Warning: This resource may contain references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may have passed away.

The encounter

[Episode 23 | 1788 : Waruwi]

Waruwi encounters a cow for the first time and is unsure what to make of it. After seeing some marines and a drummer boy, she returns home to Nana to tell her about the 'ghost people' and the cow.


The Australian curriculum: History

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The Australian Curriculum: History aims to ensure that students develop: 

  • interest in, and enjoyment of, historical study for lifelong learning and work, including their capacity and willingness to be informed and active citizens 
  • knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the past and the forces that shape societies, including Australian society 
  • understanding and use of historical concepts, such as evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, perspectives, empathy, significance and contestability 
  • capacity to undertake historical inquiry, including skills in the analysis and use of sources, and in explanation and communication.

History activities [2]

Activity 1: First contact game
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Subtheme(s): Culture; Indigenous perspectives; Multiculturalism
  • The first contact between Aboriginal people and colonists represented the clash of two fundamentally different cultures, each with their own set of rules. The cultural beliefs and values of each group were unknown to the other, and, without understanding and awareness of these differences, it was inevitable that misunderstandings would arise.
  • As a class, view the clip and discuss Waruwi's reaction to the cow. Note the contrast between where Dan and Waruwi live and how Dan and Waruwi live. The clip displays differences in culture, principles of ownership and authority.
  • Refer to My Place for Teachers, 'Decade Timeline' or use the following websites to provide information for students:
  1. Barani, Indigenous History of the City of Sydney, 'First contact: Black and White relations', www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/barani/themes/theme2.htm
  2. Culture.gov.au, European Discovery and the Colonisation of Australia www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/australianhistory/
  3. Swirk Interactive Schooling, 'British-Aboriginal Relations, 1788-1820', www.skwirk.com.au/p-c_s-56_u-415_t-1040_c-4006/british-aboriginal-relations-1788-1820/qld/sose-history/first-australians-and-the-european-arrivals/settlement-1788-1850

First contact game

  • To help students to appreciate the powerful influence of cultural background upon interactions between different cultural groups, play this game.

1. Background

  • This simulation activity is an age-appropriate adaptation of the BaFa'BaFa' game originally created for the US Navy to increase the cultural awareness of its sailors while on overseas assignments. It is a useful tool for encouraging students to appreciate how cross-cultural barriers are created and how stereotypes arise. It provides students with personal experience of the profound impact of cultural differences upon interactions with foreign groups and of their own behaviours and attitudes to people of different cultural background. Through this experience, students can develop a better understanding of the issues which confronted both Indigenous peoples and colonists when first contact was made.

2. Resources needed

a A set of coloured, numbered cards; there should be enough cards so that each student begins the game with five cards. The cards can be made by making copies of the template provided in Student Activity Worksheet 23.1: First contact game: card template, cutting out the cards and mounting them on coloured cardboard. At least ten cards circulating around the room should be mounted on pink cardboard.

b A set of instructions for the rabbit and bilby cultures from Student Activity Sheet H23.2: First contact game: Rabbit and bilby cultures

c Sticker labels which can be used to identify members of each cultural group.

3. Overview

  • Two cultures, guided by fundamentally different sets of rules, are established within the classroom. Once the two groups are familiar with the rules of their own culture, members of each culture are sent first to observe, then to interact with members of the other group. The rules of either culture cannot be explained to visitors and must be determined solely through observation and trial-and-error participation.

4. How to play the game:

Divide the class into two groups: rabbit culture and bilby culture. Provide each group with a set of labels, and ask students to write the name of their cultural group on their label. Each group will need a separate and distinct space within the classroom in which they can work and discuss the activity. (5 minutes)
Issue students with an instruction sheet and an assortment of coloured cards. (2 minutes)
Give students 10 minutes learn the rules of their culture. During this time, they can clarify any rules with the teacher and practise their rules within the group. At the end of the 10 minutes, instruction sheets should be collected and removed from all students. (10 minutes)
d  Each group selects two members as representatives to be sent to observe the other culture. They are not allowed to interact with members of the other culture, and must only observe and watch the other group. (2 minutes)
Observers return to their own culture and inform the rest of their group about what they have learnt about the other culture. (2 minutes)
Each group selects five members as visitors to the other culture. They are allowed to interact with the other culture but should do so according to the rules of their own culture. If time allows, two more groups of visitors can be sent to the other culture.

  • The most important part of the game is the students' reflections on their thoughts, feelings and experiences when encountering another culture. You should devote at least 20 minutes to this discussion.
  • Stress that the cultural attributes of the bilby and rabbit cultures are fictional and are not based on any one particular group of people. It is intended to reflect the differences in the way various cultures do things, see things and understand things in the world around us and to challenge individuals to see things (and experience things) in different ways. This activity is not intended to stereotype groups but rather to challenge individuals within groups to see things from a different perspective.

1. Students should first consider how people from the other culture are different to them. Ask members of one culture to describe the other. Students can make notes in the T-chart in Student Activity Sheet H23.2: First contact game: Rabbit and bilby cultures.

2. Next, ask students to reflect upon how they felt interacting with the other culture. How did they feel about visiting the other group? How did they feel when they were visited? Student responses can lead into a discussion of the following issues:

a  What problems did people from your culture have when visiting the other group?

How did you solve these problems?

c  Did you fit in or did you manage to remain separate?

Was the behaviour of your visitors appropriate?

3. Lastly, ask students to consider their judgements of members of the other cultural group. Allow each group to explain the actual rules of their culture. Ask students to consider whether they misjudged the other culture and whether they feel that they were fairly judged.

Point out to students that the prejudices they developed have arisen over just one or two classes. Ask them to contemplate how deeply entrenched such views might be if held for many years or centuries. Explain that cultural differences develop because different peoples have invented different ways of solving the problems presented to them by living. You can draw on the experiences of students in this activity when examining historical interactions between Indigenous groups and European settlers when the First Fleet arrived in Australia.


Student Activity Sheet H23.1: First contact game: Card template
Student Activity Sheet H23.2: First contact game: Rabbit and bilby cultures

Activity 2: Local knowledge
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Subtheme(s): Culture; Customs and traditions; Indigenous perspectives
  • The cow that Waruwi encounters seems a strange addition to the landscape. The European colonists brought with them many things, beliefs, practices and ways of thinking that fit better with the home they remembered than with the new environment in which they found themselves. Indigenous ways of life, by comparison, were based on deep respect for the Australian climate and environment, and local knowledges passed down from generation to generation. The clip displays the differences in culture, principles of ownership and authority.
  • As a class, view the clip and discuss Waruwi's reaction to the cow. Look at the contrast between where and how Dan lives compared to Waruwi.
  • In order to arouse student interest in the sustainable patterns of land use that are practised by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, invite students to investigate Indigenous weather knowledges. In recent years, scientists interested in long-term environmental change and weather patterns have turned to Indigenous weather knowledges to better understand the seasons and weather in Australia.
  • Students can use the following websites to explore the reasons why scientists are investigating Indigenous meteorological views:
  1. ABC Science, 'The Lost Seasons', www.abc.net.au/science/features/indigenous/
    Although this is called the 'lost' seasons, and the site is written as if this knowledge is from the past and has been lost, Indigenous people from across Australia still maintain and use their knowledge about the weather and the seasons in their local areas in their daily lives.
  2. Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, 'Indigenous Weather Knowledge', www.bom.gov.au/iwk/climate_culture/index.shtml
  3. Living Knowledge, 'Yolngu Sea Country: Observing the Seasons' livingknowledge.anu.edu.au/learningsites/seacountry/10_observing.htm
  4. Queensland Studies Authority, 'Indigenous Perspectives Support Materials', www.qsa.qld.edu.au/3035.html
  5. ——'Torres Strait Islander Seasonal Calendar' http://www.qsa.qld.edu.au/downloads/approach/indigenous_read011_0801_2.pdf
  6. Twelve Canoes, 'Seasons', www.12canoes.com.au/
  • Using these resources, students can complete the table provided in Student Activity Worksheet H23.3: Local knowledge. Ask students to record the names of the seasons in the Kakadu region, noting local indicators which signal the beginning of a season and when each season occurs. See if students can find the names and times of the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander seasons in your local area. Students should consider the differences between European understanding of the seasons and that of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They should also consider whether the seasonal cycle is described the same way by various Indigenous people from different language groups and in different locations.
  • Connect with local Indigenous families at your school or neighbouring schools, local groups and organisations from the region or surrounding areas. You could contact Indigenous Education Units and resources centres in your state or your nearest university's Indigenous unit. Talk about the seasons and weather in the local (and neighbouring) language/s and see what you can find out about your local area.
  • Ask students to consider whether the European settlers should have adopted Indigenous seasonal patterns in your local area. To do this, they should fill in a SWOT Analysis chart to examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of this choice. This will require students to critically analyse and evaluate the choices made by the European settlers, and the importance of Indigenous knowledges. Once all students have filled in the table, ask them to make a final decision on the issue.

  • Invite all students who agree that the European settlers should have adopted Indigenous seasonal patterns in your area to go to one side of the classroom and all those who disagree to go to the other side of the classroom. Ask a selection of students from either side of the room to offer the reasons for their decision. Allow students to change sides as they listen to each response. Record responses on the whiteboard and allow students to write these down.
  • Ask students to write a report for their local newspaper about how Australia might have developed differently if European settlers had used local Indigenous knowledges when establishing the colony. 


Student Activity Sheet H23.3: Local knowledge