Civics and Citizenship

The overview of this learning area invites students to explore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customary law. This is demonstrated in books on customary marriage laws (e.g. Nakamarra, 1990), family obligations (e.g. Kerinaiua, 1990), appropriate behaviour (e.g. Kantilla, 1996), initiation (e.g. Egan, 1987) and various ceremonies (e.g. Granites Napanangka, 2008; Marika, n.d.). The opening statement in a book on funeral ceremonies, Mala-mala-kurlu (Ross, 2000) states its specific purpose: “We are going to put into a book for you children so that you can keep it in your head. When we elders pass away you can keep your own Warlpiri knowledge strong here at Yuendumu forever. Do not throw it away.” There are also warnings against excessive drinking (Mununggurr, n.d., and Kerinaiua, 1989) or eating the wrong thing (Djäwa. 1983). These cautionary tales often have dire consequences for the participants and are used as powerful teaching tools, particularly for children, for example the people who were killed for staring at the moon (Djäwa, 1975) or for building a fire on a sacred place (Cooper, 2001).

A fascinating example demonstrating contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ experiences of Australia’s legal system include a text in Warlpiri and English entitled “Milyapungkalu Kardiyakurlangu Jukurrpa” or “Know the European Law” which

arose from the expressed need of Warlpiri people for information about the European legal system for their young people. Warlpiri people are keenly interested in the issue of European recognition of Aboriginal customary law and an equitable resolution of conflict between European and Warlpiri law” (Wayne & Sherman, 1981).

It explains the different levels of government in Australia, the rights of people who have been arrested, rules for police, and explanations of what may happen at the police station, with legal aid, at a court hearing, the appeals process, and other situations.


Taken from Bow, C. (2016). Using authentic language resources to incorporate Indigenous knowledges across the Australian Curriculum. Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts, 20, 20–39. Available from