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Focus question 4: What are Aboriginal laws?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: More than one story (2 x 40 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: For the good of all (30 min) ESL Activity 2
Further activities  

Activity 1: More than one story (2 x 40 min)

1a Ask students to list laws they have learnt about in previous activities. Remind students or have them recap why we have laws.

Discuss the question: 'Would laws be the same or similar in all societies?' (Students should reach the conclusion that laws in all societies are meant to be for the good of society.)

1b Invite students to think about Australian Aboriginal laws. What laws might Aboriginal people have that are made for the good of society? For example:

  • You shouldn't enter someone else's land without first getting permission (trespass).
  • You can't marry your brother or sister (marriage laws).
  • You should look after your country (the environment) and everything in it.
  • You should respect your elders.
  • You should share things with your family.

1c Tell students they are going to hear and read some Aboriginal Dreaming stories that have been re-told over generations to ensure the well-being of a community. Explain that these are important stories that provide examples of the place of rules and laws in people's lives, setting out group rights and responsibilities. Two stories have been provided: Barn-Barn Barlala and Ngout Ngout which tell children not to wander off alone.

In Aboriginal societies, laws and rules show people how to behave, what their responsibilities are towards other people and everything within the environment, and to show respect. Keeping these rules and laws helps children to grow up into proper women and men.

Aboriginal children have always learnt about their roles and responsibilities through storytelling, sometimes referred to as Dreaming stories, which is an important part of ceremony, along with painting, singing and dancing. In this way, rules and laws are learnt and used as a part of life. Retelling ensures that every generation knows and understands these rules and laws.

Some of the stories are not told until children reach a certain age; others are told only to some people who have the right to know them, but all are important. The stories included here can be told to everyone.

It may be useful to use the 'dictogloss' technique with these stories. First, read the story to the students several times. The first time you read it, students listen; the second time (and perhaps third), they write down as much as possible, especially key words and phrases. In pairs, then in groups of four, students compare their notes and pool the information. Then, the group reconstructs the text in writing, with the same information as the original. This process serves to demonstrate to students that retelling is a good way to increase understanding. Handout 11-12

1d Read one or more Dreaming stories (Handouts 11 and 12), identifying the group from which they are drawn, to show how laws continue to be passed on through group and individual knowledge.

1e Assist students to recognise that as well as clear laws, there have always been clear consequences for breaking laws. Emphasise that Dreaming stories have always been told over and over again, that the listeners have come to understand over time, and that there are reasons for rules and laws and consequences for breaking them. Students should realise that breaking rules and laws affects the family group rather than the individual.

Activity 2: For the good of all (30 min)

2a As a class, select an issue that is relevant to the students (it may be resolving a classroom dispute or deal with an issue that affects students outside the classroom as well). Discuss ways issues such as these might be solved: majority rule, voting, decisions handed down from person in charge, etc.
In a consensus, an idea is modified until all members agree.

2b Explain that Aboriginal decision-making is usually done by consensus (agreement between people). Have students suggest ways that agreement between people can be reached (meetings, discussions).

2c Tell students that they will simulate a meeting where a decision has to be made. Display Handout 13 and give each group a list of rules and assign roles to students. (If there is a class group of say 24 students, there could be 8 roles in each group. Elders, men, women.) Handout 13

2d Have students recount the way in which a decision was reached through writing, illustration or a radio interview.

Further activities

  • Discuss how the laws described in the Dreaming stories helped Aboriginal groups to live well and safely together. Consider what happens when the laws are kept or broken. Ask groups to discuss the ideas then hold a class meeting to make laws about living together.
  • As a class, choose a law about living together that you would like to hand on to children in the future. Students can prepare one-minute talks about why they think it is an important law and how it helps people to live well together. Write the important points on a large sheet of paper and decide who will talk to the class and who will display the paper and point to the important points.
  • Prepare story maps to recount the stories. Students working in pairs discuss the stories and make a list of events on a scratch pad. They then join with another pair of students and compare the lists. As a group of four, they should prepare a story map on a large sheet of paper and write a caption that tells people they 'shouldn't mess about', that keeping the law is layib (right) and helps people live peacefully together.

ESL activities

Back to 'Rules and Laws - At a glance'

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