Celebrating Australia Day in a 21st Century Classroom

Australia Day in the classroom resources and activities
Cassie (Teach Starter)

Written by Cassie (Teach Starter)

January seems to have come around so quickly! With some teachers and students back in their classrooms already and the rest of the nation not too far away from their own ‘first day’, it’s pretty much full speed ahead! January 26 is another familiar marker of this time of year. Australia Day is a day that many school communities, teachers and students around the nation will engage with in some way, shape or form. So, whether you’re planning to do some Australia Day activities in your classroom, a flag-inspired craft activity, or open up a lamington stall during big lunch to raise money for endangered wildlife, it’s important to consider how you are going to represent Australia Day to the students in your care.

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Multicultural Australian Classrooms

Australia Day in the Classroom:
Cultural Sensitivity and Celebration

January 26 provides us with the impetus for classroom discussions and activities about Australian history, culture and identity. It’s easy to steam ahead with a celebration of all things “green, gold and sausage rolled”. However, as teachers, it’s important to acknowledge our individual contribution to how our nation’s histories are told and to how our students come to identify what makes Australian culture “Australian”.

Australia Day provides a unique opportunity for our students to make authentic, real-world connections…

…to draw lines between what they read, learn, discuss and think about inside their classroom and what they see, hear and do outside of school.

At this time of year, Australia Day is everywhere. On the television, on the cars we drive past and even at the supermarket! Which makes this exactly the kind of context in which every teacher needs to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into the Australia Day learning experiences they create.

We must remember that the stories, ideas and information we present our students with (or the stories, ideas and information we choose to omit – whether out of lack of knowledge, confidence or even fear) shapes our students’ understanding about January 26, about the history of this day and the amazingly multifaceted and multicultural society we live in today.

Our team has spent time upskilling in the creation of teaching resources that support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures priority. So, here’s how what we’ve learnt can help you in your classroom.

Australia Day Teaching Resources

Tips for Teachers

For this Australia Day, and every Australia Day thereafter, here are some tips, ideas and perspectives on how to best engage your students in learning about Australia Day.

  1. Present all of the facts about the history of Australia Day.
  2. Avoid making judgement statements about what Australia Day is or is not.
  3. Use supporting resources that are balanced in their representations.
  4. Allow your students to form their own opinions based on what they learn.

Here are four great topics and activities you can explore with your students around Australia Day.

(1) What is Australia Day about?

Teaching your students the meaning of Australia Day doesn’t need to be complicated. Present your students with facts about all of the different elements that feed into the story of Australia Day and help them form their own views on what the day means to them.

  • Talk to your students about why Australia Day is held on January 26. Help them to understand that the date was selected as it marks the day the British First Fleet landed in Sydney Cove in 1788.
  • Discuss what the arrival of the First Fleet meant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Acknowledge that January 26 also marks the beginning of the British colonisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies, which led to the loss of First Nation sovereignty, loss of families, languages and cultures.
  • Explain that for these reasons Australia Day is sometimes called Invasion Day (in reference to the arrival of the British), or Survival Day (in celebration of the ongoing histories, languages and cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples).
  • Help your students to understand that this is why Australia Day means different things to different people.

Relevant Resources & Activities

What’s Australia Day All About Video

ABC Splash Video - What is Australia Day About?

While a little dated, the “What’s Australia Day About” video on ABC Splash provides a great way to introduce these topics and ideas.

Australia Day Poster and Cloze Activity

You could also use this Australia Day Poster and Australia Day cloze activity to aid in these discussions.

Australia Day Cloze Activity and Information Poster

(2) How do people celebrate or commemorate Australia Day?

When your students understand that there are many different perspectives on Australia Day, they will be better able to understand the huge variety of celebrations and events that take place on the day.

  • Explore all of the ways in which Australia Day is celebrated around the nation. Australia Day events such as citizenship ceremonies and the Australian of the Year Awards are fantastic ways to engage students with the ideas of civics and citizenship.
  • Discuss why some people may choose not to celebrate Australia Day in these ways and may instead attend an Invasion Day or Survival Day event.
  • Turn this into a real connection for your students by finding out what sort of events are happening on January 26 in your local community.

Relevant Resources & Activities

Australia Day Fact Sheet

Our 2-page Australia Day Fact Sheet explores the many and varied ways that Australia Day is celebrated and commemorated around the nation.

Australia Day Fact Sheet

Explore January 26 Event Calendars

Find out what kind of events are happening in your local community and around Australia.

Australia Day Council Events 2018

The Australia Day Council website lists registered events, which you can search by postcode or state.

Survival Day Events 2018

Amnesty International also lists Survival Day events by state.

“Our Australia Day” Activity

Create a display board or collage with pictures, artworks and words that represent the way that each of the students in your class will celebrate or commemorate Australia Day.

(3) What is Australian culture?

Explore how rich and diverse Australian culture is, given that our nation is made up of people who have migrated here from all over the world, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people of British descent.

  • Talk about the many and varied foods, religious, lifestyle and recreational practices and traditions that happen in your student’s lives and around Australia every day!
  • Don’t reduce Australian culture to common stereotypes that do not reflect the true diversity of 21st century Australia.

Relevant Resources & Activities

Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Flag Activity

Use these posters to teach your students about the symbolism of each of these important flags, and how each of the symbolic elements of the flags are linked to various aspects of Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag colouring in sheets

Celebrating Cultural Diversity Lesson Plan

Use this lesson plan about cultural diversity in Australia to explore some of the cultural practices that happen daily across our nation.

Exploring Australian Immigration

These resources can help you explore multiculturalism in Australia and support discussions about how different food, lifestyle, religious and recreational practices combine to create uniquely Australian cultural practices.

(4) What does Australia Day mean to me?

One of the most important questions you can pose to your students is “what does Australia Day mean to you?”. When you’ve explored the stories and histories, the celebrations and commemorations, ask your students to consider what part of Australia Day resonates the most with them.

This What Australia Day Means to Me worksheet is open-ended, so you can allow your students to use it in any way you see fit!

  • You could ask students to write a reflection on what they have learnt about Australia Day and how that affects what the day means to them.
  • Students could write an acrostic poem using the letters from “Australia Day”, “Survival Day” or “Invasion Day” if that aligns with their thoughts and understandings of the day.

What Australia Day Means to Me worksheet

 So, what’s the crux of it?

If you are going to explore Australia Day with your students, in a 21st-century classroom, bring balanced facts, stories and ideas with you. Find resources that support you in presenting your students with all they need to understand what Australia Day can mean to everyone in our nation. Help your students form their own ideas, understandings and opinions about celebration, commemoration and all that makes Australia the place we love to call home!

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