Learning stageStage 3
Learning areaCreative Arts, English, First Nations, History, Mathematics
TypeLearning 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 Australian Museum’s exhibition Unsettled and explore the ways we understand, remember and acknowledge our shared past in Australia.
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 These first-hand accounts are presented through long hidden historical documents, large-scale artworks, immersive experiences and never-before-seen objects from the Australian Museum collections and beyond.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:
- visualise the length of time that First Nations peoples have been managing and sustaining Country.
- investigate objects from the Unsettled exhibition and make predictions on what they notice without any historical information.
- analyse visual forms of communication in artworks by First Nations artists and examine the meaning and stories behind them.
- discuss the role of art and artists in activism and social change.
- engage with notable First Nations people and their contribution to Australia's shared history by researching and developing a class presentation.
NSW syllabus outcomes: HT3-1, HT3-2, HT3-3, HT3-4, HT3-5; VAS3.3, VAS3.4; MA3-2WM, MA3-9MG, MA3-13MG; EN3-1A, EN3-7C, EN3-8D.
Can't make it in person to the Australian Museum? Or maybe you want to get even more out of your upcoming visit? Whatever the reason, we have some fantastic programs to complement your students' learning journey.
- Access our other learning resources for Unsettled: a visual art-focused learning journey and a history-focused learning journey for secondary school students.
- Visit and 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 our exhibitions in virtual reality via Google Expeditions by downloading the Google Expeditions app and searching for the Australian Museum.
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.
What does the word ‘unsettled’ mean to you? Write this word at the centre of your whiteboard or on a piece of butcher’s paper and ask your students to think of all the words they can relate to this word. If you get stuck, use the prompts below.
Where have you heard the word 'unsettled' before? What about 'settled'?
When have you heard the words 'settle', 'settled', 'settlers' or 'settling' before?
What emotions or feelings arise for you when you hear the word 'unsettled'? If you have discussed its meaning already, have you ever felt unsettled?
What tense is the word 'unsettled' (past / present / future)? Why do you think the exhibition would be in this tense?
As an extension to this activity, write a class definition of the word and put it up somewhere visible in the classroom. Add the word 'unsettled' to your spelling or vocabulary list for the week or term. Return to your class definition after you have visited the Australian Museum and Unsettled.
First Nations peoples have lived and practiced their cultures since time immemorial. These rich and diverse cultures are maintained through song, dance, storytelling, ceremony and language.
Complete the classroom activity Measuring time with your students to visualise how long First Nations peoples have been managing and sustaining Country.
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.
Sharing what we have learned
Ask your students to share something that they have learned from any of the previous activities with a family member or someone else important in their lives. Ask your students to think about the following questions.
Did this person already know some of this information? If they didn't, why do you think this might be?
Check in with your students on the way to the Australian Museum. Ask who shared what they had learned with someone important in their lives. What did that person say? What did their families expect they would see in Unsettled?
At the Museum
Look to see: Investigating forms of visual communication
Gather your class to have a close look at Story Boat Installation by Glen Mackie, a Torres Strait Islander man of Yam Island. We see a story being told here using visual communication. Spend two minutes looking closely at all of the visual communication shown within these works, then prompt students to share what 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.
Split your class into small groups and ask them to find another instance in Unsettled where visual communication is used to tell us a story. Report back to share with the class the symbols, shapes, forms, lines or recognisable people, places, plants or animals you noticed. Predict what the maker is visually communicating to you and compare this with the label text.
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?
Why do you think this space concludes the journey of Unsettled?
Observing First Nations perspectives
Ask your students to spend some time slowly looking at Uncle Gordon Syron's Invasion Day (2011) and focus on how the artwork makes the feel.
Towards the end of the exhibition, students can engage with the Blood Money series by Dr Ryan Presley. Ask them to record what objects are displayed alongside each of the works in the series and why they think these objects were selected?
Back in the classroom
In the pre-visit activities, your students looked at the objects and stories that show First Nations people have maintained and sustained Country for thousands of years. This truth has been undermined in our history. Terra nullius (a latin phrase meaning "land belonging to no one"), was used to legitimise the dispossession of land and movement of communities from places. Terra nullius was interpreted as an absence of "civilised" people capable of land ownership, a judgement that led to a loss of land rights.
Ask your students to reflect on their experience at Uncle Gordon Syron's Invasion Day (2011) and read aloud the following quote from the artist:
"I want to show the negative feelings of the Aboriginal people, the truth the way it was. The white master race came and took our land and did not even have the courtesy to ask us or buy it. They said we weren't even human beings when they claimed our land as 'terra nullius'. British law is alright for the British but Aboriginal law, customs, language ... have been around a lot longer than 'British law'."
Uncle Gordon Syron, 2009
How did students feel when they looked at this artwork (below)? As a class, discuss the use of colour and text, the title of the work, and the position of the subjects in the series (figures in the foreground and ships in the background).
Did you know it wasn't until the Mabo decision in the High Court of Australia in 1992, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' continuing connection and rights to land was recognised?
Continuing resistance: How First Nations peoples show strength and determination to reach equality
During your visit to the Museum, students looked at visual communication and the power of images to tell us stories from our shared history. These images and artworks show us towards equality in Australia.
Wiradjuri digital artist Charlotte Allingham represents strong people in her artworks in a world where recognition and equality is possible. Allingham shares a perspective which reminds us that we need to be part of the solution for equality and need to learn form opinions. Read the following quote aloud:
“Being apolitical upholds and supports the systematic oppression of First Nations peoples. You are part of the problem. You are profiting off our lands, our suffering and you need to take accountability. Be better.”
Charlotte Allingham, 2020
Share Allingham's artworks Always Was, Always Will Be Aboriginal Land (2018), Never Needed (2018) and Notice (2020) with the class. Open out the conversation to find what students ‘notice’ as an engagement tool. Examine which mediums were used; the date of creation; any symbols, colours or textures; poses of people; and any signs or text.
Thinking about all we have learnt from these artworks, consider the change we need for equality. Ask your students to write a short response to the following question.
What are ways we can communicate activism or the need for change?
Acknowledging our past
Look through the six works below from the Blood Money series by Dr Ryan Presley and focus on how they share the lived experience of some notable First Nations people.
Divide your class into groups, with one bank note each. Ask each group to examine their note and research the person that Dr Presley has represented.
Organise small presentations to allow each group to report back to class. They should share all of the things they noticed as visual communication and how this links to the biography of the person on the note.