Category Archives: Education

NAIDOC WEEK

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

The 7-14 July marks the 2019 NAIDOC Week. Each year, NAIDOC Week celebrates the culture, history and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC Week is commemorated by both Indigenous communities and all other Australians. Annual NAIDOC events and activities are held across Australia to encourage people to participate in the celebrations, and support local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.[1]

Understanding NAIDOC Week

Some might not know, but the boycott of Australia Day – often now referred to as Invasion Day – is not a new event, and connects directly to the origins of NAIDOC Week.[2]

Aboriginal rights groups have been boycotting Australia Day since the beginning of the 20th century. By the 1920s, many of these groups were becoming more active and organised, protesting the day in an effort to highlight the mistreatment of Aboriginal people in Australia. The Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA) and the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) rallied hard throughout the 1920s-1930s to make the broader population aware of these boycotts and the reasons behind them, however their efforts went almost entirely unnoticed.

By the late 1930s, the situation had not changed. Protests continued, so much so that after a large demonstration in Sydney’s CBD on Australia Day, 1938, the anniversary became known as the Day of Mourning. This event in particular is recognised as one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world.  At the time, William Cooper, founder of the AAL, proposed the concept of a national policy for Aboriginal people to then Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected, as the Australian Government did not at this time hold constitutional powers when it came to Aboriginal people, a fact that would not change until the 1967 Referendum in Australia.[3]

The impact of the 1938 demonstration was felt around the country, and the Day of Mourning became an annual event. Between 1940 and 1955, the Day of Mourning was held every Sunday before Australia Day, known as Aborigines’ Day. The date of Aborigines’ Day was moved to the first Sunday in July in 1955, in an effort to use the day as both a day of protest, and also a day which promoted the celebration of Aboriginal culture and heritage.[4]

National Aborigines Day Poster, 1972.
National Aborigines Day Poster, 1972.

Soon after, the National Aborigines’ Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed, and in 1975, the Committee decided to extend the event to cover an entire week, from the first Sunday of July – Aborigines’ Day – to the second Sunday of July, a day that also became a commemorative day of remembrance for Aboriginal people.[5]

In the early 1990s, NADOC recognised the inclusion of Torres Strait Islander people in the Committee, changing their name to the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observation Committee (NAIDOC).[6]

NAIDOC Poster
1990 National NAIDOC Poster.

Every year, the NAIDOC week theme is chosen to reflect a significant issue or event that is relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This year’s theme – Voice Treaty Truth – recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s place in Australian history and society, and promotes the reforms outlined in the Uluru Statement of the Heart.[7]

The Uluru Statement represents the unified position of Australia’s First Nations people. The Statement was developed as a result of the First Nations National Constitutional Convention, which ran over four days in May, 2017. The Convention brought together over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to Uluru (on the lands of the Anangu people), to discuss constitutional reforms, and agree on how to approach the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution.[8]

Reforms highlighted in the Statement involve enshrining a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Constitution to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and a Makarrata Commission to supervise treaty processes and truth-telling about the history of Australia and colonisation, and its continuing effects (Makarrata is from the language of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land; the word means ‘coming together after a struggle’. Makarrata encapsulates concepts of conflict resolution and peacemaking, and seeks to acknowledge and right past wrongs).[9]

2019 National NAIDOC Poster.
2019 National NAIDOC Poster.

The 2019 National NAIDOC Poster was designed by Charmaine Mumbulla, a Kaurna/Narungga woman. The artwork is titled ‘Awaken’. Charmaine depicts in her artwork the early dawn light rising over Uluru, which symbolises the unbroken connection between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the land. The circles at the base of Uluru are representative of the historic gathering in 2017 which resulted in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Of the work, Charmaine wrote: “Our message, developed through generations, is echoed throughout the land: hear our voice and recognise our truth. We call for a new beginning, marked by a formal process of agreement and truth-telling, that will allow us to move forward together”.[10]

NAIDOC in the collections

There are certain objects within our collection at the Museum of Tropical Queensland that link directly to NAIDOC Week.

Tshirt

This t-shirt is from NAIDOC Week 1998, and promotes the 1998 theme ‘Bringing them home’. The theme reflected on the report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (April, 1997).[11]

The report addressed the wrongs done to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through the removal of Aboriginal children from their homes and families, and contained recommendations for redressing these wrongs. One of the key recommendations in the ‘Bringing them home’ report focused on an official acknowledgment of, and apology for, the removal of the Stolen Generations – those Aboriginal children who were forced from their families and communities by governments and churches to be raised in institutions, or fostered by white families.[12]

The impact of the ‘Bringing them home’ report resulted in all State and Territory Parliaments officially apologising to the Stolen Generations, their families and communities between the years 1997-1999. National Sorry Day was established in 1998, and is celebrated every year on May 26.[13]

This t-shirt was acquired by a Queensland Museum curator in October 1998, to add to the State Collection held at the Museum of Tropical Queensland. The item is a significant object within the collections, and is representative of the ongoing NAIDOC Week celebrations, and the nature in which the Week is celebrated with a range of activities and events for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians to participate in.

These two objects are children’s toys, woven from blades of coconut leaves. They were made by Kate James at the Museum of Tropical Queensland during NAIDOC week in 2000. Kate is a Murray (Mer) Islander woman from the Margaram people. She was born and raised on Mer and came to Townsville in the 1960s.

Scarf

This scarf was made and donated to the Museum of Tropical Queensland in 2012, by 14-year-old artist Chern’ee Sutton. Titled, ‘History of Australia: Ajarku Muruu’, Sutton created this hand-painted scarf as an interpretation of Ajarku Muruu, which means ‘All One Country’ in Kalkadoon language.

Sutton detailed that each of the 5 large circles represent approximately 14,000 years of life in Australia, totalling nearly 70,000 years. The red and orange circle represent the beginning of art, the green circle represents the beginning of a country, and the blue circle represents the beginning of a nation. The Southern Cross at the top represents a common unity of two worlds combined, and the small dots represent the spirit trails that link all Australians together through acceptance and understanding of each other. This scarf was painted by Sutton after Rob Messenger, Member for Burnett, commissioned her to paint a tie for him to wear in Parliament House for NAIDOC Week 2012.

Each of these items are representative of the culture and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

Daily discoveries are coming to you

While the Discovery Centre is being renovated our most popular displays are still on show. Every day at 11.00am and 2.00pm our amazing Daily Discoveries will pop up anywhere! So keep an eye out for them these school holidays…

Get up close and personal with a stick insect! We have Goliath Stick Insects, among the largest insects in Australia, breeding here in the museum. There are also Children’s Stick Insects, which look like gum leaves, and bizarre Spiny Leaf Insects, with ragged leafy legs to resemble dead leaves. You will be amazed at how our stick insects have truly mastered the art of camouflage. You can even help us sort their eggs, and count the tiny nymphs that hatch out here every day.

Or maybe you prefer fossils? Fancy holding a Diprotodon tooth? That was the biggest marsupial that ever lived, a bit like a giant wombat, so it’s pretty impressive. Fossil bones of this animal turn up in many parts of Queensland. For that matter, how can you tell if a piece of rock is actually fossil bone? How are fossils formed? What’s a pseudofossil? You will find out the answers to these and much more.

IMG_8797

This month there will be some monkey business as we welcome Monkeys! A Primate Story, opening 29 September. This new exhibition lets you learn about our shared evolutionary history, and the weird and wonderful mammals that make up the primate family tree. We have some fascinating skulls to share as part of our Daily Discoveries, featuring our distant and not so distant relatives.  Did you know a tarsier has eyes so big they cannot move in their sockets? Or that male mandrill teeth are fearfully large and sharp to terrify their rivals? Subjects change regularly so always be prepared for something new.

IMG_8751

So where do you find us?  We display various objects on a mobile trolley so we get around. Ask our floor staff and they will be happy to point you in the right direction, or you can look for the Daily Discoveries banner on Levels 2 and 4. And make sure you bring your curiosity because there is plenty to learn in our Daily Discoveries!

‘Primate lineup’ – can you identify our distant and not so distant relatives from their replica primate skulls

24 – 28 September and 1 – 5 October

IMG_8773

Discover at Queensland Museum

There’s still plenty to discover at the Queensland Museum! Our Discovery Centre may be undergoing some renovations but our team is still here at the Museum to help you satisfy your curiosity.

If you need help with identifying a bug, a snake, some bones you’ve dug up, or anything else get in touch.  And our discovery team does love a challenge so bring it on!

Continue reading Discover at Queensland Museum

Celebrating a remarkable career – Dr John Hooper

Dr John Hooper has been an integral part of the Queensland Museum Network and has made a significant contribution during his 27 years here, 14 of which he has been Head of the Biodiversity and Geosciences program.  Having retired in June 2018, John leaves a lasting legacy not only to the Queensland Museum Network but to the broader scientific community.

Continue reading Celebrating a remarkable career – Dr John Hooper

Digi Youth Arts in Queensland Museum

Written by Alethea Beetson, Indigenous Engagement Coordinator, Queensland Museum  and Imelda Miller Curator, Cultures and Histories, Queensland Museum

All year Digi Youth Arts unsettle artists and mentors have been engaging, discovering, interacting, activating, calling out, evaluating, commenting, questioning and creating new artworks inside and outside Queensland Museum. As artists in residence, Digi Youth Arts have been focused on producing new works across six art forms – street art, theater, film, dance, visual art and music. This year alone, artists from four of these art forms have showcased new works developed in collaboration with industry mentors.

Continue reading Digi Youth Arts in Queensland Museum

Passionate about science? FameLab are searching for the most exciting new voices in science.

Queensland Museum Fame Lab

Passionate about science?  You have 3 minutes, no Powerpoint and no jargon… do you have what it takes? FameLab  applications are now open.

International FameLab, the world’s leading science communication competition, aims to find, develop and mentor young science, mathematics and engineering communicators, building a celebrated network of researchers, who are able to get everyone – from school kids and adults to government officials and business figures – talking science.
Continue reading Passionate about science? FameLab are searching for the most exciting new voices in science.

Message Sticks: rich ways of weaving Aboriginal cultures into the Australian Curriculum

Map showing large number of different Indigenous language groups in Australia
Map showing large number of different Indigenous language groups in Australia Source: http://www.australianhistory.org/aboriginal-culture

Written by: Nerinda Sandry, Strategic Learning

In terms of classroom learning and the Australian Curriculum, the exploration of message sticks brings together history, science, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, literacy and art. Coupled with a trip to a museum and contact with a local Aboriginal Group where possible, the links to both Historical Knowledge and Understanding and Historical skills for Foundation to Year 3 are strong. As well as being sources of information of the past about which students can easily pose questions, message sticks are an example of how stories of the past are communicated, why museums have such artefacts and can elicit reflection on the impact of changing technology on traditional Indigenous practices. By also immersing students in the spiritual connection that Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders have with the land and sea and the great diversity of each group’s connection, students begin to understand why message sticks and other forms of communication (stories, dance, music, art) are so important to Indigenous identity. In terms of science, message sticks hit the mark for Year 1, chemical sciences and also a number of the Years 1, 2 and 3 English descriptions.

Australia is a vast land. Not surprising then that it is home to a large number of different indigenous cultural groups. Over tens of thousands of years, “a rich diversity of tribal groups, each speaking their own languages and having a variety of cultural beliefs and traditions” has emerged (Hill, C. 2004). It is estimated that around 250 distinct    indigenous languages were spoken in 1788 with around 600 dialectal variations.  Message sticks have played an important part in communication between Aboriginal groups across the immense Australian landscape. In our classrooms, message sticks offer a way of understanding the diversity of indigenous cultures in a way that most students can relate to. Whilst the diverse oral culture of Aboriginal people is well-known, message sticks may not be something teachers are familiar with, hence this background briefing blog.

Message sticks are a form of communication between Aboriginal nations, clans and language groups even within clans.  Traditional message sticks were made and crafted from wood and were generally small and easy to carry (between 10 and 20 cm). They were carved, incised and painted with symbols and decorative designs conveying messages and information. Some were prepared hastily, like you might create a note left on a friend’s desk or a quick text message; others were prepared with more time to make the markings neat and ornate. There were always marks that were distinctive to the particular group or nation sending the message and often marks identifying the relationship of the carrier to their group. This way it could be identified and authenticated by neighboring groups and by translators when the message stick was taken long distances.

Image of a message stick from the QM collection
A hastily made message stick sent by an Aurukun man to a Weipa man consenting to the marriage of his sister. The message also asks for payment of a cloth from the woman, singlet and trousers from the man and the completion of an abode. Source: QM

Message sticks helped support the oral message that the carrier would provide, especially when languages of groups were very different.  But there were enough marks to ensure that the original message would not be misinterpreted. More importantly, the message stick itself was a ‘passport’ which gave the carrier protection. When someone carrying a message stick entered another group’s country, they announced themselves with smoke signals and were then accompanied safely with the message stick to the elders so that they may speak their verbal message. Group members would then accompany the carrier safely back to where they came from with a reply. The message stick also helped to secure safe passage across long distances and through many groups. This was because  each time the messenger was directed to meet the elders to show the stick and request permission to pass through and deliver the message to its final destination.

The subject matter of message sticks varies much like the text types of many written languages. Notices about meetings and events, invitations to corroborees, ceremonies and fights, notices/ requests of marriage arrangements, notification of a family member passing and requests for objects are some of the types of information placed on message sticks. They were also used for trading journeys; curators know that many artefacts could not have been made at the locations where they were found because the materials they were made from, were found and traded across great distances (Jacob 1991, pg 260). Some message sticks were created with unique markings that were used only at certain times, and were only allowed to be carried by particular people for special rituals.

The story telling text types are generally not seen on message sticks. These of course are shared within the clan, passed down through rich oral traditions including The Dreaming, music and dance. These ‘stories’ of country vary greatly from region to region because they describe the journeys of ancestral spirits who created the features of a particular area.  But not just the geographical features.  Helen Nunggalurr from a clan in north–east Arnhem Land explains, “First all things in our environment were created by spirit beings which we call Wangarr. They created the different tribes and their languages. During their creation journeys they created animals, plants, waterholes, mountains, reefs, billabongs and so on. Today we can see their tracks in our land and where they stopped we can see their signs. These are the features in our landscape. This is why these places are our sacred areas which we must respect and care for” (Smyth, D.,1994, p 3).

At Queensland Museum and Sciencentre you can see many examples of message sticks and engravers in the Dandiiri Maiwar Exhibition. In some cases, the museum has acquired the stories associated with particular sticks. For example, Bishop White of Carpentaria described how he delivered a message stick on behalf of an Aboriginal boy in Darwin to a boy in Daly Waters. Bishop White asked the Darwin boy to explain the message. The boy read the message symbols which requested headbands and boomerangs from Daly Waters. The Bishop delivered the message stick (shown below) and asked the recipient to tell him what the message was. The boy interpreted the message stick exactly as the Darwin boy had explained it.

Photo of the message stick delivered by Bishop White of Carpentaria from a boy in Darwin to a boy in Daly Waters. Source: QM&S
Message stick delivered by Bishop White of Carpentaria from a boy in Darwin to a boy in Daly Waters. Source: QM&S

The essence of message sticks, apart from their obvious purpose, is the way they signify the carrier’s identity with a particular group (the senders). As a result of the WIK decision of 1996, Queensland Museum invited school groups to make message sticks called WIK sticks so that others could glean a sense of who they are just by viewing the stick. This idea could easily be replicated in schools and WIK sticks could be shared between schools from very different regions. Individually, students could create small WIK sticks on thick cardboard to represent their own unique identities.

In summary, message sticks are a rich source of historical and cultural learning for Foundation to Year 3 students in particular. Along with the many other artefacts on display at QM & S, the online resources and the various relevant loans kits, teachers can go a long way to developing an appreciation and respect for the great diversity and richness of Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders cultures and histories.

Below you will find some interesting contemporary representations of message sticks with some useful reference sources and information to use with students in the classrooms or at home with your children.

 
 
 
 
 

References and useful sources:

Hill, C. , 2004. Indigenous Australian Languages Fact Sheet 

Jacob, T., 1991. In the Beginning: a Perspective on Traditional Aboriginal Societies, Ministry of Education, Western Australia, pp 311-313.

Smyth, D., 1994. Understanding Country — The Importance of Land and Sea in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Societies, Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Commonwealth of Australia

Useful Websites:

ABC Online Indigenous Language Map

Our Languages, administered by Arwarbukarl Cultural Resource Association Inc.  Miromaa Aboriginal Language & Technology Centre

Torres Strait Island Culture 

Queensland Museum. Find out about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures

Queensland Museum Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures Factsheets