Australian Folktales

9, 10, 11, 12

Through a reading of the Australian Aboriginal folktale, The Secret of Dreaming, learners will describe what this creation tale reveals about the culture of the Aboriginals and will explain mankind’s permanent responsibility as caretaker of the land. How the Kangaroo Got Its Pouch will demonstrate how one individual’s actions are sometimes used to characterize an entire group as generous or selfish. The theme of generosity vs. selfishness is also explored in How the Selfish Goannas Lost Their Wives.

PrintTwo Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods
The learner will:
  • use the geographic themes of location, place and human-environment relations to describe the setting and culture represented in the folktale.
  • identify the type of folktales represented by the stories.
  • identify cultural aspects of Aboriginals as revealed in the stories.
  • analyze how mankind’s role as Caretaker of the land is an act of philanthropy.
  • describe how the theme of selfishness vs. generosity is demonstrated in Aboriginal folktales.
Home Connection 
Interactive Parent / Student Homework: Recognizing that various cultures have their own creation stories, discuss how the version of creation in "The Secret of Dreaming" is similar or dissimilar from that held by the family of the learner.
  • "How the Kangaroo Got Her Pouch." Flood, Bo, Beret E. Strong and William Flood. Pacific Island Legends: Tales from Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Australia. Honolulu, Hawai’i: Bess Press, ©1999, pp.248-251. Used with permission of Bess Press, Inc.

  • "How the Selfish Goannas Lost Their Wives." Smith, Dr. W. Ramsay (edited by). Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals. London: George G. Harrap and Co. Ltd., ©1930. Pp. 84-91. Used with the permission of Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd.

  • "The Secret of Dreaming." Poulter, Jim and illustrated by Mark Smith. The Secret of Dreaming: The Story of Why the Land Is Sacred and Why Man Must Be Its Caretaker. Templestowe: Victoria: Ren Hen, ©1988. Used with the permission of Jim Poulter.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Put the terms Outback and Aboriginal on the board. Elicit definitions of both terms from the learners.

  2. Explain that it is important to understand people and their environment when studying their folktales. These stories are from the Aboriginal people of Australia. On a map, locate Australia’s absolute location (longitude and latitude) and relative location (general descriptors of where the place is located, e.g., in the Southern and Eastern hemispheres, south of Indonesia, in the Indian and Pacific Oceans).
  3. In a brainstorming session, have the learners describe Australia as a place by listing recognizable physical characteristics (landforms, water bodies, climate, soil, natural vegetation, animal life) and human characteristics (inhabitants, settlement patterns, languages, religions, how they make a living).
  4. Look at human/environment relations in Australia. In the dry/desert areas what relationship do the Aboriginals have with the environment? In what other ways do the other settlers of Australia react to the harsh environment in places on the continent?
  5. Ask the learners to close their eyes and see what comes to mind when someone says the words creation story. After a half-minute, call on a few volunteers to share their mind pictures. If there is more than one example given, ask why everyone doesn’t have the same vision of creation. If there is only one example identified by the learners, ask if it is possible that others might identify with something else when they think of creation. "The Secret of Dreaming" reveals how the Aboriginals of Australia think of creation.
  6. Read the story together. Identify what type of folktale this is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable).
  7. Discuss the details of the folktale:
    • What terms do the Aboriginals use for God?
    • What does dreaming represent (what is its secret)?
    • According to this story, in what order was the world created?
    • Who were the Creator Spirits and why weren’t they able to carry out the task of creation?
    • When the Secret of Dreaming was passed on to the Spirit of Man, what was different about what man did that allowed creation to be completed?
    • Why did the Spirit of Man decide that he must protect the Secret of Dreaming (creation)?
    • Why must the Spirit of Man be the Caretaker of the land?
  8. Do the learners believe any other culture might have a similar story of creation?
  9. Have the learners focus on the end of the story where the Spirit of Man realizes a caretaker responsibility. In what way would being a caretaker of the land be an act of "giving"? Would the giving represent time, talent or treasure? Why is it important that everyone share this responsibility?
  10. Another story that speaks of how things came to be is "How the Kangaroo Got Its Pouch." Read the story together, putting unfamiliar terms on the board as they are encountered. Identify what type of folktale this is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable).
  11. Discuss the details of the folktale:
    • In what ways does the author give clues to the character of the mother kangaroo?
    • If the mother kangaroo had been killed, she would have put the life of her joey in danger. Was her decision to distract the hunter away from the wombat sensible?
    • Why does the god Byamee reward all marsupials rather than just the mother kangaroo? Are there times when one individual’s actions are used to characterize an entire group? Is this a good idea?
    • Is the lesson of this story to be kind to others who are old and blind or is the lesson more generic?
  12. A folktale of compassion which deals with generosity vs. selfishness is "How the Selfish Goannas Lost Their Wives." The story takes place near the River Murray which is in South Australia. The Murray-Darling is Australia’s longest river system and ranks fifteenth in the world. Locate the area on a map.
  13. Read the story together, putting unfamiliar terms on the board as they are encountered. Identify what type of folktale this is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable).
  14. Discuss the details of the folktale:
    • Were the goanna husbands keeping water from others because of their selfishness or were they being cautious because some droughts last for years in Australia? What clues are there in the story that the goanna husbands were unkind in other things besides the water problem?
    • Folktales hold up a mirror to human nature. The storyteller goes to such great lengths to personify the animals that it is difficult to remember that the goannas are not humans. Ask the learners for examples in the folktale. Why did the storyteller do this?
    • Folktales satisfy our sense of justice and morality because good is usually rewarded and evil punished. Draw a T-chart on the board. Label one side goannas and the other side teal teal. Under each column list the words from the story that show the contrast between the two different sets of main characters. How successful was the storyteller in demonstrating the theme of selfishness vs. generosity?
    • The Tuckonie insists that the chief’s wife keep the great event in remembrance, telling her children of the privilege she was given as a blessing to all. Why is it important to remember great events?
    • Discuss whether there is more than one lesson from this story.
  15. Ask the learners to identify what is revealed about Australia and the culture (way of life and beliefs) of the Aboriginals as shown in their folktales.
Using art or music, represent one of the folktales as it occurs in the story or as it is can be interpreted in its modern-day form. The composition should reflect the story’s geography, culture and lesson.
Cross Curriculum 
Learners will use art or music to represent one of the Aboriginal folktales either as it occurs in the story or as it is can be interpreted in its modern-day form. These creative pieces should be performed or displayed in a location where they will serve as a reminder to a larger group that they must be Caretakers of the land or be mindful about being generous as opposed to selfish.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark HS.13 Give examples of how philanthropy has reallocated limited resources through giving and citizen action.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.
      2. Benchmark HS.3 Describe and compare stewardship in a variety of cultural traditions.