Aboriginal Roots


Understanding how aboriginal people interacted with the land for thousands of years is an integral part of learning about sustainability in land practices. European settlement saw drastic changes in how the land was utilised by humans with the introduction of crops, cattle and the concept of land ownership. In contemporary Australia land practices are far more complex with real estate, tourism adventures and the global market focusing on the land as a resource whether it be mining, farming or conservation. Year 10 Outdoor Environmental Studies gives students a chance to explore these various practices and the different impacts they have. Currently students are exploring the differences between how our first peoples used the land and how land practises change when European settlement occurred.

To fully understand the cultural significance of country to our first peoples, we recently travelled to the Royal Botanic Gardens where we met with Den. We were we welcomed through a smoking ceremony where Den explained the plants used during the ceremony. A tour of the gardens soon had students discovering the usefulness of Lomandra grass and the Bunya-Bunya tree. They discussed the uses of the paperbark of melaleucas and the healing properties of tea tree oil. We had a cup of lemon myrtle tea as Den explained the importance of caring for the land and that if we were to kill or take from the land to use all of that animal or plant and to not be wasteful. A message that modern day conservationists try to extend to those around them.

Students then travelled to the Melbourne Museum to explore not only the First Peoples Exhibition but the Melbourne Story and the Forest exhibition. This allows for people to reflect on how things have changed since European settlement and the gold rush in terms of how land is seen and utilised.

Once we returned from the excursion students had a chance to write a report on their experience and its value to them as a learning experience. Here are some quotes from their written pieces:

“The experience of speaking one on one with an indigenous man has the power to teach us so much compared to what we can read on a website or a text book. Having Den talk to us and allow us to walk around, smell, feel and look at the plants, is a practical experience that teaches students effectively. I found I learn more when we have someone who is an expert in their area and allows us to immerse ourselves on the environment we're learning about.”(Hannah Graham)

“Den spoke very important messages of the land. He told us, ‘we don’t own the land, the land owns us,’ he used the analogy of our mothers. The land is like our mothers, she gives to us and we hurt when she hurts. After looking around the gardens he gave us a statement all aboriginals live by, ‘take only what you need and use all parts, don’t waste what you have.” (Joshua O’Connell)

“At the museum we went to see the Bunjilaka exhibit. In the exhibit we didn't get as much time as we would have liked but we did see some interesting exhibits. The most interesting thing there was by far the Bunjilaka eagle dreamtime story. This excursion helped me gain a greater understanding of aboriginal culture, especially with the talks from Den. It was a successful day & really helped our education on aboriginal culture.” (Daniel O’Meara)

“Yesterday Den explained his background and culture, it was really touching to hear how they lived and how they did things back 40,000 years ago. The way they made clothes and how they made fires and what they did to survive. Den explained that there was a guy named Trevor at the gardens and everyday he hugged the tree and that two years ago when he left the tree fell down the next day.” (Jordan Ferraro)

Linda Marchesi

HPE Teacher