Australian History – We of the Never Never

As a young child I loved listening to stories my grandmothers told me about their lives in “the old days”. This art of story telling inspired my love of history from a very young age and it has stayed with me to this day. To me, history isn’t about recalling dates and facts but rather more about the story, the people and their lives. So when I was looking at what history we could learn about this year, I wanted to make sure that history came alive for my children, that a story was being retold and a connection was being made.
When we first came to the top end of Australia, we drove through a little town called Mataranka, Capital of the Never Never. Little did I know what amazing history that place held or that it would become a place of historical exploration for us. 

I went searching for more information on the town and what the meaning of “the Never Never” was all about. I quickly discovered Jeannie Gunn’s book, We of the Never Never. This book is an Australian classic which gives an autobiographical account of the year, 1903, that Jeanne and her husband Aenean (also known as Maluka in her story) left Melbourne and spent at the Elsey Station, near Mataranka, in the Northern Territory. 

I got my hands on Jeannie’s book and we read it. The language of the book is very old-fashion so my son found it hard to follow. So I found a copy of the DVD We of the Never Never and we watched this amazing Australian story come alive. You can see my list of 30+ films for learning about Australian History for more history film ideas. 

We made the trip to Mataranka to see a replica of the original homestead from Jeannie Gunn’s book. This replica was build for the filming of the movie however it is located not far from the original homestead site. The items in the homestead were very old and it was amazing to watch my children’s faces as they discovered the homestead had no electricity, no bathroom and no television.

In Jeannie’s story she talks about having conflicting interest with the homesteads cook. It was no surprise after seeing a replica of what the cooks “house” was like with limited facilities and a fire place for cooking, that made us realise how terrible harsh it was for them up here during that time.

It was easy to see how hard it must have been, over one hundred years ago, living there during the heat of summer and surviving the harsh environment with very little accommodations. It was important to note that the original homestead was built on (and the area around Roper River) the country of the Mangarayu and Yungman Indigenous people. This was the saddest part of the story as the land had been taken from them the traditional owners.

Our history exploring turned into a the nature curriculum as we explored the area around Mataranka. We found dragonflies, golden orb spiders and their HUGE webs as well as the gorgeous little wallabies. I love the Australian outdoors!

We visited Mataranka on a very HOT Northern Territory day and thankfully, right near the homestead, is the beautiful hot springs which are safe from crocodiles during the dry seasons.
We also went exploring at the Mataranka Bitter Springs which is home to an amazing amount of fresh water turtles and fish and other wildlife. It’s such a beautiful place and you can swim there too.

A status of Jeannie and Aeneas Gunn can be seen in the township of Mataranka as their story is ingrained in the history of the town.

I hope this post has encouraged you to make history relatable for your learners. History is everywhere we look and I want to encourage you to head outside and find the history, the stories, the people who live in your area and share the discovery of the past with your learners.

You can find more Australian history resources and ideas on my Australian History pinterest board. Be sure to follow us on Facebook or Instagram as we continued to explore Australian history in the top end of Australia.