IN THE PACIFIC REGION

                            Fiji, November 25 – 29, 2002

                    Associate Professor ANGELA O’BRIEN,
                           School of Creative Arts
                         The University of Melbourne

My task for this important meeting of Arts Educators in the Pacific is to consider
story-telling, creative writing, poetry and the oral tradition and its possible
inclusion in the primary school curriculum. I intend to do that by focusing on the
Australian context, and I hope that you will be able to draw some conclusions for
your own countries and communities. It is my intention to look beyond the
primary school curriculum and consider what is happening in the secondary and
tertiary sectors. I do so because there is often a tendency for the academic
expectations of the upper secondary or matriculation years to drive or at least
influence curriculum at the lower levels. To some extent this is true in Australian
schools. In the creative arts, however, it is probably less so. In Australia, the
creative arts are increasingly popular in the tertiary sector, and courses have
proliferated in universities around the country. At the upper secondary level, the
creative arts are equally popular choices for students, and are often chosen by
students with high academic ability and expectations. In the primary sector, an
increased emphasis on literacy and numeracy has adversely effected the
creative arts, in an increasingly crowded curriculum. Of all the arts, story telling
and creative writing have probably been least effected because of their
recognised place within the English language and literacy curriculum.

Before I move to a discussion of the Australian curriculum, I would like to make
some general comments. Story telling encapsulates a very broad field and one
might argue that it should permeate the whole curriculum, because so much
teaching - history, literature, the arts, and even the sciences – is done through
the telling of stories. I must confess that when I was asked to speak on this area
I felt somewhat challenged as to where I might start to distinguish “creative” story
telling within the curriculum. So first let me give you a limiting definition. It is my
own. Story telling, is the construction of narratives, fictional, mythic or personal,
written, told or enacted in prose poetry or song. The telling of stories might be for
instruction or entertainment or both, but invariably story telling has a social
purpose. Stories can be metaphors encapsulating key cultural beliefs, traditions
or histories, in such way that can be easily communicated to members of a

community, serving to both initiate them into the community and celebrate their
membership of it. Stories can be traditional or new but they have a magic
quality in that they bind the teller and the listener in a shared experience. A
strong culture will be rich in stories and the transmission of these stories can, in
part, maintain the culture, and keep it vivid, even if the stories being shared are
evolving. None of this is new to you. And it is certainly not difficult to understand
why that the transmission of traditional stories has been fundamental to the
initiation and education of the young in communities around the world.

But what is the place of story telling in fractured or pluralistic societies – or in the
global society, where story telling through the popular media has become has
homogenised as some of our fast food outlets? Are there any authentic stories
left? And in a post-modern world can individuals or even communities own their
stories? It will be my contention today that the telling and sharing of stories can
both repair broken communities and build new communities – including global
communities. Writing and speaking stories area a part of the process of naming
who we are – of identifying and expressing ourselves, and in turn, our families
and our communities. Through the sharing of stories, we can solve problems,
express our hopes and fears, name our gods, celebrate our heroes and expose
our demons. When people lose their stories, it can mean that they lose their
identities. And it is certainly true that this is happening in many parts of the
world. By finding old stories or writing new ones, identity and communities can
be reconstructed. By sharing stories new cultural configurations emerge.

The telling of stories is particularly important in a post–colonial world, as we
shake off the stories that have been imposed upon us and reshape our own. In
Australia story telling has become a key learning medium in difficult learning
contexts and particularly with marginalised young people and communities.

Story telling is barely mentioned in our Australian curriculum documents.
Creative Writing, as a specific subject area, is not taught in Australian schools,
although it has been one of the fastest growing areas in tertiary education over
the past five to ten years, with at least twelve institutions around the country
offering major creative writing programs. While the Arts is one of eight key
learning areas that make up the core curriculum in Australian schools, Creative
Writing is evident by its exclusion from the list that make up the Arts key learning
area - Drama, Dance, Media, Music and Visual Arts.

Nonetheless, where there is best practice, story telling takes place in a number
of key learning areas in the curriculum and certainly within the English curriculum
where, as I indicated above, the focus is now very much on literacy. Story telling
is also clearly evident, if only as technique, in most of the art forms included in
the Arts key learning area, particularly drama and dance.

This paper will consider following aspects:

 The current context for Australian Schools
 The tradition of story telling stories and writing in Australian schools

 The Curriculum Frameworks in Australia, with particular reference to the
  Eastern States
 The use of story telling in learning contexts outside of schools
 Creative Writing in the tertiary sector
 Problems today and challenges for the future

The Current Context for Australia Schools

Last Friday the Association of Creative Writing Teachers in Australia, an
organisation made up of primarily tertiary sector teachers, held its annual
conference at my School, the School of Creative Arts, in the University of
Melbourne. The key-note speaker was Lillian Holt, Director of the Centre for
Indigenous Education at the University, and an aboriginal woman from
Queensland. Lillian opened her address by saying: “Perhaps reconciliation
happens when we tell our stories to each other”. I would like to make reference
to Lillian’s comment in formulating the theme for my paper today; some of what I
will say is about the politics of pedagogy rather than curriculum.

Australia has become a very complex and troubled society, particularly in the
past two decades. Until relatively recently Australians prided themselves on
living within a society that was free of racial and social tensions. This was not
necessarily the case, I should add, but it certainly was a society in which
government policies of assimilation successfully imposed a mono-cultural control
over Australian society, probably assisted by our geographical dislocation from
the world. This heightened complexity is, of course, a post modern and a post
colonial response resulting in a very real crises in Australian cultural identity
which has emerged out of or at least been exacerbated by three factors.

1. The first is the reconciliation challenge that has confronted Australians with
   the publications of Reports on the Stolen Generation and Black Deaths in
   Custody. This has been fuelled, of course, by the refusal of certain sectors of
   the white community to accept cultural responsibility for these atrocities and
   to say sorry.

2. The second is the tensions that have emerged in our community through
   immigration programs and the implementation of immigration laws and
   restrictions. Australian immigration was highly restricted until the early
   seventies. Prior to then, immigration was highly controlled, with an almost
   exclusively European intake (even those who were refugees) which was
   absorbed into the labour market in a booming post-war economy. Australia’s
   involvement in the Vietnam War and acceptance of its first, the first “boat-
   people”, changed Australian immigration. Since then immigration patterns
   have been considerably effected by experiences in the Eastern Europe and in
   Africa as victimised communities have needed to find refuge from the
   problems in their own countries. This has been heightened by recent world
   events and, as you will have read, the internal and external censure directed
   towards the Australian Government over its detention of refugees.

3. Thirdly, while Australia is a comparatively rich country in the region, the past
   fifteen years have seen an increasing rift between the rich and the poor. We
   are now into our second generation of long-term unemployed. Many of these
   are immigrant families. There is a relatively high proportion of children from
   single parent families in our communities and the numbers of homeless or
   disaffected youth have grown significantly in the last decade. Recent market
   fluctuations and drought have also taken a toll. Many of our communities
   are in trouble, particularly in the rural and regional areas and in aboriginal
   communities. I do not need to tell you that when communities are under
   stress, schools will demonstrate those problems and are also potentially a
   starting point for social change.

 There are other significant issues for established and new settler communities in
urban Australia. Often these are about cultural identity. Many young aboriginal
people, especially those whose parents or grandparents may have come from
the stolen generation, have little knowledge about their traditional heritage, and
have lost touch with their traditional languages. Victoria, my home state, was
closely farmed in the nineteenth century and aboriginal communities were
destroyed or dissipated. In many Australian states the establishment of mission
stations and the policies of assimilation saw aboriginal children deprived of their
own traditional histories and myths while European traditions, specifically
Christian stories, were substituted. While there have been some recent
attempts to re-introduce learning about indigenous culture through story telling in
the arts, very often the stories taught and the forms in which they are told are
from communities thousands of miles removed from the students who are
learning. I remember visiting the Chair if the Australia Council Indigenous Arts
panel a few years ago to talk about the work of Victorian artists and she was very
adamant that it was highly culturally inappropriate for aboriginal people in one
community to appropriate the song-lines and visual images of another. But when
cultural memory is lost, as it has been in parts of Victoria, then how can we re-
introduce young people to their cultural history? This is particularly the case if
they are more interested in contemporary popular culture.

There are also problems associated with new settlers. As I indicated above
there are some current destructive tensions in Australia with respect to recent
immigrants to Australia particularly those who are of the Islamic faith. This has
certainly been pressured by the events of the past eighteen months in New York
and Bali. New settlers and refugees from war-torn regions often have other
issues whereby they want to (if only temporarily) disconnect from a cultural
history and set of experiences which have been very painful for them.

And it is not just urban indigenous Australians and new settlers in Australia who
face these challenges. White Australians with three or four generations of history
in Australia face them as well. As a fourth generation Australian with an Italian
and Irish heritage, I can also ask – what is my heritage – who am I? Lillian Holt,
who I mentioned above, made this point when she spoke at the Creative Writing
Conference last Friday. She suggested that that white Australians make the

mistake of wanting to learn about indigenous Australians when they should be
seeking to learn about themselves.

It is for this reason that a starting point for cultural understanding in a multi-racial
society is often not the telling of traditional stories but rather the telling of
personal stories in which culture is embedded and implied rather than explicit.
This is the notion that if we can begin to know each other, maybe we can begin
the process of reconciliation.

At the moment I am working on a large research project looking at the efficacy of
the arts in empowering marginalised young people, particularly those who have
been disconnected from school, their communities and often their families. The
basis for this work is the telling, writing, sharing and enactment of their own
stories – the only ones they know.

Recently I attended a launch of a Local Government supported consultancy
report on strategies for supporting the town of Shepparton, a rural community
about 120 km north of Melbourne. Shepparton has a large indigenous
population – with a high unemployment rate and high crime rate among
aboriginal people. Shepparton has just opened Australia’s first Aboriginal Court.
The town also has a very high proportion of “new settlers” or recent immigrants,
many of whom are refugees from Albania, Bosnia and Afghanistan. Because
there is no work in the town, younger people with the opportunity to study or find
work in Melbourne, leave. The Report argues for a youth led recovery of the
town with an emphasis on retaining young people and increasing regional
solidarity through young people. Shepparton has established a kind of shadow
town council of school-age adolescents who jointly officiate in town events,
provide youth leadership and have some input into certain aspects of local
decision making. Important to this agenda is the idea expressed in Lillian’s
comment about a sharing of cultures. The day of the launch, school children
who had recently immigrated firstly read the stories they had written and then
these stories were enacted by the group. These young people did not share a
first language so often the stories and performances were bi-lingual. The key
was the sharing of personal stories – telling and listening – which allowed the
young people to both move towards a shared cultural experience and to
construct a new culture that might be understood by all, even if it was not
common to all. The issue was not one culture but many cultures.

To some extent this use of story telling as social mediation has now filtered into
Australian schools, although, as I indicated above, it is often implicit rather than
explicit in the curriculum. Is this form of personal story – telling authentic? Is it
educative? Or is it merely indulgence – a form of individual and social therapy.
Are the real stories traditional stories and do they need to have mythical status
and moral purposes? By losing traditional stories, do we lose the underpinning
of a culture?

The Old Curriculum - Colonisation through Story-telling

When I went to school in Queensland in the early sixties, the Australian
curriculum was still a social construct of the culture of white settlers. Traditional
stories and literature were unashamedly European in origin – Grimm’s Fairy
Tales, the stories of Hans Christian Anderson or Enid Blyton for our childhood;
fusty Victorian poetry or moralistic prose for our emergent adulthood. These
stories, set in Northern hemisphere landscapes and extolling European social
mores, were bizarrely inappropriate for young Australians even of European
ancestry. The material included in the Queensland School Readers1, which
remained basically the same from 1915 until the 1970s, included primarily British
poetry, stories and translations, with a particular emphasis on the nineteenth
century2. Also included were some American works by authors, including
extracts from Mark Twain, The Tar Baby and Hiawatha (Longfellow) and the odd
Australian “pioneer” poem or story. The story telling done by children then was
often re-telling or enacting those colonising traditional stories. It would be hard
to mount an argument for the maintenance of these traditions in the primary
school. Writing within the primary school was generally limited to grammar
exercises or “composition”, which involved descriptive or theme based writing
rather than creative story-telling.

By the seventies and eighties more culturally appropriate kinds of stories were
permeating the schools. These were of two kinds: stories about white Australia
(very often outback Australia) and traditional aboriginal stories such as Tiddilik
the Frog or the story of the Rainbow Serpent, translated into popular children's
illustrated books. Children’s exposure to story was through the enactment,
retelling or extension of stories they were told – there was little opportunity to tell
one’s own stories. Indeed, until very recently, schooling and scholarship
excluded the voice of the student and thought very little about meaning making
for young Australians. There was also a clear privileging of a particular cultural
construct and while it was the original culture of many students, it was becoming
increasingly irrelevant. It has only been within the last twenty years that the
reading and writing of stories in schools has given some recognition to
Australia’s increasingly diverse cultural mix. The development of a Government
multicultural policy and the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation resulted
in increased interest in the sharing of international traditional stories and the
teaching of community languages within schools.

The Place of Personal Story - Which Stories are Authentic?

As teachers, we need to distinguish the role of traditional and or mythical stories
within our learning environments along with the role of the contemporary,
personal and or even confessional stories and writing within the context of a
  The Queensland School Readers Preparatory 1-4 and Grades I-VII (11 volumes) have been reproduced in
a facsimile edition by the Queensland Department of Education in 2001.
  The Queensland School Reader was a compilation of poetry and prose which included, amongst other
things, translated Greek myths, extracts from Hans Christian Anderson, Dickens, Cervantes, Bulwar Lytton,
Masefield, Sir Walter Scott, Sir Conan Doyle, Milton, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Swift, R.L.Stevenson,
Longfellow, Australian writers Kendall and Lawson, as well as innumeranble extracts or poems by lesser
known or anonymous British nineteenth century authors.

complex pluralist society where cultures are changing. While we need to respect
traditional story telling we also need to be sensitive to the fact that some young
people no longer share these cultures and don’t want to. We also need to be
aware that there are cultural groups who want to reject the culture of origin – at
least for a generation – and find a new identity through new stories. Sometimes
the only starting point is oneself.

It is significant, in Australia, that the mainstream arts have already interrogated
this relationship and might provide a way forward for the work we are doing in
schools. Much of our literature and many of our dramatic performances are now
based on the personal confessional or biographical world. This is as true of
indigenous art work as it is of the art of white Australians. Since the early
seventies indigenous people have begun to tell the story of contemporary black
Australia. In the past decade these new stories are finding new structural forms,
establishing a non-traditional authentic voice for contemporary black Australians.
I might comment on two such forms: the first is a kind of tragic-comic
confessional monologue which, while it appropriates and manipulates white
Australian humour and country and western music, establishes a new genre.
Examples are Ningali, Leah Purcell’s Box the Pony, and Tammy Anderson’s I
Don’t Wanna Play House. Similarly a number of recent plays written and
performed by black Australians are authentic community stories based on post-
colonial experiences. In Bran Nue Dai, an Australian musical from the town of
Broome in far north Western Australia, about growing up on a mission, the young
aboriginal artists tell their story through an eclectic mix of country and western,
Christian hymns and rock’nroll. The play Stolen tells the story of a group of
young children in a mission station, the stolen generation. And you may have
seen the recent Australian movie Rabbit Proof Fence, which tells an heroic story
of three young girls who escape from a mission school and find their way home.

Contemporary stories are also infiltrating traditional forms. Just last month at the
Melbourne International Festival, I saw a production entitled Fire Fire Burning
Bright. This extraordinarily sophisticated work used state of the art new media
theatre techniques to support the telling of a traditionally structured true history
danced and sung by members of a remote aboriginal community from the far
north of Western Australia. For those Melbourne people in the audience the
performance, using traditional dance and music was foreign but seemed truly
authentic. So it was of some interest to me when I was speaking to the director
subsequently that the performers, in post-modern style, had borrowed the story
and relocated it.

So what are the educational challenges in a complex contemporary diverse
pluralistic community? How do we use the stories we tell to reinforce and
support the culture? Which stories do we tell? Who tells them? Is it appropriate
to revive the traditional stories or should we find new stories? A key task for us
as educators is to educate for a future many of us may not experience and most
of us can not even contemplate. If we only educate historically, for the traditions
that, however significant, are passing, then we are not appropriately supporting
our children’s future. On the other hand, if individual and cultural empowerment

and mutual respect are imperatives within complex societies, we must also find a
way to ensure our children – all our children - take pride in their own cultural
heritage, and respect and appreciate that of others. In a pluralist world there are
many stories, sometimes harmonious, sometime at odds.

As the new (2001) Queensland New Basic Frameworks document suggests

         The central purpose of Schooling (in Queensland) – that is to prepare
         young people to be active citizens in a learning society – is served by
         equipping students with the skills and knowledges – cognitive and cultural,
         social and linguistic – that have power and salience in the world. In
         deciding what to include in the curriculum, greater value is placed on the
         knowledges, understanding and skills that will equip students to engage
         with the future. A creative and flexible educational response to the needs
         of students places a premium on diversity flexibility and building the social
         capitol of communities.3

Let me move now to the Australian curriculum and the ways in which in story
telling, creative writing and poetry might be included.

Australian Curriculum Frameworks

In Australia the responsibility for schooling rests with State Governments which
have the responsibility of managing curriculum in government schools. In 1991
the Australian Education Council adopted eight key learning areas (KLAs): the
Arts, English, Education, Health and Physical Education, Languages other than
English, Mathematics, Science, Studies of Society and Environment and
Technology. Throughout the nineties, these key learning areas were adopted by
the various States in Australia which have all since developed Curriculum and
Standards Frameworks for the compulsory schooling years – preparatory to year
ten (P-10). Many states are now in their second iteration of Frameworks
documents. Victoria, the State in which I live, released Curriculum and
Standards Framework II (CSF II) in 2000 and the Queensland Government has
been in the process of re-shaping its new Basics Framework since 2001 with
some syllabi still being trialled. In all the States in Australia, the curriculum for
the upper secondary years 11 and 12 (University Matriculation) builds on the
Standard Frameworks.

The Frameworks documents, while they vary from State to State, are relatively
consistent; for example, many of the key learning areas are divided into
discipline based strands. The Arts includes the strands of art, dance, drama,
media and music; creative writing is not included in the Arts KLA. Other KLA’s
are divided into skill based strands. In Victoria English is divided into Speaking
and Listening, Reading and Writing; in Queensland the these skills are sub-
strands and subservient to broad issues such as “making meaning within context
(culture)”, “understanding language systems” and “evaluating meaning in texts”.

    New Basics Framework, The State of Queensland (Department of Education) 2001

Australian curriculum documents are outcomes based – learning outcomes form
the basis for curriculum planning. “The outcomes answer the question: ‘What
should students know and be able to do as an outcome of learning at this level?’”
The Frameworks are also relatively consistent in terms of their organisation into
six learning outcome levels roughly equating to year levels with indicators for
each learning outcome.

   Level 1: Preparatory Year
   Level 2: End of Year 2
   Level 3: End of Year 4
   Level 4: End of Year 6
   Level 5: End of Year 8
   Level 6: End of Year 10

In the context of an outcomes based approach to education, the assessment
process provides students with opportunities to demonstrate learning outcomes.
Teachers use the indicators for learning outcomes as a basis for their
assessment of whether the learning outcomes have been achieved at the
expected standard.

These State documents are informed by policy issues other than the National
Curriculum. A number of States developed Frameworks in agreement with a
1999 National initiative – the Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for
Schooling in the Twenty-First Century (1999) which highlights, amongst other
things, literacy and numeracy.

State Curriculum Frameworks also reflect State Government, National and
International policy. The Queensland curriculum documents4, for example, are in
line with Queensland’s “Smart State” initiative – which sets out educational policy
guidelines until 2010 - and the UNESCO Report, Learning: The Treasure Within
(Delors Report), which calls for a creation of an education community working
together. The Queensland Framework highlights the cross-curricular priorities of
literacy, numeracy, life skills and futures learning.

The New South Wales Curriculum has also made a commitment to literacy and
numeracy a high priority.5 The Victorian curriculum shares this focus on literacy
and numeracy and embeds national literacy and numeracy benchmarks into the
Framework. It also embeds information and communication technology skills
into all KLAs.

In 1994 the Commonwealth Government's Creative Nation report published a
charter of cultural rights for all Australians (Commonwealth of Australia, 1994).6

  New Basics Framework, The State of Queensland (Department of Education) 2001
  Focus on literacy, Curriculum Directorate, New South Wales Department of School Education , Sydney,
  Lee Emery, The Arts :A Statement on the Arts as a Key Learning Area of the School Curriculum,
Queensland School Curriculum Council, March 1998,

As arts teachers charged with the responsibility of educating young people the
Charter serves as a broad set of principles for arts education programs in
schools, The Charter of Cultural Rights recommends that all Australians be
 the right to an education that develops individual creativity and appreciation
   of the creativity of others;
 the right of access to our intellectual and cultural heritage;
 the right to new intellectual and artistic works; and
 the right to community participation in cultural and intellectual life.7

Arts educators are committed to the provision of these four principles.8

As Professor Emery outlines in her Queensland commissioned statement on the
Arts as a Key Learning Area, the National approach identifies Arts education as
providing “ways of knowing”, which are aesthetic, symbolic and culturally
constructed.9 The National approach also emphasises that students must be
involved in arts practice as well as in responding to the arts.

All the Curriculum Frameworks stress a learner-centred approach. The
Queensland curriculum materials describes this approach as viewing “learning as
the active construction of meaning, and teaching as the act of guiding scaffolding
and facilitating learning”.10

          Learner-centred approaches provide opportunities for students to
          practise critical and creative thinking, problem solving and decision
          making. These involve using skills and processes such as recall,
          application, analysis, synthesis, prediction and evaluation. A learner-
          centred approach also encourages students to demonstrate ownership
          of their ideas and to reflect on and monitor their thinking as they make
          decision and take action…. Learning experiences should be adjusted as
          required to meet the abilities, needs and interests of individuals and
          groups of students.11

The Curriculum Framework documents developed by the various States do not
dictate what happens in classrooms, although they are clear that there are
standards for learning outcomes. The Victorian curriculum documents indicate:

          The CSF is a framework, not a detailed syllabus or blueprint for the
          development and delivery of specific programs teaching methods to be
          used, allocation of time to particular learning areas materials or methods
          of assessment. These details, along with decisions about staffing

   Commonwealth of Australia, 1994, p.2
  Lee Emery, op cit.
   Queensland School Curriculum model statement – see Draft materials developed for the Years 1-10
English Curriculum Development Project, Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2002, p 9.

             equipment and resources and all other aspects of actual programs, are
             determined by the individual school in the light of that school
             community’s needs priorities and resources.12

The Queensland New Basics Framework states:

             The purpose of this Curriculum Framework is to provide the structure
             around which schools can build education programs…It is a framework.
             It is not a syllabus or collection of syllabuses. Nor is it a prescriptive
             program of work… In producing their curriculum plans, schools may
             choose their own format. The plan is to be a living document,
             occasionally updated to reflect periodic reviewing and to maintain
             currency in dynamic contexts. Schools have the flexibility to organise,
             schedule and deliver core outcomes in ways that meet the needs of their
             students and the demands of their school community. Increasingly
             schools are becoming sites of diversity.13

Story-telling and Creative Writing in the P-10 Frameworks Documents

As noted above, creative writing is not one of the “strands” in The Arts KLA,
although story-telling skills are inherent in the many of the Arts learning
outcomes, for example, outcomes in which students make and prepare works
which explore themes, issues and ideas through narrative.

We therefore turn to the English KLA Frameworks documents to identify how
creative writing may be included in the P-10 curriculum. Neither the Queensland
nor Victorian English Framework documents are explicit about the inclusion of
creative written expression, although creative writing is implicit in many of the
outcomes, for example the Victorian English CSF II includes the following
outcomes and indicators14:

Level         Outcome                                     Indicator
3             Write texts that convey intended            Write narratives, description or
              ideas and information, using a              poetry in which ideas about a person,
              small range of text types.                  place or object are developed
4             Use a range of text types to                Write fictional texts in which ideas,
              write about some unfamiliar                 characters, details and events are
              ideas and information, providing            developed and described
              supporting detail

     The Arts Curriculum Standards Framework II, Board of Strudies, Carlton, 2000, p.3.
     New Basics Framework, The State of Queensland (Department of Education) 2001, p
     English Curriculum and Standards Framework II, Board of Studies, Victoria, 2000.

6             Use a range of text types to         Write sustained and cohesive
              convey detailed information and      narratives that experiment with
              discuss different perspectives       different techniques
              on complex themes and issues
              in writing.

The New South Wales Department of Education document, Focus on Literacy:
Writing, is more explicit in its recognition of Creative writing, but offers a limited
and conservative approach to the area:

             Flexibility includes recognising and allowing for creativity in writing.
             Creative writing usually refers to an activity in the English key learning
             area, where the purpose is to entertain. Teachers will find models of
             creative writing in literature, such as poetry, fiction or drama….
             Sometimes creativity is assumed to mean mere playfulness or working
             without rules or structures, but this is based on a false understanding.
             This false understanding will create problems if teachers try to reward
             writing that is creative, but in other respects, badly written. There is no
             conflict between rigour and creativity. Invariably, creativity is enhanced
             by an understanding of rules and structures.

These comments indicate recent policy changes in program planning in
Australia, particularly with relation to arts learning. Until very recently, there has
been an almost exclusive emphasis on process approaches in the arts and
speaking and writing components of the English Frameworks rather than on
traditional approaches to the learning of specific structures or genres. Students
have been encouraged to take responsibility for their own creative activities with
the teacher acting as a facilitator and supporter of the stories being enacted told
or written. Students are encouraged to choose their own themes and
presentational or writing forms. Very often students work in groups using work-
shopping or conferencing methods (in writing) to shape their own enacted stories
or to draft, edit and publish their own works. The teacher become a resource,
intervening where necessary and teaching the conventions and forms of story
telling, enactment, or writing at the point of need.

The most recent framework documents indicate a shift in pedagogy with a return
to genre approaches to the teaching of writing and an increased interest in
traditional narrative structure and style. The increased emphasis on literacy has
also brought with it a recognition of the value of learning about typical text
structures and grammar. The notion of genre, however, has been widened to
involve not only traditional European genres, but also the genres of popular
culture and genres appropriated from other cultures, including Asian cultures. As
I have indicated, the Frameworks stress the need to respect and encourage
cultural diversity within the multicultural classroom. Potentially, this approach
might be seen to encourage the teaching of traditional forms of story telling and

     P. 19

story enactment. Many primary schools now invite children (or their parents) to
teach peers the stories they have learnt at home extending familiarity with
cultural context and genre. The issue of appropriation, nonetheless, remains an
issue for debate particularly for those communities where story telling and
enactments have a spiritual or secret significance16.

Australian curriculum also presents a policy of community interface with schools.
This is explicit in New South Wales, which recognises the social purposes of

          Students’ experience of language in the home is rich and diverse.
          Students arrive at school with a range of experiences about why and
          how writing is used. Some students come from homes where two or
          more languages are spoken. Some come from families with strong oral
          story-telling traditions. Schools build on this knowledge and

 Policies of community interface operate beyond the familial situation into the
creative arts community, including the role of artists in supporting the work of
schools. Since the 1960s, there have been active theatre companies operating
for young people who model new forms of story telling using traditional and
contemporary stories, re-telling old myths and constructing new ones.18 One
theatre in education company has had significant success touring a performance
entitled Once Upon A Story, which featured four traditional children’s stories from
four different cultures. Another company, Zeal Theatre, recently constructed a
contemporary moral play around a relatively recent event whereby two young
boys killed a passing driver while throwing rocks over the parapet of the freeway.

With this emphasis on educating for social capital, diversity, literacy and the arts,
it would seem that a scenario is set for a system which would value and
demonstrate writing and sharing traditional and new stories. Given the nature of
the Frameworks documents in Australian States and the emphasis on school
based curriculum, it is almost impossible to give an idea of what is happening
across individual classrooms within the primary system. This will vary depending
on schools and teachers. But is does appear that while the principles and
policies are in place, structural factors operate against schools including strong
creative writing and story telling programs. I turn now to these.

Problems Inherent in Australian Curriculum

While the Frameworks documents preach autonomy, diversity and equality they
fail to recognise the significant systemic differences in schools across the

   This is the case for many of the dances and songs associated with traditional Australian Indigenous
   Focus on Literacy: Writing, op cit, p 12.
   John Butler, Second Class Theatre: Theatre for Young People in Victoria, unpublished PhD thesis,
University of Melbourne, 2002.

country nor do they accommodate a very real need for an affirmative action
policy for schools with very diverse populations and/or low socio-economic

A further factor in differentiating Australian schools, and certainly those in
Victoria is that they now enjoy a high level of autonomy in staff recruitment, with
the result that curriculum is often limited or modified by staff interest and skills.
Primary schools are able to choose the kinds of specialists that they wish to
employ over and beyond generalist primary classroom teachers.

In an overcrowded curriculum, it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet all the
learning outcomes set down in the curriculum. As a result, school communities
and teachers, in setting their own priorities, will often respond to government
policy in terms of priority areas. In Australian schools literacy and numeracy are
key priorities, followed by computers and technology and languages other than
English. Many primary schools will include a LOTE teacher and a physical
education teacher but no drama or dance specialist. In marginalised areas the
demand to meet basic literacy and numeracy outcomes can outweigh the
educational principles of diversity empowerment.

Our teaching profile in Australian school is predominantly white Anglo-Celtic or
European Australian. We have very few teachers who represent recently arrived
communities – Vietnamese, Bosnian, Islamic or African - and we have almost no
trained Indigenous Australian teachers. So while we recommend diversity of
approach there is minimal diversity among teaching staff

There is also an issue in the kind of resource materials available to schools.
While the study of texts is high in the English curriculum, and while there are
many excellent contemporary children’s stories, there are very few which
address the issues effecting either Indigenous or new settler communities.
Schools in marginalised communities also lack the financial resources for
equipment and community intervention, for example, the involvement of visiting
artists or theatre in education companies.

Creative Writing in the Tertiary Sector

In the tertiary sector, Creative Arts programs and particularly Creative Writing
programs are in high demand. Entry requirements for these programs are
becoming more and more stringent. In my own University, applicants need to be
in the top 5% (academically) of matriculation students across the country to gain
access to our Creative Arts and Creative Writing programs. Increasingly, it is
those students who have been socio-economically advantaged in their
secondary schooling who gain access to “fashionable” creative arts programs.
There are two reasons for this. In terms of occupational outcomes, tertiary arts
education is a luxury given the limited opportunities for paid employment.
Secondly, the arts have proliferated in the schools where socio-economic
advantage ensures that the basic educational needs of literacy and numeracy
have been met, as well as the basic social needs of food, shelter and familial

support. It might be argued that the Australian educational policies of equity,
diversity and school autonomy have resulted in alienating more marginalised
communities from the arts experience rather than facilitating access to it. In
marginalised communities the need to ensure basic literacy and numeracy
programs, along with essential support services, ensures that schools in these
areas cannot extend their resources to support the introduction of creative arts
specialists and programs into the crowded curriculum.

Arts as a Diversionary Measure for Marginalised Youth

I would now like to turn to learning sites where story telling and enactment have
become the central to the process of educational empowerment for marginalised
young people outside of the school system. These are the young people –
generally adolescents but increasingly becoming younger - whom the education
system has failed. Throughout Australia community and welfare agencies and
government funded projects are using personal story telling and enactment as a
means of empowering marginalised young people and assisting them to return to
return to their communities. One key project in Australia is the Big HArt project,
which operates for homeless youth. The Big HArt facilitators work from the basis
of the young people’s own stories which are then enacted and performed for
public audiences. Big Hart’s most recent work Knot at Home was performed at
the Melbourne International Festival and combined the stories of homeless youth
- refugees, indigenous Australians, new settlers, abused and alienated children.

Recently I have been involved with a group of young women in the Parkville
Youth Residential Centre, a custodial centre for children and young women from
16 to 21. These young women have been working with artists to record and
enact their own stories; they will be performing their stories this week while I am
away. Here is one of the graphic stories that is to be performed:

        When I was younger I used to sniff petrol; as I got older I began to
        realise what it did to me. I ended up getting pregnant so I stopped and
        now my daughter is three.

        When I fell pregnant, my dad wanted me to get an abortion, but I said,
        “Dad, you can’t do that. It’s too cruel.”

        After I had my child. I felt so bad about myself because everyone was
        telling me I was too young.

        So, I started getting into trouble - I come from the country - and started
        hanging around the wrong people.

        One day I went out night-clubbing, then me and my ex-boyfriend got
        home and got into a huge fight. I was so drunk and angry that I went out
        and stole a car. I told my family that I was going back to the country. I
        went to my boyfriend’s cousin’s house and they said, “Can we come for
        a drive?” I said, “Yeah, if you want” and they jumped in the car with me.

        I was on my way to the country with them and I was going around the
        corner, I lost control. The car rolled six times and two people died. We
        were stuck out in the bush with no one around and I was the only one
        who could move. I ran to the main road. I was screaming and
        screaming. I pulled over a car, but they had no phone to call an
        ambulance, so I had to pull over another car and they had no phone.

        About an hour went by before a car pulled over that could help. So they
        called an ambulance and they took us to a hospital.
        I was six months pregnant with my son at the time; I thought I had lost
        my child, but they said everything was OK.

        I received a three-year sentence.

         I felt so bad about it that night, I couldn’t top thinking about it.

        As soon as I got locked up, I thought, I shouldn’t be here; I should be
        with my children.

There is significant evidence that the telling and sharing of stories is efficacious
as a learning medium – particularly in terms of individual and community
empowerment and improved literacy. You will all be aware of the considerable
research in this area, not only in America, Britain and Australia, but in Africa, and
the Pacific through community cultural development projects. Given the
recognised success in terms of community development, it is disappointing that
governments have failed to exploit creative uses of oral and written
communication are part of the core curriculum at the P-10 levels.

Strategies for Ensuring Effective Delivery of Creative Writing and Story-
telling in the Education system

So what are some of the factors to be considered when introducing writing in the

1. There must be time set aside in the curriculum.
2. Traditional stories are not always the most appropriate. In diverse
   communities there must be a place for diverse stories, traditional and new,
   mythic and personal.
3. We need to rethink teacher training, particularly who we train and how we
4. Peer teaching and learning through shared stories is an unexploited resource
   in our schools but also within the out of school learning sites, particularly
   those concerned with compensating disadvantage or community
5. Resourcing across a diverse school system may only be equitable with an
   affirmative action approach.

6. Presentation and publication of students’ stories and writing can reinforce
   students’ sense that their stories, their values and cultural identities are
   respected and valued.

Reconciliation may be, as Lillian Holt suggests, as simple as telling each other
our stories. At this meeting, our presence here is the start of that process. There
are many ways in which we can begin to share stories within the region –
through the exchange of publications, through shared publication, publication on
the internet and regional chat groups. I hope that further discussion this week
might provide us with the beginnings of a strategy to support a regional identity
and improved regional understanding through the sharing of traditional and
emerging stories and the construction of a shared story.


Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Outcome-Based Education: A Set of
Professional Resources, Canberra, 1998

Board of Studies, Victoria, English Curriculum and Standards Frameworks II,
Board of Studies, Victoria, 2000

Board of Studies, Victoria, The Arts Curriculum and Standards Frameworks II,
Board of Studies, Victoria, 2000

Delors, J. et al., Learning: The Treasure Within – Report to UNESCO of the
International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century, UNESCO,
Paris, 1996

Education Queensland, New Basics- Curriculum Organisers, Brisbane, 2000.

Education Queensland, Queensland State Education – 2010, Brisbane, 2000.

Emery, Lee, The Arts: A Statement on the Arts as a Key Learning Area of the
Schools Curriculum, Queensland School Curriculum, 1998

Griffin, P. & Smith, P., Outcome-Based Education: Issues and Strategies for
Schools, Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Canberra, 1997

Ministerial Council on Employment, Education and Youth Affairs, The Adelaide
Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century,
Adelaide, SA, 1999

New South Wales Department of Education and Training, Focus on Literacy:
Writing, NSW Curriculum Directorate, Sydney, 1997

New South Wales Department of Education and Training, Focus of Literacy:
Writing, NSW Curriculum Support Directorate, 2000

Queensland School Curriculum Council, Syllabus, Sourcebook and Initial In-
service Materials:

_ The Arts (2001)
_ English – Draft (2002)

The State of Queensland, New Basics Frameworks, Queensland Department of
Education, 2001

The State of Queensland (Department of Education), Queensland School
Readers Preparatory 1-4 & Grades I-VII, facsimile edition, 2001


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