The Bicentenary

[Episode 3 | 1988 : Lily]

Lily and her friends are painting the school sign for the Bicentenary when she tells her cousin, Phoung, a false story about how convicts were treated in early Australia. Phoung repeats this story to the class as part of a report on the First Fleet.


The Australian curriculum: History

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The Australian Curriculum: History aims to ensure that students develop: 

  • interest in, and enjoyment of, historical study for lifelong learning and work, including their capacity and willingness to be informed and active citizens 
  • knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the past and the forces that shape societies, including Australian society 
  • understanding and use of historical concepts, such as evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, perspectives, empathy, significance and contestability 
  • capacity to undertake historical inquiry, including skills in the analysis and use of sources, and in explanation and communication.

History activities [3]

Activity 1: Bicentennial celebrations in Australia
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Subtheme(s): Celebrations; Culture

The Bicentennial celebrations on 26 January 1988 promised to be significant for Australians. The official logo was 'Let's celebrate', encapsulating the festive events and people's attitudes and expectations. In New South Wales alone, over 25,000 bicentennial events took place during the year. One of the main events was the First Fleet re-enactment, with tall ships arriving from all over the world. Many Indigenous Australians did not celebrate, and some boycotted the organised events.

  • Ask students to visit the following websites:
  1. Screen Australian, 'Australia Daze (1988)',
  2. Koorie History Website Project, 'The Sydney Morning Herald and Representation of the 1988 Bicentennial',
  3. Wikipedia, 'Australian Bicentenary',
  • Students should develop a fact sheet responding to questions about the significance of the Australian Bicentenary:
  1. What is a bicentennial celebration?
  2. Why is it a celebration for a nation?
  3. Who organised the celebration?
  4. Why did some Indigenous Australians not celebrate this occasion?
  • Ask students to research merchandise that was designed for the Bicentenary. Before and during the celebration of Australia's Bicentenary there were commemorative stamps, coins, posters and other products made to mark the occasion. School children were given special plaques and coins.

  • Ask students to find as many examples of Bicentennial merchandising as possible. They should list them and find images for them. The information can be presented as a pamphlet, either electronically or on paper.
  • Ask students to design their own commemorative item for the Australian Bicentenary and include it with their research.


Activity 2: The re-enactment of the first fleet
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Subtheme(s): Historical events
  • Watch a short film, 'Australia Post – 200 Years (1988)', at australianscreen,
  • (Notes written by curator Adrienne Parr describing the re-enactment of the First Fleet on 26 January 1988 appear in Student Activity Sheet H3.5.)
  • Ask students to refer to the following websites:
  1. National Museum of Australia, 'Australian Bicentennial Authority collection',
  2. National Archives of Australia: Virtual Reading Room, 'Aboriginal protest in Hobart against the Bicentennial celebrations',

  • Ask students to write a brief essay on the significance of the First Fleet re-enactment and whether it was a true celebration of Australian history. To prepare for this, they should research and evaluate significant facts about the First Fleet:
  1. Who led the First Fleet and when?
  2. Where did the fleet sail from and where did it land?
  3. How long did it take to get here?
  4. Who arrived on the First Fleet?
  5. How did the fleet know where to come?
  6. Which ships arrived and what type of ships were they?
  7. What did the fleet bring?
  8. What did they do after they landed?
  9. Who met them after they landed?


Activity 3: The convicts
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Subtheme(s): Historical events; Social order and education

In this clip, Lily makes up a story about how the convicts were treated when they arrived in Australia. Her story, though false, highlights the terrible conditions for convicts who landed at Port Jackson.

  • Ask students to research what life was like for convicts and then develop a fact sheet, answering the questions:
  1. Who were the convicts?
  2. Why were they transported?
  3. What type of crimes had they committed?
  4. Who were some notable people on the First Fleet?
  5. How were the convicts treated?
  6. Which Indigenous groups were encountered in the early years of the colony?
  7. What was the relationship like between Indigenous Australians and the new settlers?


Ask students to locate some personal stories of the time. They could use these insights to write a diary entry for a day in the life of a convict, soldier or administrator from the First Fleet.


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