Teacher background information


Year 10 Science Content Description

Science Understanding

Biological sciences

The theory of evolution by natural selection explains the diversity of living things and is supported by a range of scientific evidence (ACSSU185 - Scootle )

  • investigating some of the structural and physiological adaptations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to the Australian environment (OI.3, OI.7)

This elaboration provides opportunities for students to investigate some of the remarkable physical traits of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and how this is evident by the overrepresentation of First Nations’ Australians in some historical as well as contemporary professional fields. By studying the theory of evolution by natural selection in this context, students gain an understanding of the mechanism that is responsible for the development of such characteristics. At the same time students learn about and appreciate the important contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to Australian society. 

On initial contact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, European colonisers quickly noted that First Australians were equipped with many abilities and traits superior to their own, such as exceptional eyesight, reflexes, jumping ability, throwing accuracy, spatial awareness, running speed and stamina. This has been well documented in the private journals and official documents of early European colonisers. As a consequence, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were, and still are, highly sought-after in certain professional fields that require such abilities, such as the whaling and pearling industries of the 1800s or professional sports today.  

It has been recognised that such variations in physical abilities cannot be explained through differences in training and lifestyle alone, but contain a strong genetic component. The theory of evolution by natural selection explains how such diversity appears in populations of organisms including humans. Traits or characteristics that confer a reproductive advantage will, over many generations, become more frequent throughout the entire population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' long habitation in the diverse regions of Australia has led to the development of physical characteristics that are favourable to living in those environments. It is likely that the traits held by pre-contact Australians are responsible for remarkable achievements in certain sports. Many scientists believe that this can explain the overrepresentation of First Nations Australians in the highest levels of many sports today.  

Investigating the exceptional sprinting and jumping abilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander football players due to the predominance of type II (fast twitch) muscle fibres, or the acuity of vision and rowing abilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander whalers employed in the Australian and New Zealand whaling industries in the early 19th century, may provide the context in which students can explore the mechanisms that explain how such characteristics evolve. 

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

Bega Valley Shire Council. (2009). A bit of history. History of the Shire. Retrieved from https://www.begavalley.nsw.gov.au/About/History%20of%20

Charlie’s Space. (2009, August 23). Fastest white man.  Retrieved from http://charlie180.wordpress.com/2008/08/23/fastest-white-man

Charlie’s Space. (2010, July 15). The fastest ever white man [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://charlie180.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/the-fastest-ever-white-man/

Haddon, A. C. (1935). Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits: Vol. 1. London: Cambridge University Press.

Hallinan, C., & Judd, B. (2009a). Changes in assumptions about Australian Indigenous footballers: From exclusion to enlightenment. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 26(16), 2358-2375.

Hallinan, C., & Judd, B. (2009b). Race relations, Indigenous Australia and the social impact of professional Australian football. Sport in Society, 12(9), 1220-1235. doi:10.1080/17430430903137910

Kearins, J. M. (1981). Visual spatial memory in Australian Aboriginal children of desert regions. Cognitive Psychology, 13(3), 434-460. Doi:10.1016/0010-0285(81)90017-7

McAllister, P. (2011, June 4). Racists not just stupid, but disastrously wrong. The Australian. Retrieved from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/racists-not-just-stupid-but-disastrously-wrong/news-story/d3dbcf17718e0b9e726b907cfb85c057

Paruzel-Dyja, M., Walaszczyk, A., & Iskra, J. (2006). Elite male and female sprinters’ body build, stride length and stride frequency. Studies in Physical Culture and Tourism, 13(1), 33-37.

Prickett, N. (2008). Trans-Tasman stories: Australian Aborigines in New Zealand sealing and shore whaling. In G. Clark, F. Leach, & S. O'Connor (Eds.), Islands of Inquiry: Colonisation, seafaring and the archaeology of maritime landscapes Terra Australis (pp. 351-366). Retrieved from http://press.anu.edu.au?p=26551

Rivers, W. H., Myers, C. S., & McDougall, W. (1903). Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. Physiology and Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, K. V. (2010). Mari Nawi: Aboriginal odysseys 1790–1850. Kenthurst, NSW: Rosenberg.

Verrall, G. M., Slavotinek, J. P., Barnes, P. G., Fon, G. T., & Spriggins, A. J. (2001). Clinical risk factors for hamstring muscle strain injury: A prospective study with correlation of injury by magnetic resonance imaging. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(6), 435-439. doi:10.1136/bjsm.35.6.435

Webb, S. (2007). Further research of the Willandra Lakes fossil footprint site, southeastern Australia. Journal of Human Evolution, 52, 711-715.