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Tag Archives: Australian history

For many kids Civics is arid, deadly dull and is thus hard to teach

That, I suspect, is part of the problem behind the story in today’s AustralianStudents do badly in study of civics. I really don’t think results would have been much better fifty years ago when I was fifteen.

STUDENTS’ knowledge of Australia’s system of government is lower than expected, with only one in three Year 10 students knowing what the Constitution is.

The national assessment of civics and citizenship in Years 6 and 10 found about 54 per cent of primary students and 41 per cent of high school students met the proficiency standards for their year. But about one in five Year 10 students failed to meet the Year 6 standard.

"This was especially the case in relation to information about the constitutional structure of Australian democracy," the report says. "Lacking such fundamental information will restrict the capacity of students to make sense of many other aspects of Australian democratic forms and processes, and they may, therefore, be disadvantaged in their capacity to engage in meaningful ways in many other levels of civic action or discourse."

At Year 6, students are expected to recognise the division of governmental responsibilities in a federation, identify a link between a change in Australia’s identity and a change in the national anthem, recognise the benefit of different political parties and the federal budget.

By Year 10, students are expected to recognise key functions and features of parliament, analyse the common good as a motivation for becoming a whistleblower, explain the importance of a secret ballot, and recognise how the independence of the judiciary is protected. On the Constitution, Year 10 students were asked "what is the Australian Constitution?" and given four possible answers: the rules about how the major Australian political parties are run; the policies of the Australian federal government; the framework for the ways Australia is governed; all the laws that Australian citizens must obey…

Look at the last paragraph there! Did I know all that fifty years ago? Answer: NO! What do we expect then? Why, aside from pious hopes, should we expect 100% of kids to have mastered all that arcane matter?

On the other hand, kids today do have advantages. In the web world there are some marvellous sources of information. Even the Book of Answers from the last government’s ill-conceived citizenship tests is not a bad resource on these and other matters. But then there are sites such as Australian Politics and Oz Politics. Certainly it isn’t hard to find out these days; in my day it was less easy.

There is a big role here too in well organised excursions to parliaments and courts, as many schools do. The information people there are often brilliant, and the whole thing becomes more concrete. On the other hand bureaucratic responses to child safety issues have made organising any excursion a logistic nightmare, so I suspect there has probably been some reduction in such activities. A shame. Mock courts and parliaments are another approach that can bring these matters to life.

Coincidentally, yesterday I found myself with a 15-16 year old from China, a recent arrival whose English is developing, trying to help him with a Legal Studies task on the rule of law – and a whole host of other key terms all crowded into one or two of his school lessons. A challenge. We did our best.

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The bushfire and the Australian imagination

There is a good article in today’s Australian by Simon Caterson: Living with the embers.

IT would be hard to overestimate the strength of the hold that bushfire has over our physical environment and over the Australian imagination. When in 1988 a series of ceremonial bonfires was lit during the Australian bicentenary celebrations, historian Geoffrey Blainey viewed the event as honouring "the most powerful, majestic and frightening force in our history: the force of fire".

Bushfires recur every year and occupy an important part of our culture and art. Blainey observes that "every day for millions of days countless fires have been lit or enlarged for countless purposes, and many of those fires had unintended consequences"…

The definitive Australian film (or play) on a bushfire theme may be yet to emerge, but many painters and writers have tackled the subject. In March 2003, the National Gallery of Victoria staged an exhibition of fire-themed art works to raise funds for victims of that summer’s fires.

Among the paintings assembled were works by John Longstaff, Eugene von Guerard and Tim Storrier. One of the best-known is Longstaff’s Gippsland, Sunday Night, February 20th, 1898, which shows a horseman riding swiftly out of a forest at night with the fire front advancing close behind him.

Australian writers have long striven to give expression to the horror of bushfire, while often acknowledging the subject’s indescribability. In his 1853 poem The Bush Fire, Charles Harpur writes: "Where are the words to paint the million shapes /And unimaginable freaks of Fire, /When holding thus its monster carnival /In the primeval forest all night long?"

A 19th-century writer who described a bushfire from personal experience was Marcus Clarke, who found himself suddenly caught up in a mallee scrub fire, which he tried to help contain in a back-burning operation: "But the fiery cohort came up, roaring in the tops of the trees, and was upon and past us almost before we could feel its heat, leaping our little line without a pause, and flying away into the forest. We had to run for our lives and, escaping danger of crushing branches, blazing bark and sudden whirls of yellow fire, that would play and crackle about us from some sappy fern, fell with singed hair and blinded eyes into the company of our reinforcements."

A sinister metaphor for bushfire was used by English author H.G. Wells, who visited Australia in the late 1930s.

"A bushfire is not an orderly invader, but a guerilla," Wells wrote. "It advances by rushes, by little venomous tongues of fire in the grass; it spreads by sparks burning leaves and bark. Its front is miles deep. It is here, it is there, like a swarm of venomous wasps. It shams dead and stabs you in the back. It encircles you so that there is no sure line of flight of its intended victims. It destroys the bridges in your rear. It bars the road with blazing trees." …

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John Longstaff, “Gippsland, Sunday Night” 1898

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2009 in environment

 

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13 February 2008

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of

this land, the oldest continuing

cultures in human history.

 

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australian.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have changed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2008 in Australian

 

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Great resource for Journeys and multicultural education

Last night I watched Who Do You Think You Are? on SBS.

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Go there not just for that one, but for the others in this currently ongoing series.

Naturally, too, I commend Inspiring Teachers which begins on Wednesday 6 February, 2008 at 8pm. 🙂

 

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From my personal site: The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Substantial additions have been made to this post, thanks to Adrian Phoon. Go to the original post for his comment. See also Just something to think about…, a follow-up post.

 The Secret River by Kate Grenville (2005).  Grenville has also written one of the best books on writing that I know. (Australian historical fiction)

As I said last week:

I mentioned in my comment on Jim Belshaw’s post that I am at last reading The Secret River by Kate Grenville, and I am enjoying it thoroughly. I think this reading is partly responsible for my looking into Macquarie connections to Cleveland House here in Surry Hills, a building I see every day! The site linked to the novel there is Kate Grenville’s own site, thoroughly worth exploring, especially the section on fiction and history. The Secret River (that is, the Hawkesbury) attracted some little controversy on that score, much of it misplaced. But I will take that up when I review the novel. You will see I have already given The Secret River a best read of 2007 tag though.

That still stands, now that I have finished.

The “Secret River” is today a major tourist attraction, and more, just north of Sydney, parts of it indeed inside Greater Sydney.

The climax of the novel is a massacre, and that has been the issue, it seems, that has led to its being caught up in controversy. Given, as the author has clearly stated, that this is a work of fiction, I don’t think it matters whether or not the events described actually took place in the real-world Hawkesbury Valley in the time of Lachlan Macquarie. Such events, however, did happen, and the novel makes a clear case for the way in which even close to such events their reporting could have been spun and muffled, to be forgotten before many years passed. I think the novel quite properly should caution us against the naive belief that written records tell the whole story.

a020561.jpgThe novel began, Kate Grenville tells us, as a work of non-fiction; she is fortunate enough to have a very interesting convict ancestor, Solomon Wiseman, about whom rather more is known and told than is the case with my ancestor Jacob. Some stirring tales appear in The Hawkesbury Historical Society’s pages. Grenville does her subject novelistic justice in that flesh-and-blood characters really emerge in her writing. It is true, nonetheless, that, while true to what we know of Aboriginal life and culture in that time and place, she does fail to render her Indigenous characters quite so fully. Perhaps given the perspective of her narrative this is not possible, but her convicts and emancipists are rendered brilliantly and individually.

The portrait of Wiseman on the right is alluded to in the last chapter of the novel.

I can really believe that (as Aluminium said in a comment here) readers will be drawn by the novel into an enthusiasm for Australian history, and that can’t be a bad thing after all.

Don’t think I am damning with faint praise; I’m not. This is one very fine novel.

See also Kate Grenville: Secret river, secret pastSunday Channel 9 August 7, 2005 and The Convict Trail.

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North of the Hawkesbury region is the Hunter River and Newcastle. The University of Newcastle has a very fine Virtual Sourcebook for Aboriginal Studies in the Hunter Region, well worth examining. To the east of most of the territory covered by Kate Grenville’s novel and reaching down to northern Sydney lay the lands of the Guringai, whose history my nephew, himself a descendant of the Guringai, has explored: see A Guringai Family’s Story: guest entry by Warren Whitfield.

Later

I deliberately minimised controversy in this post. Adrian in his comment noted that and I responded with some reasons. In writing that comment I found Warts and all: on writing “The Secret River” in the University of Sydney News. It is a good article. My reservations about the Aboriginal characters compared to the Europeans are explained there, I think. I could see Grenville had a problem. Read the rest of this entry »

 
Comments Off on From my personal site: The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Posted by on August 14, 2007 in Australian, works/authors, writing

 

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