• Audience
    Secondary school
  • Learning stage
    Stage 4, Stage 5
  • Learning area
    First Nations, History
  • Type
    Learning journey, Teaching resources

On this page...

The development of these education resources was funded by an anonymous donation through the Australian Museum Foundation.

Learning journeys offer a scaffolded approach to exploring a topic both in the classroom and at the Museum. Follow this learning journey to engage with the themes of Unsettled and critically examine our shared history through the objects, sources and evidence in the exhibition.

Australia’s foundation story is more than the voyage of James Cook or the arrival of the First Fleet. It is a story about the seizure of land from First Nations peoples, denial of Indigenous sovereignty, devastating frontier wars, and separation from families and homelands.

We live in the legacy of this history. This has privileged many but has left others disadvantaged. Recognising and understanding this shared past is an important step of our journey towards a better shared future. This can only be done if we discuss this nation’s history truthfully and listen to First Nations voices which have been absent from Australia’s foundation narratives.

Unsettled uncovers the untold histories behind this nation’s foundation story. In this powerful exhibition, First Nations voices reveal the hidden stories of devastation, survival and the fight for recognition. These first-hand accounts are presented through long hidden historical documents, large-scale artworks, immersive experiences and never-before-seen objects from the Australian Museum collections and beyond.

Unsettled features over 190 objects and images throughout eight thematic sections: Introduction, Signal Fires, Recognising Invasions, Fighting Wars, Remembering Massacres, Surviving Genocide, Continued Resistance, and Healing Nations. These objects and images include Australian Museum collection items, commissions, acquisitions, and loans.

Through this learning journey, students will:

  • examine their understanding of Australia's foundational history and discuss what they know about First Nations perspectives on this history.
  • analyse primary and secondary sources and evaluate their usefulness and reliability.
  • discuss reasons for change and continuity since James Cook's voyage, using the stories, artworks and objects from the Unsettled exhibition.
  • assess the significance attributed to certain events, individuals and developments in Australia's foundational history.

NSW syllabus outcomes: HT4-1, HT4-3, HT4-4, HT4-5, HT4-6, HT4-7; HT5-1, HT5-3, HT5-4, HT5-5, HT5-6, HT5-7.

Prepare your students

  • An Acknowledgement of Country is a statement that pays respect to the Traditional Custodians of the Country that you are learning or meeting on and recognises their ongoing relationship with Country. The Australian Museum respects and acknowledges the Gadigal people as the Custodians of the land on which the Museum stands.

    Which First Nations Country or Nation was your school built upon? If you are unsure contact a local First Nations organisation to find out. You might like to start with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.

    Ask your students to write an Acknowledgement of Country for your school. To get them started, read more about why an Acknowledgement of Country is important and how to write one in this ABC article.

  • Defining 'unsettled'
    Ask your class to think about the word ‘unsettled’. To help your students, you may want to break the word down into its component parts: ‘un’, ‘set’ or ‘settle’ and ‘ed’. Come up with a working definition of the word and write it on the whiteboard. Use the prompts below to guide you.

    Where have you heard the word ‘unsettled’ before? What about ‘settled’?
    When have you heard the word ‘settle’, ‘settled’, ‘settlers’ or ‘settling’ before?
    Where have you heard or seen these words used in a history context? Who were the settlers and who were the settled? Are there any other words that you associate with ‘settled’ in this context.

  • Investigating objects
    Complete the classroom activity Investigating objects. In this activity you will be asking your students to observe a series of objects from Unsettled and make some predictions. Their predictions will be based on what they notice without any historical information.

    Who defines Australia's foundational history?
    What do your students think they know in reference to First Nations perspectives on invasion, settlement, dispossession, resistance and healing. Use the following prompts as a guide for individual responses or class discussion.

    Invasion in relation to Australia’s foundational history means:
    Settlement in relation to Australia’s foundational history means:
    An agreement or treaty for peaceful settlement means:
    Dispossession means:
    Inequality might be addressed by:
    Lack of First Nations recognition might benefit some and disempower others by:
    Invasion impacts society in political, social, and economic systems through:

    Read the following to your students from the Unsettled exhibition catalogue:
    First Nations peoples have been here since time immemorial. Aboriginal peoples’ homelands were taken by force; it was not a peaceful settlement. The colonists did not make agreements or treaties with any of the sovereign Nations, making the colonial seizure of land in Australia a series of invasions.

    The lack of recognition of dispossession goes to the very heart of a wound in the nation. It has informed the political, social, and economic systems in Australia, resulting in the racial inequity we see today.

    It is not merely an opinion that Australia was invaded – it is historical fact that no permissions were granted.

    Highlight key words and discuss this statement. Refer to the prompt responses above as a way to determine where students' understanding of this topic might be at this time.

  • Analysing sources
    Primary and secondary sources provide evidence that historians can use to investigate and interpret the past. Remind your students of the difference between primary and secondary sources, and conduct a small brainstorm to test knowledge and examples of types of sources.

    Predict types of primary and secondary sources you might find during your visit to Unsettled. What makes your students think they might come across these sources?

    Complete the classroom activity What’s the source? to get your students thinking about types of sources, their reliability and their usefulness.

    Dhari 1907
    Dhari 1907. Made by Ancestor. Torres Strait Pigeon feathers, bamboo frame, fibre, wool, Kolap (Goa nut). Australian Muesum Collection. Image: Abram Powell
    © Australian Museum

At the Museum

  • Explore Unsettled online, complete the 'Visit and explore' activity below and read our tips on how to use our exhibitions.

    Unsettled exhibition tour
    First Nations tour guide illuminating the significance of Unsettled's key cultural objects, historical documents and contemporary artworks. Image: Anna Kučera
    © Australian Museum

  • Continuous culture
    Split your class into small groups. Nominate which theme or section within Unsettled will be covered by each group:

    • Signal Fires
    • Recognising Invasions
    • Fighting Wars
    • Remembering Massacres
    • Surviving Genocide
    • Continued Resistance

    Within this section of the exhibition, ask groups to seek out two objects that are separated in time. That is, two objects that were created at different points in history, at least a decade apart. The two objects will need to connect, associate or relate in some way since they are exhibited together under a common theme.

    Common threads could include: historical event; type of communications used (including visual communications); material e.g. paper, document type, canvas; or anything else you notice. Examine the similarities and differences of these objects, with reference to time they were created. In their groups, ask your students to discuss what has changed and what has remained the same between these historical contexts. Take note that an object they select may have multiple dates e.g. a depiction of a historical event from a different moment in time!

  • Healing space
    At the end of your visit to Unsettled, your group will enter the Winhangadurinya space. Once your students have left the space, ask them to think about the following questions.

    How did you feel in this space? How did the layout, objects or artworks contribute to this feeling?
    How does this space guide a sense of being, doing and feeling? Why might healing be important to the process of learning about history?
    What do we think is intended by the term ‘cultural safety?’ Why do you think this space concludes the journey of

Back in the classroom

  • Reflect with responsibility to share
    Ask your class to reflect on the histories, sources and stories that they learned about during the visit to Unsettled. Using the prompts below, ask students to write a short response on how they are told about our shared national history.

    What histories were you unaware of before your visit to Unsettled? Why do you think you hadn’t heard of some of the historical sources and histories of First Nations people prior to this exhibition? What role do museums play inholding space for truth telling?

    Ask students to write down four to six facts they learned during this process and task them with the responsibility to share this knowledge with others in their family, friendship group or community.

  • First astronomers
    First Nations peoples were the first astronomers; astronomical observations were used as navigation tools, calendars and seasonal indicators. In your visit to Unsettled, you saw Terry Dhurritjini Yumbulul's artwork Morning Star Pole, 1983, which reflects the complex and intimate knowledge the Yolgnu people had about Venus. The Yolgnu people knew Venus as the Morning Star, Banumbirr.

    Did you know the HMB Endeavor’s voyage was commissioned as a scientific mission to learn about and observe the transit of Venus?

    However, Cook never engaged with First Nations peoples to share knowledges about their respective astronomical observations.

    Ask your students to research one astronomical observation that is used by First Nations people, how it is used and how this knowledge was and is communicated.

    Perspectives in history
    As a class, read the article Whose history: the role of statues and monuments in Australia by Nathan mudyi Sentance. Ask your students to respond to the following questions in reference to their visit and reflections of Unsettled.

    On your way to and from the Australian Museum, did you notice any statues or monuments? What did you notice about them?

    Display Cook Falling, Tear it Down, Graphic Novel Study, 2019 by Gamilaroi artist Travis De Vries. Discuss what students notice and how this related to the article. As an extension, ask your students to respond to the following essay question.

    With reference to Sentance's article and De Vries' artwork, discuss why historical monuments are sites of contest.

    Cook Falling, Tear it Down
    Cook Falling, Tear it Down artwork by Travis de Vries Image: Travis de Vries
    © Travis de Vries

  • How might we look to our past to inform our future?
    Read the following quote from the Dr Gary Foley:
    "I believe that any expression of Aboriginal art, be it traditional or contemporary is an act of political defiance. So much time and effort, two hundred years of very concerted effort to destroy Aboriginality and Aboriginal culture has gone into this country. The fact that Aboriginal culture does remain a living thing in itself is an extraordinary political statement, about their resilience, their adaptability and their tremendous willpower."
    Dr Gary Foley, 1988

    Select a First Nations subject from Unsettled to research. Write a brief one page biography of their story, any objects or artworks related to their story or community and with reference to the remarkable qualities Dr. Gary Foley attributes to First Nations peoples: resilience, adaptability and tremendous willpower.

    Ask students to include a bibliography of sources, including at least one quote from a First Nations expert.