Teacher background information


Year 4 Science Content Description

Science as a Human Endeavour

Nature and development of science

Science involves making predictions and describing patterns and relationships (ACSHE061 - Scootle )

  • considering how scientific practices such as sorting, classification and estimation are used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in everyday life (OI.1, OI.5)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have complex ways of organising knowledges including knowledges of living organisms (plants, animals, other organisms), non-living components of the landscape (waterways, celestial bodies, once living materials such as shells and wood), and Peoples (kinship and family structures). Scientific systems of organising knowledges based on particular features or similarities differ across Australian Nations and communities. To sort and classify information, patterns and relationships are identified and described. These systems of organising knowledges can be used to make estimations and predictions. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to learn how longstanding scientific practices using systems to sort, classify and estimate have long informed, and continue to inform, aspects of everyday life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples developed complex systems over millennia to sort and classify knowledges. These systems have long been used, and continue to be used, in everyday life. The various methods that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples use in their classification systems can reflect Peoples’ interactions with their Country/Place. Some classification systems parallel Western methodologies, for example, in naming the components of plants. The Maikulan Peoples of the Cloncurry River region of north Queensland describe the following components of the blue water lily as thindah (tubers), thoolambool (stalk) and millc (seed head). Other classification methods identify common features such as the presence or absence of fins, the taste or ripeness of a consumable resource or its value or usefulness.

Sorting is the process of arranging items systematically and consists of ordering items, such as low to high or small to large, and grouping items with similar properties, such as colour or shape. Classifying is the categorisation of items based on similar characteristics. Estimation is the process of finding an approximation of a value that is useful for some purpose when not all the required information is available. Estimation can be informed by the classifications of items. For millennia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have used observations of patterns and relationships to sort and classify items and to make estimations in daily life. In contemporary times sorting, classification and estimation continue to play an important role in working scientifically.

The culturally important practice of shell stringing by Tasmanian Aboriginal women to manufacture necklaces and bracelets incorporates the scientific processes of sorting, classifying and estimating. The knowledge and skills of shell processing and stringing has been passed down through generations of Tasmanian Aboriginal women who continue to practise and uphold this custom to this day. Shell jewellery is classified as: adornments, gifts and tokens of honour, items for trade, and ceremonial objects. The collection of shells, including marina (pronounced ma-rin-a and known in English as maireener) and rice shells used to manufacture the intricate shell necklaces, requires detailed knowledge of Sea Country. Shells are classified by species, and within an identified species such as the marina shell, further classification is based on size and grade. Marina shells suitable for shell stringing are collected directly from the ocean during the spring tides; dry shells found on the beach are brittle and faded and are not used in shell stringing. Rice shells are found in dry seaweed and are sorted based on weight. The seaweed is collected in buckets which are then filled with water so that the shells, heavier than the seaweed and water, fall to the bottom. The shell stringers estimate how many shells will be required to manufacture their item, taking into account the proposed length of the finished item and the size of the shells. Each shell stringer has a unique style of shell combinations and patterns that informs the sorting and classification of collected shells.

A shell necklace on display at the National Museum of Australia, manufactured by Tasmanian shell worker and senior custodian of shell stringing knowledge, Auntie Dulcie Greeno, illustrates the scientific practices of sorting, classification and estimation used in this practice. This necklace is manufactured from brown and white rice shells, pink button shells, and conical marina shells that have been treated to reveal their lustrous, green iridescence. The shells were sorted by colour and size and classified according to these characteristics. The diameter of the finished necklace is 15mm, requiring shells to be estimated and sorted by size at the time of collection and during the stringing process. To achieve a necklace length of approximately one metre, estimation of the number of small shells of each classification was also required. The shells were strung in sections using a regular pattern of two pink button shells flanked on each side by a pair of green marina shells. The sections were separated by a length of brown and white rice shells. Intricate shell necklaces can feature more than 2,000 shells and may require up to 12 months preparation to locate, collect, sort and classify suitable shells before the item can be made.

Estimation is used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in many aspects of daily life. For example, in the arid regions of the central desert where water can be scarce, Aboriginal Peoples know the location of waterholes and use estimation to approximate the amount of water they are likely to contain. The amount of rain and other climatic factors affect the availability of water sources. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, through direct and indirect observations of past, present and predicted weather events, estimate how much water such sources may contain at any given time. Estimation is critical in predicting water supplies for the community as access to water reservoirs may require travel over significant distance. Estimating is also important when determining the resources a family or community group may require. For example, on Yolŋu Country in north eastern Arnhem Land women have the knowledge, expertise and responsibility to cultivate and harvest ganguri (long yam). Ganguri grows deep underground and digging to harvest the tuber is intensely physical work. The Yolŋu women use estimation to evaluate the size and number of tubers collected, and decide how many are needed for families and the wider community. On return, estimation is again used to determine the size of the ground oven needed to cook the meal, using seasonal knowledge of the ganguri crop and other produce collected by the community.

For many thousands of years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples from different Countries and Places have gathered for feasts and significant events. Such gatherings may be seasonal and are scheduled to coincide with a time when resources are abundant. For example, the Bunya festival occurs triennially to coincide with the time the bunya nuts ripen on the lands of the Waka Waka, Barrungam, Jarowair and Djaku-nde Peoples in south-east Queensland. In Victoria, at the time of the autumn rains when eels migrate towards the ocean to breed, Aboriginal Peoples come from great distances to gather on the lands of the Djadjawurung Peoples to celebrate and harvest the eels. At the time of such gatherings, the host community plans and prepares for the visit of many hundreds of Peoples who may stay for the duration of the event. Estimation is required, taking into account the numbers of people who may attend and the duration of the event, to roughly calculate the amount of resources needed. The Miriam Peoples of the eastern Torres Strait Islands host frequent social gatherings that require classification and estimation in planning and preparation to ensure events are sufficiently resourced. Special occasions, such as completing the construction of a new house or clearing and digging waterholes, warrant celebration with a feast. Estimation is required to determine the amount of resources that may be needed, based on the number of family members and friends who helped with the work that will attend.  

This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to consider how the scientific practices of sorting, classification and estimation have long informed, and continue to inform, aspects of daily life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Benefits to everyday life are demonstrated in the application of these fundamental scientific processes to define patterns and relationships and make informed predictions for cultural practices such as the manufacture of adornments or planning for social gatherings. Students will learn that for millennia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have used characteristic features to develop structured systems that order and categorise knowledges and define relationships. These systems continue to be used today by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples across Australia.

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

Allen, L. (2018). Kanalaritja: An unbroken string: Honouring the tradition of Tasmanian Aboriginal shell stringing. Australian Historical Studies, 49(1), 126-129.

Bayly, I. (1999). Review of how Indigenous People managed for water in desert regions of Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia, 82, 17.

Burden, H. (2016, May 21). TasWeekend: A shore thing. The Mercury. Retrieved from https://www.themercury.com.au/lifestyle/tasweekend-a-shore-thing/news-story/f68ea25d494c5303d4694dd792f44647

Clarke, P. (2008). Aboriginal plant collectors: Botanists and Australian Aboriginal People in the nineteenth century. Dural, N.S.W.: Rosenberg Publishing.

Davis, S., Ganambarr, M., & Traynor, S. (1982). Aboriginal science teacher's handbook: incorporating the Milingimbi case study. Darwin: Northern Territory Department of Education.

Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (Tasmania). (2017). Aboriginal Cultural Practices. Retrieved from https://www.aboriginalheritage.tas.gov.au/cultural-heritage/aboriginal-cultural-practices

Elders Council of Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation. (n.d.). Necklace making. Retrieved from http://www.tas-aboriginal-elders.org.au/necklace-making

Gough, J. (2014). Lola Greeno: Cultural jewels. Retrieved from https://australiandesigncentre.com/media/uploads/files/Honouring_the_Past_3a_Making_a_Future_-_Julie_Gough.pdf

Gough, J., & Greeno, L. (2014). Lola Greeno: Cultural jewels – education kit. Darlinghurst, NSW: Australian Design Centre. Retrieved from https://australiandesigncentre.com/media/uploads/files/NEWADCLOGO_lola_greenedKit_final.pdf

Murray, N. (n.d.). A healing walk. Retrieved from http://www.eelfestival.org.au/assets/healingwalkessay.pdf

National Museum of Australia. (n.d.). Ganguri/Manmunga. Retrieved from http://collectionsearch.nma.gov.au/set/3334?object=241488

National Museum of Australia. (n.d.). Tasmanian Aboriginal shell necklaces. Retrieved from https://www.nma.gov.au/explore/collection/highlights/tasmanian-aboriginal-shell-necklaces

Palmer, E. (1884). On plants used by the natives of north Queensland Flinders and Mitchell Rivers, for food, medicine etc. etc. Sydney: Thos. Richards, Government Printer.

Roth, W. E. (1910). North Queensland Ethnography: Social and individual nomenclature (Bulletin No. 18). Records of the Australian Museum, 8(1), 79-106.

Sainty, T. (2017). Kanalaritja: An unbroken string [Teacher’s guide]. Retrieved from http://kanalaritja.tmag.tas.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/WEB_kanalaritja_Teachers-guide.pdf

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. (n.d.). Kanalaritja: An unbroken string. Retrieved from http://kanalaritja.tmag.tas.gov.au/

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. (n.d.). Lola Greeno: Cultural jewels. Retrieved from https://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/whats_on/exhibitions/current_upcoming/info/lola_greeno_cultural_jewels

Terry, P. & Walker, T. (2014, July). Colourful shell stories from Flinders Island. ABC News.  Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2014/07/03/4038769.htm

The Orb. (n.d.). Shell stringing. Retrieved from https://www.theorb.tas.gov.au/living-cultures/shellstringing