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Transformative Teaching

Focus on Pedagogy 2022
Working with First Australians
H. Skates & C. Brook


Griffith University South Bank, Nathan and Mount Gravatt campuses are situated on the land of the Yugarabul, Yuggera, Jagera and Turrbal peoples. Logan campus is situated on the land of the Yuggera, Turrbal, Yugarabul, Jagera and Yugambeh peoples. The Gold Coast campus is situated on the land of the Yugambeh/Kombumerri peoples. We begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we work & live – the Jagera, Turrbal, Yugarabul & Yuggera, & Yugambeh/Kombumerri Ngarang-wal peoples & their elders past, present, & emerging and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Griffith University has six graduate attributes, one of which is that our graduates should be “culturally capable when working with First Australians” but this attribute was not being consistently nurtured. This paper reports on the transformative journey from inception, through development and introduction of a teaching unit that aims to provide the key knowledge and requirements for developing this graduate attribute for working in professional contexts. Rightly or wrongly, the approach we have adopted is a western, open literature-based approach, with the inclusion of oral recordings where these were available in the public domain. The course is designed around 5 modules delivered using the Canvas Learning Management System. These are; First Australians Identity, First Australians Culture, First Australians History, First Australians Vision and Achievements, and Working with First Australians. We started off thinking that we would cover the important parts only for each section, however we have come to realise that everything we have discovered is important, and that this teaching unit is only just scratching the surface. We have found the history section particularly harrowing and incredibly challenging to our western sense of entitlement and rightness. Initial student feedback is promising, but in reality, the transformation has only just begun.


Dr Henry Skates is a graduate of Dundee University. He is currently a senior lecturer at Griffith University, an architect, researcher and educator specialising in sustainable human-centric environments. His background is in research informed architectural practice. He has taught internationally and has previously held two research fellowships; The BRANZ Research Fellow (Building Research Association of New Zealand) at Victoria University of Wellington and a Japanese Science and Technology Agency (STA) Research Fellowship at the Japanese Building Research Institute.

C. Brook – My public school primary education gave the traditional western version of events and attitude to First Nation people and the subject was rarely discussed in the family. It took until my late 20s to start to become aware of the variety of opinions around First Nation people and learn some of the issues, problems and challenges that they face. I studied at the University of Sydney before undertaking architecture at Griffith. When the First Nations learning unit was proposed, I was excited to broaden my knowledge and become more ‘culturally capable’, as not even knowing where to start the journey can be daunting for a non-indigenous person.