Activity 1. Events that shape our nation's identity: Australians at war

Materials required

Extracts from Australian Readers Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary Collection:


'A Fortunate Life', page 44
'Honouring the Unknown Soldier', pages 42 - 3
'Stories We Tell About Ourselves', introduction, page 27
'The "Weary" Legend', pages 46 - 7
'The White Mouse', page 45


Fast Facts File: Australia's involvement in World War I
Pens, paper

Key questions

  • How are ideas about national identity created and sustained?
  • Has the experience of war shaped particular ideas about Australian national identity?

1.1 Introduction

Introduce students to an exploration of Australian identity by reading the introduction to 'Stories We Tell About Ourselves' on page 27. With the class, establish the idea that Australians hold certain ideas about their own national identity and that events of national importance, such as wars, provide stories that reflect such ideas.

Lead the class in a discussion that explores students' existing knowledge and sets the initial context of Australia's involvement in World War I and World War II. (Teacher and student resource: Fast Facts File, including Internet references.)

1.2 Research activity: Panel program on Australians at war

Divide the class into four groups to produce a simulated television program, 'Australians We Admire'. One group will provide an introduction that identifies Australian involvement in World War I and World War II, and a compere who will introduce the interviews that make up the program.

Assign each of the other three groups one of the following three extracts: 'A Fortunate Life', 'The White Mouse' and 'The "Weary" Legend'. Groups read their extracts together, identify the most important points and turn the extract into the form of a television interview. The interviews should focus on how the interviewees felt about their particular situations. To begin the interview, each interviewer reads aloud his/her favourite part of the story.

The final television program is presented to the whole class. Afterwards, reflect on the activity with a class discussion.

Focus questions:

  • How did the characters feel about their involvement in the incidents described?
  • Do class members think the interviewees were alike in any ways? If so, how?
  • What particular qualities did Facey, Wake and Dunlop show? What is it that makes us admire their actions?
  • Was there anything particularly 'Australian' about their actions? If so, what was it?

1.3 The Anzac legend

Read the extract 'Honouring the Unknown Soldier' aloud. In pairs, students work carefully through the speech, identifying the qualities and values suggested as being shown by Australians in war.

As a class, discuss:

  • In what ways do the Facey, Wake and Dunlop stories support Paul Keating's claim about the Anzac legend?
  • In what sense is the Anzac legend a 'democratic' tradition?
  • What is the significance of having the tomb of an unknown soldier as a national monument? Why not choose a famous person and make a monument of that grave?
  • How relevant is this legend today? Do we need to keep it alive? If so, why?

Students write a personal response that explains their understanding of the Anzac legend and what it tells us about Australians.

Students then use current media sources to locate a modern Australian who has shown the same qualities as the Anzacs. Students tell the story of that person to the class. (Stories may be embellished to make the person suit the myth; the intention is that students demonstrate an understanding of the personal and civic qualities that are proposed as representative of Australian identity and characteristics.)

Introduction | Activity 2 | Activity 3