Book Review: My Bundjalung People by Ruby Langford Ginibi

Cover of book, My Bundjalung People

My Bundjalung People by Ruby Langford Ginibi, (University of Queensland Press, 1994).

Over the last couple of weeks I have immersed myself in histories written by Aboriginal people.  These historians not only revealed aspects of Australian history of which I had been previously unaware, they also made me ponder the process of historical research and writing.  This is why we need to read histories written by people from a different cultural background to our own.  It is not only the stories that they choose to share that will differ, their whole approach to history can cause us to examine how our history has been traditionally constructed.

Ruby Langford Ginibi was a Bundjalung woman from the north coast of New South Wales.  In 1990 and 1991 she made a series of trips back to her country, visiting her people and interviewing both black and white people about the history of this area of New South Wales.   She made these trips both to fulfil a yearning to return to her roots, as well as to gather material for a history of the Bundjalung people.  “We won’t be able to advance ourselves until white Australia knows our history”, she explained.

The important role that Aboriginal people played in the economic development of Australia is a strong theme throughout the book:

The Aboriginal stockmen and women virtually ran the livestock industry.  They also worked as midwives and nurses.  Aboriginal women were essential to the very survival of white families.  We deserve to get recognition, along with the rest of Australia’s pioneers.

Ruby Langford Ginibi, p. 100 Continue reading

Teaching Quality – Discovering the Teacher’s Role in Learning

Students and teachers stnading around charts on the wall

The Monitorial System of education used to teach the masses in the nineteenth century. From, A Cyclopedia of Education: Volume 4, edited by Paul Monroe (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1918).

The phrase ‘teacher quality’ is “judgmental, simplistic.. and undermining of real teacher professionalism”, argued Melbourne high school English teacher, Peter Job, recently.  The current debate about ‘teacher quality’ portrayed teachers as “static commodities like cars or vegetables”, he observed.  Instead of ‘teacher quality’, he advocated the discussion should be instead focused on ‘teaching quality’.

Peter Job’s article on The Drum website picks up on an issue that has been debated since the nineteenth century.  Is teaching like following a recipe – copy it from a book, apply each step to any class and expect that a learned student will emerge at the end of the allotted (cooking) time?  Is the teacher a mere implementer of previously approved teaching methods learned by rote and applied without modification to every pupil? Or does a teacher’s training, ongoing professional development, teaching experience plus professional judgement lead to better learning outcomes for their students?

The Teaching Reading in Australia researchers examined this issue from a historical perspective.  Research Associate Professor Phil Cormack (School of Education, University of South Australia) compared two systems of education that emerged in Britain during the industrial revolution (‘Reading Pedagogy, ‘Evidence’ and Education Policy: Learning from History?’ downloadable at the Teaching Reading in Australia website).  The ‘monitorial system’ developed by Joseph Lancaster used the best performing students in a school to teach the other students by strictly adhering to a particular method of teaching invented by Lancaster and supervised by one head teacher in the large classroom.  The purpose of this system was to enable mass education with the most efficient use of resources.  There was no leeway to adapt the method of teaching to better suit particular students or to improve on it by innovation in the classroom. Continue reading

Book Review – Fight for Liberty and Freedom: The origins of Australian Aboriginal activism

Book cover of John Maynard's 'Fight for Liberty and Freedom'

Fight for Liberty and Freedom: The origins of Australian Aboriginal activism, (Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra, 2007).

If this country is to attain any sense of maturity it must first of all deal with its past and come to terms with it and, through that process, provide a platform where both Black and white can walk together to a shared future of hope, prosperity and equality.  Sadly, the whole debate has degenerated into an exercise of political and intellectual point scoring with little thought or compassion to the Aboriginal suffering in the past and the scars that impact and remain embedded in the Aboriginal psyche today.

John Maynard, p. 143.

Aboriginal historian, John Maynard, makes a telling point.  Knowing about and understanding the history of the people and place where we live is vital.  Without this it is too easy to treat people unjustly, with disrespect and with lack of compassion. A university degree is not required to learn this history.  Historical learning can be acquired by anyone through listening to others around us, asking questions and reading.  To my mind this is the purpose of Indigenous Literature Week which starts today.  It reminds us to sit down and listen to the indigenous people of wherever we may live.  John Maynard’s book, Fight for Liberty and Freedom is a good book for the general reader to learn more about an important part of twentieth century Australian history.

In this book John Maynard shares with us the story of a significant Aboriginal movement in the 1920s which protested against the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and evictions of Aboriginal farmers from the land they owned in New South Wales. An Aboriginal-led and managed organisation, the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA), drew on an extensive network of Aborigines throughout the state. This was quite a feat when considering the travel restrictions that authorities imposed on many Aborigines living on reserves and the determined opposition to AAPA activities by the NSW Aborigines Protection Board. Continue reading

Book Review – The Paper War by Anna Johnston

Cover of the book, The Paper War, by Anna Johnston

The Paper War: Morality, Print Culture, and Power in Colonial New South Wales by Anna Johnston, (Crawley, Western Australia: UWA Publishing, 2011).

Sydney Town was young and rambunctious when the ship carrying an ambitious missionary docked in 1824.  Into this colonial outpost stepped Lancelot Edward Threlkeld, determined to make his mark in the world, eager to convert Aboriginal people to Christianity and confident that his way was the right way.  He went on to establish an Aboriginal mission at Lake Macquarie which closed in 1841 after years of controversy.  Author of The Paper War, Anna Johnston, uses the archives about Threlkeld and his Aboriginal mission to examine how language was used and knowledge created.  The Paper War is primarily an academic treatise on the archival record but includes some biographical details about Threlkeld to provide context for her analysis.

Johnston argues that understanding the anxieties and ambitions of Sydney’s residents surrounding issues of social respectability is crucial to understanding the archival record.  The British living in Sydney Town had been removed from a class-based society and re-assembled in the antipodes, tasked with creating a new society. This was a disorienting process full of peril and opportunity.  A new social order needed to be created, but how?  Naturally the British inhabitants of Sydney fell back to the rules that ordered their communities from where they had come thousands of miles away, but these rules didn’t quite work in this colonial outpost.  Smelling opportunity, those who were regarded as members of the lower classes in Britain refused to acquiesce to their ‘betters’ in the fledgling colony as they would have done in Britain.  Some succeeded in achieving influence which would have been beyond their grasp had they not left their homeland.  Those in power felt under threat.  Disputes were common and played out publicly through the courts and the vibrant press.  It was a fractious, litigious society. Continue reading

Top 10 Posts for 2011

two women playing cricket

We have had lots of fun playing family cricket on the nearby oval these holidays. Here I am wicket keeping while my sister-in-law is batting. Photo by Ian Woolward

Blogs and cricket have something important in common – statistics!  This week I’ve enjoyed spending lots of time with my family visiting from interstate and watching the exciting Boxing Day test match between India and Australia.  It was a great example of test cricket – four days of see-sawing between the teams until Australia finally won.   I tried to write a blog post while watching the cricket but the cricket was way too interesting for me to write anything worth posting.   Instead, I thought I would join the other bloggers out there and create a list of the posts on this blog that generated the most hits in 2011. Continue reading