Nadia Wheatley

Andrew Daddo

During a career spanning three decades, Nadia Wheatley has written a number of award-winning books for children, young adults, and adults. An inspirational speaker, she has given lectures and workshops at all levels of education, including professional development seminars for teachers.

Themes reflects in Nadia’s writing:
* A strong sense of place and community
* A belief that Indigenous principles of learning are universal principles of learning
* Commitment to conservation and environment
* Commitment to a culturally diverse society
* A passion for Australian history (including Aboriginal history)

Although Nadia has written novels, short stories, biography and history, she is perhaps best known for her picture book My Place. Produced in collaboration with illustrator Donna Rawlins, this was the CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers in 1988. It also won the inaugural Eve Pownall Award, and various children’s choice awards, and was an IBBY Honour book.

Now regarded as an Australian classic, My Place has been read in schools and homes across the land, and has encouraged thousands of children to develop their own sense of belonging to community and place.

Recently produced as a 26-part television series for the ABC, both the book and the series are supported by extensive classroom aids for teachers, available electronically from the publishers, Walker Books, and from the Australian Children’s Television Foundation. A special My Place website is engages children with the history and the story.

Nadia Wheatley’s most recent book is a compilation of art and autobiographical stories by over a hundred Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Produced in consultation with renowned Aboriginal historian Dr Jackie Huggins, and including new illustrations by Ken Searle, this compilation gives a fascinating insight into Indigenous childhood and learning, both traditional and contemporary.

Since its publication in 2011, Nadia has used Playground as a starting point for professional development seminars showing teachers how Indigenous principles of learning can successfully be applied in culturally diverse urban classrooms, from K to 12.  This helps teachers fulfill requirements regarding the inclusion of Aboriginal content in subjects ranging from science and sport to mathematics, health and cooking.

Nadia Wheatley’s own experience of Indigenous education began when she and artist Ken Searle worked for a number of years as consultants at the school at Papunya (an Aboriginal community in the Western Desert, Northern Territory). While assisting the Anangu staff and students to develop resources for the Indigenous curriculum that the school had developed, Nadia and Ken helped to produced the multi-award-winningPapunya School Book of Country and History — a collaborative account of the history of this internationally-famous Western Desert community, told from an Indigenous perspective.

In 2005 Nadia and Ken used the Papunya Model of Education as their inspiration when they ran an innovative Harmony project with children from Muslim, Catholic and state schools in Sydney’s south-west. The resulting picture book, Going Bush, showcases the poetry and art of the students in the project alongside an environmental text by Nadia Wheatley and artwork by Ken Searle.

Nadia is now concentrating on Staff Development session , with some suggested programs outlined below:

History as Story: From My Place  to Australians All. (Suitable stage 2 and 3 primary; secondary to Year 12)

“I love history because it is story, but the very best thing about this story is that it is not finished. All of us are making history every moment of our lives.” Nadia Wheatley

Published some twenty-five years apart, My Place  and Australians All  form book-ends for Nadia Wheatley’s career. While the former traces the history of a single small patch of land and the latter traverses the whole of our continent, both books reveal the author’s belief that history comes to life through a focus on individual stories. In My Place, twenty young fictional narrators tell readers about their neighbourhood and community. In Australians All, a series of over eighty mini-biographies of real young Australians open windows into the significant national events of their respective eras. This session will show how to incorporate literature and literacy into the teaching of history while meeting the needs of the new curriculum.

The Happiest Days of their Lives? True school stories from the past  (Suitable Stage 2 to Secondary)

Bush schools, city schools, boarding schools, goldfields schools, colonial schools, private schools, state schools, and home schooling… One thing that contemporary young Australians share with children of the past is the experience of education. Using some of the mini-biographies from Australians All, Nadia Wheatley will showcase how to use true stories of Australian children’s education as a unit of work that incorporates history, literature and literacy. The subjects of these true-life school stories include Mary MacKillop, Henry Lawson, Mark Oliphant, Colin Thiele, Mary Cameron (later Gilmore), Ethel (Henry Handel) Richardson and Ethel Turner.  As well, a number of Indigenous stories, including that of Eddie Mabo, links to the many true stories of Indigenous education that Nadia compiled in Playground.

Refugees in Australia (suitable for Stage 3 primary; secondary to Year 12)

In this session, Nadia Wheatley will draw on some of the mini-biographies in her history, Australians All, to showcase true stories of refugee children and families who have fled persecution and made a new life in our nation. The heroes of these diverse stories include the children in German families who fled to South Australia in 1840s; three children in a Jewish family fleeing anti-Semitism in 1939; the children of an Indonesian family who escaped to Melbourne in World War II; two young sisters in a Vietnamese family who arrived by boat in the 1970s; an eleven-year-old Muslim girl who fled the civil war in Lebanon in the 1984; a twelve-year-old Hasara girl who fled persecution in Afghanistan in 2000; and a Sudanese teenager who migrated to Tasmania in 2005, after spending her whole childhood in a refugee camp. Stories such as these provide a way to engage students in this challenging issue at a personal level.

Learning from Country: Stories of Indigenous childhood  (suitable stages 1 to 3 primary; secondary)

Using some of the hundreds of true stories of Indigenous childhood in the book Playground, Nadia Wheatley will introduce participants to practical ways they can help their students learn from country — no matter how suburban their homeland may be, and whatever their cultural background. Other resources showcased will be the picture book memoir When I Was Little, Like You, by Papunya author-illustrator Mary Malbunka, and When We Go Walkabout, by Groote Eylandt author Rhoda Lalara and illustrator Alfred Lalara. As well, Nadia will show how she used Indigenous principles of learning with culturally diverse urban students in the project that led to the book Going Bush (illustrated by Ken Searle).

Explore Gold through the Stories of Young Diggers and their Families (Suitable stages 2 and 3)

In this session, Nadia Wheatley will draw on some of the mini-biographies in her history, Australians All, to showcase true stories of the effect that the Gold Rush of the 1850s had upon the lives of young Australians and their families. The subjects of these small individual histories include the Ah Shin children of  Bendigo (who had a Chinese immigrant father and Irish immigrant mother), and young Henry Lawson of the New South Wales goldfields, whose mother was left to run the family when her husband succumbed to Gold Fever. As well, Nadia will discuss some of the cultural and social implications of the Eureka Stockade — both through straight history, and through her fictionalization of the event in the novel A Banner Bold.