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A guide to assist educators with project ideas for the PALS program, a reconciliation focused grants program for Western Australian schools. PALS aims to incorporate and increase the understanding of Aboriginal cultures, histories and communities in classroom learning.
PALS is an initiative of the State Government to encourage all WA schools to develop projects that promote and advance reconciliation in their local community. By supporting projects that enhance the education and understanding of Aboriginal histories
and cultures in the classroom, we gain a deeper understanding of the cultures and achievements of Aboriginal people — a key to recognising our shared histories and unified futures.
PALS is managed by the department.
PALS is based on the core principles of:
PALS funding is available for your school to complete a project aligned with one or more of the following categories:
Reconciliation WA states that at the core of reconciliation is the sound relationship between the broader Australian community and our First Australians — Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
To achieve reconciliation we have to respect, reflect and acknowledge the unique contribution made by our First Australians and to have clear, open and sometimes courageous conversations about our real shared history since colonisation. (Reconciliation
The PALS Project Toolkit is designed to assist you with planning and developing your project. It provides:
Before you get started, consider the following steps to assist with your project planning and development.
Access the PALS Planning Sheet to plan your project.
Collaboration with local Aboriginal people is essential for the authenticity of PALS projects. It may take the form of incursions, excursions or both. It may also be about seeking advice on your project. This is what is referred to as being ‘culturally
appropriate’ or ‘culturally responsive’. It means linking in the Aboriginal community to the design, decision and delivery of projects to ensure the teaching of Aboriginal histories and cultures is locally relevant and appropriate.
There are more than 50 Aboriginal cultural groups in Western Australia, all distinguishable by their unique language or dialect. As such, it is important to recognise these contexts and differences as much as possible when teaching Aboriginal histories
Involvement may be sought from:
From 2020 it is a mandatory component of the PALS funding, for projects to demonstrate clear links to aspects of the WA Curriculum. This is to encourage projects to be established within larger units of work and integrated into classroom learning. It
also develops a deeper learning experience for students and staff alike.
See the Connecting to Curriculum information resource that provides you with examples of different aspects of the curriculum that align with the six PALS project categories. It is also helpful to review the below frameworks to ensure you are aligning
to the current WA Education sector standards of being culturally responsible and proficient. This is especially important when developing lessons and projects regarding Aboriginal cultures and histories or teaching Aboriginal students.
This Framework encompasses five standards and a continuum that can assist your school in its overarching progression toward cultural responsiveness.
It is also aligned to the six categories of the PALS program to make it easier for you in developing your projects.
The AEIM is a multipurpose tool for whole school improvement, using an Aboriginal education lens. Underpinned by a cultural competency framework and strengthened by First Peoples Principles of Learning, the AEIM supports schools to identify and map school
improvement across stages of cultural competency. There are seven AEIM Priorities, with two that align well with the PALS program — Perspectives and Partnerships. PALS funding can be used to support your school to progress through the AEIM stages
of cultural competence.
More information on the improvement map.
AISWA Schools can use a range of frameworks to create new ways of engaging with Aboriginal people and communities to implement solutions that will sustainability improve outcomes. These frameworks can include the Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework,
AEIM and The Western Australian Curriculum Cross-curriculum Priorities Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culture. For more information on AISWA frameworks, please contact Lisa Fieldhouse by emailing email@example.com
Arts Category: Embracing traditional and contemporary Aboriginal art by exploring visual and performing art forms; engaging with Aboriginal people to share traditional knowledge, to learn about these art forms and to understand the role of art as a means
of storytelling in Aboriginal culture.
In visual or fine art there are many forms and styles of Aboriginal art. This can be in the way of traditional forms such as painting, to contemporary art such as an art sculpture. Styles can also differ according to certain cultural groups or geographical
locations. For example, dot paint style is an adapted form of Aboriginal art and one that originated from the Western and Central desert regions in Australia.
It is not traditionally associated with Noongar art, which is originally typified by non-abstract landscape styles. When teaching about Aboriginal art, teachers should familiarise themselves with these contexts noting that today artists are diverse in
their practices. Schools are encouraged to work with Aboriginal artists, rather than paint or teach students about art forms.
Many schools choose to produce a work of art as their PALS project with Aboriginal contribution or leadership. It can be placed in a prominent position in the school, providing a strong statement to all who enter the space, that Aboriginal peoples and
cultures are acknowledged and respected in the school community. Aboriginal arts also include music, dance and theatre through the performing arts. Stories can be shared and acted out to tell the history of an event, or a story about culture. Musicians
can be invited in to teach a song for a performance incorporating cultural traditions such as language or the didgeridoo. In addition, new technologies have changed the way society creates and experiences art. Multi-media and digital platforms, such
as animation and video can be used to create films and tell cultural stories.
The school designed and painted a mural of Eddie Mabo which was installed in the central courtyard at the College. The mural involved forty students over Term 2 and 3. Students contributed their time to construct and paint the powerful image which is
now used as a teaching tool. In addition to the Eddie Mabo mural, students created a short animation of Eddie Mabo’s many achievements. All future Year 7 and 8 students will learn about Eddie Mabo by viewing this video.
Year 11 drama students collaborated with Aboriginal artists to create and perform an original piece of epic theatre titled ‘Heart Learning (Koort Kadadjiny Kadadjiny)’. The theatre piece is a celebration of diversity, survival, transformation
and growth in the hope for reconciliation. The performance used Noongar language, original music, song, body percussion and movement, and digital projection of visual art to share a true cultural representation of Australia’s history from 1788
The school worked with Elders in the community to write lyrics for a song about their community. The students then made a video performing the song, which was uploaded to YouTube for others to see.
Community Relationships Category: Building relationships that are based on collaboration, respect and mutual trust with Aboriginal people, as the First Nations people of Australia, is important. Developing and maintaining sustainable partnerships between
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people across the entire school community is a way to work toward reconciliation and to achieve more inclusive and cohesive communities. This can be between students, families, staff and local people.
Establishing community relationships is a key part of the PALS program. Whether it is consulting an Aboriginal person on ideas or engaging an Aboriginal community representative to occupy a lead role in the project or as a keynote speaker, this is what
forms and displays ‘cultural awareness or responsibility’. It builds an increased understanding of contemporary Aboriginal social dynamics as well as a deeper understanding of the diversity of Aboriginal cultures and communities. With
a better understanding of Aboriginal Australia, we are able to create a space within our school community that is culturally inclusive and responsive to the needs of our Aboriginal students, families and community members.
The school celebrated NAIDOC Week by developing a short film titled ‘Because Of Her, We Can!’. Six Aboriginal women from the school’s community were invited to share their stories and experiences with students and be interviewed for
the short film. Students were immersed in a nine-week unit of work to explore women in society throughout history, focusing on Aboriginal women. They used what they had learned in class, along with their digital technology skills to complete the project.
Each year, Swanbourne students participate in a ‘sharing schools’ program with La Grange Remote Community School with children from both schools visiting one another to learn and better understand cultural diversity. When in Bidyadanga,
Swanbourne students have the opportunity to explore the strong spiritual connection that Aboriginal people have with the land whilst hearing stories from traditional owners about where they come from. Students from La Grange Remote Community School,
when visiting Swanbourne Primary School, engage in learning experiences designed to build their knowledge, skills and understanding of non-Aboriginal cultural practices and perspectives.
A partnership was formed between Kennedy Baptist College and Jigalong Remote Community School. Students were taken to visit the Rabbit Proof Fence by an Aboriginal community member. Students helped clean up a local farm and held a community car wash.
In addition to this, the school donated proceeds from the car wash to a local charity that provides traineeships for Martu people. The tour focused on cultural immersion and engagement with the local Aboriginal community.
Connecting to Country and Culture Category: Explores the strong spiritual connection Aboriginal people have with Country, which is a defining element of Aboriginal culture. This includes the importance of land, caring for Country and using natural
resources in a sustainable manner; spending time on Country; and learning about the historical and cultural significance of the school’s local area.
It is imperative that students understand their local area and the historical connection that Aboriginal people have with the land which spans over 65,000 years. It is also important to recognise the ongoing connection that Aboriginal people have
with Country and the locality of this in the present day. PALS projects that focus on connecting students to Country through local Aboriginal people, language, stories and landmarks are popular and important. Keep in mind that when Aboriginal
people talk about ‘Country’, it can also mean an ecology of place: the land, sea, sky, flora and fauna.
Significant sites on Country hold important information about aspects of Aboriginal cultures and histories and spiritual connection to the land. They can be natural features of the land and sea or human-made structures. It is important to ensure staff
and students are respectful when visiting a significant site. It is also recommended that in-class learning is undertaken to ensure students are aware of why the site is sacred and/or important to Aboriginal people. Inviting a local Aboriginal
community member to talk about this or provide you with the information is a good idea.
The school organised several activities to celebrate the contributions of Aboriginal people. This included the creation of a yarning circle and a day of activities including bush walks, construction of a mia-mia (Noongar shelter) didgeridoo lessons
and a talk from local Elders. This project was a fantastic starting point for the small Wheatbelt school and has inspired further learning for the community.
Students were taken out on Country to learn the traditional roles of Aboriginal men and women. Male students were shown how to make a didgeridoo (though not traditionally from the area) and female students were taught basket weaving.
Students from Ardross Primary School travelled to Anketell North and took part in a five-school project to plant ten thousand seedlings on one hectare of degraded Banksia woodland. Students were joined by a Noongar Elder to learn about the importance
of caring for land. The children learned about the Stolen Generation and gained a deeper understanding of the importance of the environment from a Noongar perspective.
Inclusive Environments Category: Creating learning environments that respect the cultures, languages and experiences of Aboriginal people is key to overcoming disadvantage and working toward meaningful reconciliation. This can include making a physical
space that enables students to learn in settings that are ‘culturally inclusive’. This means, for example, lessons that are connected to local histories, cultures and languages; and establishing initiatives and approaches that support
the physical health and social and emotional wellbeing of students.
An inclusive and welcoming environment indicates a culturally responsive school in line with the Department of Education’s Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework and Catholic Education’s Aboriginal Education Improvement Map.
Successful projects that come under this theme include those that involve learning about and improving physical and/or mental health and wellbeing. They can include creating groups and programs that promote positive thinking, behaviors and healing;
learning about bush tucker and bush medicine, which are alternate approaches to western food and medicine; and learning about and playing Aboriginal games.
Aboriginal seasons can also be an effective way to learn more about cultures and the environment from an Aboriginal perspective. Aboriginal seasons are important to Aboriginal people as it is a guide to what nature is doing at every stage of the year,
as well as understanding respect for the land, which guides important fire burning and animal preservation.
The school ran a Girls Football and Wellbeing Program that encouraged students to organise events and speak in front of groups of people. The girls met with strong Aboriginal women to discuss culture and how to be deadly young women.
Students discussed the benefits of being active; understanding that playing sport is beneficial for both mental and social health.
Two iBooks were created for the orientation of new students. One of these books is for new Aboriginal students starting at PLC and the second is a book for all students starting at PLC to introduce them to local Aboriginal culture and highlight what
happens at school to support reconciliation.
Six schools came together to celebrate Whadjuk Country by designing t-shirts with Aboriginal artwork based on 17 Aboriginal nations, wearing them at an inter-school carnival. Schools joined together for a day of celebration and created a sense of
community and inclusion. The event included a smoking ceremony, Welcome to Country and walk past the formerly established Eddie Mabo mural. Students now have a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture and have strengthened bonds within their
local school communities.
History Category: Increasing staff and students’ knowledge of Aboriginal histories, including understanding significant Aboriginal people, places or events, is a great way to learn more about Aboriginal culture and communities. This can include
exploring the impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal people by establishing a research project; or understanding how historical events are relevant in a contemporary context in Australia’s journey towards reconciliation.
In achieving reconciliation, all Australians should recognise that Aboriginal people occupied the country and live according to sophisticated social and scientific systems well before colonisation. This knowledge is becoming increasingly accepted
today but we still have a journey ahead of us. The treatment of Aboriginal people during and following colonisation outlines the darker aspects of Australia’s past and only through a greater understanding and education of this, can we walk
forward together. This includes the struggles Aboriginal people have faced for basic human rights and access to health, education, housing, work, land, and recognition.
A PALS project is the perfect way for students to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements. For example, a PALS project focusing on the contribution of Aboriginal people to the Australian armed services in the 20th century provides
a perfect way for integrating Aboriginal perspectives in the history curriculum and is made easy with excellent new resources from Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and the Australian War Memorial.
Students participated in a virtual tour by the John Curtin Gallery where they were introduced to the Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artwork through a series of activities and learning resources. The artworks provide a glimpse of the dark history
of the Stolen Generations. Through engaging with this collection, students began to understand the sadness of the past and were inspired to work together to achieve healing and reconciliation.
The school developed a discovery walk focusing on the six Noongar seasons. Staff and students learned about significant Aboriginal people, places and events and the current context in Australia’s journey towards reconciliation. The interactive
walk used QR codes to present participants with information about the six seasons and the flora and fauna relating to each.
Year 9 students worked with the community to raise awareness about the Stolen Generations. The school approached this by viewing Rabbit Proof Fence, reading Glenys Ward’s Wandering Girl and The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan. To add reality
to these stories, students attended an excursion to Marribank where they met and spoke with a former resident who gave them a detailed account of the experience of the children who were taken there. Students expanded the Noongar Meeting Place
that was established as part of a previous PALS project, inviting the whole school community to the official opening to share what they had learned about the local history.
Language Category: Increase awareness and appreciation of local Aboriginal languages and further explore culture through storytelling sessions, contemporary literature and written and visual resources. By collaborating with local Aboriginal families
and communities your PALS project can exhibit the importance and diversity of Aboriginal languages within the school and broader community.
Language is connected to Country and culture so keeping language strong is keeping culture strong. The 2017 NAIDOC Week Theme — Our Languages Matter — emphasised the unique and essential role that Aboriginal languages play in both
cultural identity, linking people to their land and water, and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song. PALS projects focusing on language help to preserve, revitalise
and record Aboriginal languages for future generations. Learning the local Aboriginal language of your school area can be a PALS project in itself, or part of a project focusing on connecting to Country.
The school worked with families of Aboriginal students to identify the Aboriginal language groups in the school community. With resources purchased from PALS funding, the students worked with family members to translate common English
words into the local Aboriginal languages. A PowerPoint was created as a resource that is available school-wide. The project has enabled the school to learn more about Aboriginal languages and was a vehicle for Aboriginal students
to share pride in their culture.
Students collaborated with a local Noongar performer to learn and record three Noongar songs; Wanjoo, Djidi Djidi; Kulbardi; Kaat, Koomitj, Boomitj, Djen. They then used digital animation programs and worked with an animation artist to
create music videos for their songs. These videos are now used as a resource to teach Noongar language. See the Learning Noongar Through Music video.
Gilmore College established its own online game to teach Aboriginal Australian history in a creative and interactive way. There are a number of comprehension questions based on Aboriginal Australian history, in which players need to read
information and answer each question correctly before moving ahead in the game. Drawings were provided by a local Aboriginal artist that recognised some of the animals and important places for Noongar people.
It is advised that you utilise the below documents when developing your PALS project:
The following department publications are also recommended historical resources for the PALS program. These resources aim to increase the understanding and awareness of events that have greatly contributed to the history of Western
Australia. These histories that recognise Aboriginal people, places and stories local to this State, have largely gone unknown due to a myriad of factors, such as the impacts of colonisation.
These resources can be used in the development of PALS projects and for classroom learning more broadly:
Below are some other suggested resources. These are by no means exhaustive and it is encouraged to incorporate further material, and/or seek local perspectives or other local sources.
For information about who to contact in the way of WA Aboriginal community leaders, artists, cultural consultants in your area, contact one of the following Land Councils:
The following have collections and/or information relating to Aboriginal history
Magabala Books publishes works which have major Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or South Sea Islander involvement. This requires
an Indigenous author, editor or illustrator.
Network Education is an online catalogue that contains a comprehensive selection of Indigenous resources in one
Child Education Services Bookshop is a specialist children’s bookshop which stocks a comprehensive range of Aboriginal resources, including some published by the old Aboriginal Education Resource
Unit (AERU). Download the Aboriginal Resources Catalogue.
Aboriginal Studies Press (ASP) is the Australian Institute of Aboriginal of Torres Strait Islander Studies’
(AIATSIS) publishing arm and Australia’s leading publisher of Australian Indigenous studies. Purchase the AIATSIS Map of Aboriginal Australia from here.
Black Ink Press Indigenous Publishing is an Indigenous community-based publishing venture based in North Queensland.
It supports emerging writers and artists in order to create contemporary illustrated books especially for young Indigenous readers. It supports Australian Indigenous languages.
Fremantle Press is a small independent publishing house. Their Indigenous titles list is highly regarded at a national and
Ronin Films has an extensive collection of documentaries & drama about Australian and Torres Strait Island societies, histories,
politics and cultures, including many films by Indigenous filmmakers. Stories range across issues relating to health, identity, the Stolen Generations, art, anthropology, traditional life and culture,
and history and archaeology.
ABC Commercial Library Sales is where you can purchase DVD copies of television programs
broadcast on ABC Radio and ABC TV, including the popular program, Message Stick.
Manuta Tunapee Puggalugglia Publishing House publishes a wide range of books and products with a Tasmanian Aboriginal focus.
Yarn Strong Sista produce culturally inclusive resources for early childhood education.
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