Warning: This resource may contain references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may have passed away.

Oranges and lemons

[Episode 22 | 1798 : Sam]

Sam is out looking for the farm's goat when he hears someone humming the same notes as he is singing. Following the sounds, he is guided back to the farm, where the goat is waiting. After leaving out some milk to thank an Aboriginal boy for leading him to the goat, his bucket is returned.


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 [2]

Activity 1: Nursery rhymes
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Subtheme(s): Art, music and literature; Beliefs; Culture
  • The origins of many nursery rhymes are associated with historical events, although more than one plausible explanation is often given for the circumstances of composition of any individual nursery rhyme. 'Oranges and lemons' has been a popular nursery rhyme among many generations of children. Sung to a tune which is reminiscent of the ringing of bells, the rhyme refers to the bells of churches in the neighbourhoods of London. A range of explanations has been offered for the origins and meaning of the rhyme, the more macabre suggesting that it alludes to public executions, others advancing that it describes the marital problems of King Henry VIII. The way that the lyrics of nursery rhymes change over the centuries is a good illustration of the mutable nature of oral traditions, and the variety of explanations advanced for any individual rhyme demonstrates the problems facing historians when accounting for the past.
  • Ask students to find the lyrics of the short and long versions of the nursery rhyme 'Oranges and lemons'. As a class, discuss why more than one version of the rhyme exists.
  • Ask students to research the origins and meaning of the nursery rhyme 'Oranges and lemons'. A good starting point is the account provided in Opie and Opie The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (see below). You may also like to try 'Nursery rhymes - origins, lyrics & history!', http://www.rhymes.org.uk/index.htm.

  • In small groups, ask students to choose a nursery rhyme that they remember from their early childhood. Ask them to write down the lyrics they remember and to find if other versions of the rhyme also exist. They should list these versions if they do.
  • Ask students to research the origins and meaning of the nursery rhyme they have chosen. They should complete the table provided in Student Activity Sheet H22.5.


Activity 2: Indigenous perspectives
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Subtheme(s): Chores, business and employment; Indigenous perspectives
  • Indigenous peoples' lives are intricately connected with the land. It has long been the basis of their languages, cultures, economies and social organisations. Find out about the local custodians and language groups of the land that your school occupies. Make contact with local Indigenous people: those from traditional owner groups, as well as other groups who now live in the area. Be aware that many Indigenous Australians have been displaced and dispossessed of their land and this can be a sensitive issue, so approach the topic with understanding and respect. You may need to do your own research first. Make contact with local Indigenous staff in your school, district or region (most jurisdictions in each state and territory have Indigenous positions to support this work).
  • The story of the colonisation of Australia is often told from a European perspective. The Europeans brought with them new methods of subsistence, establishing permanent settlements using introduced materials, tilling the land and bringing with them strange, new animals that were not permitted to be hunted, but devastated the land and much of the local food and water. Introduced species of both animals and plants have had long-lasting consequences on the Australian environment and on Indigenous peoples' lives over time. As a class, discuss some of the impacts these technologies and methods of farming have had on the Australian environment and the continuing impact this has on Indigenous peoples' lives over time.
  • Ask the class to investigate local plants and research their many uses, including as food sources, medicines, goods, materials, artwork, ceremonial uses and technologies. Discuss how an intricate knowledge of the local environment and the seasons was (and still is) important. Indigenous peoples continue to have strong connections with the land and intricate understandings about their environment and its seasons. Research these knowledges and talk to Indigenous people you know. Develop some oral histories from your local area about the country, places and people and its history.

  • Have students imagine that they are the Aboriginal boy in this clip, watching Sam as he completes his chores. Write an account of the work and chores that Sam completes in a day. Additionally, write an account of the day in the life of an Indigenous boy who helps Sam. This account should be based on the students' research on traditional Indigenous life, reflective of the time (late 18th century).
  • Both accounts should include drawings/images of uniquely Australian flora and fauna that the boys encounter in a day.


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