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8 — Viewing texts from the past

Oil painting of a night scene under trees, with Aboriginal people gathered in ceremonial lines for dance

Above: Oil painting by Joseph Lycett (1775–1828) titled Corroboree at Newcastle,
public domain image, source NSW State Library, no copyright

In this sequence the students will examine primary sources from the period as they view the material in the ‘Convict Artists of NSW 1791–1814’ collection on Scootle (requires log in). They will use their knowledge of multimodal texts to examine these artworks and reflect on the way they inform our understanding of history. ACHASSK086ACHASSI074ACHASSI077

Teacher background

When Image and Text Meet: Teaching with visual and multimodal texts’, PETAA Paper 181 by Jon Callow (requires PETAA member log in) discusses teaching using picture books, but is useful for this sequence as it reviews the key visual metalanguage.

Activity 1: Examining the difference between primary and secondary sources

Discuss with the class the difference between primary and secondary sources and how we can use these texts today in studying history. Revisit some of the primary sources that may have been viewed during the unit, such as original journals from the First Fleet, published accounts from the First Fleet and letters (Scootle access, requires log in) sent home from the colony. Then revisit the secondary sources that have been studied in previous sequences, such as Avoid Being a Convict in Sequence 2, Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet in Sequence 3 and Grim Crims and Convicts in Sequence 4.

Activity 2: Looking at historical artworks

Discuss how artwork from the period can be used in historical study. Artwork provides our only visual glimpse of this history as photography was not invented until the 1800s. What do these artworks tell us?

Use the Scootle resource ‘Convict Artists of NSW 1791–1814’ collection (requires log in) to view artworks from the period. There are 22 resources in this collection, and extensive education notes about each painting.

As a class, view image R4027: ‘Indigenous Australians Hunting in Trees’. Ask the students to identify the multimodal features of this text, such as frame/shot – long, salient features, gestures, layout and colour. What do they think is happening? Do they think this picture would be accurate?

Draw attention to the loincloths that the Indigenous men are wearing. The notes on the painting tell us that the artist painted loincloths in so as not to offend European viewers with images of naked men. How does this affect the reliability of the image?

Activity 3: Presenting information about artworks

Arrange the students in small groups and allocate each group two images to study. Give each group a Discussion guide worksheet.

Have the students:

After the students have had time to discuss the images, give each group the notes about their images. Does this bring any new or interesting information to their viewing? Inform the students that images such as these often do not indicate which Indigenous group is depicted or the location. Remind them that there are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures across Australia.

Each group will report back briefly to the class on their images, identifying the multimodal features, the content or activity portrayed and any other interesting information about the image they found after reading the notes. ACELA1496ACELT1603ACELT1604

Do the students think that the images portray an accurate account of life at the time? Why or why not? Is there anything missing (for example, portrayals of sickness)?

Continue to add to the class word banks and to the RAN chart for this unit.