The Educational Legacy of My Place

Janine Kelly
8 Sep 2022

Written by Nadia Wheatley and illustrated by Donna Rawlins, My Place tells the story of an Australian community from the perspectives of children who lived there over time. The picture book is structured as a timeline, beginning in 1988 and taking readers back in time – decade by decade – until before colonisation. Twenty-one children provide a snapshot of their daily life, capturing the change and continuity in their shared place through first-person narration. Their stories are framed by First Nations characters Laura and Barangaroo as the first and final voices in the narrative.

In 2009, more than 20 years after My Place was originally published, Matchbox Pictures adapted the book into a Logie-winning television series by the same name. Five new characters were created for the screen: Mohammed, Lily, Waruwi, Dan and Bunda. Wheatley’s original character Laura was re-situated in 2008, where she joined her family in watching the National Apology to the Stolen Generations. Through filming locations, costumes, music and dialogue, these two series help to bring Wheatley’s engaging characters to life for the child audience.

Both the picture book and series have become embedded texts in Australian classrooms, with My Place capturing the imaginations of students and teachers alike. Penny Chapman, the producer of the ABC television series, said: “I always thought that it was going to be a really interesting historical journey for kids – for people who read the book, for people who watched the series, and that in an educative sense, it could be really valuable… I’m thrilled that it’s continued to be of educational use, because what better way to tell the history of a place [than] through the eyes of kids?”

The success of the My Place story in the classroom is due, in part, to the continuing relevance of the texts’ themes to our national and state curricula. The series and book – or a comparison of the two – can be used to explore curriculum content for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures, English, History, Geography, Media Arts, Intercultural Capability, Ethical Capability and Personal and Social Capability. Teachers may use the book and series as mentor texts when writing narratives or historical recounts, for example, or to highlight changes in the natural and built environments. Many classrooms examine the two 1788 episodes in their inquiries into First Nations histories, comparing and contrasting the perspectives of Dan and Waruwi.

This depiction of multiple perspectives crossing time and cultures helps us to better understand Australia’s diverse history. It builds empathy by highlighting for students that we all experience the world in different ways. As Reading Australia Editor Jenny Ryan recently reflected: “[My Place] captures the changing face of Australia – in terms of our surroundings, demographics, traditions and family lives – as well as long-established values relating to diversity and recognition of migrants and First Nations peoples.”

Through learning about our shared multicultural past, students also learn about themselves. The diverse characters depicted in My Place enable a diversity of students to connect to the written and screen texts, validating their experiences of the world and their own place in our national history.  As explained by Sheldon Crossan, classroom teacher at St. Bernard’s Catholic School in Berowra Heights: “Australian stories like My Place are widely transferable to different areas of Australia. The themes and concepts are both uniquely Australian and widely experienced by so many people and many of my students are able to make strong connections between their own world and place and the text.”

Whether reading, viewing, or responding to My Place, teachers can access a range of resources to support and extend student learning. The comprehensive My Place for Teachers website features key clips from all 26 episodes, lesson plans and additional resources. The site’s decade timeline was recently updated to better represent diverse voices from Australia’s past. This includes First Nations stories, events and achievements, but also stories and events centred on women, young people and a more inclusive lens for our immigration stories. Reading Australia’s teaching resource for My Place continues to be popular with educators, and full episodes of both series can be streamed on ABC iview.

Since 2018, more than 5,000 students have also demonstrated and furthered their understandings of the written and screen texts by entering the My Place Competition. This national creative writing competition asks students to reflect on and write about their own place. This year’s competition – jointly presented by the ACTF, ABC Education and Reading Australia – is open until 16 September, and centres on change and continuity in our communities.

The enduring educational and social relevance of My Place, its popularity with both children and adults, and the availability of quality support materials have contributed to the texts’ educational legacy. This classic story will continue taking audiences ‘back in time’ well into the future.  


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