Talkback Classroom is a forum program run by the Education section of the National Museum of Australia. Each year panels of three secondary students, selected from schools Australia-wide, interview leading decision-makers on important current issues. The panels participate in a ‘learning journey’ (researching the issues and developing interview skills) to explore the issues and prepare for the forum.
This clip comes from a 2007 forum on the topic of “Australian history in the classroom”. Alistair Grierson, director of the film Kokoda was interviewed as part of the students’ Learning Journey in preparation for the Forum.
In the early days of the British colony in Australia, education was managed by church groups and private individuals. Between 1872 and 1895 Education Acts were passed which made “free, compulsory and secular” primary education a state responsibility. Currently all school education is administered by state and territory governments. All government and independent schools follow the learning outcomes set by the states or territories.
Whether schools should conform to a national framework or curriculum is presently the subject of national debate. National consistency in curriculum, testing and reporting, alongside performance pay for teachers and transparency of reporting procedures have been key features of this discussion. In specific reference to Australian history, the emphasis placed on this subject in the school curriculum has been much debated. The importance of teaching a national story, a defined body of historical knowledge and a clear set of historical skills has been identified by commentators, historians, academics and teachers as a priority in the construction of a national history curriculum.
Before you watch
- The Kokoda Track in New Guinea was a crucial part of the fighting in the South-West Pacific Area in the Second World War. Try these methods of gaining some knowledge of the Kokoda Track before you watch the clip:
- Locate the Kokoda Track on a map. Try drawing a cross-section of the Track using information on the map. Estimate the difference in height between the lowest and highest points of the Track. Imagine having to climb and descend that distance carrying a weapon, rations and water while having to fight a better-equipped and trained enemy through jungle, mud, torrential rain every night and day. Discuss your imaginings with others in your class.
- Visit the Australian War Memorial website and use the online collection search engine to gather information on the Kokoda Track.
- Imagine that fighting were to take place on the Kokoda Track in 2008. How would the battle be different to the 1942 conflict? What advantages would modern weapons technology give to the soldiers on either side? Discuss these notions with your entire class.
- Discuss in small groups what may have happened if the Japanese advance along the Kokoda Track hadn’t been stopped. What may have been the result if the Japanese had reached their objective of Port Moresby?
While you watch
- Alister Grierson refers to the challenges that faced him while making the ‘Kokoda’ film. List these challenges on a large sheet of paper then try this activity after watching the clip:
- Put the sheet up where all of the class can see it. Examine each challenge in isolation; discuss it and come up with ways that would overcome that challenge.
- Write those suggestions down near the challenge in a ‘mind-map’ style. Examine all of the challenges in this way. c) Once the class has examined all challenges, divide the class into small groups. Each group will select one and its possible solutions and develop a presentation that shows in a visual and written way how the solutions would work.
After you watch
- Australia’s film industry has produced several feature films on the subject of war. These films have been set in locations such as the Middle East (Tobruk, Second World War and Palestine, First World War) and Vietnam. Imagine you are a film director and you want to create a film based on a contemporary conflict zone e.g. Iraq or Afghanistan. You are ‘pitching’ your idea to a major film studio and need to prepare for the ‘pitch’. Your preparation should include the following:
- An outline of the story, including major characters and the ‘hook’ in the story that will keep audiences interested. Remember that your story needs some sort of main theme e.g. a relationship, the futility of war, heroism, the ‘journey’ of a character and so on. The story may be presented in a ‘storyboard’ format commonly used in the film industry.
- The location of the story e.g. in Baghdad or provincial Afghanistan
- A title for the film – something that will inspire people to see it but not give too much of the story away.
Some internet research may be required; the Internet Movie Database is a good resource, as is the National Film and Sound Archive. More information is also available at Making the Movie.
- Have three people in your class take on the role of film studio executives. Select a group of directors from the class and have each of them ‘pitch’ their film idea to the studio executives. Each director will get no more than 2 minutes to present to the executives. After all of the directors have presented, give the executives 5 minutes to discuss in private the presentations and select a successful ‘pitch’. While the executives are deciding, the class can discuss the ‘pitches’ and perhaps choose a candidate. Bring the executives back in and have them announce their decision. Have them provide reasons for their choice. If they choose someone different to the class choice, discuss the executives’ choice and find out what made that ‘pitch’ more successful.
Papuans living in the villages along the Kokoda Track prior to the Second World War (1939 - 45) lived a wholly traditional existence. Their only previous contact with the modern world had come with the occasional visits of Australian Government patrol officers. They knew nothing of the war or the nature of modern warfare, until it came crashing into their villages in July 1942.
Both Australian and Japanese soldiers trampled crops, destroyed huts and stole food. Terrified villagers fled into the jungle to escape the destructive battles and air raids which followed on the heels of the troops. Villages were destroyed and many villagers were killed, injured or mistreated.
PAPUA. SANANANDA AREA. MUCH HAS BEEN SAID OF THE INVALUABLE HELP WHICH THE NEW GUINEA NATIVES GIVE THE ALLIED TROOPS. THIS PICTURE SHOWS NATIVES CARRYING OUT ALLIED WOUNDED AND THE NATURE OF THE COUNTRY FROM WHICH THEY EVACUATED THE ALLIED CASUALTIES. (NEGATIVE BY BOTTOMLEY).
The Papuans were recruited to work as labourers, carriers and scouts for both sides and executed their tasks in conditions of extreme heat and wet. Teams of carriers brought Australian supplies to the frontlines and carried seriously wounded and sick soldiers back over the track to Owers’ Corner.
In retrospect the Papuans had little reason to be loyal to their Australian colonial masters, who often treated them as second class citizens in their own country. Nonetheless many worked until they dropped. It is said that no living soldier was ever abandoned by the carriers, not even during heavy combat. Their compassion for the wounded and sick earned them the eternal gratitude of the Australian soldiers, who called them ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’
Men like Captain Bert Kienzle had the ability to communicate and understand the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels and did much work not only to secure the Austrlalian carrier lines but to also to ensure that the Papuan carriers welfare was looked after. To his credit, Bert was put to constant use by his superiors in planning military and logistical strategies and it was he who helped reduce the number of desertions of Papuan carriers who trusted him above all others when he explained why they were needed in this war that was not of their making.
Sapper Bert Beros wrote what is perhaps the most famous Australian poem of the Second World War (1939 - 45) while serving on the Kokoda Track. It may never have been printed but for the fact that an officer sent a copy home to his mother and she was so impressed that she had it published in the Brisbane Courier-Mail.
'Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels'
Many a mother in Australia
when the busy day is done
Sends a prayer to the Almighty
for the keeping of her son
Asking that an angel guide him
and bring him safely back
Now we see those prayers are answered
on the Owen Stanley Track
For they haven't any halos
only holes slashed in their ears
And their faces worked by tattoos
with scratch pins in their hair
Bringing back the badly wounded
just as steady as a horse
Using leaves to keep the rain off
and as gentle as a nurse
Slow and careful in the bad places
on the awful mountain track
The look upon their faces
would make you think Christ was black
Not a move to hurt the wounded
as they treat him like a saint
It's a picture worth recording
that an artist's yet to paint
Many a lad will see his mother
and husbands see their wives
Just because the fuzzy wuzzy
carried them to save their lives
From mortar bombs and machine gun fire
or chance surprise attacks
To the safety and the care of doctors
at the bottom of the track
May the mothers of Australia
when they offer up a prayer
Mention those impromptu angels
with their fuzzy wuzzy hair.
Sapper Bert Beros
NX6925, 7th Australian Division, Royal Australian Engineers
"When I was young, I was going to Port Moresby, looking for work, in 1942. The Japanese dropped a bomb and started to fight with the Australian Army. The Japanese dropped more and more bombs. So I ran away from Port Moresby to Naduri. The Australians were at Uberi and Owers' Corner, near Sogeri. Their camps moved to Iorabaiwa, Naoro, Menari, Efogi and Kagi. It was a bad time. My father was a police man. There was a store for food and shells at Myola Lake . The Australians moved on to Isurava and Kokoda. The Japanese were camped at Buna and were moving down to the Australians who had to move back to Iorabaiwa again. The Australians fought back and pushed out the Japanese and won. The war was finished and the Japanese ran away to Buna. The fighting damaged all of our food gardens for the village people of Kagi and Naduri. We had no money. It took hard work, at a bad time. I keep the medal for my father now. 1942-1945 is a bad time." Ovuru Indiki.