Significance Teachers Kit


Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for over 40,000 years according to archaeological and anthropological research. According to the Aboriginal people, they have been in Australia since the beginning of time. In many parts of Australia, various aspects of Aboriginal culture have been lost because of the arrival of European peoples in the late 18th century which forced Aboriginal people off their land – which is the basis for much Aboriginal culture. As a consequence, many cultural sites that have significant meaning to the Aboriginal people are no longer used for their original purpose. Gummingurru is one such site. In this information package, the new significance of Gummingurru is outlined, and potential projects for middle school students who visit the site are presented.

Cultural significance is the value we place on a ‘cultural site’ (by cultural site we mean built heritage, stone arrangements, etc) and sometimes we have to assess the value of such sites. These assessments look at different categories of value from different aspects such as public value (what value the public would place on the site, this could include how much the public use the site), the scientific value (such as value to the archaeological community, etc) and finally the community (or cultural significance) which is the value placed on the site by those who ‘own’ the site; for example the Gummingurru site is owned by the Gummingurru Aboriginal Corporation and the wider south east Queensland Aboriginal community. This ownership is less of a materialistic ownership and is more a cultural ownership, i.e. the object/site is part of that culture and has a certain value as part of that culture. The concept of cultural significance is important in understanding how different cultures value different objects, sites and ideas. For students this is important for gaining an understanding of the value of other cultures and what is valued in that culture. It is also important for students to gain an understanding of the significance of sites as being able to identify how valuable cultural sites could be to different cultures.


During the 40,000 years that the Aborigines have lived on the land, they have established a strong connection to the land and almost every part of the land has some sort of significance attached to it whether it be a major place related to part of the Dreaming, ceremonial sites like Bora grounds or the fabric (surrounding landscape) of these places. Not only the land but the flora and fauna were and continue to be of great significance to the Aborigines. As part of the spiritual connection to the land, totems or yuris were given to each person in the clan and this was done at different stages in his or her life, for example, at birth and at initiation. With these yuris came responsibilities and knowledge which was built up over a lifetime and passed on to the next generation.

When these yuris were given, a ceremony or ritual was conducted, usually at a sacred place. Gummingurru was one such place, where boys were initiated into manhood. This site was a male only sacred place where females and children were forbidden to go (Ross, 2008). Aborigines believed that gender specific sites should most strictly remain that way even in the present (Mearns, 1994). There were also similar sites for women where the men were forbidden to go and there is believed to be such a site located close to Gummingurru. These sites are of great significance to the Aborigines, being a very important part of their society and part of their belief system. They also represent a physical manifestation of their beliefs (Mearns, 1994).

In the past, Gummingurru was an important site for many of the clans in the south-eastern region of Queensland as it was the meeting place for the clans before travelling on to the Bunya Mountains where the triennial bunya nut harvest took place. Gummingurru was not only an initiation site, but one where the men could hold council, form political alliances and conduct secret men’s business. One of the living descendents of the clan recounts that some of the men would be away for a month or two when the clan was travelling to the Bunya Mountains. This signifies that this site was not just a major stopping point in the journey to the Bunyas but it was also an important site on its own and was maintained on a regular basis.

However the site fell into disrepair in the late 19th century as, after the arrival and settlement of Europeans, the Aborigines were gathered up and relocated (forcibly if necessary) even though the Europeans were aware of the site. Because of the removal of the traditional custodians of the site in the late 19th century and the subsequent land use, which also disturbed the site, some of the traditional knowledge about this site was lost, although what has been retained was passed on to Ben Gilbert (the land owner on whose property Gummingurru is situated) by Bunda (one of the local Aboriginal people who managed to avoid being removed to Palm Island). Since 2000 has the site been resurrected by the return of some of the traditional custodians (the Jarowair people) and the cultural significance of the site fully realized.

Gummingurru is located about 15.5km north of Toowoomba (Thompson, 2004) in the locality of Cawdor. The area of the stone arrangement is about 5 ha and is located on private land. The land was originally brought by James Jinks in 1871 and passed on through his family until his great grandson Ben Gilbert acquired it in 1948. Mr. Gilbert rediscovered the site and reported it to the Queensland Museum in 1960. After the recording and recognition of the site, it became protected by the then Rosalie Shire Council and later under Queensland legislation in the late 1960s. As such, the site was managed by various government agencies from that time but Aboriginal custodians did not start to take part in the management or indeed become a part of the process of protecting the site until 2000.

Cultural Significance of Gummingurru

Before the arrival of European settlers, the site was of great importance and represented the spiritual beliefs of the Aboriginal people and as such provided a place of education, ceremonial activities, alliance making, and giving identity to young Aborigines (Ross, 2008). The cultural knowledge specific to this site has been partly lost with the removal of the traditional Aboriginal people from the area for an extended period of time and the knowledge was not able to be passed on to initiated men. The traditional knowledge was lost, but not the purpose of the site; it is now being resurrected by the traditional Aborigines who have come back to the area and are actively managing the site through education of young people, reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, forming alliances (more now with organizations such as the Condamine Alliance and other community and Aboriginal groups), and giving identity back to young Aboriginal people(Ross, 2008).

The cultural significance of the site comes into question because the past cultural use of the site has been changed, but does this affect the value of the site? Should the site be preserved the way it is and not disturbed at all, even by aboriginal people themselves? Should the Aboriginal people be able to actively manage the site by maintaining it the way their ancestors did centuries ago and add to the site by discovery or forming new arrangements?

For now the site is being actively managed by the traditional Aboriginal people and this does seem to be adding cultural value to the site as a living heritage place. Most importantly, educating young people both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal about the site and its significance, continues the living heritage significance of the site.

Past and present cultural significance - relevance to the Education Queensland Studies of Society and Environment

As mentioned, the theme of this project is the past and present significance of Gummingurru. The theme allows students to analyse the promotion of cultural diversity - core learning outcome 6.1 (The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001). This is achieved through the cross-cultural sharing of Aboriginal people’s customs, tradition, celebrations and lifestyles (The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001) at Gummingurru. By attending the site, students are experiencing the new meaning of the Gummingurru site (education, reconciliation, resurrection) by being taught the history of the site. Prior to European settlement in the area, Aboriginal cultural restrictions of the site (gender, age, cultural differences) would not have allowed this.

Understanding past and present cultural significance at Gummingurru relates to core learning outcome 6.3: the effects of globalisation on cultural groups (The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001). Gummingurru has undergone a number of changes as a result of settlement in the area. These changes relate to partial loss of culture and identity, and disempowerment of a culture. By identifying and understanding the past and present cultural significance changes of Gummingurru, the theme is identifying a current issue (maintenance, protection of the site) which is connected to the perceptions of Aboriginal people - core learning outcome 6.2 (The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001).

Activity sheets

The teacher’s kit comes with a PowerPoint presentation, five activities, and answer sheets for the five activities. The activities are aimed at getting students to identify the past and present cultural significance changes at Gummingurru and how changes in society over time have affected this. The PowerPoint presentation informs students of the cultural significance and activities at the site in the past as well as current day. Most of the information provided in the setting section of this teacher’s kit is provided in the PowerPoint presentation. It is anticipated that the presentation and activities should take no longer than one hour to complete.

Activity 1 should be done prior to viewing the PowerPoint presentation to introduce a few keywords that will help with students’ understanding of the concept of significance. The answers to the questions can be found within the find-a-word. As long as the theme of the project and students’ own knowledge of Aboriginal culture is kept in mind, the activity should not be too hard. The remaining activity sheets are question and answer style activities. Activities 2 and 3 can be done during or after the PowerPoint presentation. Most of the answers are presented during the PowerPoint presentation. Activity 2 is set in the time period of 1880, while activity 4 is in a present day setting. Using information given to them during the presentation, and their own experiences, students should answer the questions. It is advised that students read the questions in the activity sheets prior to viewing the PowerPoint presentation. Activity 4 is a comparison between the answers to activity 2 and 3 that allows students to compare the changes in cultural significance between the two time periods. This should be done by entering the main differences into the boxes of the table that correspond to the time period. This will enable students to put changes into greater perspective. Activity 5 should be completed after the students return from a visit to Gummingurru. This exercise is a retrospective of students thoughts, combined with information presented in the presentation to reflect their own feelings towards the cultural significance of Gummingurru. Students should utilise the answers they have given in the previous activities, answers given to them by their guide at Gummingurru and their own personal experiences to help reflect.

Rationale of activities in regard to Education Queensland Studies of Society and Environment core learning outcomes

It is intended that the students will satisfy a number of Core Learning Outcomes of the SOSE syllabus by completing the project and activities. Activity 1 is only introductory to get students thinking about keywords so does not satisfy core learning outcomes. Activities 2, 3 and 4 satisfy a number of core learning outcomes, such as:

  • CI 6.1: students recognise the promotion of cultural diversity by cross-cultural sharing of traditions, customs, celebrations and lifestyles (The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001). The comparison of the two time periods allows students to synthesise information and draw conclusions about cultural changes to the site (The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001). Gummingurru is an example of Aboriginal people trying to bridge the cultural gap by sharing the site and cultural information.
  • CI 6.2: students identify a current issue connected with perceptions of cultural groups (The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001).By identifying the issue of changes in cultural significance of the Gummingurru site, students can relate the loss of the cultural landscape and cultural knowledge at the Gummingurru site
  • CI 6.3: students recognise the effects of globalisation on cultural groups such as changes to Aboriginal culture, which may have resulted from British neo-colonialism (The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001). The disempowerment of small or less influential cultures as a result of colonization is also represented in the activity (The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001). Activity 2 is set in a time period which was around the time Aboriginal people last used the site. Activity 3 is set in a time period where Aboriginal people are trying to resurrect the site. These changes, as a result of doing activity 4 represent changes to Aboriginal culture as a result of settlement in the area.

Activity 5 is aimed at allowing students to reflect on the information presented by the PowerPoint and on personal experiences gained at the Gummingurru site. By doing this, students are fulfilling part of the following core learning outcome:

  • CI 6.1: students can “express findings and reflect on the analysis to ascertain ways conclusions may be modified” (The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001, pg 53). Activity 4 allows students to identify differences between the two time periods so that in activity 5 students can make different conclusions on the changing cultural significance of Gummingurru.

Considerations when visiting Gummingurru

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed prior to a visit to Gummingurru. These are:

  • It necessary for students to bring their own lunch as there are no shops close by. All rubbish is to be placed in bins at the visitor centre.
  • It is advised that long pants or jeans be worn with covered footwear such as joggers, boots or hiking shoes. The site is well maintained but there are a number of weed species at the site that will get caught in socks.
  • At no point throughout the visit should students move, dislodge, pickup or kick stones.
  • Throughout the students visit to Gummingurru they should be mindful of showing respect to their guide and Aboriginal culture in general.
  • Students should be on the lookout for snakes on the site, just in case.


  • Education Queensland and The Office of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, 2001, Studies of Society and Environment, Years 1 to 10 Sourcebook Guidelines, The State of Queensland.
  • Mearns, L . 1994, ‘To Continue the Dreaming: Aboriginal Women’s Traditional Responsibilities in a Transformed World’, Oxford, England.
  • Ross, A. 2008 Managing meaning at an ancient site in the 21st century: the Gummingurru Aboriginal stone arrangement on the Darling Downs, southern Queensland. Oceania 78:91-108.