Indigenous Australians - Stage 2 Teachers' Notes

Self-guided activities for students exploring the Indigenous Australians: Australia's first peoples exhibition.  

Indigenous Australians Exhibition

Australian Museum Photograher  © Australian Museum

PLEASE NOTE: Our Indigenous Australians exhibition is currently undergoing renovation. Some elements of the exhibition have been changed in format or removed.
The eastern half of the exhibition space now displays objects from the Museum’s permanent collection and the western half now hosts special Indigenous art exhibitions.

Before your visit

Syllabus links
  • Human Society and Its Environment
  • Visual Arts
  • English
  • Science and Technology
Pre-visit activities

To make the most of your visit to the exhibition we recommend that you prepare your students beforehand by:

  • introducing concepts related to the dreamtime and storytelling.
  • introducing or revising relevant terminology used in the student activity sheets including the terms ‘Indigenous’, ‘rainbow serpent’ and the painting techniques (cross hatching, dots and x-ray painting).
  • reading a book on the rainbow serpent. Concentrate on the creative power of the serpent and its role in Indigenous spirituality.


Please photocopy the following materials for each student:

The following materials should be photocopied for each supervising adult:

At the Australian Museum

The activities enable students to explore concepts related to Indigenous spirituality, the dreaming and painting techniques while immersed in a stimulating specimen-rich environment.

Organisational tips

  • Use the Museum Guide Map to guide the students to the Indigenous Australians: Australia's first peoples exhibition on the ground level of the Museum.
  • Advise the students that the activity is based upon six paintings by Indigenous people.
  • We suggest that you divide the students into groups to rotate through the exhibition. Allow each group time at the Rainbow serpent paintings (Area 4 on the map) in order to avoid overcrowding of the displays.

Post-visit activities

On their return to school students could complete a dreaming activity.

Students can compose a short story about how an animal created their surroundings. Ask them to think about landscapes and buildings that look like animals or parts of animals. Try to encourage each story to have a relationship with nature and, if possible, have a lesson in the story, for example, don’t trust strangers, consequences of pollution or personal safety. The teacher could compose stories and students could create the illustrations for them.

Below are two examples of modern dreaming stories composed by an Indigenous educator at the Australian Museum.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

There was once a dolphin that swam in Sydney Harbour. One day he realised some people needed to cross the harbour in a hurry but had no canoes. The dolphin did not recognise the people but offered to stretch out across the harbour so that the strangers could cross. He stretched right out but one of the men was ungrateful and speared him. He was so upset he turned to iron and became the Sydney Harbour Bridge. (Relationship = Dolphin; Lesson = Do not talk to strangers).

My house

Growing up my house always used to make noise, not only in the wind and rain but even on the sunny mornings when I was waking up. We nicknamed our house ‘racket man’ because of all the sounds it made. I left home to study at a school in the city. I was gone for 6 years. When I returned I noticed that the house made no more noise. Not in the morning, not it the rain, not ever. I walked into the backyard and it was quiet to. There were no birds, lizards or any other animals around. I went inside to ask mum if she had noticed the same thing. She said sadly that the new factories behind the house had polluted all the water and air and that the animals didn’t come to the house any more. I replied ‘but that doesn’t explain the noises the house used to make’ and she said ‘ It has no one to talk to anymore’ (relationship = between house and animals; lesson = pollution kills).

Jenny Horder , Manager
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