Teacher background information


Foundation Year Science Content Description

Science Understanding

Physical sciences

The way objects move depends on a variety of factors, including their size and shape (ACSSU005 - Scootle )

  • exploring how the size and shape of traditional instructive toys used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples influence their movement (OI.5)​

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long used instructional devices and models as play-based learning objects. Instructive toys are objects of play, mostly designed for children, that stimulate learning by promoting the development of a specific skill or providing play experiences to learn about a particular subject. Instructional toys may be simplified or miniaturised versions of objects used by adults or model the activities and practices of adults. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long manufactured and utilised instructive toys to teach children about how movement is influenced by size and shape. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to explore how the size and shape of instructive toys, constructed and used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, can influence their movement.

For millennia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have used instructive toys and games as educational devices and models to stimulate and achieve learning in young people. Children’s games and activities have long provided a context for acquiring knowledge, understanding, and the development of skills required in later life. The size and shape of instructive toys impacts the way the object moves; this has long been understood and considered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the design and construction of instructive toys. In the construction of objects such as balls, size and shape are critical in achieving the desired rolling or sliding movements. Size and shape have long been a consideration in the construction of objects such as miniaturised spears and boomerangs, as these factors affect their movement. The size and shape of instructive toys may be modified as a child develops a particular skill, to make a game more challenging and ensure that the skill continues to develop.

The game juluhya (Bundjalung Language; that translates to “to go down” in English) is a rolling game; it is played by Bundjalung children of the coastal region on the border of Queensland and New South Wales. A long, cylindrical tube is crafted from sheets of bark. The game involves rolling small, round pebbles, previously collected by the children, through the tube. The winner of the game is the owner of the stone that rolls fastest through the tube, appearing first at the opposite end. The shape, size and weight of a pebble must be carefully considered; a rounded pebble rolls faster, and the size and weight of a pebble impact its speed through the tube.

A variety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ games are designed to develop skills such as aim and coordination; spears and a target are manufactured to suit the child’s size and ability. The Pitjantjatjara Peoples of the central desert are known to manufacture toy spears from the long stems of bushes and a target from bark. The beginner’s disc is circular in shape, as this rolls smoothly along the ground. The players divide into two groups and the disc is rolled between the groups; as the disc passes, each group in turn tries to spear the moving target. Variations in the size and shape of the disc are made in many regions of Australia to make the game more challenging. A disc carved in an irregular shape causes it to wobble and roll less predictably, thus requiring greater skill to accurately hit the moving target. The Ngarinjin Peoples of the Kimberley region in Western Australia carved discs as small as 11 centimetres in diameter to challenge more skilful spear throwers. A further element of difficulty is added to the game by using an elliptical shaped target that bounces or hops as it rolls along the ground.     

The Meriam Peoples of Mer Island in the Torres Strait construct kolap, a spinning top made from volcanic tuff, for competitions to determine which top can spin for the longest time. The spinning tops are carefully manufactured and take a considerable amount of time to complete. First, the selected stone is chipped into a roughly circular shape using another piece of stone, and then the surface is ground down until smooth. Shaping continues until the upper surface of the top is flat, the underneath is slightly convex, and a sharp central edge is achieved. The shape of the spinning top is vital to maintain balance when spinning, as an unevenly crafted disc will only spin a few revolutions before it comes to a standstill. The shape of stones is also important in skimming games where stones are thrown in a manner that makes them skip across the surface of a body of water. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have long selected flattened stones for skimming games, as these are more easily thrown to skip across a smooth water surface. The importance of the shape of an object for skimming games is well understood, as evidenced by the Bandjin and Djiru children of Dunk Island in north Queensland who use the flat bone of the krooghar (cuttlefish) for this game. The krooghar can skim a great distance across the surface of the water due to its regular elongated, oval shape.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ instructional games and objects involve airborne toys that whirl or fly in the air. Size and shape affect the aerodynamic qualities of manufactured objects such as boomerangs and propellers, and of natural forms such as leaves. Leaf casting, where leaves float on the hot air currents from a fire, has been recorded in many parts of central Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. The Jangga Peoples of the central Queensland region play a game called bindjhera using leaves from the Acacia tree folded into boomerang shapes. The leaves are set into motion over the rising air current from a fire, and once the leaves are beyond air current, the folded shape causes the leaves to spin and spiral back to the ground. The Gamilaraay Peoples of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland play a leaf casting game by the fireside known as wimberoo. A dry leaf from the coolabah tree (Eucalyptus coolabah) is selected and warmed so that it can be slightly bent. The aim of the game is to set the leaves airborne over the hot air currents of a fire and determine whose leaf will go the highest. The curved shape of the leaf is important in such games as it affects the movement of the leaves in the air current.

Other propeller devices are constructed to whirl or travel through the air. The Biyaygiri and Djiru Peoples of the north Queensland coastal region construct propeller and aeroplane devices from the leaves of Pandanus spp. palms. The shape of the propeller whirls in the air either at the end of a spindle, like a windmill, or set in motion by dropping from a height so that it spirals to the ground. A piar-piar is carefully constructed by folding and interlocking four strips of Pandanus spp. leaf into a Z-shape. When thrown, the shape of this aerodynamic instructional toy travels through the air in a pattern similar to a returning boomerang. Miniaturised wooden boomerangs are used by children in games to develop aim and accuracy when setting the implement in motion. The shape of the instructive device, and the way it is set in motion, determines the path the object takes through the air. Curved toy boomerangs travel on an elliptical path; the degree of the central angle of the boomerang affects the flight path of the object. The Gulngai Peoples of the Tully River region in Queensland constructed cross-shaped toy boomerangs that travelled in a more circular flight path. Young children constructed an imitation cross-shaped boomerang from thick swamp grass that is tied or plaited together. Thrown into the air with a flick of the wrist, it spirals through the air and back to the owner.     

For many thousands of years, instructive toys and games have been an essential means to develop the skills that children will need in adult life. The size and shape of the objects used for these purposes has long been carefully considered in their construction. Many devices, such as the spinning tops of the Torres Strait Islander Peoples, require painstaking precision for optimal movement. From an early age, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children consider the size and shape of objects, such as balls and stones, in educational game play; the size and shape of the object will impact its motion. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to explore how the size and shape of instructive toys used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples affects movement.

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.

Australian Government, Australian Sports Commission. (2008). Juluhya. Retrieved from https://www.sportaus.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/704840/juluhya.pdf

Banfield, E. J. (1913). My tropic isle. London: T. F. Unwin.

Clarke, P. A. (2012). Australian plants as Aboriginal tools. Dural: Rosenberg Publishing.

Edwards, K. (2009). Traditional games of a timeless land: Play cultures in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2, 32.

Edwards, K. (2012). A typology of the traditional games of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Esk, Qld: Ram Skulls Press.

Edwards, K. (2017). Games and amusements of Australian Aboriginal peoples as outlined in the ‘Papers of Daisy Bates’: Principally dealing with the south west region of Western Australia. Retrieved from https://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/2440/103288/1/Daisy%20Bates%20-%20Games%20and%20Amusements.pdf

Edwards, K., & Edwards, T. (2011). A bibliography of the traditional games of Torres Strait Islander peoples. Toowoomba, Qld: University of Southern Queensland.

Haagen, C. (1994). Bush toys: Aboriginal children at play. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Haddon, A. C. (1912). Reports of the Cambridge anthropological expedition to Torres Straits: Vol. IV. Arts and crafts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

New South Wales Government, Office of Sport. (n.d). Traditional Indigenous games. Retrieved from https://sport.nsw.gov.au/clubs/training/tig

Read, C. H. (1888). Stone spinning tops from Torres Straits, New Guinea. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 17, 84-90.

Roth, W. E. (1902). Games, sports and amusements (Bulletin No. 4). North Queensland Ethnography Bulletin. Brisbane: Government Printer.

Smith, N. M. (1991). Ethnobotanical field notes from the Northern Territory, Australia. Adelaide: State Herbarium, Botanic Gardens.