Should international students learn about Aboriginal culture in the classroom?

WITH compulsory subjects on indigenous culture now being introduced at La Trobe University, Trinity College Foundation studies students Wing Kuang, Mahia Rahman and Vivi Sun find out what Trinity students think about Australia’s indigenous people. 

Photo: Wing Kuang

An Aboriginal dance performance at Queensland. Photo: Wing Kuang

When it comes to awareness of Australia’s indigenous people, it’s a surprise that their culture isn’t as well-taught in the classroom as much as it could be.

But for international students coming here to study who have no knowledge of Australia’s history, should they be taught about Aboriginal culture at all?

With news of La Trobe University’s introduction of a mandatory subject for indigenous cultures, we asked Trinity College Foundation Studies (TCFS) students about their attitudes towards Australia’s indigenous people.

survey question 1

Unsurprisingly, of the 50 students who participated in the survey, 82 per cent admitted that they knew little about indigenous culture. The majority of students surveyed did believe however that indigenous culture was important with some students also adding they would be interested in Aboriginal culture if a course was offered at the college.

Michael Heald, TCFS literature subject leader, gives lectures about indigenous stories in class. He points out that when it comes to the students’ favourite texts every year, indigenous stories “always comes low down”.

To change this situation, Mr. Heald says the literature department tried to engage students with indigenous culture by introducing “creative options” like writing poetry, creating film trailers and performing monologues.

“[They worked] very well and we have [had] positive responses from students. Some of them even [composed] songs about indigenous people,” he explained.

Mr. Heald also elaborated that it should be necessary for students to learn and engage with indigenous culture.

“We always feel it good for people to be aware of the story of Australia, to know what has happened in this place as they are now in Australia.”

mike heald

TCFS Literature subject leader Michael Heald (pictured) believes students should know more about indigenous culture. Photo: Wing Kuang

TCFS student Mindy Lu said she expected the College would provide courses or activities introducing various aspects of indigenous culture such as its living habits, instruments and legends.

“I am really interested in the Aboriginal people’s traditions, especially their legends as they are so amazing,” Mindy explained.

“Although we were taught indigenous culture in [our] literature lecture, I don’t think it is enough as it just stops [me from understanding more about] Aboriginal customs and it doesn’t give further information.’

Another student Linda, has similar opinions and suggested that Trinity College could “have some fun events [involving Aboriginal culture] or make it compulsory for students to study about [it]”.

For students wishing to learn more about Australia’s indigenous people and its culture, the video below provides a brief introduction to Australian Aboriginal culture and also recommends important films and books concerning the history of Aboriginal people.

Do you agree that a subject on Australia’s Aboriginal people and their culture should be mandatory? Would you want to learn more about them? Why? Let us know in the comments below.

This story was produced by Media and Communication students at Trinity College Foundation Studies as part of Meld’s community newsroom collab. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch us via

2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I agree teaching Australias traditional culture should be mandatory at every education institution. Knowledge of ancient land management practices that sustained life for over 50000 years should be shared to all Australians and incorporated into current land management practices and lifestyles to help sustain the health of the land, air and water for future generations. Teachings of the use of internal spirit, self mastery, and universal laws should also be taught and passed down to all peoples living in Australia.

  2. Circa 1975 our aboriginal cultural education was brief and unsophisticated. But it was enough to make me curious. I now work in Indigenous Health in remote communities. But I realize by and large that most Australians know so little about Aboriginal Australia. Definitely mandatory education with facilitators who are engaged in their subject.

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