Post Colonial Physical Education: Embedding Indigenous content in Australian physical education

Recently, I participated in a research project with John Williams from the University of Canberra considering the use of the Indigenous game Buroinjin (Australian Sports Commission, 2008) in PE, and what this might mean in the context of quality' physical education 'in practice'. During this study, John introduced me to the concept of post-colonial physical education.

There is a theory that sport in schools, and later physical education in curriculum, was a cultural imposition of the British on the countries they colonised used as a tool in nation building in the image of the "homeland". Consequently, physical education and sport socialised young people explicitly and implicitly into a particularly 'British' worldview. The history of PE in countries like Australia and the USA is considered in detail by researchers like Kirk (2010), Siedentop (1972), and Tinning (2010).

Postcolonialsim is a research perspective with limited consideration in Australian, New Zealand and North American physical education literature. However, in Australia, the Australian Curriculum for Health and Physical Education (AC:HPE) and state derived versions of this curriculum framework, stress Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures as a cross-curriculum priority. This is so curricula respects and recognises the continuing living culture of Australia's Indigenous people,  students come to respect and recognise the continuing living culture of Australia's Indigenous people, and so Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are able to see their culture, themselves and their identities reflected in school curricula.

One of the few empirical studies in Australia to look at the lingering effect of schools as part of empire building and the construct of physical education in Australia is by John Williams (2018). He found Indigenous students at three schools experience a form of racialisation from Health and Physical Education (HPE). In an earlier paper, John (2014) examined the introduction of Indigenous dance in physical education and found that it is possible to move beyond traditional 'anglo' physical education content in Australian physical education and include indigenous perspectives in a non-tokenistic way. However, in a more recent paper, John (2017) found physical education teachers in Australia face constraints on their ability to meaningfully implement Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures in their programs. These constraints include a perceived lack of time to come to know Indigenous games and how to use them in PE, whereas the common games and sport they have the knowledge from their own school PE experiences, reinforced by the practical experiences of physical education in PE teacher education. In his 2014 study, John sensed that for the teachers in this study, Indigenous games was not seen as 'core business' or part of the 'privileged' knowledge of PE, but rather it was something that could be added to their programs if they received appropriate support. Whatman, Quennerstedt & McLaughlin (2017) explained how Indigenous perspectives are often absent from the 'ways of being' and 'ways of becoming' a PE teacher in Australia. They also make a persuasive case as to how Indigenous knowledge contains the capacity to disrupt the prevailing sport, fit, healthy and 'white' physical education hegemonic norms.

In Australia, Whatman and Meston (2016) argued that engagement with Indigenous games in physical education usually comes from a "western" lens. Williams (2014) argued that when teaching Indigenous games in Australian PE it is important to include Aboriginal people in the delivery of the teaching to bring the broader meaning of the activity to the teaching. This idea resonates with Whatman and Meston (2016) suggestion that traditional Indigenous games provide the opportunity for the PE teacher to educate in movement technical and tactical games skills, and through movement Indigenous 'ways of knowing and meaning' and a cultural interface.

Indigenous games did not feature in my physical education at school or teachers college. In the four schools and 19 years of PE teaching until I changed career into teacher education in 2006, Indigenous games did not feature in the school's PE programs. It wasn't until 2008 and the release of the Yulunga resource and the professional development that accompanied the release that I began to understand the educative possibilities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander games in PE. At the TGfU Symposium in Auckland 2014, I was introduced to the Maori game Ki-O-Rahi, and how it was being developed as a sport in New Zealand, which further expanded my understanding of the possibilities for Indigenous games in physical education and school sport, but also, how much ground we have to make up in Australian physical education and sport.

More recently, last year I became aware of the work of Dan Ninham in the US and his use of Lacrosse clinics to teach Indigenous culture and to engage communities in traditional cultural understandings. In Australia, there is some community awareness of the game of Marngrook, through the theory that observation of the game may have influenced the development of the first version of Australian Football, the 1859 Melbourne rules, and via the NITV program called the Marngrook Footy Show. However, while in recent times I experience some schools incorporating Indigenous games into their PE programs, it is my experience that this is still 'far from the norm'. I wonder if a game like Parndo in Australian southern states where Australian Football is most popular, or Buroijin in Queensland and NSW where Rugby League is most popular, may be able to become school sports like the Maori game Ki-O-Rahi has in New Zealand.

References and Reading
Australian Curriculum. (2018). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures. Retrieved from
Australian Sports Commission. (2008). Yulunga: Traditional indigenous games. Australian Sports Commission Publishing.
Kirk, D. (2010). Physical education futures. London: Routledge.
McNeill, M., Sproule, J., & Horton, P. (2003). The changing face of sport and physical education in post-colonial Singapore. Sport, Education and Society, 8(1), 35-56.
Whatman, S., & Meston, T. (2016). Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges in the AC:HPE - considering purposes of Indigenous games. Active and Healthy, 23(4), 36-39.
Siedentop, D. (1972). Physical education: An introductory analysis. Wm C. Brown & Company.
Whatman, S., Quennerstedt, M., & McLaughlin, J. (2017). Indigenous knowledge as a way to disrupt norms in physical education teacher education. Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education. 8(2), 115-131.
Williams, J. (2014). Introducing Torres Straight Island dance to the Australian high school physical education curriculum, 34(3), 305-318.
Williams, J. (2017). Embedding Indigenous content in Australian physical education - perceived obstacles by health and physical education teachers. Learning Communities - Special Issue: 2017 30th ACHPER International Conference, 21, 124-136.
Williams, J. (2018). A figurational analysis of how Indigenous students encounter racialization in physical education and school sport. European Physical Education Review, 24(1), 79-96.
Wright, J. (2006). Postmodern, poststructural and postcolonial research  in physical education. In D. Kirk, D. McDonald & M. O'Sullivan (eds) Handbook of Physical Education (pp.59-75) . Lon: SAGE.


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