Introductory activities

(Teacher’s note: the following activities are based on an edition of the novel published in 2007: A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove, James Moloney, 2007, UQP, St Lucia)

The title of this novel seems straightforward enough. However, students should be alert to the possibility that the title might have more than a literal meaning, especially the word ‘bridge’.

Ask students to complete a simple concept web around the idea of a ‘bridge’. Ask them to put the word in a circle in the centre of the web and then possible meanings in other circles around the central circle. These can be joined to the central circle with lines.

Make sure that students reflect on the possible symbolic meanings of ‘bridge’. They could share with the class any personal experience of a particular symbolic meaning of the word ‘bridge’ (‘water under the bridge’ or ‘Bridge over troubled water’ might resonate with students).

Now ask students to make predictions about the novel based on just the front cover of the book. Elements that students could discuss as a whole class or in smaller groups could include:

  • The image of the bird (let students know from your own prior reading of the text that the bird depicted on the front cover is an osprey, a predatory fish-eating bird, to help them focus in on a likely setting for the story).
  • The meaning of the word ‘cove’, again to help students visualise a likely location for the novel.
  • The likelihood that the word ‘bridge’ has both a literal and a metaphorical meaning. What meaning might the word ‘bridge’ as a metaphor have?
  • The possible meaning of the dark blue background with the white title of the novel. Explain that colour can be used to create a physical setting (perhaps of the ocean?) but also convey an emotional effect.
  • The name of the author. It is possible that students may have read other books written by James Moloney.
  • The award sticker in the bottom right-hand side of the cover. Why has this been included on the front cover?

Ask students to look at the back cover and again use its various elements to make some predictions about the novel. For example:

  • Which character is likely to be the protagonist of this story?
  • What does the blurb tell us about this character? Appearance? Personality? Character?
  • Does the phrase ‘old red barge’ fit in with predictions made about elements on the front cover?
  • What could the extract from the novel, ‘Now Carl set it free’, suggest about this character and perhaps the themes of the novel?
  • What meaning might the phrase ‘Carl’s unfolding’ have?

(Teacher’s note: The word ‘genre’ has a particular technical meaning in socio-linguistic theory. However, for this introductory exercise, use ‘genre’ in its more everyday sense of ‘a type of text’.)

Encourage students to make predictions, based on their responses to the front and back cover of the book, about the following:

  • What is likely to be the genre of the book? A travel guide; a piece of factual writing; a science report; a story; etc.?
  • It is very likely that they will decide that this book will probably tell a story. Therefore, remind them of the word ‘narrative’ as a more formal way of describing a story.
  • If, in fact, students agree that the book tells a narrative, ask them what they think will be the broad structure of the book.
  • Then, remind them of the conventional structure of a narrative: Orientation – Complication(s) – Crises – Climax – Resolution – Coda to refresh their memories from previous novel study.
  • Illustrate narrative structure by reading a (very) short story to the class and then asking them to identify its various parts.


  • Ask students what they think will be the main focus of the book?
  • Ask them what readership they think the author had in mind?

(ACELA1553)   (ACELA1560)   (ACELT1771)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)

Personal response on reading the text

Now read the first few chapters of the novel to the class (say, the Prelude, ‘Kerry’ and ‘Sarah’) and discuss with students what they have learnt to this point about the introduced characters and the setting in time and place.

  • Ask students whether they are becoming interested in the story and whether they are attracted to (or repelled by) any of the characters. Ask them whether the story resonates with anything in their own lives.

Next read the following two chapters to students (or they could read these to each other in small groups or by using the Literature circle approach) and discuss with them their reactions to various characters and their predictions about the direction that they think the story will take.

  • Point out that the author has given each chapter a title (in fact, there are 41 chapters in the novel!). Ask students if they think that this will help them to keep track of the events of the novel and the character development of at least the main character.
  • Explain to students that they will now be asked to keep a reading journal in which they will write a series of chapter summaries in the style of the Deadly Unna model (PDF, 154KB) as a way of engaging with the plot of the novel.

Explain to them the difference between story and plot. (The story is the sequence of events as they happen in chronological time but the plot is a more complex rearrangement of events to suit the structure of a narrative. You could illustrate this by asking students how they think the Prelude fits into the structure of the novel. It obviously does not lead on neatly to the ‘Kerry’ chapter.) Point out to students the importance of flashbacks in this novel e.g. the reason why the Matt family is treated with such contempt in Wattle Beach.

Model the writing of chapter summaries based on the first few chapters. Next have students continue to read the novel and write short summaries of each chapter in their journals.

  • From time to time have students share their observations in small group discussion throughout the initial reading of the novel. This could lead on to productive debate where students differ in their interpretations of events or characters in the story.
  • Ask them to consider whether their early predictions about characters and the plot were correct or not. Explain that at least the main character in a novel should change and grow as a ‘person’ as a result of the events in the novel. Ask them if this is true of one or more characters in this text.
  • Talk to students about the way in which the story is told through third-person narration. Explain that this means that the author decides what readers will be told and the viewpoints or perspectives from which events in the novel will be presented. Also explain that an all-knowing narrator (the assumed author) can tell readers what characters ‘say’ and ‘do’ but also what they ‘think’ and ‘feel’. Have students skim through the story to find examples of both kinds of focalisation. For example,
    • ‘Carl was glad of the routine…’ (p. 143);
    • ‘He was relentless, pushing his body along the gritty surface of the car deck…’ (pp. 143–144).

(ACELA1551)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1771)   (ACELY1744)   (EN5-4B)

Outline of key elements of the text


To help students to follow the chronological order of events ask them, using their chapter summaries, to create a timeline of events in the novel for class display. Point out to students that this timeline will differ from the plot of the novel. (See the explanation of plot and story in the section above.) The best way to create the timeline is just to draw a horizontal baseline and label it with significant points (e.g. New Year; Easter; Anzac day) in the timeframe of the story.

Explain to students that a writer will create tension throughout a story to keep the reader’s interest and to encourage the reader to engage with the characters, especially the protagonist. Therefore, ask them to add to their timelines significant moments of tension in this story. They will find many examples in this novel. One of the most obvious is the search for Harley after he has been swept off a boat into the strong currents of the bay. However, there are many others, including the moment when Skip becomes aware of Carl’s family background or when Aunt Beryl threatens to make the two boys homeless.

Now ask students, using their mapping of points of tension in the story, to refer back to the conventional structure of a narrative and identify the sources of conflict that arise in the story, the major turning points in the plot that resolve to some extent the earlier conflicts, and the way in which the novel is finally brought to a satisfactory conclusion (students will hopefully discover that the main conflicts in the plot are to do with personal choices, especially Carl’s, as he grows towards a greater degree of maturity).

Ask students to annotate a graph of the plot (PDF, 123KB), using significant information from their analysis of the structure and content of the novel.


As they read the novel students will start to identify certain characteristics of the people/characters represented. They should write down as many characteristics as they can to describe each of the characters on a character chart (PDF, 101KB). The profile for each character should be as complete as possible, including physical appearance, personality, attitudes, feelings and so on.


  • Conduct a whole-class discussion to arrive at a reasonable definition of the word ‘theme’ (generally a theme is considered to be an idea that emerges during the development of a story rather than its starting point. However, James Moloney has said in a commentary on his own work, ‘I wanted to show how a boy could win through, with determination and a bit of help and love’, so obviously he had at least a couple of themes in mind before he started to write this novel).
  • Then have students brainstorm what they think are the major themes of the book. Make a generally agreed upon list.
  • James Moloney has also said that he tries to ‘get inside the head of today’s adolescents’. Students are to discuss this in relation to some of the major teenage characters in the story, especially Carl. Do they think that the author has indeed got inside the head of these characters? Has he expressed their passion for life and identified what teenagers most care about?
  • Conduct a whole-class discussion to allow students to respond to these questions but also to suggest what they think are the most important themes for today’s teenagers (remember that this book was first published in 1996).
  • Ask students whether they agree that other themes in the novel include:
    • the importance of family
    • the desire to belong
    • the need for love
    • a growing awareness of sexuality, and
    • a search for personal identity.

Students should discuss in small groups how well these themes have been dealt with in A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove. Ask students to discuss whether these themes are of interest to them – giving reasons why or why not – and whether they were able to relate to any of the characters in the book.
(ACELT1635)   (ACELT1636)   (ACELT1772)   (ACELY1743)   (ACELY1744)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-4B)

The writing task – some preparatory notes

Rich Assessment Task One in the Informed Reaction section of this resource asks students to write a coming-of-age short story based on their own experiences. The writing activities at the end of each section of the unit are designed to contribute to the final copy of the short story.

The first stage of this writing task is for students to recall a real-life incident from their own lives that they feel gave them a greater sense of themselves and contributed to some extent to a broader awareness of the world and their place in it.

Here are some scenarios that may resonate with students as a starting point for the writing task preparation below:

  • A sudden challenge (a 15-year-old belongs to a surf club, and on duty one weekend is suddenly called upon to save a child caught in a rip).
  • A problem within a family (a young person has to come to terms with the death of a parent/an overly protective parent/trouble between parents… and so on).
  • A run-in with the law (a boy or girl gets into trouble with a security guard at a shopping centre for riding a skateboard in the car park, or with a shop assistant for eating food in a clothing store).
  • A moment of self-awareness (a young tennis player throws a tantrum when losing a game but then decides to behave well and play the best that they can).

Students should note that the incident they choose to write about may simply involve self-reflection but could also involve a difference of values and beliefs or a power imbalance.

Most students will probably choose to write a naturalistic short story, but alert them to the possibilities of writing a story within the conventions of a popular fiction genre such as science fiction, romance, the supernatural or any other genre that they are familiar with.

Synthesising task

As preparation for writing a coming-of-age short story, write an introduction or an Author’s note, which should include:

  • A brief recount of an incident from your own life which you feel contributed to your own personal growth. Choose an incident that you feel gave you a greater sense of your ‘self’ and contributed to some extent to a broader awareness of the world and your place in it.
  • A short explanation of why you think this recount belongs to the coming-of-age experience.
  • An explanation of how you think you can transform the recount of this incident into the form of a short story.

Then over a week or so, write a full-length recount of the incident. This will presumably be written in first person, the ‘I’ being yourself. (Later, as signalled above, you will use various strategies to transform the recount into a short story.)
(AELA1551)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1746)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-5C)

The writer’s craft


1. A coming-of-age story

Earlier, students re-visited the conventional structure of a narrative: Orientation – Complication(s) – Crises – Climax – Resolution – Coda and applied it to a short story. Now introduce to students the idea of a special type of narrative for young adults called a ‘coming-of-age’ story. Explain to them that this sort of story traces the personal growth (psychological and moral) of the protagonist (the main character) as they move from youth to early maturity.

Share the following conventions of coming-of-age stories with students and ask them if A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove adheres to these conventions:

  • The story begins with the death of a loved one that leaves the protagonist on their own.
  • In the middle section of the story the protagonist faces a number of trials and conflicts that test their psychological strength and moral values.
  • The story moves to a climax and resolution that resolve the conflicts that the protagonist has faced and lead to their greater maturity.

Draw on the whiteboard a simple narrative graph to show plot development, using a horizontal line to indicate the conventional sections of a plot (beginning with Orientation) and from the same starting point, a rising line on which students can suggest events or incidents from the novel that produce conflict and growing tension. This line will reach its highest point at the climax and then drop as the resolution (and possibly a coda) are reached at the conclusion.

To illustrate the concept of a coming-of-age story, ask students to read this summary of a short extract (PDF, 162KB) from Tony Birch‘s coming-of-age novel, Ghost Riverand then to identify the elements of the extract that signal its genre. 

Ghost River features two 13-year-old Aboriginal boys, Sonny and Ren, who live in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood in the late 1960s. Their growth to maturity is intimately linked to a mythical ‘deep time’ pre-colonial river that flows under the modern-day Yarra River. They begin their connection to the river cautiously, jumping off a pontoon, but in this extract they take a much greater risk, leaping off the very high Phoenix Bridge. This risk-taking could be seen as a self-imposed challenge to demonstrate a growing sense of an independent self.

The two boys approach this challenge in different ways. One boy, Sonny, seems almost foolhardy but jumps successfully while the other boy, Ren, is more hesitant and unsure and is injured by the jump. It is possible that each boy, in his own way, learns something about himself from this incident.

Another aspect of this incident is the competition between the two boys. Although they are friends it is very likely that Ren, especially, learns not to follow others blindly in the future. His knowledge of himself and of others has grown just that little bit from this single incident.

Ask students to answer the questions about the Ghost River extract summary and then share their answers with the rest of the class.

Check with students whether this short extract has helped them to understand the nature of a coming-of-age story. Suggest that they might like to adapt/update their Author’s note as a result.

  • Ask students to discuss in small groups how the various problems and conflicts that Carl faces (noted on the graph) contribute to his growing awareness of self. Ask them to identify the ultimate crisis that Carl faces and how it is resolved by the climax.
2. A ‘hero’ story

On page 209 of the novel one of the teenagers at Justine’s pizza party says of Carl, ‘You’re a bloody hero…’ He is also described on the blurb on the back cover as ‘an unlikely hero’.

  • Discuss with students the idea of Carl as hero.
  • Do they agree or disagree?
  • Discuss with students the possibility that the structure of this novel is that of a hero’s journey. Certainly the geographical locations of the story suggest a journey of some sort.

A ‘full-blown’ hero’s journey story (e.g. The Lord of the Rings) has quite a complex structure. A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove may not contain all the ingredients of such a story. However, students may find some of the following elements in its structure:

  • Begins in an ordinary world.
  • There is a call to adventure that the protagonist may resist (this is called The Refusal of the Call in traditional hero’s journey stories).
  • The protagonist faces trials and challenges and is supported by allies and undermined by enemies.
  • The protagonist finally faces a moment of decision that will determine the outcome of the journey (The Innermost Cave). The ‘true hero’ will face this ultimate challenge and prevail, winning the ‘holy grail’ (the object of the journey).

If Carl is a hero, what is the ‘holy grail’? In a traditional hero’s journey story the ‘holy grail’ may be a princess, a key or some other object. Students could speculate that in A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove the ‘holy grail’ could be something more abstract.
(ACELA1553)   (ACELA1557)   (ACELT1772)   (ACELY1739)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-7D)

Approach to characterisation

1. The central problem of the main character

The story of A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove is centred on the main character, Carl Matt. Carl is the ‘focalising’ character; much of the interest of the novel lies in the way that he gradually changes and develops over the course of the story as he, an individual in a seemingly uncaring world, faces and deals with the central problem of the novel. This central problem is essentially how an immature teenage boy comes to terms with difficult, sometimes bewildering, personal issues in a world that offers him little love or support. How Carl responds to the central problem of A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove is a major factor in his character development and also contributes to the emergence of the themes of the novel and to the resolution of the plot complication.

Explain to students how exploring the protagonist’s central problem can help them to better understand the novel as a whole. Begin with the general statement about the central problem in the previous paragraph and then ask them, either as a whole class or in groups, to build up a coherent set of statements to explain the central problem in more detail and how this constructs Carl as a character.

2. The representation of the main character 

James Moloney has represented the main character, Carl Matt, by describing his rather singular physical appearance (e.g. ‘his massive arm’, p. 192; ‘a bloke who’s built like a brick shithouse’, p. 46) and by showing him in action (e.g. hosing down the four-wheel drives on board the barge as they return from Wiseman’s Cove). However, because the novel is basically about Carl’s personal growth to maturity, the author has also given his character an ‘inner life’ of thoughts, feelings and observations. In this way readers come to learn about his attitudes, values and beliefs towards both the issues of the novel and the other characters.

3. The other characters

All of the other characters in the novel are represented by the author’s description of them, both their physical appearance and their personalities, and by the selection of details about them.

The chart below shows how Moloney has represented various other characters in the story (students can find more descriptions for themselves). Ask students to complete the chart, noting in the left-hand column some extracts to illustrate how the author has constructed the characters (appearance, personality, etc.) and explaining in the right-hand column how they think James Moloney wants readers to respond to those characters. An example has been given.

Character The author’s representation  How James Moloney wants readers to respond
Skip Duncan ‘He was by no means an old man though his awkward movements and weathered skin suggested it …’ (p. 72)

‘It gave him an intimidatory air which didn’t endear him to his passengers.’ (p. 72)

James Moloney wants readers to ‘read’ Skip as a physically tough but emotionally damaged older man, rather unhappy with something in his life.
Aunt Beryl ‘…. not trusting Beryl who had already been through their bags when she thought the boys were asleep.’ (p. 31)

‘ … Beryl was irritable, scratching and rubbing at her arms as though the air was alive with pesky insects.’ (p. 38)

Joy Duncan ‘ … he could make out a pale brown singlet, an old one by the look of it, and a pair of grubby shorts. Her legs disappeared into hiking boots topped by thick socks turned down onto her ankles like a labourer’s.’ (p. 67)

‘ … Carl caught sight of her at last, revealed little by little, first her head and shoulders, then the solid torso, more relaxed now, and finally the legs which propelled her purposefully onto the ramp.’ (p. 84)

Harley ‘Harley rode into the trees, thrashing madly at the pedals in the sandy soil.’ ( p. 29)

‘He can be a tough little mongrel.’ (p. 207)

Justine ‘She laughed again, an open-mouthed laugh that wouldn’t be ignored.’ (p. 129)

‘He obeyed, drawn in by her confidence.’ (p. 129)

Maddie  “She just needs friends to talk to. Not boyfriends.” (p. 134)

‘ … the girl was tramping across the gravel. She passed him without a glance and pulled herself up over the tailgate, coming to rest heavily beside Justine.’ (p. 180)

“Carl, wait a minute. I’m sorry. I’ve been a bitch today.” (p. 185)

Bruce Trelfo ‘ … her surly friend’ (p. 19)

“And if the silly bitch takes it all too seriously, what’s it matter?” (p. 47)

‘He scowled.’ (p. 201)

Students can continue with other characters, exploring how they have been represented by James Moloney’s descriptions of them.

4. The relationship between Carl and the other characters

It is typical for readers to regard the characters in a novel as ‘real people’. Indeed, some characters in famous novels (e.g. Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird or Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby) are read as people to be looked up to and admired.

However, another way of thinking about characters is to explore the roles that they play in relation to the action of the story and especially to the protagonist. One such character is Bruce Trelfo, Aunt Beryl’s boyfriend. Like other characters in the story, Bruce is given several moments in the novel when he expresses in direct speech his personal attitudes, values and beliefs. One such moment is on pages 46–50 when he talks to Carl about his attitude to women and especially to the young girls in Wattle Beach, and also tells Carl about how he exploits visitors to the town when their vehicles are damaged by sea water.

Readers will, of course, respond to Bruce in terms of their own values, but they will also be influenced by Carl’s reaction (‘Carl was completely lost now’) and by clues provided by the author to represent Bruce in a certain way (‘her surly friend’; ‘tattooed arms’; and so on). Students should locate those moments in the novel when each of the major characters is given an extended speech that reveals their attitudes, values and beliefs, and then:

  • Consider Carl’s reaction to each character as a result of what they say (and do).
  • Students should also look for words expressing judgement or appreciation provided by James Moloney to represent the character in a certain way.

(ACELA1551)   (ACELA1557)   (ACELT1633)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELY1742)   (EN5-7D)  (EN5-8D)


Begin by asking students to create their own map of the settings of the novel. To do this they will need to skim through the novel to find place names and accurate distances. Ask them if they were reminded of any locations from their own lived experience as they read the novel. They can compare their own imagined places with information that the author has provided.

James Moloney has said in an interview that the settings of this novel are very important. It is quite likely that he is referring to the symbolic meanings of the settings as well as the geographical locations. However, for now, it would be interesting for students to research likely locations that Moloney had in mind when he wrote this novel. Remembering that he is a Queenslander, students could search on Google maps either the barge trip from Cleveland (east of Brisbane) to North Stradbroke Island or the barge trip from Inskip Point (east of Gympie) or Urangan at Hervey Bay to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world.

In fact, James Moloney has revealed, in an online fact sheet, the actual location that inspired his choice of setting in A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove. Students will find other interesting information from James Moloney about the setting of his novel in his fact sheet.

Students may be quite interested in the information that James Moloney has provided on this site. However, it is likely that students in other parts of Australia, as they read the book, have imagined other settings for the action of the novel based on their own life experiences. Invite them to share other locations that have resonated more with them. Notice that in his fact sheet James Moloney has revealed that his parents retired to Rainbow Beach; there is an emotional connection, not just a geographical one.

Just in case some students are not familiar with the idea of vehicular ferries they can watch this short video of a Stradbroke Island ferry docking. They can imagine Carl hosing off the salt water from under all the four-wheel drives that will soon be driving up onto the deck.
(ACELA1553)   (ACELA1561)   (ACELY1742)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-7D)

Point of view and perspective

The story of A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove is told by an all-knowing narrator who stands outside the action of the novel. This sort of narrator is conventionally known as an ‘omniscient observer’. Readers may think that such a narrator will simply tell the events of the story and present the thoughts and feelings of various characters in a completely objective way. However, readers will sense very early on that this is not the case with this novel.

They will realise that James Moloney, far from taking a neutral stance towards all of the characters, has chosen one of his characters, Carl Matt, as the main ‘focaliser’ of the story. Not only does Moloney describe this character in detail and tell readers what he says and does (external focalisation) but he also reveals in depth the character’s thoughts and feelings (internal focalisation), thus providing Carl’s perspective on what happens in the story and on other characters.

Even though the actual author is unknowable to readers, nevertheless they will be able to make an informed guess about what the ‘assumed author’s’ attitudes, values and beliefs are in relation to Carl, the other characters and the development of the story as it unfolds. In this way the narrator is able to position readers to accept a particular point of view or perspective and make a preferred reading of the characters and events in the novel.

Teachers and students should explore in greater detail the author’s strategies for positioning readers to accept a particular point of view (PDF, 148KB).
(ACELA1551)   (ACELA1552)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1744)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-8D)

Language and style 

James Moloney has used a variety of language strategies in A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove. These include:

  • the use of figurative language, including symbolism and figures of speech, to make the story more vivid
  • the careful selection of verbs and verb groups to realise different processes to match the description of characters in the story
  • the choice of verbs to bring the story to life
  • the use of adjectives, especially to describe Carl and the natural setting
  • the use of interesting sentence structures, and
  • dialogue that reflects the relationships between characters.

Teachers should refer to the more detailed language strategies (PDF, 185KB) provided for this unit about these aspects of language use in the novel. Students should also complete the associated exercises.
(ACELA1550)   (ACELA1552)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELA1561)   (ACELT1636)   (ACELT1637)   (ACELT1772)   (EN5-4B)

Text and meaning

Exploration of themes and ideas

This novel is a young adult (YA) text written for a readership of teenagers and young adults. Therefore, its themes and ideas are obviously going to be related to aspects of teenage-hood. Ask students in small groups to discuss how the following themes are dealt with in A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove and to relate the themes to events in the novel. Later, students can share their findings with the whole class (some discussion starters are included under each heading).

1. Trying to define one’s identity or sense of self

As they move from childhood to teenage-hood and then to maturity, young people are likely to find that their sense of themselves has already been framed by the society and culture in which they live. However, some young people challenge the identity created for them and instead knowingly construct an alternative sense of self.

  • Even before Carl and Harley reach Wattle Beach to live with their Aunt Beryl, the author has created a particular social environment for Kerry and her three children. What are some of the features of this environment that could determine the way that Carl comes to think of himself?
  • What identity has already been created for Carl by the people of Wattle Beach based on the reputation of Carl’s extended family, the Matts?
  • How does Carl challenge this identity and set out to create his own personal sense of identity?
  • How successful has he been in doing this by the end of the novel?
2. Facing one’s own inadequacies

Coming-of-age novels track the emotional development of the protagonist; in this novel the protagonist is Carl Matt. At the beginning of the novel Carl is a rather naive teenager with little knowledge of either himself or the world. Over the course of the novel he gradually becomes more self-aware and also learns more about the less attractive aspects of society. He faces a number of obstacles and as he overcomes each of them he gains in self-confidence. However, as each new obstacle appears he slips back into self-doubt until finally he must make a life-defining decision, to retreat into a past already laid out for him by his family history or to move forward into a brighter future unencumbered by the faults and mistakes of others.

As a class exercise students should track the development of Carl’s personality through the novel. This may best be done on the whiteboard as a line graph showing the rises and falls in his confidence and the events that caused this. Some important events would include:

  • Carl is delighted to get a job on board Skip Duncan’s barge but soon discovers what his grandfather, Dessie Matt, did to Skip many years before. This causes Carl to feel immense but undeserved guilt.
  • Carl tells Justine how good he feels about his friendship with her and Maddie but admits that he is also becoming aware that his mother has ‘short changed’ him (p. 224) and that this makes him ‘play dead’ emotionally. (p. 225)
3. Dealing with an unsympathetic adult world

This is certainly a theme that appears in some YA novels. However, in A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove there is a more balanced representation of adult characters, some supportive of Carl and others not.

  • Which adult characters in the novel offer Carl little support? Why do you think this is?
  • Which adult character above all others offers great help and support to him?
4. Coming to terms with friendship, love and sex
  • Carl is emotionally damaged by the thought that his mother doesn’t love him. In fact his Aunt Beryl taunts him by asking, ‘Who’ll love you if your own mother doesn’t? (p. 112) What evidence is there by the end of the novel that Kerry does, in fact, love her children?
  • How does the way in which Harley’s behaviour changes when he goes to live with the Duncans show the positive effect of love?
  • In what ways does Carl reveal his own love for others, even for Aunt Beryl?
  • Why is Maddie, who belongs to a stable family, nevertheless also looking for love?
  • Which character becomes Carl’s best friend over the course of the novel? What characteristics does this character demonstrate?
  • The story deals in a subtle way with Carl’s awareness of his sexual attraction to both Justine and Maddie. Find some examples of this in the novel (for example, his embarrassment at seeing Maddie semi-naked and later when he rubs sunscreen on Justine’s back).
  • What are some examples of negative relationships between men and women, boys and girls, in the novel?
5. Taking greater responsibility for oneself

Part of Carl’s growth towards maturity is his growing ability to take responsibility for his own actions. Students should consider some of the following examples:

  • At first he has little self-confidence and remains distant from other young people in Wattle Beach.
  • He gives all the money that Sarah has given him to his Aunt Beryl and later hands over his wages to her, too.
  • However, he begins to stand up for himself and Harley and confronts Aunt Beryl after she chains Harley up at home.
  • He shows great initiative when he goes to work on Skip’s barge.
  • Later he refuses a job offered to him by Bruce Trelfo whom he regards as using corrupt business methods.
  • He also stands up to Bruce’s brother, Nathan, to protect Maddie at the pizza party.

Students should be able to suggest other examples, too.

6. Emotional growth and awareness

Love is a major theme in this novel, especially Carl’s desperation for his mother’s love. Early in the novel he goes down every afternoon to Nugent’s store to wait for the bus from the city, hoping that Kerry will turn up. Later he admits to Justine that he doesn’t know whether his mother will come back. He expresses anger at having to keep his emotions under control: ‘I want to be alive’, he shouts.

He agrees with Justine that his response to his mother’s disappearance is to ‘play dead’. Finally, Joy points out to him how many people love him and asks, ‘How many have to love you before you can see it?’

  • What important event at the end of the novel (on p. 292) finally releases Carl from his doubts about his mother’s love for her children?
7. Coming to terms with one’s family

In today’s society the word ‘family’ can refer to a number of groupings of people including a nuclear family, an extended family or a blended family.

  • What does each of these descriptions mean?
  • Why are families of whatever type so important to people?
  • On page 23 readers learn that ‘Carl floated in a sea of families where everyone, it seemed, walked, spoke and laughed with at least one other – a daughter, a father, a mate’.
    • By the end of the story has Carl come to terms with what he now knows about the Matt family? How has he managed to do this?
    • On page 185 Maddie says to Carl, ‘You’re just about family now, with all the work on Dad’s barge and Harley living in the house with us’. Is it possible to feel part of a family even if you are not related to its members?
    • In what ways does Carl’s membership of the Duncan family represent a positive resolution of Carl’s search for belonging?

(ACELT1635)   (ACELT1771)   (ACELY1744)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-7D)

Synthesising task

Now that you have written a recount of a significant coming-of-age incident in your own life (Synthesising task in the Initial Response section) you must transform the recount into a short story. This will involve a series of steps that will help you to convert one sort of writing, a personal recount, into another, a creative short story. Your teacher and the accompanying notes for the following elements of a short story (PDF, 148KB) will guide you through these steps that include:

  • the creation of several characters based on the recount
  • the description of a suitable setting
  • the planning of a plot
  • the use of appropriate narrative techniques.

Work on each of these elements separately. Then you can bring them together at the point when you write the first draft of your story.
(ACELT1635)   (ACELT1638)   (ACELT1773)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-5C)

Comparison with other texts

Aspects of genre

The coming-of-age novel is a universal genre. In fact, its formal description is the Bildungsroman, a German word which literally means ‘a novel of formation’. The genre goes back many generations into history.

Other texts using similar approaches or dealing with similar ideas

The Oscar-winning film Moonlight, which features an all African American cast, is a recent example of a Bildungsroman in a contemporary setting. Similarly, the fantasy fiction Harry Potter series also contains elements of this genre.

Young Adult literature

A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove belongs to a genre known as Young Adult fiction. This genre started to emerge in the 1960s, probably as a response to the development in Western countries of a distinctive youth culture. YA fiction is generally aimed at readers aged between 12 and 18 but it also has a wider appeal for older readers. The target readership of a YA book can be guessed at by the nature of the story’s protagonist. In A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove, of course, the protagonist is Carl Matt, a boy in his mid-teens who is struggling with personal problems including the disappearance of his mother, his search for a sense of identity and the unsavoury reputation of his extended family (something he finds out about in the course of the story).

There are a number of sub-genres within the overall category of YA fiction. Some of them include:

The coming-of-age novel

A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove, for example, belongs to the sub-genre of the coming-of-age novel in which the protagonist faces real-life adolescent problems and confronts them as a way of growing towards adulthood and a sense of self. An early model for this sort of story is The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, which was, in fact, written for an adult readership but has as its main character an alienated and cynical young boy.

The dystopian novel   

Given the problems facing the world today (e.g. the existential threat of global warming) it is not surprising that some YA writers locate their characters and stories in near future dystopias. One very popular series of this kind is The Tribe trilogy by Palyku writer and academic Ambelin Kwaymullina, set in a futuristic Australia in which Ashala Wolf’s alienated and hunted tribe of Illegals fights for its freedom and survival in their beloved Firstwood home. Another is The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, which deals with the possibility that, as large numbers of people sink into poverty, they may have to compete to the death for very scarce resources such as food.

The adventure novel   

The Coming of the Whirlpool series by Andrew McGahan is a novel of the old-fashioned ‘boys’ own adventure’ story. It would undoubtedly be popular with a readership of teenage boys. Today, however, writers are very conscious of casting female characters in their lead roles. In fact, both The Tribe series and The Hunger Games have females as their protagonists: Ashala Wolfe and Katniss Everdeen. Both are brave, resourceful and natural leaders – the ideal protagonists in adventure novels.

The supernatural novel

One example of YA fiction with a supernatural theme is the Twilight series written by Stephanie Meyer. These are fantasy romance novels based around a vampire theme. Like the more recent Harry Potter series these novels have enjoyed enormous popularity, probably because they offer their YA readers a temporary reprieve from the relentless negativity of early twenty-first century life.

The ‘world without adults’ novel     

Tomorrow When the War Began, the first novel in a series by Australian writer John Marsden, is an ‘invasion’ novel in which a group of teenagers has to fight a guerrilla war against invaders from the north of Australia. The teenagers have been abandoned by the adult population and must fight for their own survival. The representation of adults as deceitful and untrustworthy is a fairly old trope in literature for younger readers, used successfully, for example, by Isobel Carmody in her novels for younger readers from some years ago.

Many YA novels combine elements of two or more of the themes and styles of genre outlined above, especially, as already described, The Tribe and Hunger Games trilogies. Another example, On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, combines a ‘coming-of-age’ theme with a completely unlikeable adult world.

Evaluation of the text as representative of Australian culture

The world depicted in A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove is obviously a representation of a conventionally ‘white’ Australia. There is no acknowledgement of the diversity of a broader multicultural Australian society. However, this is more a reflection of the setting of the novel in regional Queensland than an oversight by the author. In fact, James Moloney has said that after hearing about the Stolen Generations and claims of genocide by white settlers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries he set out to do some research about the history of colonial Australia.

As a result he wrote a trilogy of novels (Dougy, GraceyAngela) that deal with the relationship of young Aboriginal characters with white society. In more recent times First Nation writers have also used the coming-of-age genre to explore the experiences of young Indigenous people growing up in what is still a racist contemporary Australia. These include amongst a growing catalogue of work:

(ACELA1550)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELT1633)   (ACELT1772)   (ACELY1743)   (ACELY1744)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-8D)

Synthesising task

Students have now written a full-length recount of an incident that they felt has been significant in their own growing-up. They have also written an Author’s note in which they have reflected on how the recount can be transformed into a coming-of-age short story, and have also planned various elements of a short story (plot, characters, setting).

Students are to use this preparation to write a first draft of their short stories. Teachers may use the following suggestions (they are optional) to help them with their writing:

  • create a sympathetic main character
  • include in the plot a catalyst that changes this character
  • use third-person narration
  • write the story in past tense
  • describe a setting that supports the action of the story
  • build into the story a message that promotes certain positive values and attitudes
  • create a plot that maintains tension and suspense

This chart may help with the structure of their own plots:

A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove Your story
Carl’s world is turned upside down when his mother deserts her children.
He goes to live with his unsympathetic aunt at a seaside town called Wattle Beach.
He does not find Wattle Beach very welcoming.
He uses his own initiative to find a job and make himself useful.
He meets people who are sympathetic and supportive.
He learns things about his extended family that threaten to defeat him.
He faces a moment of crisis and with the help of a good friend he chooses a new life.
He learns also that his mother really did love her children.

(ACELT1638)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1746)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-7D)

Rich assessment tasks

1. Writing task: Short story

This task builds on the earlier drafting work undertaken in the synthesising tasks from the Initial Response, Close study and Significance sections of this resource. Working through a writing process of editing and proofreading several drafts of your work, produce a publishable final copy of your short story. Seek feedback from your trusted peers and your teacher during this process.

Remember to use this framework as you complete this task:

The cultural context:

  • attitudes, values and beliefs promoted by the story:
  • the genre:
  • a positive message about growing up
  • a ‘coming-of-age’ story
The social context:

  • your role:
  • your purpose:
  • the audience:
  • short story writer
  • to entertain your readers with a story about a teenager’s growth to maturity
  • teenage readers, young adults, parents, teachers
The text:

  • mode:
  • medium:
  • written/print
  • an anthology of Young Adult writing.

(ACELT1773)   (ACELY1811)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1747)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)

2. Speaking task: Review

Your local radio station has a weekly program called ‘This Book Now’ – a little like Radio National’s The Book Show. This program has interviews with writers and panel discussions, but also presentations that promote books that the producer of the program thinks will appeal to listeners and readers.

You have been asked, as someone who has been studying A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove in depth, to prepare a short presentation (about three to four minutes) in which you introduce the novel to your audience – this will include not just young people but also young adults, parents and so on. Your purpose is to inform listeners about the features of the book, but also to entertain them and to convince them of the value of the story to young people as they move towards greater maturity. Your role is that of a student reader who has studied this novel in some detail and feels confident about promoting it to others.

In your presentation you should cover the following aspects of the novel:

  • a brief overview of the storyline
  • an explanation of the ‘coming-of-age’ genre
  • information about the subject matter (plot, characters, setting) of the novel and its relevance to you and to other young people
  • details about the representation of the main character and the strategies used by the author to position readers to sympathise with this character
  • an explanation of the messages promoted by the novel and a judgement about whether they are positive or not for readers
  • a final summing-up of the entertainment value of the novel.

Use a digital device to record your presentation that may be selected by your teacher to be played to the whole class.

You can use your notes to support your spoken presentation, but remember that your purpose is to inform, persuade and entertain your listeners, so a straight reading from notes may produce a rather bland performance and is not to be encouraged. Use programs like RN’s The Book Show as examples of good presentations.
(ACELY1741)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1746)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)