St Brigid’s Catholic Primary Marrickville Year 6 students dressed and spoke as the politicians, poets, professional athletes and other democratic Australians they had researched at a ‘Day of Democracy ‘pop-up museum. Students displayed videos, posters and timelines at the event, held in their school hall on September 10. They were quizzed by teachers, visiting parents and peers from other grades on their displays and answered in character.
Assistant principal Siham El-Hachem said the assessment asked students to think critically and articulate how people had contributed to Australian democracy throughout the country’s history. It followed the grade’s visit to the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Canberra. It is the second year students have held a Day of Democracy at the school.
“They have to be specific about the person they choose and make a case for that person before they go and complete the work,” Mrs El-Hachem said. “Most were able to tap into their interest. It really gets them to think deeply about who they choose and why they will research that person. It has been amazing. We haven’t had a doctor or a professional tennis player before but they were able to make a case for what they had done and how they had used democracy.”
We are so lucky to be in Australia where democracy is part of our way of life.
Mrs El-Hachem said the aim of the topic was for students to realise their rights and responsibilities as Australian citizens.
“We want then to see that anyone can contribute to democracy and that democracy isn’t just limited to those people who have come from a really good background,” she said. “Also that everyone has rights and responsibilities and that in our society you can be anyone – you can become a person that contributes to democracy.”
Nana Aboagye, 11, chose Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous person elected to parliament for his project. He told museum guests about the former Queensland senator’s life, dressed in a suit with a distinctive moustache.
“Neville Bonner was the first Indigenous person elected to parliament in 1972 as a Queensland senator and he was part of the Liberal party,” he said. “I chose him because he was an inspiration to all Aboriginal people, and showed them that you can do what you want to do, and you can have a say and say whatever you want. He tried to get Australian Aboriginals united as one. I was surprised that he was born not in a hospital but under a palm tree. His mother wasn’t allowed to go to hospital because they separated them all.”
Tia Foustellis, 12, was Louisa Lawson, suffragette and mother of famed poet Henry Lawson who helped to secure Australian women’s right to vote. As famed ophthalmologist Fred Hollows, Joshua Tung, 11, spoke of becoming a stowaway on a ship instead of working at his parents’ timber mill. He chose the doctor for his belief in equity between people, which saw him improve the eyesight of thousands in the Australian outback and developing countries including Nepal and Bangladesh.
Siena Marczan, 11, chose Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young. Her display included a series of video interviews with the senator and a favourite Hanson-Young quote: ‘Banning refugees from fleeing West Africa is like shutting up the windows while a house burns down’.
“She was the youngest person ever elected to the senate and the youngest female ever elected to the Australian parliament,” Siena said. “She stands for refugee and migrant rights and freedom and saving the Murray River.”
Zach Andrews, 11, was Sir John Kerr, Australia’s 18th Governor General and the man who sacked the Whitlam government in 1975.
“He sacked the Whitlam government and Gough Whitlam under section 64 of the constitution because the majority of people in the senate were blocking the supply bills until Gough held another election and he refused to,” Zach said. “I wanted to investigate what led to that happening and I wanted to know why he did it.
“There were a lot of resources on the internet and I found his autobiography at the NSW State Library. I didn’t know he became a high court judge and a barrister and I didn’t know that he went to Fort Street High School.
“The dismissal was his biggest contribution to democracy, I think, because if he didn’t sack the Whitlam Government the blocking of supply bills would have kept going and it would have kept getting worse and worse. They were blocking the bills for education, water, food and that sort of stuff.”
Stacey Drossos, 11, choose two-time Wimbledon tennis champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
In character she said: “I developed a foundation to help Indigenous kids with their health, diet and exercise because when I was growing up Indigenous people were not treated fairly. They could not vote, so they could not participate in the Australian democratic process. I wanted to change that.”
Stacey said Evonne was motivated to provide equal opportunities for Indigenous young people. “She wants to help Indigenous kids to have a better life, to live their dream as everyone else in Australia does, and to inspire then to be the best they can be,” she said.
Deputy Opposition leader and Canterbury MP Linda Burney was the subject of student Adriana’s assignment. She congratulated the Year 6 students for the work and though they had put into the research task.
“For some of you, in less than eight years’ time you will be actually participating in democracy by casting your vote in the elections,” she said. “We are so lucky to be in Australia where democracy is part of our way of life, and it is wonderful to see that St Brigid’s is learning about that and appreciating it. The extraordinary work that your teachers and that you have done makes me very sure that democracy in our nation is proud and strong because of young people like yourselves.”