• Audience
    Children and families, Primary school, Secondary school
  • Learning stage
    Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4, Stage 5
  • Learning area
    Mathematics, History, First Nations
  • Type
    Teaching resources

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First Nations peoples have lived and practiced their cultures since time immemorial. For First Nations peoples, this means time so long in the past that it is indefinite in history and tradition. These rich and diverse cultures are maintained through song, dance, storytelling, ceremony and language.

Archeological sites, dating techniques and oral histories provide evidence that First Nations peoples have been in Australia for at least 60,000 years. In this activity, students will be working in groups to create a timeline with string. Using your timeline, you will compare the length of time that First Nations peoples have been in Australia with the time since Cook mapped the eastern shore of Australia.


  • The earliest accepted dates for human occupation of Australia come from sites in the Northern Territory. The Madjedbebe (previously called Malakunanja II) rock shelter in Arnhem Land has been dated to around 65,000 years old.
  • The oldest human remains in Australia were found at Lake Mungo in south-west New South Wales. As well as human remains, ancient footprints preserved in the claypans of Willandra Lakes, New South Wales, are estimated to be about 20,000 years old. The Barkandji, Ngiyampaa, and Mutthi peoples have unbroken connection to these footprints and they continue to walk on Country in the footsteps of their ancestors.


Learning resource

Materials

For this activity, each group will need:

  • length of string (of at least 60m)
  • length of colourful wool (at least 30cm)
  • tape measure (of at least 10m)
  • scissors
  • pen and paper
  • marker
  • sticky tape
  • Numbers challenge worksheet


Activity instructions

  • 1. Split your class into groups of 3–4. Ask your students to collect their materials.

    2. On their piece of string, ask each group to mark out 1 cm from the end using a marker and their tape measure. This will represent 10 years of time.

    3. Using a pen and paper, ask each group to calculate how long 25cm would represent. Check in with the class at the end of this step and make sure they all said 250 years. Ask them to show their working out and fill in the blank on the worksheet.

  • 4. Now ask students to mark out and cut 25cm from the end of their coloured wool with their marker, tape measure and scissors. This now represents a period of 250 years.

    5. Ask students to fill in their worksheet to do the rest of the length to time conversions.

    6. Check in with the class at the end of this step and make sure they all said that 6,000cm or 60m of string will represent 60,000 years. Again, make sure they show their working out and fill in their worksheet.

  • 7. Now that the class knows they need 60m of string to represent 60,000 years, ask them to mark out and cut this length from their string.

    8. Once each group has cut up its string and wool, ask them to neatly overlap the 250 years over the 60,000 years (at one end) and attach with sticky tape. Head outside once each group has done this.

  • 9. Ask two students from each group to pick up their string ends, and gently move away from each other until the string is straight.

    10. Gather the groups at the overlapping string and wool. Remind them that the length of string represents the time that First Nations peoples have been in Australia and the overlapping wool and string represents 250 years of shared history since Lieutenant Cook sailed up the east coast.


Discussion

Read the following to your class:

First Nations peoples have lived and practiced their cultures since time immemorial. For First Nations peoples, this means time so long in the past that it is indefinite in history and tradition. These rich and diverse cultures are maintained through song, dance, storytelling, ceremony and language.

Archeological sites, dating techniques and oral histories provide evidence that First Nations peoples have been in Australia for at least 60,000 years. 2020 marked the 250th anniversary of the HMB Endeavour voyage, where Lieutenant James Cook sailed up the East Coast of Australia in 1770 and claimed possession of these so-called undiscovered lands for Great Britain.

Your long piece of string represents 60,000 years, an estimation of time that First Nations people have lived in Australia based on archaeological evidence. The ribbon you have tied at one end represents the time since Lieutenant Cook sailed up the East Coast.

While your class is still outside, discuss how this timeline makes them rethink Australia's history and their understanding of it.


Reflection

Back in the classroom, ask your students to write a short reflection on how the activity made them feel. Use the prompts below to get them started.

When you visualise the history of Australia, which part of the timeline do you usually think of? Why do you think this is?