From Gumnuts to Buttons

By Hocking, Debra | Practically Primary, June 2012 | Go to article overview

From Gumnuts to Buttons


Hocking, Debra, Practically Primary


Iam a descendant of the Mouheneenner people of the South-East of Tasmania and also a recognised survivor of the Stolen Generations. I am currently a Lecturer with the University of Wollongong teaching in Postgraduate Indigenous Health, and hold the position of Deputy Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation.

From Gumnuts to Buttons was developed in Tasmania in 2002 by Mr Philip Kelly and the Aboriginal Education Unit of Tasmania. It is a visual and interactive simulation activity to assist participants gain an understanding and empathy for the history of the Aboriginal community. The information discussed by the narrator can be applied to most if not all Aboriginal communities throughout the nation as the impacts of colonisation have had pretty much the same effect for individuals, families and communities. The activity is designed to introduce participants to, in many cases, new knowledge and awareness of important events and occurrences in the history of Tasmania. These events have contributed significantly to the social, political and economic situation for the Tasmanian and National community today.

A lack of understanding of significant events in our history has contributed to ignorance of issues, in particular the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is important to present a balanced view of significant events that have contributed to our society's development. An Aboriginal perspective using factual information is used in From Gumnuts to Buttons to challenge existing perspectives from a European point of view. Given this, having an Aboriginal person to oversee this activity is preferred, to perform the role of narrator or to undertake the actions required. What I have found worked really well was an Aboriginal person and a non-Aboriginal person working together to demonstrate how we can learn more of our shared history.

This resource has been delivered to many diverse audiences and in particular, primary schools. I have provided training for teachers to deliver this activity and offered support to encourage the use of From Gumnuts to Buttons. As a facilitator of this resource I would like to share my experiences and expectations of the many education, political, communal, religious and social groups I have worked with.

The activity has two functions: the narrative component and the simulation role (actions). When conducting this activity I have always undertaken the narrative role and when I explain what the simulation role requires you will understand part of my reason for not undertaking that role. Both functions are equally important. I do stress in my introduction that this activity is not about invoking guilt or playing the blame game, but rather an informative experience to guide participants through what may seem to be a dreadful stain on the shared history of Tasmania and the impact of colonisation.

From Gumnuts to Buttons Kit

The kit consists of a large plastic map of Tasmania which is thin but strong plastic so it can be folded. There are nine A3 sheets of paper naming the nine language groups which existed prior to European presence which, for the purpose of understanding the Aboriginal names, are not used. Also contained are boxes of gumnuts (which represent the original inhabitants of Tasmania) and boxes of buttons (which represent the European visitors). There are miniature-sized wooden boats and miniature Aboriginal flags. The Narrative booklet is also included to guide the storyteller through the sections of history. Also included are instructions for the actions to be made at certain stages of the narration. If you are using two people, ensure the action facilitator also has a copy to instruct them through the simulation aspect.

The Activity

I usually prepare the kit before the audience joins me so I can take time to introduce the activity and address any questions or comments before we commence.

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