"Just Passing"

Teaching and Learning with Non-Indigenous Students through Acknowledgement of Country


  • Bonny Cassidy RMIT University


At the opening of the Federal Parliament’s Senate Chamber in August 2022, Senator Pauline Hanson staged a demonstration against the Acknowledgement of Country, including a prepared media statement and a performative walkout from the chamber. The act of acknowledging Ngambri and Ngunnawal Country was, Hanson stated, not a traditional custom and was a “divisive” one. As a non-Indigenous academic in the tertiary sector, I want to explore how pedagogy can create a site to reflect this public conversation and take it much further than the media cycle.

In this article, I will show how my attempts to address this within the teaching and learning of Creative Writing has developed from observing a lack of relational agency in non-Indigenous young adults towards First Nations sovereignty and settler colonial history in the Eastern Kulin Nation. Finding a gap in the pedagogy of Creative Writing and Literary Studies to address this lack, I put forward evidence from my own classroom that tracks the journey of students coming into an understanding of – and desire for – lawful relations within and beyond the discipline.

Specifically, I make a case that Acknowledgement of Country is a fundamental opportunity and obligation for non-Indigenous Australians. Documenting how Acknowledgement forms a core task in my teaching practice, I share how it provokes non-Indigenous students to consider the impacts of truth-telling, standpoint, listening and active commitment in their education and lives as cultural participants. Whilst my findings are pedagogical in origin, the rationale of this article straddles creative writing studies, cultural studies and Indigenous-settler relations, and I suggest that the value of its findings are transdisciplinary in application.

Author Biography

Bonny Cassidy, RMIT University

Bonny Cassidy is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, RMIT University. She is author of three poetry collections including Chatelaine (Giramondo Publishing, 2017) and a book of nonfiction, Monument is forthcoming. Bonny’s criticism, essays and scholarship on Australian literature and culture have been widely published. She grew up by Gweagal waters in Cronulla, New South Wales, and lives in Dja Dja Wurrung woodland in central Victoria.