A new book exploring Indigenous Australian history and culture prompts questions about the state of education about Indigenous matters.
The book Indigenous Australia for Dummies was released last month and provides a general overview of the history and culture of Australia’s indigenous population, before and after European colonisation.
The author Professor Larissa Behrendt said the book is not the definitive work on Indigenious Australia, but rather a non-confrontational “first port of call” for those wanting to delve into the subject.
The inspiration came when Ms Behrendt was sheltering from a snowstorm at a bookstore in Toronto, Canada. She stumbled on a text about Native Indians. She thought a general reference work on Indigenous Australia would benefit teachers.
Ms Behrendt said there was not enough Indigenous Australian content in Australian schools, but said this was not always caused by indifference or racism. “I have had teachers say to me, I’d really
like to teach more Indigenous content but I just don’t feel like I understand it well enough to teach it’,” she said. “I think that shows that there’s quite a lot we can do by improving the resources for educators.”
She hoped the work would gain traction in the broader Australian population, including both non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians. “In the long run I’d hoped it would be a
place for especially Aboriginal people who are getting back in touch with their culture, or want to learn more, or teach their kids about it. It might be a resource for them too.”
A spokesperson for the NSW Board of Studies said elective courses in Aboriginal Studies focusing on Indigenous Australian histories and culture are available for students from years 7 to 12.
Aboriginal Studies was first offered to Year 9 students in 1993. Other courses in the curriculum, such as English and Physical Education, include content with an Aboriginal context.
In 2011, 370 Year 12 students, 630 Year 11 students and 309 Year 10 students were enrolled in Aboriginal Studies.
President of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, Ray Jackson, said many Indigenous Australian children do not connect with the content being taught inschools. “If their own history was being taught, local Aboriginal history was being taught, they could connect more and they’d be more liable to go to school. That is why we have so many dropouts.”
Mr Jackson hopes all Indigenous Australian historical education is “honest” and looks at the positives and negatives of the pre- and post-1788 history.