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Ancient Australia Defining Moments

Photo: Ian Brown

1. Overview of the learning module


This learning module provides resources and classroom activities for teachers to use in their Australian Curriculum — History Year 7 classrooms.

It supports two of the History knowledge and understanding strands: Overview of the ancient world and Investigating the ancient past.

The learning module uses the case study of Mungo Woman (or Lady) to help students develop a key understanding:

  • How do we know about the ancient past or Deep Time*?

It focuses on the 40,000 year old Mungo Lady, the remains of a young woman buried at Lake Mungo and discovered there in 1968. Students explore the evidence about the death of Mungo Lady, as well as other material that helps them find out about the people who lived there at that time. In doing so, students are introduced to concepts of environmental change over time, causation, the Dreaming and Aboriginal culture, and the ways in which we know about the ancient past.

The learning module is self-contained, and can be used in any of the following ways:

  • as whole class activities with all students studying a number of Defining Moments in Australian history that help them understand aspects of Australia’s history
  • distributed between small groups, with students reporting back on their findings to the whole class
  • as selected enrichment activities for individual students.

The investigations provide a rich digital resource for classroom use. They include contextual information, documents, images, scaffolded comprehension, analytical and extension questions, and individual, group and class activities. Using these materials and activities, students can explore aspects of twentieth century Australian history through text, images and objects.

The learning module has been designed to draw on the National Museum of Australia’s Defining Moments in Australian History, together with some supplementary resources. Students do not need to visit that site to complete this learning module as the featured Defining Moments information used is available on this site.

What constitutes a defining moment in Australian history, and why some issues and situations can be considered more significant than others, is an underlying theme that can be raised with students throughout the module.

* Note: The term Deep Time is increasingly recognised as a preferred alternative to ancient. This module uses ancient to reflect the language of the Australian Curriculum, however we encourage teachers to discuss how language use changes over time, and to think about the cultural implications of exclusively using historical terms that represent a Western linear perspective of time and human activity.

Module snapshot

Students are introduced to the core element of the learning module: using evidence to find out about ancient Australia through an investigation of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man, who lived and died at Lake Mungo in New South Wales about 40,000 years ago.

It contains:

Students ‘visit’ Lake Mungo as ‘cold case’ investigators and must use a variety of archaeological evidence to come to conclusions about Mungo Lady and Mungo Man. They investigate a series of evidence files then complete a Cold Case Report.

Students then look at additional information about Mungo Lady and Mungo Man in the Defining Moment in Australian history. This helps them test or affirm their initial answers and conclusions, and opens up new ideas to them.

Students then analyse an image of Mungo society, consider Lake Mungo as a UNESCO World Heritage site and complete a quiz.

Students can broaden their understanding of the key ideas raised in the Mungo Lady investigation stage. These are set out as two ‘Big Ideas’. The Big Ideas are:

  • Scientists believe that the First Australians came from somewhere else.
  • We can learn about Aboriginal culture in ancient Australia from archaeology.

Students explore the ideas through one or two case studies for each idea.

Each of the three case studies could be examined by a small ‘expert group’, which then reports back to the whole class on what they have discovered. Some of the case studies are more demanding than others. In particular, the group examining the theories about the arrival of the First Australians may need additional teacher assistance.

Students bring together the knowledge, understanding and historical skills that they have been developing throughout the learning module.


2. Student activities

3. Relevant Defining Moments in Australian History

The learning module draws on the Defining Moments in Australian history, together with supplementary materials. Defining Moments that are relevant to the different inquiry questions in the learning module include:

At least 65,000 years ago

‘We are from here’ — Evidence of first peoples

Investigation 2

About 30,000 years ago

Petroglyphs and pictographs — Earliest known Australian rock art

Investigation 2

About 20,000 years ago

Much more than a tool — Earliest evidence of the boomerang

Investigation 2


Uncovering ancient Australia — Remains of Mungo Lady found

Investigation 1


Aboriginal engineering — Budj Bim Cultural Landscape given World Heritage status

Investigation 1

Longer versions of the Defining Moments are available on the National Museum of Australia website:

At least 65,000 years ago

Archaeological evidence of first people on the Australian continent

Investigation 2

About 30,000 years ago

Earliest known Australian rock art

Investigation 2

About 20,000 years ago

Earliest evidence of the boomerang in Australia

Investigation 2


Remains of Mungo Lady found

Investigation 1


Budj Bim Cultural Landscape given World Heritage status 

Investigation 1

4. Australian Curriculum level and focus

Historical knowledge and understanding

Students will cover the following areas:

  • The theory that people moved out of Africa around 60,000 BC (BCE) and migrated to other parts of the world, including Australia (ACOKFH001)
  • How historians and archaeologists investigate history, including excavation and archival research (ACDSEH001)
  • The range of sources that can be used in an historical investigation, including archaeological and written sources (ACDSEH029)
  • Methods and sources used to investigate at least ONE historical controversy or mystery that has challenged historians and archaeologists, such as in the analysis of unidentified human remains (ACDSEH030)
  • The nature of sources for ancient Australia and what they reveal about Australia’s past in the ancient period, such as the use of resources (ACDSEH031)
  • The importance of conserving the remains of the ancient past, including the heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (ACDSEH148)

Historical skills

Students will have exercised these learning skills:

Chronology, terms and concepts

  • Sequencing historical events, developments and periods (ACHHS205)
  • Using historical terms and concepts (ACHHS206)

Historical questions and research

  • Identifying a range of questions about the past to inform a historical inquiry (ACHHS207)
  • Identifying and locating relevant sources, using ICT and other methods (ACHHS208)
  • Identifying the origin and purpose of primary and secondary sources (ACHHS209)
  • Locating, comparing, selecting and using information from a range of sources as evidence (ACHHS210)
  • Drawing conclusions about the usefulness of sources (ACHHS211)

Perspectives and interpretations

  • Identifying and describing points of view, attitudes and values in primary and secondary sources (ACHHS212)

Explanation and communication

  • Developing texts, particularly descriptions and explanations that use evidence from a range of sources that are acknowledged (ACHHS213)
  • Using a range of communication forms (oral, graphic, written) and digital technologies (ACHHS214)

Interdisciplinary thinking

Students will have engaged with the concepts of:

  • significance
  • continuity and change
  • cause and effect
  • place and space
  • interconnections
  • roles, rights and responsibilities
  • perspectives and action.

Cross-curriculum priorities

Students will have been involved in additional learning about aspects of:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies
  • Asia and the Pacific
  • sustainability

 Source: The Australian Curriculum Humanities and Social Sciences v8.3 December 2016, viewed 1 November 2018 

5. History outcomes matrix

All case studies in the learning module have been designed to help students develop the knowledge and skills outcomes specified in the Australian Curriculum History. At the end of each case study teachers could use this matrix to help guide student discussion about what they have achieved. The matrix is suitable to be used from Years 5–10, but with teachers guiding the discussion as appropriate to the particular class. It could also be used for assessment purposes.


Elaboration or explanation

Applying this to each case study


Comprehending what happened factually.

What happened? 


Being able to explain what happened and why.

Explain why it happened.


Knowing how events occurred in time and place.

Explain how events unfolded.


Understanding why events occurred as they did and the impacts or effects they had.

Explain the causes of the event and its impacts.


Looking at events from the different perspective of participants.

Why do you think people at the time might have behaved in this way?


What changed and what remained the same after the event.

Explain how the event changed some aspects, but not others.


Understanding whose voice or perspective is included and excluded in the record of the event.

Which people or groups involved in, or affected by, the event have been represented? Which groups have not yet been represented?


Deciding on the benefit or harm created by the event.

Explain why you think the event was beneficial or harmful, or both.


Explaining why it might be considered a ‘Defining Moment’ in Australian history.

Do you think it was a significant and impactful event? Explain why you do or do not think this event is significant to Australian history.

6. History source analysis guide

Some of the case studies involve students using historical skills to evaluate primary sources of evidence. This process involves identifying ‘bias’ but also many other features of the evidence. Students can use a source analysis guide to help them interrogate sources.









How would you describe or classify it? What type of evidence is it?

e.g. an official government report, a diary entry, transcript of an interview recorded 40 years after the event

e.g. a photograph from the time, a propaganda poster, a satirical cartoon

e.g. a made object


Who created it? When? Where?

e.g. an eyewitness account from a participant on one side, a family story handed down for generations, a newspaper report that quotes several participants

e.g. an eyewitness, a government body, a newspaper cartoonist

e.g. created at the time, used at the time, technique used, materials used, made by all or specialised skills


What were the conditions at the time? How could this have influenced its creation?

e.g. created during a period of crisis, created years later after the events had finished

e.g. created during a period of crisis, created years later after the events had finished

e.g. typical of the time or an innovation, specialised or mass production


Who was it created for? How widespread would it have been?

e.g. a political party, a mass protest, an official inquiry, a personal record

e.g. a political party, a mass protest, an official inquiry, a personal record, a readership

e.g. elite people or ordinary people


Why was it created? What is its style or tone?

e.g. as an official record, to influence people to join a political party, to criticise somebody

e.g. to entertain, to persuade or influence, to criticise, to reveal information, to record facts

e.g. everyday use or specialised use, domestic use or trade


What does it help you know and understand about what you are investigating?

e.g. people involved, places, times, attitudes, values of the time, supporters and opponents

e.g. people involved, places, times, attitudes, values of the time, supporters and opponents

e.g. work, leisure, education, attitudes, values, everyday life, food


What is its authority, accuracy and believability?

e.g. factual accuracy, person in a position to know, first-hand or second-hand

e.g. factual accuracy, person in a position to know, first-hand or second-hand

e.g. typical or unusual, how closely associated with the events

7. Learning at the National Museum of Australia

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