The Arts

The overview of this learning area invites students to explore the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts practices can involve combining art forms for both practical and cultural reasons, and how their oral histories and belief systems are contained in and communicated through cultural expression in story, movement, song and visual traditions (ACARA, 2015). Each of the arts forms (dance, drama, media arts, music and visual arts) can be linked with materials in the Living Archive.

Dance often appears in books which focus on ceremonial actions, but also in unexpected contexts (for a Western audience). For example, at the end of a hunting story when a man kills a shark, “the man danced the shark dance on the beach just like many Tiwi dance shark today” (Babui, 1991).  Such a sentence can elicit further questioning and research can uncover demonstrations such as that at the 2016 Sydney Festival, where the Strong Women’s Group from the Tiwi Islands gave lessons in traditional Tiwi song and dance, including dances for shark, crocodile, turtle and rainbow (Sydney Festival, 2016).

In the area of Drama, a number of books in the collection present as ideal subjects for dramatic interpretation, whether simple early childhood stories which children can dress as animals and act out, or older children could dramatically represent some short texts which display facets of Indigenous community life, such as sharing with strangers (James, 2006), or stories of early contact such as Marlparri (1981) about relations with the earliest missionaries.

The Media Arts curriculum encourages students from Foundation to Year 2 to explore ideas, characters and settings in the community through stories in images, sounds and text, and in higher levels to compare media artworks from different social, cultural and historical contexts. In addition to the multiple opportunities to explore and compare, there are opportunities to create multimedia versions of stories in the archive with permission from the story owners. The Living Archive project site gives instructions and examples of how to do this, including suggestions for contacting story owners (Living Archive, 2015a), which could begin valuable collaborative work between schools and remote communities.

For the Music curriculum, the Living Archive features a selection of song books and books based on songs, which can be identified using the category filter ‘Song.’ Some include translations of English songs, so the tunes would be familiar to many, such as the song book Burarra Manakay (2009) which includes versions of ‘12345 Once I caught a fish alive,’ Incy wincy spider,’ and ‘The wheels on the bus‘ mixed with local songs. Others include chords and sometimes recorded audio versions of the songs, such as the Kaytetye song Wampere wampere which students can learn to sing along to (Turpin, 2005).

A number of units in the Visual Arts curriculum invite students to engage with works by Indigenous artists. Materials in the Living Archive include a wide variety of artistic styles, from simple line drawings, to watercolour paintings, to detailed digital creations, plus more traditional art forms such as bark paintings e.g. (Yunupingu, n.d.), and body paintings (Yawarrka-kurlu, n.d.). There are also stories of children learning how to paint their dreamings (Granites, 2006) and stories of artists travelling internationally for exhibitions (Gallagher, 2007). A visit to a local exhibition of Indigenous artworks would be a useful accompaniment to this learning area, or an invitation to a local Indigenous artist to talk about or demonstrate their own work to the class.

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