The Burnt Stick

by Anthony Hill illustrated by Mark Sofilas (Viking Books Australia 1994)

peace with ourselves-peace with each other

recommended but unavailable - maybe a copy in your local library


The Stolen Generations refers to a time in Australian History between 1910 and 1970. About one hundred thousand Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families by police or welfare officers. Many of the children were under five years of age. The Burnt Stick is a story that sensitively deals with this regrettable tragedy. It is for all ages to share together and to appreciate the lasting impact of such actions. This story seeks to teach the importance of many peace-building elements:

  • happy endings

  • everyone winning

  • nonviolent resolution

  • imaginative and creative

  • challenges existing stereotyping

  • faith and hope

  • peace with the environment

  • finding personal peace

  •     ..and element that supports the idea that peace is possible

What happened to the children? Why were they taken?

It was Federal and State Government policy that Aboriginal children during those years, especially children considered to be of mixed Aboriginal and European parents, should be removed from their families and their traditional communities. The main reason was to assimilate these children into European society and deny their Aboriginality. The children were forbidden to speak their traditional languages and were unable to keep in contact or even visit their families. Many were taken hundreds of kilometres away from their homelands. The children's parents were also not told of their whereabouts.

The Burnt Stick is one such story about a young boy John Jagamarra whose mother, determined to keep her son, tried to trick the Welfare Officer who came for her child.

So how does the story end???

......the story invites all Australians to assist in the creation of happy endings

for all children and families of the Stolen Generations.

There is always hope.

Critical questions to explore with children

  • What was life like for John Jagamarra's community at Dryborough Station?
  • What did his mother fear would happen to him?
  • What was the man from the Welfare wanting to do?
  • How many times was Liyan able to trick the Welfare Officer?
  • How did she manage to trick him?
  • What did old Charlie Warragin warn them all about?
  • How was John eventually taken away from his mother?
  • Does the story have a happy win-win ending?

Creative questions to explore with children

  • Do you think Aboriginal children should have been taken away from their families?
  • How would you feel if the same had happened to you?
  • How do you think John's mother Liyan felt when he was taken away?
  • Was it right that John was allowed no communication with his mother once he had been taken away?
  • Was Liyan's trick to cover John with ash a clever one?
  • Do you think the owners of the station supported the actions of the man from the Welfare Office?
  • What other things could Liyan or John have done to prevent John being taken away?
  • How could this story have ended with win-win? Is it now too late for a win-win ending to occur for the children of the Stolen Generations?

go to: The Burnt Stick classroom activities

for further information about the Stolen Generations

Teaching and Learning for Peace Foundation October 2005

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