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Men and Women in Political Life

Teacher notes

Politically active men and women helped shape today's Australia. Exploring their lives and work can provide an understanding of motivation, challenges faced, the nature of 'political activity', the difference between working inside and outside the parliamentary sphere and the particular issues for women and Aboriginal people.

About the unit | Indicators of student achievement | Background notes | Discovering Democracy resources | Other resources | Links to other units | Notes

About the unit

Contexts: lives of Chifley, Menzies, Goldstein, Cowan, Spence, Street, Gibbs, Nicholls

Indicators of student achievement

The student can:

Background notes

The necessary material for the individuals studied is provided in the unit. The material is divided into biographies of those who worked within parliament or aspired to do so (Ben Chifley, Prime Minister of Australia; Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia; Vida Goldstein, suffragist and candidate for parliament; Edith Cowan, first woman Member of Parliament in Australia) and biographies of those who worked outside parliament (William Guthrie Spence, trade unionist and Member of Parliament; Jessie Street, campaigner for equal rights for women and Aboriginal people; Pearl Gibbs, campaigner for Aboriginal people).

Material for the following recently politically active men and women is contained on the Discovering Democracy Secondary Video - Heather Mitchell, Patron, Victorian Farmers Federation; Michael Krockenberger, Campaigns Director, Australian Conservation Foundation; Kate Lundy, Senator, ACT; Michael Ronaldson, Member of the House of Representatives, Ballarat.

Exploration of the differences between working within and working outside the parliamentary sphere provides one perspective on political activity. Other perspectives are provided by exploration of the forces that motivated people, views of society, aims, party allegiance, groups people belonged to, the effect of life experiences on their work, and strategies used. Comparisons of people from the past with people today, the issues that concerned them and the strategies they used also provide an interesting perspective on the lives considered.

Discovering Democracy resources

Parliament@Work website - brief biographies of current parliamentarians and a searchable database of statistical information about them

Stories of Democracy CD ROM - a range of biographies of historical figures some of whom are also included in this unit and an interactive activity which features some of the people from this unit and others

Discovering Democracy Secondary Video

Discovering Democracy - A Guide to Government and Law in Australia

Discovering Democracy website

Further teacher reference material can be found in Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary Units, pages 136-138.

Other resources

Useful resource material is available through a variety of Internet sites. The following site has links to a number of useful sites, including those of State and Territory parliaments and all major political parties.

The Parliament of Australia

National Philatelic Centre, Melbourne, is well set up for school visits and may be able to help schools outside Melbourne on request. It is located at 321 Exhibition St, Melbourne 3000 (tel 03 9204 7728). The Centre displays all the Australians who have been featured on stamps. This is particularly useful for Activity 6.

Links to other units

'Men and Women in Political Life' complements two secondary units in particular:

  • 'Democratic Struggles' (lower secondary) considers groups and the strategies they used to achieve change. These provide useful comparisons with the strategies of individuals considered in 'Men and Women in Political Life'. The sections on women and Aboriginal people and their struggles to achieve suffrage and other civic rights also provide useful comparisons.
  • 'Getting Things Done' (middle secondary) focuses on groups and the way in which grassroots pressure for change works through the system and its institutions.


'Men and Women in Political Life' contains vocabulary that may be unfamiliar to some students. To assist their learning, ensure that each student maintains a personal glossary of terms, and adds new words as they arise. (The word 'glossary' may be the first on the list.) Students should define terms in their own words rather than use dictionary definitions. The personal glossaries are needed for the assessment task at the end of the unit. The key terms above may be a useful guide to the words the students should have listed by the end of the unit.

The biographies included in the unit are necessarily brief, but opportunities are provided for further research. The Parliament@Work website and Stories of Democracy CD ROM should be available to students. The Stories of Democracy CD ROM also contains a game in which students match historical figures with their achievements. The game could be played after students have studied some of the biographies in this unit.

The Discovering Democracy Secondary Video also accompanies the unit and contains brief interviews with four politically active Australians. Kate Lundy and Michael Ronaldson work inside the parliamentary system while Heather Mitchell and Michael Krockenberger work outside it. The video is required viewing for the assessment task at the end of the unit, but you may also choose to show excerpts at other appropriate times. If you take the latter course, you may also choose to encourage students to begin note-taking from the video, in preparation for the final assessment task.

Focus question 1

The success of Activity 1 depends on students selecting a range of 'political' and 'non-political' articles. If a suitable range is not emerging, you may want to provide some guidance. If you feel that students' reading levels will make it difficult for them to scan the newspapers, you may want to pre-select a range of suitable articles.

In Activity 2, the distinction is made between 'political' and 'non-political' people and activities. This is, of course, a broad and somewhat artificial categorisation and it is recognised that most human activity can be said to have a 'political' aspect. Some students may think that activities are 'political' only if they are associated with a political party and, in that case, you may need to provide more direction. The class should arrive at a working definition along the lines of the following:

Political activity occurs when people attempt to influence the way society is organised or governed or to stop other people from making changes.

Activity 3 is intended to assist students to see that being politically active is not the same as being famous and vice versa. It also allows students to see that some politically active people are members of political parties and some are not. In Activity 4, you may want to assist students to choose suitable articles for analysis.

The first part of Activity 6 is a research activity which could be set as homework. In the second part, ensure that students do not choose to research one of the people featured later in the unit.

Focus question 2

Activities 1 and 3 provide students with some frameworks for looking at the biographical material.

Activity 4 may require further research about important issues to women today.

Focus question 3

In Activity 1, students are not expected to have a detailed knowledge of the situation described. They are asked, rather, to think in broad terms about the issues raised. Similarly, in the letter-writing exercise, Activity 2, students can be asked to concentrate on the issues rather than necessarily to attempt to copy Jessie Street's writing style.

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