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Myths, Legends, Fantasy...
An Aboriginal Story
This activity written by Ida Baj, a teacher trainer from the Koleguim Karkonoskie in Jelenia Góra, reflects not only her deep interest in story telling as a classroom activity but her involvement in holistic and intercultural approaches to ELT as well. Ida is also a keen collector of travellers’ tales. If you would like to share your stories with her, please click on Traveller’s Tales to read her request.
Level: of very wide value: suitable from (lower) intermediate - advanced, and from Gimnazjum - tertiary education
“The old Narrans are quickly dying out, and the young ones will probably think it beneath the dignity of their so-called civilization even to remember such old women’s stories.” From the preface to ‘Australian Legendary Tales’ (1895) by Katherine Langloh Parker (1856-1940)
Material suggestions: a picture of a platypus (find one on the Australian Platypus Conservancy website www.totalretail.com/platypus), a map of Australia, some background information about Aboriginal culture and history (see - Indigenous Australia www.dreamtime.net.au/) as well as life on an outback ‘station’, copies of each of the roles for each pair of students
Procedure: The amount of background information will depend on the age and level of your students but a picture of a platypus is necessary because the appearance of the animal is important, as well as some knowledge of its biology (an egg-laying mammal).
The students may need some time to discuss possible stories before the role play but do not show them the real story. Students make up their own stories as Hippitha, their partners (Katherine) take down the story in notes and then read them out to the whole class. Only then do they read (or you read to them) the original story.
Role-play - click for downloadable roles
Date: November 10, 1894
Informant: Hippitha an old Aborigine woman from the Narran Tribe
Interviewer: Katherine Langloh Parker, a young educated white woman
Title of the story: Gayardaree the platypus
Role A: You are Hippitha, an old Aborigine woman from the Narran tribe. You know a lot of stories about plants, animals and sacred places. A white woman, Katherine, often visits you to listen to your stories and writes them down. Today you are telling her the story about Gayardaree the Platypus.
Role B: You are Katherine Langloh Parker, a young educated white woman living with your husband at Bangate ‘station’*, a huge property in New South Wales. You have had an accident and you can’t have children. You have a lot of time on your hands. You spend your free time patiently studying the language and stories of the Narran tribe. You are afraid that soon nobody will remember the local stories and you hope to collect and publish them. You often visit Hippitha, an old Aborigine woman who is a wonderful storyteller. Today you are writing down the story about Gayardaree the Platypus.
Gayardaree the platypus - click for downloadable story
A young duck used to swim by herself in the lake. Her tribe told her that Biggoon, the big water rat would catch her someday. But the duck wouldn’t listen to them. One day, when she was very far away from her tribe, Biggoon caught her and took her to his hole.
‘Let me go’, said the duck.
‘You stay with me and I will not hurt you’, said the water rat. ‘I am very lonely here and I want a wife’.
‘I am not for you’, said the duck. ‘My tribe has a mate for me.'
‘If you try to escape, I’ll knock you on the head with my spear,' said Biggoon, The duck stayed. She was frightened to go while the rat watched her. She pretended she liked her new life, and Biggoon gradually gave up watching her. One day, when he fell asleep, the duck swam away as quickly as she could. Her family was overjoyed to see her again.
When the laying season came, all the ducks laid their eggs and sat patiently on them until at last the little fluffy ducklings hatched. The duck who had been imprisoned by Biggoon hatched her own young, too. But her two children were very different from those of her tribe; instead of feathers they had soft fur. Instead of two feet, they had four!
‘What are these?' her friends asked when she brought her young to the water.
‘My children, she said proudly.
‘Take them away’, said the ducks. 'They are more like Biggoon than us. Take them away, or we shall kill them before they grow big and kill us! They do not belong to our tribe. They have no right here!’
The duck took her young and went far away to a mountain creek. There she could hide from all who knew her, and bring up her peculiar ducklings. When her two children grew, they saw how different they were from her, and kept away by themselves. Their mother felt too lonely and miserable to live on, too unhappy to find food. She soon died in the mountains, far from her old hunting ground. The children lived on, laid eggs and hatched more children just like themselves.
And they still live in mountain creeks, the Gayardaree, or platypus, quite a tribe apart - for when did a rat ever lay eggs? Or a duck have four feet?
* A ‘station’ is a very large farm in the drier inland parts (the outback) of Australia. It is similar in some ways to an American ranch or a Latin American hacienda, but is as likely to be for sheep as for cattle. Typically they are very isolated.
Follow up: Let the students reflect on how their stories were different from Hippitha’s real story
The teacher, as a Hollywood director making a film about Katherine Langloh Parker’s life, hires consultants (students) who prepare all the background information for the episode with Hippitha
Ø What would the actresses wear?
Ø How would they speak?
Ø Where would they meet?
Ø What are the motives behind that strange friendship?
Ø What do they know /assume/ believe about each other’s culture?
Ø What misunderstandings would occur between them?
Ø How were the Aborigines and their stories viewed one hundred years ago?
Ø How are they viewed now?
Ø What would be the focus of the episode?
Ø What else should be considered?
The students could then write and act the episode, and it could even be videoed
Intercultural discussion: In what ways do you think the story can form a metaphor for relations between the aborigines and the newer settlers in Australia?
Sources and references
· Baj, Ida & Burliga, Ewa Australia Across the Curriculum Warszawa: Wydawnictwo JUKA
· Australian Platypus Conservancy www.totalretail.com/platypus - both platypus and student friendly
· Indigenous Australia www.dreamtime.net.au/ - designed for schools - a site for both teachers and students with many aboriginal stories on audio as well as in written form. Also a lot of information about aboriginal history, culture and contemporary issues. Prepared by the Australian Museum
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