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How to teach Noel Pearson’s ‘three stories of Australia’

In this post we explain why Noel Pearson’s ‘three strands of Australian society’ are important for educators and how to incorporate them into your classroom.

Noel Pearson first introduced the concept that Australia’s national heritage comprises three parts, “our ancient heritage, our British inheritance, and our multicultural triumph” in 2014.

Since then, it has been recognised as a notion that can reconcile Australia’s history and define our national identity, as was said in this article in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2021.

Teachers and educators play an important role in realising this reconciliation, as “reconciling the diverse strands of this nation is a multi-generational, painfully slow and frustrating process” (SMH, 2021).

What are the ‘three stories of Australia’?

According to Pearson, Australia has an ‘epic’ story – yet it has never been fully told. There are three strands or ‘narratives’ in Australia’s epic.

In literature, an epic is a long narrative that deals with important subject matter like events of cultural significance and heroic actions. This contrasts with short stories, which typically focus on a self-contained incident.

The first strand

Australia’s epic starts more than 60,000 years ago, when science tells us that Aboriginal ancestors left Africa and reached the supercontinent of Sahul, which later split into Tasmania, Australia and New Guinea.

The second strand

The second part of the epic begins with the voyage of the Endeavour, which ultimately brought the arrival of the First Fleet, British institutions and the law of our continent. It also brought massive upheaval for the First Peoples. “No epic is pure happiness and light. Cook’s voyage ultimately meant devastation and dispossession for the First Peoples. But it was still an epic voyage. Epics are about tragedy and heroism, cowardice and courage, the worst and best of humanity,” said Pearson.

The third strand

The final part of our narrative is the story of migration, or millions of such stories. “The epic migrations from Auschwitz, Somalia, Italy, Vietnam, Beirut and Tiananmen Square, and so many other places,” said Pearson.

Why does it matter?

According to Pearson, threading these three epic stories together into one story of our Australian commonwealth is a prerequisite for uniting the nation.

He affirmed the importance of this earlier this month at a speech at his former high school.

“We must bring these three ­stories together. These – our own stories – are, indeed, staring us in the face. They are our reality. We only need open our eyes and ears and hearts to them,” said Pearson.

“Recognition and justice for the country’s original peoples is necessary if we are to bring Australians – Indigenous, colonial and migrant – together.”

“The new government … has committed to taking the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution to a referendum. If we rise to the opportunity … our three Australian stories will become one, and … we will be able to speak in the first-person plural: ‘We the Aus­tralian People’.”

Read more about the three strands of Australia in Noel Pearson’s Declaration of Australia: three epic strands in a grand narrative here.

How to teach the three stories of Australia

Establish a policy

You can help ensure your school, department or classroom gives students the full story by establishing a policy. We did this at Good to Great Schools Australia, with a policy explicitly setting out what we mean by the three stories of Australia, and how our team of curriculum writers, professional learning developers and editors can ensure our text and images balance the three. By having a written policy, we can also ensure that new team members are introduced to the concept and processes during their orientation.

Incorporate the narratives in all subject areas

No matter what subject you teach, you can still incorporate stories of Indigenous, British and multicultural Australia. For example, Good to Great Schools Australia’s Oz-e-English: Writing curriculum explicitly teaches writing skills such as sentence structure and identifying parts of speech. It also integrates the three narratives by using texts that reflect all three.

Our Oz-e-science curriculum also uses an explicit approach to teaching science understanding while incorporating the three stories. For example, when covering the four ‘traditional’ seasons of Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring it also explores wet and dry seasons around the world and some of the ways Indigenous Australians divided up the year based on factors such as the position of the stars in the sky and cycles of water, plants and animals.

Audit your visual resources

Classrooms and teaching resources are rich with visual elements. It is worthwhile to conduct an audit of your existing visual resources and consider if they reflect all Australians. When you acquire or create new resources, review the visual elements and consider if they provide your students with a full picture of Australia and if they reflect your own students’ identities. The Oz-e-English example below shows how Good to Great Schools Australia uses visual imagery in our multimedia lesson presentations to reflect the three stories of Australia.

The importance of teachers

Bringing the three stories of this nation together is a multi-generational process in which teachers and schools play a pivotal role. Incorporating and reflecting the stories in our classrooms not only gives our children the full epic of Australian history but serves an important role in achieving reconciliation and uniting all Australians.

Good to Great Schools Australia can help

The three stories are embedded into Good to Great Schools Australia’s range of curriculum. Our Oz-e-science, Oz-e-English and Oz-e-maths curriculum are currently available for a free trial. For more information or to take up this free offer, check out our English, Maths and Science program page.

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