Learning stageStage 4, Stage 5
Learning areaCreative Arts, First Nations
TypeLearning journey, Teaching resources
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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 learn about the artworks and artists that make up 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 These first-hand accounts are presented through long hidden historical documents, large-scale artworks, immersive experiences and never-before-seen objects from the Australian Museum collections and beyond.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:
- outline the role of a curator in the development of an exhibition and the important consultative process undertaken to produce Unsettled.
- examine the relationship between Australia's foundational history and the First Nations stories which have been largely absent through the art and artists of Unsettled.
- explore the practice and biographies of First Nations artists in critical and historical interpretations of their art.
- discuss the role of art and artists in social change and political defiance.
NSW syllabus outcomes: Visual Arts 7-10: 4.7, 4.8, 4.9, 4.10; 5.7, 5.8, 5.9, 5.10.
- Engage with our 9-week unit of work How we are Unsettled.
- Access our other secondary learning journey for Unsettled: a history-focused learning journey.
- Download our Power through Poetry booklet to go deeper into the themes of Unsettled by reflecting on the poetry of First Nations artists and responding in their own words.
- Explore Unsettled online and engage with the exhibition in virtual reality.
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.
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.
When have you heard the word ‘unsettled’ before? What about ‘settled’?
When have you heard the word ‘settle’, ‘settled’, ‘settlers’ or ‘settling’?
What emotions or feelings arise for you when you hear the word ‘unsettled’? If you have discussed its meaning already, then have you ever felt unsettled?
What tense is the word ‘unsettled’ (past/present/future)? Why do you think the exhibition would use this tense?
As an extension, ask your students to create a visual response to the word ‘unsettled’ with any materials they choose. Ask them to draw from their own experiences of feeling unsettled. If they are comfortable sharing, ask your students to share their work and the story behind it with a partner.
A curator is a professional who manages cultural or artistic collections at art galleries and museums. Part of their job is to design public exhibitions that tell specific stories about the objects, artworks and narratives in these collections. At the Australian Museum, Curators, Collection Managers and Exhibition Managers have the important job of caring for the collections and designing exhibitions for audiences.
The curators of Unsettled researched and considered the content, concepts and themes for the exhibition by speaking with First Nations communities in person, via email, on the phone and by requesting anonymous perspectives via surveys. First person perspectives were essential to the vision of Unsettled for it to be respectful to a diverse range of communities. The Australian Museum team worked towards a meaningful exhibition that would meet responsibilities and rules of First Nations culture, called ‘protocols’.
Distribute and discuss with students the data collected and displayed in visual formats from The 2020 Project report to get an overview of the development and research of this groundbreaking exhibition.
Art as political defiance
Read the following quote from 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
Set your students an essay task, responding to the following statement:
With reference to the quote from Gary Foley, discuss how visual art is an act of political defiance.
Art as resistance
Artists make works to drive social change and protest injustices. Set your students a research task to learn more about a First Nations artist/s who works with concepts around activism or who is driven by political action.
Ask them to develop a short presentation in any format they choose about this artist's life, work and influences.
At the Museum
Split your class into small groups. Ask each group to seek out two visual artworks within Unsettled. These can be chosen by your students or include the artworks below. They will need to examine and interpret the concepts and narrative of these artworks and the point of view of the artist.
Use the following framework for each artwork:
1. Introduce the title, artist, year and materials.
2. What do you notice about the work? Include what you see within the work, how the work made you feel and a description of how and where the work is installed in the exhibition.
3. In your groups, share your thoughts on why this work is important to the narrative of Unsettled.
4. How is this work telling a story that needs to be heard?
• Pemulwuy (c 1750-1802) Blood Money – Infinite Dollar Note Bembulwoyan Commemorative, 2018, Dr Ryan Presley
• Brothers (The Prodigal Son II), 2020, Tony Albert
• Invasion Day, 2011, Uncle Gordon Syron
• Lest We For/Get Over It, 2008, Sam Wallman
• Massacre Sites, 2018-2020, Brendan Beirne
• Red, White and Blue, 2008, Danie Mellor
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?
What do we think is intended by the term ‘cultural safety?’ Why do you think this space concludes the journey of Unsettled?
Back in the classroom
Look to see: Investigate forms of visual communication
Reflect with the class on the diverse ways artists of Unsettled responded to the concepts of the exhibition. Ask students to reflect on their visit.
What was your favourite artwork? Why?
Show the class an image of the Storyboat Installation by Glen Mackie, a Torres Strait Islander man of Yam Island. We see a story being told here using visual communication in a variety of mediums and techniques. Ask students to look at these works and nominate something they notice.
Read aloud the following explanation of the stories featured visually:
Glen Mackie shows us the story about his great, great, great-grandfather “Yankee” Ned Mosby, an American who came to the Torres Strait region in the mid-1800s. He married a Kulkalgal woman and worked in local pearling lugger boats. He lived with Torres Strait Islander people, entering Country the right way and respecting local culture. Later as Australia grew and settlers entered the Torres Strait, Ned Mosby helped the community to navigate the impacts of colonisation.
Strength and pride
Think back to the artworks that you saw in Unsettled. Consider the strength and pride necessary for an artist to speak truth and share a work of art publicly on behalf of their First Nations local and national communities. The value of their artmaking and artwork is in promoting an understanding and a commitment to learning our shared history.
Write a thank you letter to one of the artists in Unsettled with reference to what you noticed and learnt, any visual elements or artmaking techniques that resonated with you.
Triumph and truth
The Blood Money series by Dr Ryan Presley explores the extent to which Australia’s wealth has been built on a history of exploitation and violence. Arguably, the bulk of Australia’s economy functions off Aboriginal dispossession. The version of history represented on Australia’s currency is primarily that of white settler figures. In contrast, Blood Money promotes important Aboriginal people, testifying to their intelligence and resilience.
Reach out to a local Elder to visit the school to tell a story of triumph and truth. Invite them to your class or to a school assembly. Ask your students to create a note of currency of any value and load it with icons, symbols and elements that build the story of their life. You can frame the Elder at the centre of the note, to highlight that the triumph and truth is their own.
As an extension to this activity, do some research into Dr Ryan Presley's installation Blood Money Currency Exchange Terminal and how the works in the series are presented here. As a class, discuss why you think Presley chose to present and engage audiences in this way.
Respect for Ancestors
First Nations adornment is a form of wearable art and cultural expression important to individuals. Sharon Mason, Aunty Vivian Mason, Ashweeni Mason, and Savriti Mason made a ceremonial adornment for an important woman in their ancestral family; Granma Coomee.
Read aloud the quote from Sharon Mason:
"Our Ancestors are always guiding us so it’s important we remember them, honour them. We made this stringybark ceremony wear for Granma Coomee (Maria Coomee Nulunga, circa 1825-1914) who lived around Ulladulla in the 1800s. She used to share her grandmother’s story about “the first time the big white birds came by ...”, witnessing Captain Cook sail the Endeavour up the south coast 250 years ago. Watching it on the horizon, the white sails looked like big white wings riding the wind – a giant pelican, a messenger bird, an omen."
Sharon Mason, 2021
Learn about someone from your ancestral family who has a remarkable story to tell. Make an art object which incorporates the stories that live on from their life – to honor and remember them.