Analysis - Yirrkala bark petition

Year 9/10
English / Visual Arts

Suggested duration: One lesson


In this task, students will perform a close analysis of the Yirrkala Bark Petition. Through the activities, students will learn about symbolism in the visual arts and the power of art to transcend cultural barriers.

In 1963, the Yolngu people of Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land presented a bark petition to the Commonwealth Parliament. It was their response to the threat to their country posed by bauxite mining. These documents are the first traditional documents recognised by the Commonwealth Parliament. They combined bark painting with text typed on paper. The painted designs proclaim Yolngu Law, revealing the people’s traditional relationship to the land (The Little Red Yellow Black Book, p. 154).

Learning outcomes

  • Students will be able to analyse and interpret the Yirrkala Bark Petition.
  • Students will be able to reflect on styles used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. 
General capabilities Cross-curriculum priorities
Critical and creative thinking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
Intercultural understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures organising ideas: 6, 9

Australian Curriculum content descriptions

Year 9 English

  • Analyse how the construction and interpretation of texts, including media texts, can be influenced by cultural perspectives and other texts (ACELY1739).
  • Explore and explain the combinations of language and visual choices that authors make to present information, opinions and perspectives in different texts (ACELY1745).

Year 10 English

  • Analyse and evaluate how people, cultures, places, events, objects and concepts are represented in texts, including media texts, through language, structural and/or visual choices (ACELY1749).
  • Identify and explore the purposes and effects of different text structures and language features of spoken texts, and use this knowledge to create purposeful texts that inform, persuade and engage (ACELY175).

Year 9 and 10 Visual Arts

  • Conceptualise and develop representations of themes, concepts or subject matter to experiment with their developing personal style, reflecting on the styles of artists, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait
  • Islander artists (ACAVAM125).

Provisions for differentiation

Learning support

To support students with learning difficulties, teachers may elect to have students describe the appearance of the Yirrkala Bark Petition rather than make detailed annotations.


Students could use this activity to develop their own ideas for an artwork that combines techniques such as those used in the Yirrkala Bark Petition with products of modern technology.


For teachers

Ensure that the guidance notes included in The Little Red Yellow Black Book teacher resources have been considered.


  • Annotations
  • Activism
  • Land Rights
  • Appropriation

Preparation: Ensure that students have access to computers and the internet to complete this task. Make one copy per student of the Activity worksheet. Make one copy per student of the Yirrkala Bark Petition from the AIATSIS website. Ensure students have access to copies of The Little Red Yellow Black Book or relevant pages.

Step 1.

Read through the content about the Yirrkala Bark Petition in The Little Red Yellow Black Book (pages 154-155). Conduct a class discussion to summarise the content.

Step 2.

Set students up with computer and internet access.

Step 3.

Distribute the Activity worksheet and a copy of the Yirrkala Bark Petition from the AIATSIS website. Direct students to complete their online research and written analysis tasks independently.

Suggestions for annotations: If students are struggling, give them this list of elements and features that they could identify, describe and explain. The English and Gumatj languages and their comparative layouts; the use of traditional bark painting methods; the use of typed text; the colours; the lines and shapes; the meanings behind the designs and motifs; the contrasts; the official Parliamentary stamp; the date; the signatures; the use of mixed media; the title; and the political purpose of the piece.

Assessment ideas

  • Contribution to class discussion
  • Worksheet answers
Last reviewed: 8 Nov 2019