Lesson Ideas for Teachers

Making multicultural Australia

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KLA/Subject: Geography | History

Stage: Stage 4 | Stage 5

Shaping Multicultural Australia


  • 4.4 identifies major periods of historical time and sequences people and events within specific periods of time
  • 4.7 identifies different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the past
  • 5.4 sequences major historical events to show an understanding of continuity, change and causation
  • 5.7 explains different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the past
  • 5.2 analyses, organises and synthesises geographical information
  • 5.3 selects and uses appropriate written and graphic forms to communicate geographical information
  • 5.7 explains Australia’s links with other countries and its role in the global community
  • 5.8 accounts for differences with and between Australian communities


The topic begins by exploring the diversity of cultural backgrounds of the students in the class. Students then examine a range of cultural influences, explore what the term ‘multiculturalism’ means and how it has been interpreted in Australian Government policy.

The Making Multicultural Australia website has a comprehensive timeline of historical events. Each section develops the theme of multiculturalism from a number of perspectives. This lesson idea uses resources from this site as an entry point for understanding key events in the development of a multicultural identity for Australia.

This lesson idea is best conducted over several lessons, depending on the depth to which the teacher wishes to explore this subject. Three worksheets are included to support classroom activities.

Material to Download

Worksheet: Cultural influences in Australia

Worksheet: Multiculturalism

Worksheet: Significant events shaping multicultural Australia

Definition: Definition of 'multiculturalism' from Hotwords

Timeline Commentary: Talk by Andrew Jakubowicz and transcript in Timeline Introduction

Fact Sheet: The Evolution of Australia's Multicultural Policies from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Key Dates: Key Dates from Racism. No way!

Lesson Idea: Significant Events from Racism. No way!

Suggested Activities

Exploring diversity of the students in the class

  1. Ask students, in pairs, to interview each other about their cultural backgrounds. Suggested questions include:
    • Where were you born?
    • Where were your parents born?
    • What language(s) do you speak at home?
    • What cultural group(s) do you identify with?
  2. Ask students to then introduce their partner to the class. Suggested words: “This is (name)and (s)he’s from a ……(name of cultural group) background.”
  3. Write the cultural backgrounds of students on the board to give an overview of the diversity of cultures in the class.

Cultural Influences

  1. Download copies of the worksheet 'Cultural Influences in Australia’.

  2. Divide students into groups, giving each group a copy of the worksheet and ask groups to brainstorm examples for each category listed on the worksheet
  3. As a class, discuss groups' findings.
  4. Encourage students to bring in and share examples of items from different cultures e.g. Kimono from Japan, rap music from USA, didgeridoo from Australia, prayer shawl from Jewish faith, Arabic calligraphy, etc.

Introduction to Multiculturalism

  1. Conduct with the class a brief brainstorm or discussion on the term ‘multiculturalism’ with the class. Ask students what comes to mind when they hear the word ‘multicultural’? What images come to mind?
  2. Download and distibute to students copies of the worksheet, 'Multiculturalism'. Ask students to complete Task 1 of the worksheet.
  3. Download and distribute copies of the Hotwords definition of 'multiculturalism' (see 'Materials to Download'). As a class, ask students to consider the definition and then complete Task 2 of the worksheet 'Multiculturalism'. As a class, discuss the answers.
  4. Ask students to work in pairs or small groups to complete Task 3 of the worksheet entitled 'Multiculturalism'. Ask students to think about how the four principles described in the worksheet may affect them and what they mean in practice, perhaps in the school first and then the wider community.

The Evolution of Australia’s Multicultural Policies

The Making Multicultural Australia website has a timeline of historical events made up of 7 sections – see Timeline index. Each section covers one of 7 periods of development of multiculturalism in Australia, as follows:

  • Before the Australian Nation
  • White Australia
  • From Assimilation to Multiculturalism
  • Multiculturalism in Practice
  • Transforming Multiculturalism
  • Towards the new millennium
  • This Generation
  1. Download and play to the class the commentary by Andrew Jakubowicz in the Timeline Introduction (see 'Materials to Download). Download and distribute to students copies of the accompanying transcript.
  2. Divide the class into 7 groups. Assign each group with a different period from the timeline and ask each group to investigate it.
  3. Download and distribute to groups the worksheet titled 'Significant Events in Shaping Multicultural Australia'. Ask groups to complete this worksheet.
  4. Ask groups to present their findings and timeline period to the class.
  5. As a class, combine the 7 periods and discuss the connections and changes over time. Then, discuss the consequences and outcomes for Australia’s multicultural identity and compare with the cultural backgrounds of the students identified previously.

Preparation Checklist

You will need:

  • To download and copy for students the worksheets, 'Cultural influences in Australia', 'Multiculturalism' and 'Significant events shaping multicultural Australia'.
  • Butcher’s paper or whiteboard
  • Computer access for students – audio is required.


Ask students to:

  1. Complete the 'Racism. No way!' lesson idea 'Significant Events', to provide another perspective on an Australian timeline.
  2. Draw a timeline from an Aboriginal perspective, using the information at 'Key Dates' in 'Racism. No way!'.
  3. Draw up a timeline using the three main phases in the evolution of Australia’s public polices on immigration, using the Fact Sheet titled 'The Evolution of Australia’s Multicultural Policies'. In particular, review the section titled 'A brief History of Australia's Multicultural Policies'.
  4. Write an essay discussing the quote by Professor Jakubowicz in his Introduction: “The invasion and settlement of Australia began a series of cultural transformations - of the indigenous societies, of geo-politics of the region and of the settlers themselves”.
  5. Devise a piece of drama, perhaps a radio play, that gives voice to the various players and perspectives in the evolution of Australia’s multicultural identity. For example: an Indigenous voice, and a number of immigrant Australian voices like an English voice, an Irish voice, a Chinese voice, a Pacific Islander voice, an Italian voice, a Jewish Eastern European voice, a Vietnamese voice, a Lebanese voice, etc.

Related Resources

HREOC, 2003. Face the facts: Some Questions and Answers about Refugees, Migrants and Indigenous People, Sydney.

Lesson Notes

Teachers need to exercise sensitivity to the cultural groups represented in their classes. Such a lesson provides the opportunity for students to become more aware of the cultural groups represented in the class.

Students may need to be assisted to recognise that everyone has a culture or ethnic background including students from Anglo and/or Celtic backgrounds.

Date Added:

10 December 2004