• Audience
    Children and families, Primary school, Early years
  • Learning stage
    Early years, Early stage 1
  • Curriculum area
    History, Science and technology, Creative arts
  • Resource type
    Creative

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A totem is an object, animal or plant that is adopted as a family or clan emblem. It links a person to the land, water, air and landmarks and it is the responsibility of each person to care for and teach about their totem.

Three examples of animal totems in Australia include the Southern Cassowary, the Goanna, and the Ringtail Possum.


  • First Nations people can have four totems - one for their nation, one for their clan, one for their family, and a personal totem.
  • For some Nations, a personal totem is given to someone by an elder and is chosen based on their personality and character.
  • Possums were once widely used by some Aboriginal people to make cloaks.
  • The innermost claw on each foot of a Cassowary is elongated and very sharp. The birds will strike out with these in disputes with other animals.
  • Goanna tracks are sometimes represented through First Nations symbols to share relevant stories. There are approximately 28 species of Goannas in Australia.

  1. In what type of environment do each of the animals live?
  2. Which features on the animals' faces help them to find and eat food?
  3. How is each animal used by First Nations peoples?
  4. How do First Nations peoples care for their totem animal?

Download and print the PDF and then follow the instructions to create your own Southern Cassowary, Ringtail Possum or Goanna mask. Decorate your mask using natural materials.