The Franklin River—a prize worth giving
On a hot day in Perth, just before the opening of the History Teacher’s Association National conference, the judging panel met to assess the entries of the State Finalists in the National History Challenge. As a result of its co-location with the conference, a refreshingly large panel of thirty-three judges was divided into eleven panels to consider the entries across the year groups and special categories. The theme this year was ‘People and Consequences’ and for the first time in the Challenge’s history, students had an option of addressing topics outside Australia.
The pool of judges may have been larger than usual but that did not mean that the task was any easier or shorter as the standard of entries this year was high. It took some very hard thinking by judges to decide on the winners and to justify what made them the best. This year the Democracy prize, sponsored by the Museum of Australian Democracy, was won by primary school student; Isaac Semmler of Princes St Primary School Hobart Tasmania, with his essay: What role did Dr Bob Brown play in leading up to the High Court’s decision to stop the damming of the Franklin and how did his actions benefit the conservation movement?
Isaac’s essay was well structured, well referenced and used very good sources including an interview with Bob Brown. In short, it adhered very closely with the requirements of the challenge. To be a winner however, one really needs more than the basics. What made Isaac’s essay stand out was its depth—he had clearly thought deeply about his topic yet showed the ability to write about it simply and eloquently. That is a skill that many adults do not possess and which made him a worthy winner of the prize in 2012.
Prize winners in the National History Challenge are awarded cash prizes and a visit to Canberra to tour Cultural Institutions and to attend the awards ceremony in Australian Parliament House. The tour group was due to attend the museum on November 26, the day before the awards ceremony. What program would we run for them? Actually, the choice was easy as several of our programs explore the Franklin River Debate. We chose the D3600 Environment experience with special extras. The interactive theatre experience was followed by a quick trip to the Democracy Workshop space where Isaac sent the bill up through the Lamson carrier to the Attendants’ booth in the House of Representatives (and from where two of the other students retrieved it). After a recreation of the debate of the 1983 Properties Conservation Bill in the House the students were taken on a quick visit to the Prime Minister’s Office which had been occupied by Prime Ministers Hawke, Fraser and Whitlam.
Given the reason for their booking, this was a wonderful group for which to run a program. We could all (students included) have enjoyed a program that was a great deal longer because of their energy and commitment.
Isaac was presented with his award by Steven Fox, Acting Director of the museum, at the ceremony in the Mural Hall at Australian Parliament House. The State and Territory Young Historians and the 2012 Young Historian were presented with their prizes by the Hon Peter Garrett AM, MP, Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth.
The museum is pleased to sponsor a prize in the National History Challenge. Not only does it give students a chance to be a historian; to research, question, analyse and write, but it encourages them to think about what democracy is all about and why people fight for it. When students present us with such eloquent and elegant prose highlighting the ‘democratic process in action’ (to quote Isaac) it is indeed a prize worth giving.