Unit 6: Sacred Land

Level 4 VELS, Years 5 and 6


storytellerDuring this unit students investigate how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people used and cared for the land in the past, and the continuing relationship they still have with it. Students also investigate some of the environmental issues facing Australia and the World today, in particular overuse and waste. They make links between what they have learned about sustainable practices and conservation from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and current environmental issues. They explore ways they can make improvements at home and at school.


  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people see themselves as part creation.  They believe they were created them from the land by the Creator Spirit who provided for them through the gifts of nature provided from the earth, that which they call Mother.  They had a scared responsibility to care for the earth.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people used sustainable practices and only took what they needed from the land.
  • Human beings impact on the environment both positively and negatively.
  • What we do to the environment today impacts on what happens to the environment in the future.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s beliefs about and approaches to land management can continue to contribute to a healthier sustainable environment for all Australians.

Rich Question

Will continuining the practices of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people allow us to have a sustainable future?

Contributing Questions

  • botanical gardensHow do people impact on the environment?
  • How did Aboriginal people use and care for the land?
  • How do they use and care for it now?
  • How much do we need?
  • How much do we use?
  • If we waste less can we make a difference?
  • Why do we need to develop more sustainable practices?
  • How can we have a positive impact on the environment?
  • What can we learn from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about sustainable land use?

Background Notes

From the Yarra Healing website: essential learnings.

  • basket weavingVictorian Koorie people cared for specific areas of land. Knowledge regarding the extent of and responsibilities for this land was passed on by the Elders through generations. Territories were marked by clearly defined natural boundaries and comprised of related language groups and clan associations, which in turn gave a person his/her strongest sense of identity.
  • Victorian Koorie people see themselves as a part of the environment and formed sustainable relationships with it.
  • Indigenous Australian's interaction with the land are based on an understanding of both flora and fauna as life forms which were intimately related to human life. An awareness of the essential integration of humans with the land could be summed up as a deep sense of oneness with the land.
  • Indigenous Austrlian's spiritual relationship with the land ensured that they were conservationists.
  • Aboriginal people living in many diverse environments across Victoria had developed effective and economical technologies for sustaining their needs and their environment.
  • Natural resources were utilised in accordance with traditional and cultural practices by Indigenous Australians in this country.  Strategies such as firestick burning were used in ways that regenerated the vegetation because it encouraged re-growth and attracted animals and insects to various regions of the continent.  There was a great respect for the land manifested in patterns of resource use. The use of the land by Indigenous Australians featured practices that would lead to sustainability.
  • Respect for and identification with the land, its plants and animals - always an integral part of Indigenous Australian cultures - is something many more Australians are beginning to share.
  • In many land management schemes, advice is now being sought from the traditional owners.  Indigenous Australians have a custodial link to the land which requires their expertise and knowledge on how to manage the land.in their area.
  • Not all Victorian Aborignal people today have a natural environmental expertise, largely because of their long-term dispossession and dislocation. Generally there are people in each community who are able to pass on knowledge about the natural world that was once a part of everyday life.
  • Despite massive changes in the environment and in lifestyles due to urbanisation, industrialisation and agricultural innovation, Victorian Aborignal people's beliefs about and approaches to land management and land care can continue to contribute to a healthier, sustainable environment for all Australians.

From the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne website www.rbg.vic.gov.au

  • artifactsPeople from the Kulin Nations had, and still have, an intimate relationship and deep spiritual connection with their land.  They had knowledge of the seasons which governed the movements of Aboriginal people within their traditional boundaries,  They had intimate knowledge of the plants and their uses, and of animal behaviour. After thousands of years of Aboriginal interaction, the country still provided a healthy lifestyle for the communities. Theirs was not a nomadic hand to mouth existence, but rather an observant, effective and economic strategy within their own traditional boundaries for sustaining their needs in balance with their environment. 
  • Skills were learned by observation, imitation, real life practice and the all-important oral tradition of the Elders.
  • The daily needs and the needs of future generations were synonymous. They knew and more profoundly, lived environmental sustainability.


Written texts
Aboriginal Australia: Culture and Society series, ATSIC, Canberra, 1990. A magazine series with information about all aspects of traditional Aboriginal life.

Challoner, J, (1993), Collins Eyewitness Science: Energy, Harper Collins, Pymble, NSW.

Eidelson, M, (1977), The Melbourne Dreaming: A Guide to the Aboriginal Places of Melbourne, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

Elders: Wisdom from Australia’s Indigenous Leaders, 2003, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne.

Gore, A, (2007), An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming, Bloomsbury Publications

Little, L, 2004, The Mark of the Wagarl, Magabala Books, Broome, Western Australia.

Randall, B and Hogan, M, 2006, Nyuntu Ninti; What You Should Know, ABC books, Sydney.

Scientriffic magazine, CSIRO, Nov-Dec 2006. ‘Indigenous Science’ p 6-7.


www.rbg.vic.gov.au website of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne which also has a resource kit for teachers on their Aboriginal Resources Trail.

www.abc.net.au/tv/carboncops This website contains video clips from the ABC TV program Carbon Cops which examines ways people waste natural resources in their homes and suggestions for reducing this.

www.islandwood.org/kids/impact/footprint.php This website includes a questionaire to help you calculate how big your environmental footprint is. It also contains information about how this is damaging our world and ways we can reduce this.

www.futurescapes.com.au Gould league website designed to simulate the type of future we could have if we do or don’t reduce, reuse or recycle.

www.unicef.org To navigate the UNICEF website click on the ‘voices of youth’ button on the menu at the top of the page. Then click on the ‘Explore’ button in red at the top of the page. Select the ‘Water, environment and sanitation’ option on the main menu to find global information about the scarcity and importance of the world’s water resources. Includes an interactive game and ideas for how you can make a difference.

www.epa.gov Click on the ‘for KIDS’ button in the left hand menu. This is the comprehensive US website of the Environmental Protection Agency.

www.ollierecycles.com Australian website for kids with ideas on reducing reusing and recycling and interactive features and quizzes.

www.yvw.com.au The Yarra Valley Water website includes animated explanations with audio of the water cycle and several other aspects of water conservation hosted by Cloudia Raindrop.

www.powerhousemuseum.com This website contains an interactive feature where students are able to calculate their impact on the sustainability of the earth by measuring their global footprint. To find this feature click on ‘Online Resources’ on the top menu. Scroll down the page to find the ‘EcoLogical online interactives’ icon. Click on this button then click on the ‘BIGFOOT interactive’ option.

Audio Visual
State of the Planet a BBC DVD 2006

The Australia Today Series: Aboriginal Australians video (1988)

Kanyini Hopscotch Entertainment DVD

An Inconvenient Truth Paramount Home Entertainment, 2007