• Kristin Perissinotto

Australia, we have an education problem

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

Year 5 is my first memory of learning Australian history at school. I wasn’t particularly interested in it to be quite honest. I didn’t enjoy learning about history as a kid, unlike my sister who was completely obsessed with the Horrible Histories books and could probably still recite forty facts about Cleopatra or King Henry. I was particularly disinterested in Australian history. The most boring of all histories, I thought. At least Roman and Egyptian history was a bajillion years old. Every teacher had told us that Australia was a young country.

My most recent memory of learning about Australian history at school was in Year 10, but those five years hadn’t provided me with any extra info. It was pretty much the same old stuff. Captain Cook arrives, centenary of federation, Harold Holt went swimming with rocks in his pockets. It was all the same, every year. There were a few Aboriginal students at my primary school, but no part of me linked their heritage to Australia’s history. I simply didn’t think much of it.

It wasn’t until university that I finally learned about the genocides that occurred when Captain Cook landed on the shores of ‘terra nullius’. This very name speaks volumes, translating to ‘nobody’s land’ or ‘the land belonging to nobody.’ But the land did belong to somebody. For Aboriginal peoples, the land belongs to them, and they belong to the land.

"We're not custodians, we're not caretakers. We weren't looking after [the land] for somebody else to come and take [it] away. We were the owners. And occupiers. And custodians. And caretakers."

John Christophersen, deputy chair of the Northern Land Council

I had no idea of the land ownership battles that generations of Indigenous people had endured. I was clueless about the stolen generation. The stolen generation, as its name suggests, removed First Nations children from their families and placed them with white adoptive parents. This was happening until the 1970s, and is still happening today in a less overt manner. This is not ancient history, and people who were in the stolen generation are still well and truly around today, with some only just approaching mid-life.

All of these facts, stats, and stories passed me by until my early 20s. I only eventually learned about Australia's history because I made the concerted effort to do the research of my own accord. And there is of course still so much I don't know. I only began to understand the true significance of the land for Aboriginal communities when researching for this article.

"We know everything there; the trees, animals, plants. It's like a bush library for us, and often a bush university too. It's there that we study and understand, and have learnt about the land and the care of that land over thousands of years. We can read it like a GPS. It's been handed down by our ancestors."

Djawa Timmy Burarrwanga, an Aboriginal Elder from Arnhem Land

There are so many Australians, young and old, who haven't, won't, and don't wish to learn about Australia's history. We desperately need a change to the curriculum to begin to improve the ways our society and legal system discriminates against First Nations people. Education is the first step, and the true history of Australia should be embedded into our primary and high school teachings. Understanding the genocides and continuous marginalisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is the first step in beginning to repair the damage that many generations of Indigenous Australians have endured.

Quoted, cited and highly recommended article on the meaning of land: https://bit.ly/36te7q1