Exploring Australian Folk Music
A Digital Resource by Michael Botting
EDF5703 - Arts Education Project – Part A
This unit has been prepared and designed for children at a year 4/5 level. It has been designed to encompass the five areas of the arts
covered by the Australian curriculum as specified by ACARA. These being music, dance, drama, visual art and media. Students will be
introduced to the theme of Australian folk music and through this will be exposed a range of elements across all of the five arts. This
will be via a number of structured activities which have been designed to meet ACARA learning aims including: creativity and critical
thinking, and expressing and communicating ideas, and relating learning to real life experiences. The unit will allow students to gain an
understanding of Australian history and culture. Throughout this unit students will also gain an understanding of the importance
Australian folk music and the history of Australian society through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This element will also cover a
number of ACARA history learning objectives. Including:
Knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the past and the forces that shape societies, including Australian society
Capacity to undertake historical inquiry, including skills in the analysis and use of sources, and in explanation and
Interest in, and enjoyment of, historical study for lifelong learning and work, including their capacity and willingness to be
informed and active citizens
The unit will also explore indigenous music and its cultural importance in story telling using an inclusive approach. There will be a focus
on fun and interesting activities that allow for independent thought so that children are actively engaged in the learning process
*Source: Australian Curriculum (www.australiancurriculum.edu.au)
What is folk music?
• The learning aims of this initial session will be to introduce the theme of Australian folk music to the students. It would begin as a
classroom discussion to explore the meaning of the term ‘folk music’. The teacher would initiate the lesson by explaining this term:
that folk means "of the people,“ and that folk music is passed down from generation to generation, and is usually handed-down
orally. Students will become aware that a significant function of folk music is telling a story of a people’s way of life and values.
Students would then be asked if they can name any Australian traditional folk songs. These songs would then be written on the
board. Students will also become aware that many of Australia’s early folk songs were written by either British convicts or settlers
and that a number were in fact based on British tunes*. The teacher would then use an inquiry based approach to develop students’
understanding of folk music. The teacher will use a CD to play the song ‘Wild Colonial Boy’. Following this, students will then work
in pairs and will each be given a copy of the lyrics. Students will be asked to discuss the song using the following questions of
inquiry. Students will then be asked to present their findings to the class.
• What is the song about?
• What does the song title mean, and how does it relate to the song lyrics?
• What type of person may have written this song i.e. convict, settler etc? How do you know this?
• What time was this song set? What does the song tell us about what it might have been like to live in Australia during this time?
• Are the messages conveyed in this song still relevant today? Why/why not?”
*Retrieved from www.Australia.gov.au
Learning Australian folk songs
• The aim this learning session would be to learn some of the Australian folk songs from the
list that the students have come up with from the previous session. Depending on what
songs have been listed, other songs may also be introduced. Some suggested songs may
include: Waltzing Matilda, Botany Bay, Bound for South Australia, The Road to Gundagai,
Click go the Shears etc. This activity will focus on covering the key elements of music, being
pitch, dynamics, duration, and structure.
• Students will then listen to audio recordings of these songs and will be asked to list any
observations that they have made. The teacher will provide some examples of what students
should listen out for. These could be, the type of instruments used, timing (fast/slow), the
dynamics of the song (loud/soft), and structure (phrasing/chorus/verses etc). Students
would then be encouraged to share their findings with the class.
Learning the Music
• Following the discussion of specific Australian folk songs, the class will
chose two songs to learn and sing.
• The teacher will be playing these songs on an alto saxophone while the
children sing to the lyrics displayed at the front of the class.
• The following slide is to a short video of what this may look like in a
classroom environment, demonstrated by myself and my six year old son.
• In this learning sequence, students will be introduced to music performed by Indigenous Australian’s and it’s
cultural importance. In this lesson it would be ideal to arrange to invite an Indigenous performer to come
into the classroom to explain to students to explain to the students the role that music plays in Aboriginal
society. Students will develop an understanding that music is used by Aboriginal people for a variety of
occasions including sacred ceremonies, funerals, hunting, and teaching generations about animals, seasons,
landscapes etc. If possible the performer would also be invited to play some indigenous music to the class.
Students would be invited to ask questions at the end of the presentation. If it is not possible to arrange a
visit from an Indigenous performer, videos and pictures will be used throughout the lesson instead.
• As a homework task, students would be asked to research a folk song that may hold particular significance
for them or their family. It may be a song from their families’ country of origin. Students would be asked to
research the meaning of the song, what the song is used for i.e. to celebrate a particular occasion, and to
explain any cultural values the song may have for them. Students would be asked to present this to the class
prior to the following lesson. The purpose of this task would be to develop the students’ wider
understanding of folk music as a whole and its cultural significance in society.
• Having visual arts as a part of the Australian curriculum is vital for a child’s development. Visual
arts allows students to create visual representations that communicate their ideas as artists.
Students develop practical skills, critical thinking and while enhancing their understanding of
their world and beyond. Students also develop an appreciation of art created by others.
• The ACARA aims to be met with the inclusion of visual arts in this unit are as follows:
Confidence, curiosity, imagination and enjoyment and develop a personal aesthetic through
engagement with visual arts making and ways of representing and communicating.
Critical and creative thinking, using visual arts languages, theories and practices to apply
Respect for and acknowledgement of the diverse roles, innovations, traditions, histories and
cultures of artists, craftspeople and designers; visual arts as social and cultural practices;
and industry as artists and audiences.
Source – Australian Curriculum (The Arts - http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/)
Australian Folk Music and Visual Art
• The next learning session will integrate the area of visual arts into the unit. Students will be given a choice of
one of the Australian folk songs that they have become familiar with in the previous sessions. Once students
have selected their song they will then be drawing a picture based on their interpretation of its
themes/events. Students will be able to draw their pictures with either pencils, crayons or oil pastels. A
literacy component will also be included in this task where students will be asked to write a small passage at
the bottom of their picture giving their interpretation of the events. Here students should be including:
‘What is happening? Who is involved? What era was this set? How is this different to today?’ Once
completed, students’ work will then be laminated and displayed around the class. Students will be given time
to walk around the room as if they are in an art gallery and view other students’ work and will be encouraged
to give positive feedback to the artists.
• The learning sequence will integrate a number key elements of visual arts. Space - did the student use the
whole page, sufficient space between objects. Tone – use of light and shade and of various colours. Texture
– smooth/rough surface. Students will also be assessed on spelling and grammar for the literacy component
of this task.
• Susan Wright in Children, meaning-making and the arts explains the importance of including visual art in
schools in chapter two – The visual arts: Ways of seeing. This supports the inclusion of drawing in this unit.
Wright explains that drawing allows children to make their thinking visible, and use it to tell stories.
• Source – Wright, Susan. Children, meaning making and the arts. Second edition. 2012
Above is my interpretation of Waltzing Matilda as a visual arts piece. Unfortunately some of the colours have faded in
the scanning of the drawing.
• The Australian Curriculum defines dance as ‘expressive movement with purpose
and form. Students develop an awareness of their bodies and that it can be used as
an instrument to enrich their lives. Dance can allow students to use their bodies to
express themselves and to communicate information to an audience. Dance
promotes physical wellbeing and is a tool to develop a students’ social and cultural
understanding of the world. – Source, The Australian Curriculum.
• The inclusion of dance in this unit will expose children to its 6 key elements being
action, time, dynamics, space, relationships and structure through the learning of
traditional Australian folk dances.
Australian Folk Music and Dance
• In this learning sequence, students will be learning the ‘Brown Jug Polka’ – a popular Australian folk dance. The
lesson will begin with the teacher demonstrating the steps of the dance. Teacher will also display step instructions
on the board at the front of the class. Students will then be asked to stand and to practice the actions of the dance
without music while saying the steps out loud. This is to make sure that students are confident of the structure of
the dance. Once students are familiar with the steps, the music to the dance will be introduced and students and
teacher will all together perform the dance. Students will be asked to find a partner to dance with and the dance will
be performed in a circle formation. Students will make sure that they give appropriate space to other dancing
couples. Students will also need to pay particular attention to the timing and rhythm of the music to ensure that
their steps are in sequence with the music. Traditionally the dance is between a man and a woman, but depending on
the class, it would also be appropriate for students of the same gender to dance together. Particularly so if students
with different cultural beliefs do not find appropriate to dance with the opposite gender. The dance may also require
alterations if there are students with a disability to ensure that it is inclusive for all students. This is an important
aspect of the Australian Curriculum as it is essential that all students are able to access and participate in the
• The following slide is to a YouTube video demonstrating the steps of the dance.
*Source - http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/StudentDiversity/Student-diversity-advice
The history of bush dancing
• In this lesson students will explore the historical importance of ‘bush dancing’ during Australian colonial times. The teacher
will discuss the origins of bush dancing, being primarily from early Australian settlers and based on traditional dances from
the UK, Ireland and from across central Europe. Many dances also had an American influence due to the influx of
Americans during the 1850’s Australian gold rush. Dances such as the ‘Brown Jug Polka’ were common during country
dances held in community halls and woolsheds in colonial times. Many of these events were also accompanied by a ‘bush
band’ playing traditional folk tunes.
• Following this discussion students will then be given the task of researching a popular folk dance. Students will be working
in pairs and will choose from a list of dances provided by the teacher. This list may also include dances from other
countries in order to add cultural significance and there would be some consideration of students who want to chose a
dance that is not on the list if it is of particular cultural importance to them. Students may want to use a computer or books
to research their chosen dance. Students will be asked to prepare a poster including the following information: name of the
dance, origins of the dance, a brief history of the dance, and a description of the dance. Students will also be asked to
include illustrations on their poster including pictures of the dancers. If the dance involves a particular costume or attire,
students should also include this in their art work. This task will also be covering a visual arts element of this unit and
students will also be assessed on their use of colour, space, tone, attention to detail etc. Each group will give an oral
presentation to the class about their poster. Depending on time allowance this may need to be completed over two lessons.
On the right is an example of what may be expected from students
when completing their dance poster. To draw the picture of the
dancers I found an image from the internet and visually copied it by
• Drama is seen as another important aspect of the arts that is vital for student development.
Through drama students are given licence to express themselves and develop vital social and
cultural understandings. Like other art forms, drama has the ability to inspire, engage and enrich
students’ lives and encourages them to reach their creative potential. Source – The Australian
• The following learning sequence will explore a number of key elements to drama via role play
and interpretation. Students will understand the use of roles and characters through choosing to
a character from the song and interpreting the situation and actions from the story. Students will
be encouraged to convey the situation/setting of the story. Students will show the relationships
and interactions between characters. Students will also show any tension/problems between
characters i.e. the squatter vs. the troopers in Waltzing Matilda. Students will utilise space and
movement to express their roles during their performances.
Australian Folk Music and Drama
• The learning sequence will involve students working in groups of 3-4 depending on class numbers. The
session will begin with a whole of class discussion about communication techniques. Teacher will ask
students ‘What are some important communication techniques to remember when performing?’. Teacher
will be looking for responses such as use of body language, eye contact, loud clear voice etc.
• Each group will be assigned one of the Australian folk songs that have been previously explored. Each
group will be provided with the lyrics for their assigned song. Students will then be given approximately 15-
20 minutes to develop a role play based on their interpretation of the song. The groups will then be asked to
present their role play to the class. At the completion of each group presentation, the audience will then be
invited to give constructive feedback about the performance.
• During each performance, the teacher will be recording each group on a school supplied video camera. A
follow up lesson will be planned as part of the media theme of this unit. Students will utilise ICT where
students will be introduced to movie editing software. Students may wish to experiment with adding opening
and closing credits to show cast members and their roles, or maybe include background music, subtitles,
captions etc. The end result would be presented to the class.
• Media arts is another key part of the arts curriculum that allows students to gain an understanding of the
world through communication technologies such as newspapers, television, radio, film, the internet etc.
• This learning sequence will involve the recorded role play performances that students created during the
drama lesson. Students will utilise ICT where they will be introduced to movie editing software. Students
may wish to experiment with adding closing credits to show cast members and their roles, or maybe include
background music etc. The end result would be presented to the class. Students will again be encouraged to
provide constructive feedback to their fellow peers.
• This activity will introduce students to a number of key elements of media art. Students will experiment with
the use of sound, creating a performance for an audience that is telling a story (narrative), and the use of
• In order to extend my own creative practices, I have done some experimentation using the windows ‘Movie
Maker’ editing program to add a title and closing credits to my performance video of Waltzing Matilda as
demonstrated in the following video.
• At the completion of this unit, students will have a clear understanding of what
Australian folk music is and the impact it has had on Australian culture. Students
will have also developed a wider under standing of the term ‘folk music’ and its
importance on indigenous Australians as well as cultures from around the world.
Students will also have developed more of an understanding of Australian colonial
times through their arts experiences which will have covered ACARA objectives
across the arts, history, and literacy. Students will have developed new ways to
express themselves through creativity and critical thinking. Students will have
experienced all five arts forms that form part of the Australian curriculum and
through planned lessons will have demonstrated an understanding the key elements
that make up each art form.
• The Australian Curriculum - www.australiancurriculum.edu.au
• Australian Government - www.Australia.gov.au
• Wright, Susan. Children, meaning making and the arts. Second edition. 2012
• Boyer, Ernest 1995 – in Teaching, Making a Difference. pg. 198. Churchill, Ferguson,
Godinho, Johnson, Keddie, Letts, Mackay, McGill, Moss, Nagel, Nicholson, Vick 2nd