of massacres for ‘ideological’ reasons. Curiously, after a book about the White Australia Policy published in 2004, Windschuttle released the third volume of The fabrication of Aboriginal historyin 2009, dealing with the Stolen Generations from 1881 to 2008.

The responses to Windschuttle’s histories have been no less cutting than Windschuttle’s responses to his critics. Robert Manne (2003) led the field in gathering responses by himself and others that disputed both the details and the motives of Windschuttle’s histories.

Another attempt to ‘balance the ledger’ and counter ignorance and prejudice was the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission’s (ATSIC) famous publication, originally from 1998, As a matter of fact. It was a resource produced to educate non-Indigenous Australians in the manner proposed by the Reconciliation movement. In fact, Reconciliation Australia has a web page that also lists and then responds to myths about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. One of the links from that page is to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2012 updating of Face the Facts.

And, finally, a key way that these fabrications, distortions and myths both arose and persisted was through their inculcation or intimation in school syllabuses – even, as Barbara and Mark d’Arbon state, in the latest version of the New South Wales primary school social studies (HSIE) syllabus that appears not to take seriously the teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. Cathie Burgess’ paper, referred to in Topic 6, makes something of a similar point about the way the national curriculum has dealt with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

Required reading

Burgmann, V. (1997). Popular miseducation: John Howard’s assault on the black armband view of history. Labor Review, 27, 2-13.

Windschuttle, K. (2003). Introduction: The final solution down under. In The fabrication of Aboriginal history, Vol.1, Van Dieman’s Land, 1803-1847 (pp. 1-10). Sydney: Macleay Press.

Manne, R. (2003). Introduction. In R. Manne (ed.) Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle’s fabrication of Aboriginal history (pp. 1-13). Melbourne: Schwartz Publishing.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (1999). As a matter of fact: Answering the myths and misconceptions about Indigenous Australians, 2nd ed. Canberra: ATSIC. <>

d’Arbon, B. & d’Arbon, M. (2003). Aboriginal experience in New South Wales government primary school syllabuses from 1925 to 1975. Journal of the Aboriginal Studies Association, November, 125-134.

Topic 4: Reconciliation

In 1991, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established to achieve a ‘formal process of reconciliation between Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians’. In its last strategic plan, the Council still sought ‘to unite individuals, community groups, organisations, businesses and governments in their support of a national commitment to reconciliation’. While the Council describes the 1990s as the ‘decade of Reconciliation’, it would appear that in terms of government responses this was more optimistic than warranted.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations on 13 February 2008 probably revealed a strengthening of commitment to Reconciliation:

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment. We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations—this blemished chapter in our nation’s history. The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry. We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation. For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written. We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity. A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

However, while the issues of land rights and Native Title are considered to be a centrepiece of Reconciliation, they continue to cause anxiety to governments and some industry lobby groups. By way of contrast, former Federal Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin (2009), believes that Native Title can benefit mining companies, yet her approach avoids engaging with the full implications of the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty. Indeed, in some recognition of the ongoing difficulties and glacial pace of resolution of land rights claims, in 2012 the Gillard Labor government proposed amendments to the Commonwealth Native Title legislation, not to everyone’s satisfaction: <>. Selections from publications explaining the Wik decision are provided in the readings.

Damien Short (2008) carefully dissects the role of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR) in its attempt to educate Australians about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues and alter perceptions of Australian identity. However, he shows that the CAR dealt with complicated issues in a relatively unsophisticated way and resisted confronting the core and crucial issues to achieve what he describes as ‘justice’, as against ‘social justice’, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Patrick Dodson (2007) prepares a ledger of the Howard government’s failures in addressing in public policy the core issues of ‘traditional ownership status’ and the ‘historical layers of colonial legacy’. He declares that the government’s aim of the ‘extinguishing of Indigenous culture by attrition’ is a blow against cooperative nation building and self-determination. For Dodson, the ultimately assimilationist intent he finds in much policy-making undermines serious commitment by governments to a process of Reconciliation.

For an interesting response to the denial of sovereignty, see the Yorta Yorta/Bangerang case described by Monica Morgan in What has native title done for me lately?: <>. For a brief description of the Yorta Yorta/Bangerang case, see the AIATSIS summary: <>

Required reading

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (2000). Conclusions (chapter 9). In Reconciliation: Australia’s challengeFinal report of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation to the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Parliament, December. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. <>

Macklin, J. (2009). Can native title deliver more than a ‘modicum of justice’? (Australian Law Reform Commission Monograph) <>

Culturescope (2000). Wik – the plain truth; Wik – putting right the wrongs, 63, April, 29-30.

Short, D. (2008). Reconciliation and Non-Indigenous Australians: The CAR and the “People’s Movement” (chapter 6). In Reconciliation and colonial power: Indigenous rights in Australia (pp. 109-130). Hampshire: Ashgate.

Dodson, P. (2007). Whatever happened to Reconciliation? In J. Altman & M. Hinkson (eds) Coercive reconciliation: Stabilise, normalise, exit Aboriginal Australia (pp. 21-29). Melbourne: Arena Publications.

*****************************************************************************Topic 5: Intervention

On 21 June 2007, Prime Minister John Howard and Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough, told a media conference that the situation amongst Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory was a national emergency. What followed became known as the ‘Northern Territory Intervention’.

For a quite comprehensive and very critical survey of the Intervention see academic Jon Altman’s full-issue piece in the August 2013 (Issue 14) Journal of Indigenous Policy: <>. In many of his articles, education is addressed as part of a range of areas of policy failure, but esp. ‘W(h)ither remote Indigenous economic development?’ (pp.87-89) and ‘The cunning of consultation’ (pp.116-119).

More recently, in 2015 Chris Graham of the online news website New Matilda has accused the ABC of being complicit in initiating the Intervention. (By the way, New Matilda’s journalist Amy McQuire provides some of the best journalism about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.)

On 21 June 2011, several hundred Aboriginal people and supporters in a public demonstration in Darwin launched Rebuilding from the ground up: An alternative to the Intervention <>. The key educational demand in the document was the following:

  1. Empowerment through Education:

Lift the ban on bilingual education and allow the expansion of bilingual programs in NT schools where requested. Invest in training and employment of Aboriginal teachers and Aboriginal teachers’ aides and ensure they play a central role in curriculum development. Provide resources and employment opportunities to enable schools to become important centres of culture and community life. Invest in staff, infrastructure and equipment to ensure all remote Aboriginal schools have full time qualified teachers and enjoy the same resources per enrolled student as schools across Australia. Stop punitive programs linking welfare payments to school attendance. 

From the initiation of the intervention onwards, the Commonwealth government has released regular updates called Closing the gap in the NT monitoring reports (June 2012): <>. The main innovation revealed by these reports is the government’s commitment to a number of educational programs, especially in Early Childhood settings, with provision often being combined with other welfare and employment programs, including community education initiatives.

In November 2011, the Gillard Labor government sent its Stronger Futures legislative package into parliament to extend the period and scope of the Intervention. That package was described positively by the Labor Party: <


> but by May 2012 the NT Greens were expressing severe reservations about its legality and impacts: <>

The operation of the Stronger Futures legislation <> was reported upon by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights in June 2013. The only significant findings were that the government should make a stronger case for the reasons why restricting some human rights enhanced others and how this contributed to the intended goals of the Intervention (see esp. the report’s Conclusion). The subsequent review of Stronger Futures in 2016 made a few significant criticisms of the Intervention, but mostly recommended the re-working of these interventions, rather than their abandonment.

The NGO ‘Concerned Australians’ found that the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s report of 2013 exposed the continuing poor level of consultation with communities when significant legislation like Stronger Futures is formulated and then implemented, and that the Intervention still failed the test of international law. Concerned Australians called for the full implementation of an existing Yolgnu demand for a ‘return to a mindset of partnership based on the principles of Self-Determination.’ <>

The first budget in May 2014 of the newly elected Tony Abbott-led Coalition government cut $534 million across five years from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs administered by the Office of PM & Cabinet and Health. This reduction of programs, grants and activities to avoid duplication and the redirection of some funding is called the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. Notable changes in the area of education are that $9.5 million will be cut from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language support over five years, 38 Indigenous childhood development centres might close, while 3,000 places will be created for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys in the privately-run Clontarf Foundation sports academy program that emphasises building motivation through students’ participation in Australian Rules and/or Rugby League. <>

Most recently in 2017, marking the tenth anniversary of the NT Intervention, or Emergency Response, respected academic Melinda Hinkson (one of whose earlier articles appears below) launched a scathing public commentary on the effects of the Intervention, finding that little of value had resulted. Even the Commonwealth Indigenous Affairs Minister had misgivings about some aspects. (See two items in the document found here.)

The authors collected below provide a spectrum of perspectives on the issues involved in the Intervention, from welcoming aspects of it to seeing it as another, and quite decisive, phase of colonisation. All feel that more has to be done, and this is where their perspectives become most interesting: what future do they see for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia? An understanding of the implications of these diverse views and desires is essential in assessing the possibilities for success of the educational policies and practices directed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Required reading

Brough, M. (2009). NT Intervention: where to from here? Speech to the Bennelong Society, Sydney. Original link inoperative. See EDCX515 Homepage for PDF copy.

Hinkson, M. (2007). Introduction: In the name of the child. In J. Altman & M. Hinkson (eds) Coercive reconciliation: Stabilise, normalise, exit Aboriginal Australia (pp. 1-12). Melbourne: Arena Publications.

Pearson, N. (2009). The cultural hearth. In Radical hope: Education and equality in Australia (pp. 55-72; Quarterly Essay 35).

Altman, J. (2007). In the name of the market? In J. Altman & M. Hinkson (eds) Coercive reconciliation: Stabilise, normalise, exit Aboriginal Australia (pp. 307-321). Melbourne: Arena Publications.


Topic 6: Recognition & Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-14

On 28 September 2009, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, announced at MCEECDYA – the meeting of all State, Territory and Commonwealth Education Ministers – an Indigenous Education Action Plan to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schooling, specifically in the areas of access to early childhood education, engagement with parents and the wider community, attendance rates, literacy and numeracy, quality teaching and school leadership, and post-school options.

A draft plan was released in 2010, and the final version was released in 2011 and named the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014 <>

Some of the orientations towards issues addressed in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education by the Action Plan came from the review of the Howard government’s previous plan, Australian Directions in Indigenous Education 2005–2008 <>. The reviewers asked fundamental and critical questions about a number of issues, including the operation of school-community partnerships, the nature of teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, whether there was an over-emphasis on ‘basics’, the place of first-language instruction, guaranteeing employment for school leavers, and the role of thoroughgoing self-determination.

Some of these issues appear to have been addressed directly in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014, while others appear either to have been ignored or to have been addressed too simply. Some of the reviewers’ concerns were:

p.11 SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY EDUCATIONAL PARTNERSHIPS: ‘Whilst jurisdictions throughout Australia continue to espouse the rhetoric of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership [in school-community partnerships], the realities are often somewhat incongruous.’

pp.12-13 QUALITY TEACHING: ‘While some collective assumptions can be made about what might stimulate an Indigenous student’s intellect, it invariably demands the teacher has a good understanding of the child as an individual, including the cultural context in which the child has been raised.’

p.13 ‘A great deal of the current debate concerns itself with acquiring the basics, but effective, equitable participation relies on something more than the basics. Complex and sophisticated understandings are required in at least three literacies, as well as numeracy, if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are to participate equally in mainstream society. The three literacies often referred to are English, digital and scientific.’

p.13 ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the same right as any other people to receive instruction in their own language.’

p.14 PATHWAYS TO TRAINING, EMPLOYMENT AND HIGHER EDUCATION: ‘the innovative concept of Guaranteed Service Outcomes pioneered by the Western Cape College in Weipa [where a] Guaranteed Service Outcome signals to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students that if they engage with schooling and complete Year 12 of high school then they are guaranteed either a job; a tertiary place; or a vocational training outcome.’

p.15 TEACHER EDUCATION: ‘These writings [reviewed in the report] point to a “bottom up” approach as the solution, arguing for self determination through community empowerment and Indigenous cultural learnings.’

Buckskin, P., et al. (2009). ‘Executive summary and recommendations’. In Review of Australian Directions in Indigenous Education 2005–2008, pp. 10-17.

Almost at the same time as the Indigenous Education Action Plan was announced, the ALP government made an historic decision regarding Australian education. Australia’s first national curriculum was inaugurated in the subject areas of English, maths, science and history. A brief commentary about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in schools and the national curriculum can be found at: Reconciliation Australia (2010) Indigenous Perspectives in Australian schools, 20 January <>.

There have been both concerned and defensive responses to the national curriculum, especially in the way it deals with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander input and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories See the Australian Education Union’s 2009 response to ACARA’s senior curriculum draft, esp. p. 2 and its 2010 response to the K-10 curriculum draft, esp. pp. 16-18.

Cathie Burgess’ paper reveals the national curriculum framers’ extraordinary lack of consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders in an era when such consultation is meant to be the first priority. Interestingly, Burgess (2009, pp.7-8) provides what may be an Indigenous antidote to bland and unrepresentative curricula: ‘Perhaps the National Curriculum should embrace notions of community responsibilities and obligations, applying Indigenous approaches to family, kin and community support, sustainable land management practices based on something stronger than economic need or physical survival, equality within cultural and social structures; and consensus decision making based on authentic and genuine consultation.’

The major teacher organisation involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education is the Australian Education Union (AEU). It has some influence in promoting positive developments in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education because of the absence of a peak and permanent national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education consultative organisation: only a few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives were selected to advise the Labor government about the Action Plan and the national curriculum. At the same time, only two State or Territory peak Indigenous consultative groups are mentioned in the Action Plan: the New South Wales Aboriginal Education Consultative Group and the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association. The AEU, through its two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Committees, all of whose members are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander educators, attempts to progress its objectives, as set out in its policy, with governments, but as a union in the education sector the AEU represents only a very small proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


In January 2012, the Prime Minister’s Expert Panel, formed in late 2010,  in their report entitled Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution (The full report is here.) made the following five recommendations for changing the Constitution:

Remove Section 25 – which says the States can ban people from voting based on their race;

Remove section 51(xxvi) – which can be used to pass laws that discriminate against people based on their race;

Insert a new section 51A – to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to preserve the Australian Government’s ability to pass laws for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

Insert a new section 116A, banning racial discrimination by government; and

Insert a new section 127A, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were this country’s first tongues, while confirming that English is Australia’s national language.

Educating all Australians about Constitutional history and the need for change was the point of key recommendation ‘e’: ‘Before the referendum is held, there should be a properly resourced public education and awareness program. If necessary, legislative change should occur to allow adequate funding of such a program’ (p.227). According to the report, ‘particular emphasis was placed on the importance of educating and mobilising young people, particularly those in high school who will be eligible to vote at the referendum, and the elderly’ (p.223). Part of this educative initiative was the Recognise website <>, which included a well-produced teaching resource kit Recognise: School learning guide – Years 10, 11 and 12 that subsequently has disappeared from its website.

Not all commentators were sanguine about the rush to include some type of recognition of Indigenous peoples in the Constitution. Amy McQuire, reporting for New Matilda, noted in April 2015 Noel Pearson shifting his stance to wanting a separate statement of recognition that would not be included in the Constitution.

In response, Aboriginal activist Michael Mansell labelled the Recognise campaign a ‘pipe dream’ and called for real social justice, including uniform national land rights legislation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples having a veto over legislation, for example in the Northern Territory. Rather than swamping the Indigenous vote in a referendum, Mansell claimed that the process of self-determination meant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples themselves should decide the way forward and then ‘negotiate with the majority’. <>

The 2016 election campaign saw Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull seemingly contradict the Recognise campaign’s own understanding that constitutional recognition and treaty negotiations can proceed co-terminously. In a startling return to Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s (unfulfilled) promise of a treaty in 1988, on 13 June 2016 Labor Party leader Bill Shorten mentioned that he was open to concluding a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples <>

The First Nations National Convention on Constitutional Recognition was held at Uluru from 23-26 May 2017. Despite some disagreementbeing shown by participants over preferences for the first step being constitutional recognition or the conclusion of a treaty, an agreed statement was released called ‘From the Heart‘. The educational dimension was captured in the statement by its reference for to a better future for children. How the Commonwealth government responds to the statement is yet to be seen.

Required reading

Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development & Youth Affairs (2011). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014, June. Canberra: MCEECDYA. <>

Burgess, C. (2009). What Good a National Curriculum for Indigenous Students? Paper presented to the Australian Association for Research in Education conference, 29 November-3 December, Canberra. <>

Australian Education Union (2002). Policy on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education. Southbank, VIC: AEU. – Use the PDF version that can be found here or in the Topic 6 bloc on the Homepage.