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Friday, December 31, 2010

An Aboriginal inclusion story and activities for NAIDOC week

In Australia we're moving towards a very inclusive education syllabus which aims to give all children in our care a sense of belonging. I wrote the following child-friendly version of the story of Sorry Day because there really wasn't anything at all to help Early Childhood teachers deal with Australia's rather dark history of race relations in an honest (but not too scary) way.  And in the absence of anything to help teachers with this tricky topic, there was a lot of well-meaning misinformation going out.  For example, I watched at one school's group time while a very good teacher told her kids that all aborigines have 'really, really dark skin and live in the desert'; the little honey-brown indigenous girl who was sitting right there in front of her must have found it rather confusing.

Feel free to use this with your kids.  In the absence of illustrations, I use puppets or the indigenous and white dolls to 'act out the story' as I tell it; hopefully one day someone will see fit to provide suitable illustrations (volunteers welcome!).

Following the story I have suggested some activities to try with the children related to this issue.  NAIDOC week (our week in Australia for recognising our indigenous people and striving for better understanding) is not just about pulling out the red, black and yellow crepe paper and paint and making digeridoos out of paper towel roll inners.  I hope and strive for something better than tokenism, even with very young children.

Sorry Day

A long, long time ago, we lived with our families in this land Australia. We had our own bits of land, just like you and your family. It was our home, and we loved it, just like you and your family.

We danced and sang and played music on our land, and we looked after our babies on our land, just like you and your family. We hunted and dug for food on our land too, and we found water in the desert. We loved our big backyard, just like you and your family.

Our skin was very dark brown- so dark that we almost looked black. Our dark skin was like magic. It stopped us getting sunburnt by the hot Australian sun. We had no shops, so we couldn't buy hats and sunscreen.

One day a ship came from far across the sea. On the ship were lots of people with pink skins. Their skins were so pale they almost looked white.

They looked at our dark brown skins and were scared, because we weren't pink like them. They saw our spears that we used for hunting food and thought we were dangerous animals. They didn't see that we had feelings, just like them. They wanted to chase us away so they could live on this land.

They didn't want to see us dance or hear our music. They didn't want to learn how to hunt and dig for food, and how to find water. They just wanted our land for themselves.

They didn't want to share. They just grabbed our land and pushed us off.

We tried to fight them, but their spears went BANG and hurt us.

Then they caught us and made us do all their jobs for them.

They stole our paintings and sold them, and kept the money for themselves.

They stomped all over our special places and broke them.

But the worst thing was that they stole our babies from us.

We weren't scary animals. We were people with feelings, just like you and your family.

A great cloud of sadness pushed us down onto the ground. Some of us got sick and died.

A great volcano of anger burned inside us. Some of us punched and kicked and threw things, and got put in jail.

A long, long time went by.

Some of the pink people looked at us lying down sick and sad, and felt bad inside. They said, "What can we do to make you feel better?"

We said, "You took our home away. We love our home. We've got nowhere to live now. And you never even said sorry."

The pink people had lots of meetings. They talked for ages.

They tried to share. They gave us a little bit of our land back, and they tried to stop stomping all over our special places. But they never said sorry.

Then some of the stolen babies grew up, and told the pink people how sad and angry they were.

The pink people felt even worse inside. They said, "What can we do to make you feel better?"

The grown-up babies said, "You stole our mummies and daddies and now we can't find them. And you never even said sorry."

The pink people had lots of meetings. They talked for ages.

They stopped stealing our babies, and they tried to help the lost babies find their mummies and daddies. But they never said sorry.

The pink people still felt bad inside.

They tried giving us money and houses, but it didn't make the cloud of sadness go away.

They made new rules, so nobody was allowed to treat dark brown people like scary animals, but it didn't make the volcano of anger go away.

They let us go to school just like them,

and they listened to our music and clapped,

but it didn't make the cloud of sadness go away.

They let us dance in their concerts,

and they paid us money for our paintings,

but it didn't make the volcano of anger go away.

We kept saying, "You never even said sorry."

Some of the pink people said to their leader, "They're right. We never, ever said sorry."

The pink people's leader said, "But I didn't do it! It wasn't MY fault! I'm NOT going to say sorry."

That made us feel terrible.

The sad cloud got bigger. It was full of tears.

The angry volcano got bigger. It was full of fire.

Then lots and lots of the pink people started to get sad and angry too. They said, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

They chose a new leader. The new leader called all the people together, the dark brown people and the pink people, and he said,


He said, "We're sorry we took your land."

He said, "We're sorry we hurt your feelings."

He said, "Most of all, we're sorry we stole your babies."

The sad cloud burst. All the tears fell down and came out of our eyes, but they were happy tears. At last, at last, the pink people said sorry.

It was the best day. We remember it every year, and we have a party. It's better than a birthday.

There were so many tears that day. They rained down on the angry volcano so hard that they nearly put it out.

Now there's just a little flicker of angry fire left in our hearts. We try to keep it inside us, except when we need it. We need it when a pink person forgets, and treats us like scary animals again.

Now that the pink people said sorry, we can climb up off the ground again and be proud of our dark brown skin that doesn't need sunscreen.

We can be proud of our singing and dancing and painting again.

We can build strong families again, now that the baby thieves have gone forever.

Maybe one day we can teach the pink people how to hunt and dig and find water, and look after the special places.

Maybe one day all our babies can share our big backyard, all the pink babies and the brown babies playing together in our land Australia. 

Teacher's Activities: Sorry Day

Dark and light colours

Mix a tiny bit of white into colours like red, blue, green, black. What happens?

Mix a tiny bit of black into colours like red, blue, green, white. What happens?

Look for things in this room that are the same colour, but lighter or darker. Hold them together and compare them. Which one has more white in it? Which one has more black?

Mixing skin colours: Who needs sunscreen? Does skin colour make you different inside?

Make up some pale pink paint and some very dark brown paint.

Only people with skin like that dark brown can do without sunscreen! Compare your skin to that colour. Hold your arm next to the paint. Is anyone that dark brown in this room? Do we all need sunscreen?

Aborigines aren't always very dark brown these days. You can't always tell if someone's an Aboriginal person by looking at the colour of their skin. What happens when we mix a tiny bit of the dark brown into the light pink? When Aboriginal people and white people have a family together, what colour are the babies?

Mix different amounts of the pale pink and dark brown together and paint a group painting of our big backyard Australia, that includes babies of all different skin colours.

Get the children to lie on butcher's paper and trace around their body, then let them paint their skin and clothes onto the shape in any colours they like. Cut them out and use as a wall display.

Use face paint to turn the faces of the pink children in your room brown and the brown children's faces pink. Ask them if they feel different inside.

Colours of the Flag

The Aboriginal flag is red at the bottom, for the red earth in the desert; black at the top like the night sky and their dark, dark skin; yellow circle in the middle like the sun. Sing "Red, Black and Yellow" (Aunty Wendy's Mob) with the actions.

Paint some Aboriginal flags together. Look at flags of other countries.

Make up a flag for a place you love. What place will you choose- home? The playground? Dreamworld? What colours will you choose? What shapes will you put on it? (You can use shape stamps and paint, or make this a collage activity with wide strips of coloured paper and coloured shapes to stick on.)


What things make you feel sad? What can we do when we feel sad? Does it help if someone says sorry for making us sad?

What things make you feel angry? What can we do when we feel angry? Does it help if we hurt someone when we're angry?

What things make you feel scared? What can we do when we feel scared? Does it help if we find out more about the scary thing?

How do you feel when someone breaks something special that you made?

How do you feel when someone takes something that belongs to you?

How do you feel when someone makes you do something you don't want to do?

How do you feel when someone won't share with you?

How do you feel when someone looks after you and is your friend when you're sad or angry?

If you see your friend looking sad or angry, what can you do to help?

Think of examples of real things that have happened in the class and ask how everyone feels about them.

Draw or paint a sad cloud. What colours feel sad to you? Is it going to be big or little?

Draw or paint an angry volcano. What colours feel angry to you? Will it be big or little?

Cuddle a big soft fluffy toy, something as soft as a cloud. Do you think this would help when you're sad? Make a volcano in the sandpit with a real explosion using red powder paint, bicarb soda and white vinegar. Do you sometimes feel angry like you'll explode?

Make a 'sad corner' and an 'angry corner' in the room. What toys can we put in there to make people feel better when they're sad or angry? What colours should we put on the walls? Should we put soft things or hard things in there?

Scribble an angry drawing using wax crayons. Then smooth all the anger away by painting over it using big soft brushes and food dye paint.

Draw happy, sad and angry faces. Sing 'When You're Happy and You Know It' and decide what to do when you're angry- eg fold arms!

Make a circular 'mood indicator' of happy, sad, angry faces and any other 'states' you like (bored, tired, excited) with a moveable arrow in the centre. Get the children in turn to move the arrow to whichever face they feel today. Use it when there's a dispute between children, to help them express how they feel to you and to each other.



  1. WOW Annie! What an incredibly beautiful story. I think you should really try to do something with this. It's such an important message and perfectly written for young children to grasp and understand. I Think this a really important message to get out there!
    Donna :) :)

  2. Thanks Donna. I have been trying to get someone to pick this up and run with it for about two years now!! Still looking for an Aboriginal illustrator too.

    Wish I could show you the story I've written to help neurotypical children accept children on the spectrum... not ready to let it out before I TRY to find a publisher as I think it's the most needed of all my stories.

    Anyway thanks so much for your kind words, and if you have any links to publishers....!!!!

    1. Some ideas -
      .This would suit Mr Rudds ego - l wonder if he could help you get it published thru the Educ. Dept.

      .Rio Tinto - the mining company have helped set up some wonderfully successful art groups in WA, including in my old home of Roebourne. Allery Sandy, who worked with me in Early childhood, is in one of these groups. l have her ph no and address, but it would be best to go thru' the relevant dept of Rio Tinto, on 08 93272563. Paula James and Lisa King were the ladies l spoke to 3 or 4 yrs ago.

      . Just occurred to me, they may even assist you with the whole project, esp. as you have been very kind in the way you have communicated their, [and others] positive efforts to do the right thing.

      . May be it could be done in conjunction with NAIDOC.

      . lf it happens, please include the art idea - 'cos l think that is brilliant for developing understanding in all chn.

      Good luck with it all.
      Absolutely love the whole concept,

    2. Thank Alison. Great ideas! I am somewhat consumed with personal health issues at present, but I will certainly come back to this at some stage in the future.

  3. Such a beautiful story, Annie! In America, we have a history of maltreating our indigenous people, too. I find your story to be universal. I would love to share it with my students here in the US. If you do publish in picture book form, I would certainly love to obtain a copy. Thank you for sharing it here. (And if I did know any publishers, you can bet your boots I'd send them over!)

    I would love to see the story about NT's accepting autism. As a parent of an autistic (Asperger's) child, as well as a preschool teacher that often teaches inclusion, I can tell you we NEED stories out there for both the kids on the spectrum, as well as the NT peers! Keep up the great work! :)

  4. that is a lovely way to explain this day to the children - think it would also help some adults to get it too!
    thankyou,i will be reading/sharing at my kindy!

    1. Thanks, Michelle. Yes, sometimes I think adults need things spelt out much more than children do! Children at least have not lost touch with their feelings of compassion.

    2. thanks a lot for this lovely story. I was looking for something to say my preschooler in simple English during NAIDOC week . The above story is wonderful.

    3. I am soooo glad you are using it, Anon!

    4. Thannk you so much for your lovely story.I learnt something and understandd it for myself.Thankyou for sharingthisand I to will be sharing this too. New to Australia cultural practice.

    5. Well thank you for the compliment!

  5. What an amazingly written story, I will definitly be sharing this with my class and the preschool class for NAIDOC week. I may try to add some pictures for the children to better understand the consepts, my head is buzzing with ideas!
    I may also suggest the preschool class create their own illustrations and see what they come up with.
    You should be very proud of yourself!

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. You go for it! Glad to see the story being used!

  6. This is great and wonderfully imagined. I was determined to do something non-tokenistic this year and this is it. Thank you so much, I sincerely hope you can work something out re having it illustrated and published.

  7. Thanks for putting this on the net it is really helpful. I was wondering if you could remind me the actions to "Red, Black and Yellow" (by Aunty Wendy's Mob). I saw my daughter perform it at preschool many years ago, I remember her moving her knees in the chorus but that's about it. I'm currently I'm study at Tafe to become a child educator and wanted to have "Red, Black and Yellow as one of my songs for an assignment. If you could help me that would be great. I have the lyrics, I just need the actions. Thanks, Donna

  8. Awfully hard to describe accurately in a comment, Donna- and I don't know if the actions my kids used were the original ones. But I'll try. My kids just walked around a circle snapping fingers off the beat in the verses until the words 'red, black and yellow' where they would face the centre and point to the positions of those colours on the flag (low, high, middle). Then for the chorus they'd do 'train'-like motions with both arms making circles, again facing around the circle, then doing that as they walked around until we got to 'red, black and yellow' again. I've also seen the knee movements used for the choruses but my little preschoolers found that a bit difficult to coordinate.

  9. That's great. Thank you so much especially for your speedy reply.

  10. I loved your story, was looking for something to do for naidoc week. I am still crying as I try and type a comment. I just don't know how I will get through reading this to my children at school without tears pouring from my eyes. I really think you should try and do something with this book.
    Thank you so much for the time and effort you have put into this.

    1. Thanks, Kerri. I find that I have to practise reading a story that touches me deeply over and over (out loud) at home before I can do it in front of the children!

  11. A fantastic story - one that I will be using with my classes! Thank you for so cleverly putting in words such a delicate issue. To quote Phillip Pullman - "there are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction: they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book".

  12. Beautiful Candy. I must share, and I will be using it! :)

  13. Aunt Annie
    I am a teacher at a large northern beaches PS. I am currently promoting Aboriginal awareness and education, and really trying to drive a whole school inclusion. We have some fabulous teachers and most are active and positive. I loved your story and integrated it in my reading groups. I was in tears when I read it. Most other teachers shared it too, however sadly a few teachers felt it wasn't appropriate and that we mustn't have such a strong view! I worry about this and wonder how we can move forward when we have such ignorant ideas from some. I would love to see this as part of syllabus perspective from an Aboriginal viewpoint. The new History document has a very large Aboriginal component. I say Thankyou and we need more stories like these.

  14. Aunt Annie,
    I am struggle to come up with ideas for my babies for Naidoc week,
    if you could help me that would be great

  15. I stumbled across your beautiful story whilst looking for activities to do during NAIDOC week with my Pre-Primary class and their Year 5 buddies. I plan for the classes to illustrate your story, but want to credit you as the author on the cover page - what is your full name please?

  16. I have spent a good time here at your blog reading. Must Keep the ball rolling buddies! recommended auto insurance deductibles

  17. Great story, very useful for children, are you the Author Auntie Annie?

  18. Thank you so much for writing this story and sharing your ideas. Such a powerful and simplistic way to explain this to young children.

  19. WOW What an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing.
    Do you mind if I share this on my FB page or to a page I am a part of Social Justice in Early Childhood (I wonder if you are already a member?)

  20. While obviously you're trying to write from a child's perspective, unfortunately this comes across as patronising. 'Their spears went bang'? Really? I feel that you're very well-intentioned, but oh, my goodness, no.

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  24. What a beautiful way of story telling - thank you. Hope it's ok to share this story at my pre- kinder and team.

  25. Dear Aunt Annie...... Wow!! What a precious gift your story is, especially for all Early Years Educators who struggle to tell the story of "Sorry Day" and Reconciliation Week, without causing distress and upset to our little ones listening. Thank-you so much for this. We have shared this story at our centre in Queensland with Pre-Preps (ages 3-5 years), who are keen to learn but whom we do not want to burden too heavily with the mistakes and terrible hurts of the past. The language used, content and engaging story was unique amongst any resources available (that we have encountered). Thank you for writing such an age-appropriate, sensitive and accurate story of our national past.

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  28. I loved the story!!! I was even welling up with tears at the end and I can't wait to read more of your stories.��������❤️❤️❤️❤️

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