….in particular, John McDouall Stuart.


The Australian Curriculum for History at Year 5 is outlined in the ACARA document version 4.1, dated 1st February 2013. ‘The role of a significant individual in shaping a colony…particularly internal explorers’ is quoted, on page 32. The outstanding achievements of John McDouall Stuart fulfill this role perfectly, particularly for the province of South Australia, but also for all of Australian. Stuart has been described as Australia’s greatest inland explorer.

Learning Intentions for this lesson plan:

1. To have students in Year 5 and beyond discover their Australian heritage, beginning with the first Australians and continuing to the present. Learn how the achievements of John McDouall Stuart, who ‘changed the face of this continent’, accomplishes this.

2. To have the students understand a little of how these early explorers made possible the opening up of this country to pioneers, pastoralists, miners and townspeople, etc, but with unfortunate consequences for the Indigenous population and the natural environment.

3. To have the students gain some idea of the privations these explorers suffered in order to discover what was in the centre of this vast continent (e.g. was there an inland sea?)

Suggested steps for teachers to follow

1. On a map of Australia, help the students to find:-

(1) Alice Springs.

(2) The ‘centre’ of the continent (by measuring distances) or seeking solutions from GeoScience Australia.

(3) The ‘Top End’.

(4) Uluru.

(5) The Stuart Highway.

(6) The ‘Ghan’ Railway.

(7) The route of the Overland Telegraph Line which linked the Australian colonies to the rest of the world in 1872.

(8) The borders of the colonies before Federation in 1901. (The Colonial Office in London granted control of the Northern Territory to South Australia in 1863, beating a claim from their colonial rival, Queensland).

(9) Chambers Pillar.

2. Take the students out into the school yard and ask them to point North, South, East and West. Then ask them to point in the direction of Darwin and to guess how long it would take them to get there on horses. Tell them that it took Stuart and his companions 9 months to reach the sea on their third attempt to cross the continent from the south. (Stuart returned, without the loss of life of his Companions or of Aboriginal people. Many other explorers, unfortunately, had deaths on their expeditions).

3. Ask the students to compose their own texts, narratives and descriptions, by imagining they are explorers in the 1850 – 60’s (coping with loneliness, unknown terrain, remoteness, threats to safety, etc). Suggest students write a story on ‘A day in the life of a year 5 child on January 21st, 1862’ – the day when Stuart and his party returned to Adelaide as heroes in the biggest celebration the colony had known to date.

4. Give a local touch by asking the students ‘did any famous explorers pass this way’? Ask ‘Who were the first inhabitants of our district?’

Further Activities

1. Use search engines, YouTube, etc to look for more information on Stuart. For example, the documentary made in Adelaide titled ‘Wire through the Heart’.

2. Visit the ‘Stuart Collection’ at 254 North Tce Adelaide in the Adelaide Masonic Centre. For more details contact John Lyon of the Stuart Society committee at jjlyon@skymesh.com.au or 08 8389 3143.

3. Obtain a copy of the booklet ‘Exploring the Stuart Highway’ at www.exploringaustralia.com.au (this is an excellent resource for teachers).

4. Make or buy some beef jerky (available from Loxton S.A., phone 08 8583 8209) and invite the students to eat a bit. Discover what Stuart and his companions ate when exploring! Investigate just how little food the men had as a daily ration on the homeward journey. Make a damper and eat it, observing how plain in taste and lacking in nutrition it is compared to foods we eat today.

5. On a school tour visit the John McDouall Stuart statue in Victoria Square, Adelaide. Then visit the Stuart Collection (ask for a guided tour as in 2 above). Perhaps this could be combined with a visit to SA Museum?

6. Give students a project on the vital role horses played in exploration. For example, ask who Polly was. Name some of the other horses on the expedition. How did some horses save the expedition from becoming lost on the way back to Adelaide? Similarly, organise a project on birds of the desert (e.g. Zebra finches….who led the party to water when they were on their last legs) or plants, which were sometimes eaten to treat scurvy.

7. Invite a speaker from the Stuart Society to talk your students (contact as in 2 above).

8. Find out who is Australia’s only astronaut and demonstrate how he is connected to the Great Northern Exploring Expedition, 1861-1862. What did this astronaut carry on the space shuttle Endeavour, which was connected to Stuart’s last expedition?

9. Obtain from John Lyon (as in 3 above) a copy of John Schumann’s Music Society presentation of the Life of Stuart and play tracks such as ‘Skinny little kid’ and ‘Remember me’.

10. Ask the students ‘what motivated these early Australian explorers?’ Ask ‘What is the next challenge for exploration? (link with 9 above).

11. Try to link your lessons on explorers (Stuart in particular) with significant dates. For example,

  •  September 7th 2017 is the 202nd anniversary of Stuart’s birth.
  •  July 25th is the anniversary of Stuart reaching at last the north coast of Australia and becoming the first European to cross the Australian continent from south to north, passing through the centre and returning without loss of life. An annual ceremony at Stuart’s statue in Adelaide commemorates this date. The Stuart Society website will have ways that schools could join in with these celebrations.
  •  Please note, there are many other ideas for ‘things to do’… please refer to 3 above.

12. Suggest a family touring holiday based on Stuart’s journeys. Visit places he named and discovered. Deliver a holiday report when back at school.


In the ACARA document on Australian History for year 5, the explorers/individuals mentioned are Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth, G.J.McDonald, Elizabeth and John McArthur, Caroline Chisholm, Saint Mary MacKillop, Peter Lalor, James Unaipon. The Senior Project Officer for History in ACARA has said ‘While Stuart is not specifically mentioned, the content description in no way precludes the teaching of the history of Stuart’s explorations.’

The John McDouall Stuart Society has on file an interesting education document from 1923 titled ‘A few important dates in Australian History’ – please contact The Stuart Society for a copy.

The production of this lesson plan is the result of consultations with Year 5 teachers and the Primary Advisory Curriculum Information Officers.

The John McDouall Stuart Society was founded in 1964. Its purpose is to perpetuate his name and the achievements of he and his Companions. Membership is open to all who may be interested. Talks and tours are held throughout the year; monuments and plaques created and maintained; fascinating newsletters and papers are regularly produced and distributed.

You are welcome to visit the Stuart Collection, a museum of artefacts, maps, memorabilia and picture connected to Stuart and his Companions. It is on the first floor, Adelaide Masonic Centre, 254 North Tce,  Adelaide. Make a booking to facilitate a tour by contacting the office on (08) 8223 1633, or at info@santfreemasons.org.au.


John Lyon at jjlyon2@skymesh.com.au, or phone 08 8389 3143. John is a former principal of the Whyalla Stuart High School, and is Vice President of the John McDouall Stuart Society.