Qld Curriculum subject in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages

An online news article from May this year http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/more-queensland-schools-to-offer-aboriginal-languages-20140528-zrqzv.html#ixzz3EghMxrH8 announced that “More Queensland schools (were) to offer Aboriginal languages.” The article outlines in part, the Queensland Assessment and Curriculum Authority’s response to the Framework for National Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages Curriculum. It explains that the Queensland Curriculum (as developed within the Framework in the National Curriculum) will be available for implementation during 2015 and 2016.

The article centers on notebooks of the “Protector of Aborigines,” (Archibald Meston), which contain Aboriginal words and phrases and have been recently donated to the State Library of Queensland. It explains that their contents will be used as a supplementary resource for the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages curriculum. The article mentions the range of Aboriginal words (from different language groups) for “birds, houses, …tools and children’s games.” Focusing on these words and phrases could end up with the language that is learned being restricted to lists of nouns. If this occurred students would only be able to use the language for very restricted communicative events. Thus I was prompted to examine the Queensland Studies Authority response to the draft National Curriculum to determine their perception of developing and delivering effective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language programs in schools. This was reassuring. The following are some recommendations for the Framework for the National Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages Curriculum.

Ways forward
  • Reconceptualise the structure of the Framework to avoid the use of Western academic approaches to language learning.
  • When developing the appropriate structure for this language learning context undertake a thorough scan of:

– curriculum documents for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages currently in use around Australia, and for Indigenous languages internationally, particularly in Canada

– the QSA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Language Syllabus. This document provides a structure that takes into account:

  • knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages as systems of meaning
  • the unique linguistic characteristics of these languages.


  • Include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander holistic frameworks developed and used by Indigenous peoples, for example:

My Land My Tracks: A framework for the holistic approach to Indigenous studies developed by Ernie Grant, Dijirabal/Djirrabal Elder and published by the Innisfail and District Education Centre. The holistic approach to learning promotes cross-cultural understanding

– approaches outlined in the QSA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Handbook 2010 that illustrate how knowledge and knowing are integrated and holistic. These are tools to gain further insight into how the worldviews of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples need to be and can be incorporated into the planning, design and delivery of teaching and learning. The approaches are outlined in detail in Section 4.


– Indigenous inquiry skills are used to explore knowledge uniquely associated with inquiry into and with Aboriginal communities and Torres Strait Islander communities. These skills are associated with:

  • reciprocating knowledge
  • deep listening
  • reflecting and revisiting
  • respectful interactions
  • managing and recognising local community protocols

The full response can be viewed at:


Also mentioned in the online news article, Meston’s notebooks contain words and phrases from different ‘clans.’ Some of this language variation was lost by “…shifting aboriginal people together into reserves and missions…” The article cites the “Woory” language from Woorabinda which developed from 70 or 80 Aboriginal languages. In the process of blending languages, many of the unique ‘clan’ words and phrases were lost but Meston’s notebooks have a record of them; allowing some language revival.

The comments in response to the article give some insight into attitudes towards the implementation of an Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages curriculum.


Helen Herden

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