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The environmental impacts of the Victorian gold rushes: A teaching kit

For teacher reference this teaching kit contains:

  • An ‘In a Nutshell’ overview of the topic.
  • Relevant Victorian Curriculum alignments for the activities supplied for History students in Levels 3 to 10.
  • Relevant VCE Australian History Curriculum alignments for the activities supplied.
  • A list of teacher resource links and primary source images to reproduce.
  • An extract from Billy Griffith’s ‘Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia’ on our continent’s ‘Big History’.
  • Two maps that show changes to Victoria’s biodiversity.
  • Teacher notes on coaching students through a thorough primary source analysis using the OPVL framework.

For teachers to supply to students (all are in Word format to enable teacher modification for differentiation):

  • A historical image source analysis activity (including three worksheets), which can be used as the basis for a visual argumentative essay.
  • A historical quote source analysis activity (including three worksheets), which can be used as the basis for a written argumentative essay.
  • Two Sovereign Hill Education blogposts (including three worksheets each) – one for primary and the other for secondary students - and complementary discussion questions.
  • A ‘Contrasting Histories’ activity (including three worksheets) which explores different perspectives on the Industrial Revolution.

In a Nutshell
During the 19th century, much of what is now called Victoria experienced a series of rapid environmental changes. Within a generation, it changed from a mosaic of Aboriginal cultural landscapes, to a series of (mainly) sheep farms, followed by a gold mining rush, and finally a collection of industrial centres. These recent transformations began in 1835 with the arrival of European colonisers and largely ended by the 1860s when steam-powered mining, food production and transport started to become commonplace. This period of change saw many local animals and plants become extinct, waterways re-routed and polluted, and large stretches of forest felled to support a population that swelled mid-century by half-a-million people in just a decade. Perhaps there is nowhere in the modern world where a landscape has been more abruptly re-designed than in Victoria.

A word from Wadawurrung (Ballarat’s Traditional Owners) about your use of this teaching kit:
In Wadawurrung language, ‘Ballarat’ derives from words used to describe ‘a resting place’. Ballarat has been a resting place for tens of thousands of years. As Traditional Owners, the Wadawurrung People have cared for and continue to care for these lands and waters.

Whilst Ballarat is renowned for its colonial history, European Settlement had devastating impacts on the Wadawurrung People. For instance, it is recorded that in the space of just seventy years since ‘first contact’, ninety-nine percent of the Wadawurrung population was wiped out. People don’t like the term ‘genocide’, but the facts demonstrate that this is what occurred. Of course, the trauma of this still resonates.

Through strength and resilience, the Wadawurrung People continue their language, laws, cultural practices and Care for Country here today. As the Registered Aboriginal Party under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006, Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation, trading as Wadawurrung, takes responsibility for the protection and preservation of Aboriginal cultural heritage as has been done for thousands of years. As part of Reconciliation, Wadawurrung People welcome opportunities to enhance the acknowledgement, recognition and respect for the area’s extremely rich cultural heritage and for the many places of cultural significance.

How can this teaching kit help teachers meet the Victorian Curriculum?

From the Cross-curriculum Priority ‘Learning About Sustainability’

• Relevant sections from: Cross-curriculum priority
‘Learning about Sustainability allows students to develop the knowledge, skills, values and world views necessary to contribute to more sustainable patterns of living. Learning about Sustainability has an increasing local, national and global resonance. Australia’s future prosperity will be impacted by past, present and future decisions, particularly in relation to the environmental, social and economic challenges. The concept of sustainability is fundamental for students to understand the ways environmental, social and economic systems interact to support and maintain human life. It allows them to critically examine the diversity of views and values that influence sustainable development. The curriculum also provides students with the opportunity to participate creatively and to see themselves as having the capacity to act in ways that will help to establish more sustainable ways of living.’

• From the ‘Organising Ideas’ section: Learning about Sustainability
‘Designing action for sustainability requires an evaluation of past practices, the assessment of scientific and technological developments, and balanced judgments based on projected future economic, social and environmental impacts.’

Relevant Level-specific Sustainability/History curriculum intersections:

Content description

1. History / Levels 3 & 4 / Historical Knowledge / Community, remembrance & celebrations

A significant example of change and a significant example of continuity over time in the local community, region or state/territory.

• Investigating changes and continuity in relation to transport, work, education, natural and built environments, entertainment and daily life.
• See ‘Primary Blogpost’.

• Investigating a development in the local community from the time of European settlement to the present day, for example, through photographs, newspapers, oral histories, diaries and letters.
• See ‘Image Source Analysis’.

• Comparing key similarities and differences in photographs from both the past and present of a specific location to identify change or continuity.
• See ‘Image Source Analysis’.

2. History / Levels 5 & 6 / Historical Knowledge / The Australian colonies

The nature of convict or colonial presence, including the factors that influenced changing patterns of development, how the environment changed, and aspects of the daily life of the inhabitants, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.          

• Investigating colonial life to discover what life was like at that time for different inhabitants, for example, a European family and an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Language group, a convict and a free settler, a sugar cane farmer and an indentured labourer, in terms of clothing, diet, leisure, paid and unpaid work, language, housing and children’s lives.
• See ‘Primary Blogpost’.

• Mapping local, regional and state/territory rural and urban settlement patterns in the 1800s, and noting factors such as geographical features, climate, water resources, the discovery of gold, transport and access to port facilities that shaped these patterns.
• See ‘Teacher Resource Links’.

• Investigating the impact of settlement on the environment, for example, comparing the present and past landscape and the flora and fauna of the local community.
• See both ‘Image Source Analysis’ and ‘Quote Source Analysis’.

3. History / Levels 7 & 8 / Historical Knowledge / Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples & cultures

How physical or geographical features influenced the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ communities, foundational stories and land management practices.

• Creating a map overlay of Australian physical features and language groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and discuss the interconnection and relationships to land observed by different groups.
• See ‘Teacher Resource Links’.

• Discussing how and why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have kept their cultural heritage alive by passing their knowledge, arts, rituals and performances through generations.

• Using a variety of Dreaming creation stories from different location across Australia. Identify and describe similarities and differences in the stories.

• Exploring the meaning and use of fire as a practical tool in hunting, cooking, warmth and managing the landscape.
• See ‘Secondary Blogpost’.

• Examining historical interpretations of land management, laying out their burn patterns as a method of converting land to grasslands; predict plant growth, for maintenance of plants to attract animals for hunting and the prevention of larger uncontrollable destructive fires.
• See ‘Secondary Blogpost’ and ‘Teacher Resource Links’.

4. History / Levels 9 & 10 / Historical Concepts & Skills / Cause & effect

Analyse the long term causes, short term triggers and the intended and unintended effects of significant events and developments.

• Using sources of evidence (perspectives and interpretations) identify causes and effects of the civil rights movement.

• using chronologies to observe and identify long term causes, short term triggers, turning points, short and long term effects of World War I and World War II.

• organising causes and effects of European settlement into a concept map.
• See ‘Secondary Blogpost’.

• differentiating between intended and unintended effects.
• See ‘Contrasting Histories’, ‘Image Source Analysis’ and ‘Quote Source Analysis’.

• using graphic organisers such as concept maps, causal spider webs, fishbone or ripple effect charts.
• See ‘Contrasting Histories’.

• analysing the multiplicity of causes and effects that may have a varying of influence and rank according to their significance and justify ranking.

• constructing an explanation using sources of evidence to support the analysis of a significant individual, event and/or cultural achievement.

How can this teaching kit assist teachers of VCE Australian History?

• Relevant sections from: VCE Study Design

All the documents contained in this Teaching Kit could be put to use in a VCE Australian History classroom.

‘In VCE Australian History students explore four periods of time which span some of the transformative events and processes that developed and changed the nature of Australian society and created modern Australia.’

‘Unit 3: Transformations: Colonial society to nation. In this unit students explore the transformation of the Port Phillip District (later Victoria) from the 1830s through to the end of the tumultuous gold rush decade in 1860. They consider the dramatic changes introduced as the British colonisers swiftly established themselves, taking possession of the land and then its newly discovered mineral riches. Students examine transformations in the way of life of the Aboriginal peoples and to the environment as the European society consolidated itself.’

‘In the early decades of the nineteenth century much of the land of the Port Phillip District was actively managed by the Aboriginal peoples of the Kulin Nations to ensure that animal and plant life flourished and could be efficiently harvested. Early non-Indigenous people commented on the ‘park-like’ quality of parts of the district with its abundant grasslands. This was not, as the newcomers assumed, a natural phenomenon but a modification of the landscape by Aboriginal burning and cultivation practices utilised to ensure a predictable food supply. The intrusion of British settler colonisation into the Port Phillip District from 1834 onwards was underpinned by the confident belief that by acquiring and investing capital in large pastoral holdings they were introducing ‘improvement’ to a land that they considered ‘waste’ (unimproved). This belief extended to an understanding that they could therefore rightfully occupy the lands of the Indigenous people. As elsewhere in the British Empire the doctrine of improvement was a key justification for the confiscation of the land of Indigenous peoples. Free enterprise and initiative were founding principles during the time of the new pastoral economy and the subsequent gold rush decade. Grazing practices and later widespread gold mining brought about extensive environmental change in the colony. For the Aboriginal people of the area, this, together with the loss of their land and the introduction of new diseases and settler violence, was devastating … The discovery of gold introduced further radical change in what had become the separate colony of Victoria. The wealth and ideas generated by gold, mass migration, the outcomes of the Eureka rebellion, and the introduction of responsible government transformed the colony from a pastoral economy into arguably the most dynamic of the Australian colonies with a strong vision about its future.’

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