And can it really be embedded throughout the Australian Curriculum? Curriculum specialist Caty Morris shares her thoughts.

As one of the three cross-curriculum priorities of the Australian Curriculum, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures priority provides opportunities for every Australian student to engage with the world’s oldest, continuous living culture.

Through the Australian Curriculum, students can appreciate that contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are rich and diverse – helping make Australia unique and special. Students can gain insights that will equip them with skills – such as cultural responsiveness – to be successful in our increasingly complex and rapidly changing world.

For students, an understanding of their past and an awareness of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge can inform future solutions can help tell the Australian story about who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures can be taught across learning areas - including Digital Technologies. 

It's a culture spanning 65,000 years

Did you know excavations as recent as 2015 at Madjedbebe in the Northern Territory have uncovered rare Aboriginal artefacts, such as the world’s oldest known edge-ground hatchets and the world’s oldest known use of reflective pigment?

The discoveries from the dig have pushed back the occupancy of the Australian continent to 65,000 – 80,000 years and revealed new and significant information about the technology and lifestyles of our first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The discoveries indicate that the earliest Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia were innovative people who developed solutions to new problems and engaged in symbolic and artistic expression. For example, evidence of the mixing of ochre with reflective powders from ground mica to create a vibrant paint was uncovered – prior to this, the oldest known rock art in the world was dated to 40,000 years ago in Sulawesi. And if you’re wondering what mica is, it’s used in car paint to pearlise the paint and create a multi-coloured effect on vehicles.

Another significant aspect of the dig has been the benchmark-setting agreement between the researchers of the dig and the local Mirarr people, who have retained control over the dig. Such consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal people by scientists and researchers provides a valuable example of science inquiry skills that bring together Western science and Aboriginal science to form new knowledge and understandings.

Putting it into practice

Archeological discoveries like these offer a host of learning opportunities for students all around Australia through the three dimensions of the Australian Curriculum. As a suggestion, how about a scientific investigation of grinding mica to produce the reflective powder, as described above, that integrates The Arts, Intercultural Understanding from the General Capabilities, and of course, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority?

The priority uses a conceptual framework to provide a context for learning, which includes the underlying elements of Identity and Living Communities and the key concepts of Country/Place, Culture and People. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Identities are central to the priority and are approached through knowledge and understanding of the interconnected elements of Country/Place, Culture and People. Students will be able to understand that Identities and Cultures have been, and are, a source of strength and resilience for Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples against the historic and contemporary impacts of colonisation.

Resources for teachers

To help teachers make this rich learning opportunity a reality for students, there are some resources on the Australian Curriculum website:

  • An overview of the priority and the nine Organising Ideas
  • Illustrations of practice showing how teachers are integrating the priority across the leaning areas. As an example, Gordonvale State High School in Queensland demonstrates Fire: a burning question through Science, while Margate Primary School in Tasmania tells us about What happens when cultures collide
  • Guiding principles for promoting and implementing the priority
  • A Framework for Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages

Given that students have a growing appetite to better understand cultural traditions and languages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it is timely that ACARA continues its work to enhance the curriculum through some significant work currently taking place to build greater representation of the priority in the Australian Curriculum.


Caty Morris is ACARA’s Curriculum Specialist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education. For many years, Caty has worked in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education across Australia as a teacher and principal in a remote community, to managing a national ‘Closing the Gap’ project. Caty recently gained a Doctorate for her research in responsive mathematics pedagogy with urban and regional Aboriginal learners.