Colonial Australia – First Contacts, Australian Colonies & Australia as a Nation

Costume Ideas

GENERIC HINT ONE: Do internet searches for images of specific characters, like “Ned Kelly”, or do a generic “Colonial Australia” type of image search for visual representations of costuming.

GENERIC HINT TWO: Do internet searches for Do-It-Yourself costuming pages for instructions or ideas on how to make your own costumes.

Images of Colonial Girls or Boys clothing can be found relatively easily on the internet. For Girls a bonnet or hat, a straw sunhat is a good, easy option, then a long dress with a pinafore or apron can complete a look. Boys in this period wore knee length pants with long socks, a golf cap or flat cap is a good look for the boys and a button up shirt with optional suspenders (the ‘hold up your pants’ style).

Some other ideas are pretty standard like Convicts, Bushrangers and Gold Miners. Convict outfits can just be a white shirt and pants with the black arrows painted on them. A ball and chain can also be made from cardboard and a cheap rubber ball painted. For a Bushranger all you need to add to a basic button up shirt and long pants is a bandana tied around the neck and an Akubra style hat…some pistols in the belt are optional. Gold Miners aren’t that different from Bushrangers you just take away the bandana, use a checked shirt and maybe add suspenders again.

For the more serious costumer you can also look at a British Naval Captain or Redcoat Soldiers. These costumes can be bought online or a good way to make the coats is out of felt. There is a little bit of sewing to put the coat together but all of the embroidered accoutrements, buttons etc can be just glued on with fabric glue. Colonial Sailors could wear checked or striped shirts, three-quarter length white pants and a beanie style cap. Ned Kelly armour can be made out of cardboard and added to the Bushranger basics and a Swagman is just a Gold Miner outfit but with the addition of corks swinging from the hat and a swag roll (just a blanket rolled up and held in place with rope) hanging over the shoulder.

There is also the option for the more skilled sewers to make a Suffragette outfit or Victorian Gentlemen. Search the internet for patterns and examples of clothing from this era.

One more idea for the students who like to wear Onesies…a Kangaroo!

Here are some links to DIY costuming pages:

Activity Ideas

Archaeological Dig

This can be done for any time period.

  • Organise a large box or small kiddies pool full of sand or soil.
  • Bury ‘artefacts’ – old cutlery, coins, bits of broken ceramics, old dried out chicken or beef bones, bobby pins, bits of fabric, etc.
  • Students can bring tools from home or you can supply them, maybe from your Art Department – various size paint brushes, clay working tools, etc
  • Students can first investigate and research some archaeological excavation techniques. They can then use those techniques to find the buried artefacts and sort them into classifications such as bone, stone, ceramics, etc
  • The students can then try and imagine the stories that are behind these artefacts – Who might have owned this item? What could it have been used for? How did it end up lost and buried? 

First Fleet Focus Activities

  • Hold a mock trial for a person who will be convicted and sent to a penal colony. Have students research the criminal acts that a person could be transported for, the court processes of the time etc. Students can then act out the trial, with one being the magistrate, some being the police and the convicted etc.
  • Students can make Hard Tack or Ships Biskets and find out what food was like for the people travelling in the First Fleet. Here is a link to a fantastic Colonial cooking show making Hard Tack:
  • Give students the task of finding feathers, then show them how to cut the tip of the feather to make a writing quill (it may be safer for the teacher to do the cutting). Give each student a small amount of ink and see if they can write using the quill and ink. Here is a link to instructions on how to cut a feather quill

Australian Colonies Focus Activities

  • Have students create a wanted poster for a Bushranger. They can research the types of crimes Bushrangers were wanted for and think about what would drive these people to commit these crimes – what was life like for people then? They can then draw a likeness of their Bushranger, list their crimes, make up an interesting name like Captain Thunderbolt and decide what price to put on his/her head.
  • Get artsy by making a Ned Kelly helmet from cardboard – How to make a “Ned Kelly Helmet”
  • Students can research the sorts of toys that children in Colonial times enjoyed playing with like spinning tops and whirligigs. Here are some instructions on how to make simple spinning tops and whirligigs – How to make “Spinning Tops and Whirligigs”

Australia as a Nation Focus Activities

  • Have students research and think about the Australian Flag vs the Eureka Flag. Have them make or draw both flags. They could make big ones together as a group maybe as a collage or just small individual ones. What are their thoughts on which one we should be using today?
  • Have a student debate to argue the pros and cons for Federation.
  • Students can investigate the Women’s Suffrage Movement and make some Suffrage protest placards or posters. Why did women want to be able to vote? What would it mean for a woman’s life in general to have these rights?