Visual culture way

Apply the following to Learning Maps and Symbols/Images. This is important - read carefully.


Print-based cultures organise knowledge around verbal metaphors (e.g. beginning – middle – end).
Oral cultures organise knowledge around visual metaphors (e.g. roots – trunk – branches).
Non-Aboriginal verbal metaphors are hidden and abstract.
Aboriginal visual metaphors are concrete and explicit. Our Aboriginal visual metaphors are grounded in land and story.
They are related to everything around in country, family, spirit, culture, community.


The way you use metaphors and other abstractions determines much of what you think and learn.

Print-based/non-Aboriginal metaphors (verbal) result in sequential cognition (thinking in sequence).

Oral-based/Aboriginal metaphors (visual) result in relational cognition (thinking holistically in interconnected ways).

For research on this,  read Clair (2000) .

For research on this, read Clair (2000).


To teach dominant culture forms (e.g. beginning – middle – end structure for writing) for Aboriginal students, you need to make the hidden metaphor explicit.

You need to make it visual, preferably with a metaphor from land or story (or both).

If you do this, you are honouring oral and print-based ways of knowing, and so bringing an Aboriginal perspective to any mainstream content.

We have a long tradition in Aboriginal society of ritual training in the use of metaphor during initiation into higher stages of knowledge (Evans, 2009). This is because metaphor is the way Law, Business, ritual, ceremony and magic is worked. Powerful metaphors create the frameworks for powerful transformation processes, but only if they have integrity. A metaphor that lacks integrity only damages relatedness.

For example, during this project I visited an Aboriginal community school in the Northern Territory that was using the metaphor of Aboriginal fishing nets as an education framework. This may have worked as an idea of school and community weaving their different threads together to make the nets, then the students using the nets to catch fish, with the fish representing knowledge and social/cultural capital. But this was not the case. The fish in the net represented the children themselves and the river represented the community, promoting a very problematic image of the school as an entity that captures children and takes them away to be consumed.

The message here is that the use of metaphors for doing Business or creating frameworks for education should be taken very seriously and approached with cultural and intellectual integrity. If token symbols of culture are applied as metaphors without intellectual rigour, then they may do more harm than good.