Saturday, July 07, 2007

Australian History - A New England Slice 1

Photo: This is a photo of the North Coast Steam Navigation Company's Uralba in naval dress.

Built by the shipbuilder E Wright of Tuncurry in 1942, this was the last ship built for the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, the last wooden coal burner built in Australia and, almost certainly, the last ship built in New England for the coastal trade.

I have been gnawing away at the regional bone in a number of posts and feel the need to put the matter aside for the present with two final posts.

On 2 July in Australia's Regions - are they really different? I commented on just how dull I found Australian history, suggesting that this was due at least in part to our failure to recognise regional variations. I extended my argument the following day in my post Timgad and the Study of Australian history.

My first post drew comments from Adrian and Legal Eagle. My thanks to both. I have taken the liberty of repeating Legal Eagle's comment in full because it bears upon my argument.

Hear hear, Jim - I got totally bored by Australian history at school. Then when I was an adult, my mother did some genealogical research and discovered convicts on both sides of the family.

One forebear also brought Merinos to Australia along with Macarthur, but my forebear ate his, which explains why he is not in the history books. I am reliably informed by a friend with a rural farming background that Merinos are delicious...

He also had positive relationships with indigenous people, such that one or two indigenous men around Sydney renamed themselves after him. Seems to have been the one nice member of the Rum Corps, and accordingly he didn't prosper as much as others...

Anyway, the point of this meandering comment is that this history was all tremendously interesting, but I'd never seen it at school. Why is Australian history at school so boring?

I really enjoyed this comment written in Legal Eagle's usual light style.

Her argument drives to the heart of my concern with the teaching of Australian history, and I think that this applies to some degree at least to both sides of the history wars, its failure to explain and reflect to people the world that is theirs.

I could make my point by critically examining the NSW Australian History, Geography, Civics and Citizenship Test Scope Statement and Test Specifications from 2006 that Neil referred to in his post on Julie Bishop's history reference group. While I have my own perspective on the issues raised, I commend this post as a snap shot to anyone who is interested in the way in which the teaching of Australian history has become enmeshed in the culture and political wars.

As an alternative approach, I thought that I might kill two or more birds with the one stone by focusing instead on what might go into a New England history curriculum.

I have now had two goes at writing posts on the history of New England to set a context for some of the things that I am talking about. I still want to complete this, but the task is just too big at the moment. So an outline curriculum might go some way to filling this gap.

Equally importantly, I think that it will draw out the way in which the current approach to and debate about Australian history so conceals and distorts our past.

The Task

The New England Government has decided that there should be a New England Studies stream built into the school curriculum to give students an understanding of the world around them. As part of this, it had decided that school students should have the option of studying New England history as one discrete element in the school curriculum.

Your task is to sketch out some of the things that might go into such a curriculum as a base for discussion. You have been given the following writing instructions.

The course should provide an overall framework, dealing with major themes in an integrated narrative fashion that must be studied by all.

Within this framework, the course must provide opportunities for localisation, for teachers and students to look at local examples so that students understood something of the history of their own areas and could see the relationships between local life and history and the broader world.

However, this should not be done in a rigid fashion. Students and teachers should have the freedom to select topics of interest and relevance to them within broad guidelines.

Recognising that history cannot be value free, the course should not be prescriptive, but should ensure that students have access to different views and are able to form and debate their own opinions. The course should make full use of writing, painting, film and other audio visual material drawn from across New England.

I will outline a suggested curriculum in my next post.

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