Introductory activities

Blueback is the story of young Abel Jackson and his mother, Dora. Growing up in Longboat Bay, Abel and his mother have a love of the ocean and the creatures that inhabit it. Inspired by a large groper fish that calls the bay home, Abel and Dora strive to protect the region from developers and greedy fishermen.

The following activities are designed to help students prepare to engage with the themes, ideas and concepts in Blueback.

Discussion prompts to introduce the ideas, characters and setting

  • What kind of qualities do friends need to have?
  • Is it possible for a human to be best friends with an animal?
  • Where is the place that you feel most comfortable?
  • How would you describe Australia to a person who has never visited?
  • When have you seen a person behave greedily?
  • Is it important to look after the environment?
  • Is the beach important to you and your family?

Connecting to the novel

Compile a range of photographs, news stories and paintings that depict the beach and water activities – especially diving, the ocean and its inhabitants – and the impact that humans can have on the environment. Set up the classroom to host a gallery walk, encouraging students to view all the images and choose one that they feel a connection to. Once students have selected an image, have them talk with each other about what they think the picture might represent and how they think the study of Blueback might relate to these pictures. Share thoughts with the rest of the class.


Each chapter of Blueback begins with an illustration. The illustration alludes to what is about to occur in that chapter. By studying the illustrations, students can work out what the chapter may be about and make guesses as to how the plot of the story develops. Have students study the illustrations before they start reading. What do they think the story might be about?

Once students have read through Blueback, come back to the illustrations and challenge them to add colour to the images. Explore the feelings, emotions or moods attached to colours by completing a table such as the one below. The meaning and symbolism of colours has changed throughout time and across cultures, and this can provide an interesting point of contrast for students to discuss. Once they develop some understanding of the symbolism of colours, they can colour the images from Blueback and add subtle meaning through their artistic choices.

Colour Historical meaning Contemporary meaning
red evil, destruction, status, wealth, luxury passion, anger, danger
yellow sickness, betrayal, cowardice, terror happiness, new growth, warmth, joy
blue royalty, military depression
green serenity, calmness, nature jealousy, greed, money, health, strength

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LA07)

Version 8.4: (ACELA1764)

Allegory or fable?

Blueback is described as a ‘deceptively simple allegory’ in the blurb on the back cover, while one of the reviews refers to the story as a ‘true fable’.

Allegories and fables are similar but possess unique features that make them distinct from one another. Have students research the definition of both and complete a Venn diagram (PDF, 471KB). Once complete, discuss the similarities and differences with students. Draw out responses that highlight the differences between the literal and the allegorical, as well as where students may have read a fable before. Also have them consider parables; what elements of allegories and fables do parables use, and which ones do they discard?

Have students look up the origins and etymology of the words ‘fable’, ‘allegory’ and ‘parable’ and record their findings in a table (PDF, 88KB).

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LA02)   (AC9E7LY08)   (AC9E7LY03)

Version 8.4: (ACELA1782)   (ACELA1539)   (ACELY1721)

Western Blue Groper

Blueback is a Western Blue Groper who commands Abel’s attention from the minute they meet underwater. Abel spends his time fraternising with Blueback and thinking and worrying about him when he moves off to study at university. During their first meeting Abel is astonished by Blueback’s size, going so far as to compare him to a horse (pp. 9–10).

The Western Australian Government Department of Fisheries has produced a fact sheet about the Western Blue Groper. There is also an interesting in-depth study of the fish on the Western Australian Museum website. Ask students to collate a list of interesting facts about the Western Blue Groper from the fact sheet and the website to help with their understanding of Blueback’s behaviour as the novel unfolds.

Studying the fact sheet provides an opportunity to teach students about reading and interpreting an informational text. After reading the fact sheet, have students consider the features of the informational text. Ask the following questions:

  1. What do you notice about how the information is set out?
  2. What special features does the text have (images, maps, colour, subheadings, etc.)?
  3. What is the effect of these features? A suggested worksheet is available (PDF, 85KB).

The Western Blue Groper can grow up to 1.7m long. Have a group of students trace a scale image of the groper on butcher’s paper or cardboard to display in the classroom. While those students work on the image, the remainder of the class should find and measure an assortment of other items. Small items such as a pair of scissors, a milk carton, a dog, or the height of a Year 7 student should be measured, and then a scale image placed alongside that of the groper for comparison.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LA03)   (AC9E7LA04)   (AC9E7LY03)   (AC9E7LY04)   (AC9E7LY05)

Version 8.4: (ACELA1531)   (ACELA1763)   (ACELY1721)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)

Department of Fisheries

A key theme in Blueback is the impact of the overfishing conducted by Costello. Costello’s reckless behaviour and continuous overfishing in Longboat Bay begins to have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem. The overfishing of abalone is of particular concern to Abel and Dora, who board Costello’s boat and tip crates of abalone back into the water when he isn’t on deck. Charge students with investigating the Department of Fisheries OR Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment for the state/Territory they reside in, as well as for Western Australia. Look up the regulations and requirements for fishermen who are fishing abalone. Have students complete a table (PDF, 85KB) that compares the restrictions in places around Australia.

With the class, discuss the following points. Each point will provide students with some context for exploring Blueback in more detail whilst reading the novel.

  • Why do you think that fishing is such a highly regulated activity?
  • When would overfishing become an issue or concern to a particular community?
  • How might overfishing damage ecosystems in the ocean or in rivers?
  • Do you think it is important to preserve some fish species in the ocean?
  • Have you heard of sustainable fishing practices?

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LY03)   (AC9E7LY04)   (AC9E7LY05)

Version 8.4: (ACELY1721)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)

Personal response on reading the text

Evocative language and quote analysis

Winton uses a lot of beautiful descriptions and imagery in Blueback. In true Winton style, his writing is evocative and imaginative. While reading the novel, have students keep a record of the evocative descriptions that Winton uses to illuminate the environment, the characters and Blueback. After reading the novel in its entirety, they can refer back to the analysis of their selected quotations. Starting with the first example in the book – the description of sunlight on the window panes (p. 3) – generate some discussion about what we can learn about the environment and the setting from such a quote. Use this to explain your expectations for noting evocative language as you read the novel together.

While analysing the quotations, provide students with sticky notes. Have them divide a note into thirds so that each section can be used for analysis. In the first section, students should focus on paraphrasing the quote. In the second section, they should analyse the quote, giving particular attention to the use of figurative language and word choices. In the last section, students should evaluate the quote and explain its significance. Model this with the quote from p. 1 and help your students to analyse and evaluate what they have read. After seeing this example, students should be able to independently identify quotes for their own sticky notes. Alternatively, you could use a record keeping template (PDF, 84KB).

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE03)   (AC9E7LE04)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)

Memories and shrines

Students will learn that Abel’s father died in a shark attack while diving for pearls. In the novel, Dora visits a peppermint tree and leaves an offering of a candle, pearl shells and a wood carving of a dolphin made by her late husband. She regularly visits the tree and Abel often sees her crying there, or sitting and remembering. Establishing a shrine or memorial can be part of the process of grieving for someone whose remains may be lost.

Ask students what ways they can think of to preserve the memory and stories of someone special. They may suggest:

  • Keeping a diary or journal of their stories
  • Saving photos and making a scrapbook
  • Creating a film out of special videos that have been taken
  • Visiting a place such as a church or a cemetery to pay their respects
  • Establishing a small shrine or private place to visit

Shrines are an important element of worship and paying respects for a range of people. The shape and size of shrines varies across cultures, as does their purpose, be it for an ancestor, hero, deity, saint, or other figure of respect. Most shrines have a place where offerings can be left.

Divide the class into six groups. Each group will be responsible for investigating one of the following types of shrines:

  1. Religious shrines
  2. Temple shrines
  3. Household shrines
  4. Yard shrines
  5. Wayside shrines
  6. Historic shrines

Students should put together a photo collage of images that depict the type of shrine they have been allocated. They should present their slideshow to the rest of the class, explaining what makes their shrine different from the other types, and briefly discuss some notable examples (where appropriate).

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LY05)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELY1723)   (ACELY1725)

Nautical fiction and the dangers of the sea

Blueback allows readers to vicariously experience the dangers of the sea. From the risk of diving without oxygen to shark attacks, oil spills and changing weather conditions, Abel, Dora and others that use the waterways of Longboat Bay have a range of obstacles to contend with in maintaining their livelihood on the water. Depending on their context, some students may have had experience with the dangers of the sea. Discuss what dangers might lie in the water and what kinds of risks people take when they go out on a boat or decide to go diving.

There are many stories that have been written about life on the water and the illusive nature of fish that people set out to catch. Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is one example. If you have the time, you could read the story together; if not, there is a short animated film (directed by Aleksandr Petrov) that won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2000. Guide students to draw comparisons between the setting and characters of this story and Blueback. One is undoubtedly a story about the struggle the ocean presents, but the importance of the sea, the fortunes it can bring, and the relationships it can foster are central themes to both texts. Source excerpts from other works of nautical fiction and have students read over them, looking for similar themes. Students may identify tropes such as having a cat aboard the boat; not having a woman onboard as it is considered bad luck; the sight of a mermaid/merman; pirates; sea monsters; and ghost ships like the Flying Dutchman. Movie clips depicting the dangers of the sea could also be compiled for discussion. Consider:

Additionally, real examples of people who have experienced the dangers of the sea could be shown or read to students. Examples include:

Have students research sea shanties: popular songs sung aboard ships during the Age of Sail. They are believed to have been sung to combat the long days and monotonous nature of life on the ships. The rhythm and length of the shanties helped sailors to coordinate their efforts in completing jobs such as unfurling the sails or lowering the ship’s anchor. ‘Drunken Sailor’ is a classic example of a sea shanty that students may be familiar with. Some shanties (called ‘sea songs’ or ‘fo’c’s’le songs’) were also sung for entertainment during leisure time. These songs, often accompanied by fiddles, were brought from home or picked up at port stopovers. Knowing the work undertaken by Abel and Dora on/in the water, as well as by Costello, challenge students to write their own sea shanties that correspond with the work the characters do.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LA02)   (AC9E7LE01)   (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE03)   (AC9E7LE04)   (AC9E7LY03)   (AC9E7LY04)

Version 8.4: (ACELA1782)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELY1721)   (ACELY1722)


Greed is a key theme in Blueback. When contrasted with Dora and Abel, Costello is a ruthless and greedy character. He pillages Longboat Bay and its waterways, taking more than his fair share of the catch with little regard for the fragile ecosystem and governmental restrictions. In contrast, Abel and Dora spend their time nurturing and caring for the environment around Longboat Bay.

Abel soon learns that there is ‘nothing in nature as cruel and savage as a greedy human being’ (p. 87). What do students think this means? What does it mean to be cruel or savage? Can they think of an example when they have met a greedy human being? What about celebrities or historical figures that have shown their greedy natures?

Contrast the greed of Costello with other greedy characters from the literature (and film adaptations) of Roald Dahl. Start with the four rotten children from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; move on to Boggis, Bunce and Bean from Fantastic Mr Fox; and finish with The Trunchbull from Matilda. You could even use Quentin Blake’s original illustrations from the novels to help students. These characters are all self-indulgent and motivated/driven by greed. Have students identify what motivates their greed. Consider:

  • Is greed different for different people?
  • What do these characters have in common?
  • How are their motivations the same as Costello’s?
  • How are they different?

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE01)   (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE04)   (AC9E7LY04)   (AC9E7LY05)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)

Connection to place and concept of self

In Blueback, place is intrinsically linked to the concept of self. Abel and Dora both identify that their understanding of who they are, as well as their values and beliefs, stem directly from their connection to Longboat Bay and their life in this part of the world.

Present students with the following quotes from the novel:

  • ‘… this place is a kind of friend to me’ (p. 70)
  • ‘Those men didn’t understand that a place isn’t just a property’ (p. 94)

Break students into pairs or groups of three. Have them discuss what each quote means to them and what they think Winton is trying to convey about the significance of place in Dora and Abel’s lives. Have students share their ideas with the rest of the class and foster a discussion about the way that place can shape one’s values and way of life.

Have students consider a place to which they feel they belong. This could be a place they feel most comfortable, like a room, a house or a garden. It could even be a local town or city. What are the reasons they feel they belong to this place? Perhaps they have decorated it with things that reflect their personality, or their family lives there. What kind of connections do they have to this place? Think about Abel’s connection to Longboat Bay and how he responds when he is away from this place. How is his future shaped by his upbringing and his connection to Longboat Bay?

In the same pairs or groups of three, students can fill out a table like the one below. Populate the table with as much information as necessary to help students complete it.

Important value to Abel and Dora How do you know he/she values this? How does this shape his/her identity? Evidence from the novel
The environment
Preserving memories

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LY04)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1620)   (ACELY1722)

Synthesising task

This task is designed to bring together students’ understanding of Blueback as a ‘fable’ and their exploration of the theme of greed in the novel. For this task (PDF, 128KB), students will create a fable in which the moral is one that condemns greed: ‘nothing in nature [is] as cruel and savage as a greedy human being’ (p. 87).

Consider some of the following scaffolding ideas:

  • Read some additional fables with students, such as Aesop’s, in order to explain the simplicity of the fable structure
  • Encourage students to start with the moral/message of their story first
  • Think about setting (when and where)
  • Limit the characters to two or three (consider mainly animals)
  • Revisit the plot structure:
    • Beginning – remember to state the problem
    • Middle – include actions taken by the characters
    • End – resolve the problem, state the message of the fable

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE07)   (AC9E7LE07)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1625)   (ACELT1805)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

The writer’s craft

Setting: Longboat Bay

Blueback is set in the fictional town of Longboat Bay on the coast of Western Australia. The bay is isolated and nestled in a national park (and eventually a wildlife sanctuary).

Students are to create a digital display of images that best represent Longboat Bay as they picture it when reading the story. They can imagine that they are creating an advertisement for tourists who might come and visit the area. Brainstorm together:

  • The colours that they visualise when reading the story
  • What kind of flora and fauna might be found in Longboat Bay
  • Are there any houses or buildings? If so, what do they look like?
  • How the beach looks and what colour the sand is
  • Are there boats moored in the shallows?
  • How long is the jetty, and is it new or run-down?
  • What kind of hobbies or activities are the residents of Longboat Bay doing?

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LY05)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1620)   (ACELY1723)


Blueback is written in chapters that separate the story into short sections. Each section is preceded by an illustration that foreshadows what will happen in the subsequent chapter.

  • What effect does this structure have?
  • Why would Winton decide to present the story in this fashion?

Present students with a familiar story (this could be from an earlier class novel or literature circle). How would they break up this story if they had to structure it as Winton has done? Have the class form small groups and give them an excerpt to divide up. What reasons can they give for structuring the text in this new format? Groups could be challenged to draw small images in the style of Blueback that complement each section of the text.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LA07)   (AC9E7LE04)   (AC9E7LE05)

Version 8.4: (ACELA1764)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1622)

Passage of time

Time passes in large passages in Blueback. As Abel moves away to undertake his studies and start his career, Winton covers years at a time, moving us through Abel’s upbringing, his mother’s ageing, and his relationship with Stella. Winton handles the passing of time like a journey, documenting the key events and destinations; all the while Abel waits anxiously until he can return to Longboat Bay (p. 91). Document his journey and take a guess at how much time passes between each milestone in Abel’s life. Using this information, have students create an annotated timeline.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE03)   (AC9E7LE05)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1622)

Approach to characterisation

Winton relies on indirect characterisation techniques to tell us about the personalities of the characters in Blueback. The STEAL acronym can help students identify the storytelling devices Winton uses to reveal particular character traits. Premise this activity by having students consider:

  • What might Winton be trying to tell us about how the characters live their lives?
  • What beliefs do they have?
  • What opinions do they have?
  • Do the characters’ actions support what they think or believe?

Have students complete a table like the one below for each of the main characters in the novel, paying special attention to selecting appropriate examples from the novel to illustrate their point.

Characterisation Examples Explanation
Effect on others

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE03)   (AC9E7LE04)   (AC9E7LE05)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1622)

Abel the everyman

Abel fulfils the role of the everyman character archetype. The everyman is a character that acts as a stand-in for the audience. They are normal and relatable, dealing with everyday problems at school, at work, in their family, or in their love lives. The everyman is made more sympathetic because they can be in over their head, facing trying circumstances and trying to overcome them. The everyman is compassionate and uses this compassion to drive their actions in the story. Together with students, brainstorm and think about the following:

  • What other everyman characters can you think of from television, films or books?
  • What are Abel’s strengths and weaknesses? What makes him relatable to the everyday Australian?
  • Describe the situation that Abel is in and how this inspires him to overcome his circumstances.
  • In what ways is Abel compassionate?
  • How does Abel stand up for his beliefs?

Think about what Abel would be like if he was a superhero. Design and create a superhero costume for Abel to wear. Consider the colours that might form part of his costume, what symbols might be on his cape, and what kinds of powers he might have to assist him in doing his work.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LY04)   (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE03)   (AC9E7LE04)   (AC9E7LE05)

Version 8.4: (ACELY1722)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1622)


Abel contemplates the way in which his mother is different from other mothers he knows. He begins to recognise that she does things differently, and that she seems to have been shaped by the land and sea alike (p. 70). Ask students what they think this description may mean and how they interpret Winton’s depiction of Dora. Guide them to think about the impact of waves crashing on the shore, what kind of creatures grow on the rocks at the beach, or what happens to stones when they spend years in the ocean and are washed up on the sand. Collect responses from students on the whiteboard and ask them to identify their favourite interpretation. Have students create an illustration, collage or photo story that encapsulates the interpretation they have selected.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE03)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)

Abel’s relationship with Blueback

Practise writing formal paragraphs with students by asking them to explain the relationship that Abel has with Blueback. What does Blueback represent to Abel? Using the TEEL scaffold (PDF, 83KB), have students craft a response that details how the two get along; what they learn from each other; and why they think Blueback is always in the back of Abel’s mind, even when he moves far away from Longboat Bay.

Stories with a central character who forms a strong bond with an animal are not uncommon. Consider what it is that draws Abel to Blueback and have students study another human-animal relationship like that in Lassie, Black Beauty or The Jungle Book.

Students could also explore Abel’s connection to his hometown. When he is working in various places around the world, his mind often drifts to Longboat Bay and his life growing up there.

  • Why do students think Abel is so fond of this place?
  • What role does the sea play in informing that connection?
  • Can students relate to this feeling and experience? Is there somewhere their mind often travels to, or somewhere they wish they could spend their time?
  • How is it that this place is so deeply embedded in Abel’s psyche?

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE03)   (AC9E7LE04)   (AC9E7LE05)   (AC9E7LY04)   (AC9E7LY05)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1622)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)

Text and meaning

Development and its environmental impact

In the latter part of Blueback, Dora writes to Abel explaining that investors came to Longboat Bay and submitted plans to change the landscape for financial gain. Through active campaigning, Dora is able to thwart their efforts and the bay remains in pristine condition. The idea that developers and big businesses would destroy the landscape in order to turn a profit is not unique to fiction. Share with students three examples of developments that have gone ahead (or are in the process of being discussed) in different locations around Australia:

Have students read the suggested articles and keep notes of what they believe will be the main positive and negative effects of such developments. In particular, the Carmichael coal mine poses a huge threat to an already endangered species, the black-throated finch. How might Costello’s actions in Blueback be similar to the actions of those wanting the Adani development to go ahead?

Working with these articles as a basis, have students investigate the negative impacts that developments have on the environment. They may consider projects that have taken place in their local area, or could hypothesise about the impacts on one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World like the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls or Mount Everest. There is a variety of tasks that students could undertake to demonstrate their understanding of the environmental impacts of development:

  • Write a social media post campaigning against a local development (this could be real or imaginary, and may be based on Blueback).
  • Write a feature article explaining the effects of development.
  • Compose an advertising campaign (print or audio-visual) against development.
  • Create a diorama that depicts the negative impacts of development on a particular place.
  • Create an infographic that summarises the specific effects of one development.
  • Write a script for an imagined town meeting in which councillors and townspeople debate a new development.
  • Develop a political campaign for a local member of government based on promises about fighting a significant development.
  • Create a social media profile for an outspoken campaigner against development.
  • Write a collection of poems that express the concerns of various stakeholders involved in a development.
  • Write a eulogy for the black-throated finch or another animal that may become extinct due to improper management and reckless development.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE01)   (AC9E7LE04)   (AC9E7LE07)   (AC9E7LE07)   (AC9E7LY05)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1625)   (ACELT1805)   (ACELY1723)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

First Nations approach to caring for the land

First Nations people have a special relationship with the land. Prior to colonisation, they used complex land management systems incorporating fire to attract animals, stimulate food sources, and locate fresh water. Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu presents a comprehensive picture of the ways Aboriginal people approached and cared for Australia’s land and waters. In some ways, Abel and Dora’s approach is reminiscent of the First Nations approach. Have students research the Indigenous Ranger programs in operation in many states and Territories. What responsibilities do the rangers have, and how do they compare to the responsibilities that Abel and Dora take on in caring for Longboat Bay?

Have students imagine that they are Abel or Dora, and have teamed up to work with an Indigenous ranger in Longboat Bay. Refer to the Country Needs People website to identify the similarities between the rangers’ concerns and practices and those of Abel/Dora. Record them in a table (PDF, 85KB).

Consider the influx of tourists who climbed Uluru between the announcement and the enactment of its closure. Show students images or a short news clip depicting the stream of tourists climbing up the steep rock. Why might First Nations people be offended by tourists climbing Uluru? What are their concerns about visitation to this sacred site? How do you think tourists respecting sacred sites helps First Nations people to care for their Country?

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LY05)

Version 8.4: (ACELY1723)

Whaling practices in Western Australian history

Dora expresses that Abel’s father was from a whaling family. Visit the Three Islands Whale Shark Dive website to find out more about the history of whaling in Western Australia.

It has been more than 40 years since the last whale was hunted in Western Australian waters. This article details the experiences of the whalers and their reflections on their occupation. Have students read the article.

  • What qualities do you think whalers may need to have in order to hunt whales for days on end?
  • Are there times in Blueback when Abel and Dora exhibit the same qualities and characteristics?

Have students write a short addition to the scene where Dora sees the whale bones on the beach, reflecting more on the Jackson family history and how she and Abel might be destined to adopt the whalers’ mentality and/or characteristics.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LY05)

Version 8.4: (ACELY1723)

Synthesising task

Abel describes Dora as a woman who learns about the land and her commitment to it ‘by staying put, by watching and listening’ (p. 125). At the end of the novel, Dora passes away and Abel stays in Longboat Bay to continue her work protecting and advocating for the environment in the community. In this task (PDF, 104KB), students will write a letter from Dora’s perspective, passing on advice and lessons from Longboat Bay to Abel, Stella and her granddaughter, who all live on after her.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE07)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1625)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

Comparison with other texts


While much longer than Blueback, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville is another narrative that tells the story of a large fish and its relationship with humans. However, unlike Blueback, the titular Moby-Dick turns violent and destroys the ship steered by Captain Ahab. The Captain relentlessly pursues the white whale, who was responsible for Ahab losing his leg, in an act of revenge.

Select appropriate excerpts (written or otherwise) that introduce students to the following:

  • When the reader meets Ahab and finds out about his life
  • When Ahab shares his story about his past with Moby-Dick
  • When Moby-Dick is first sighted by the crew of the ship

Contrast these excerpts with similar scenes from Blueback.

  • How is Abel’s first meeting with Blueback different or similar to Ahab’s first meeting with Moby-Dick?
  • How do their relationships differ?

Consider how Winton’s story may have been different if Blueback had turned violent when he encountered Costello, or even Abel and Dora.

Have students rewrite a scene from either story, taking the personality of the other fish and incorporating it into their new version (i.e. Make Moby-Dick gentler or Blueback more aggressive).

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LA07)   (AC9E7LE01)   (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE03)   (AC9E7LE05)   (AC9E7LY04)   (AC9E7LY05)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELA1764)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1622)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)   (ACELY1725)

The Lorax

The Lorax – both the book by Dr Seuss and the film adaptation – can also be compared with Blueback. Both stories centre around a character who is instrumental in protecting the environment. Although they take place in different locations, and one deals with life on the land while the other deals with life on the sea, there are many similarities between these texts.

Both the Once-ler and Dora leave words of wisdom for future generations. The Once-ler realises that someone has to care enough to make things better. Dora’s advice is to stay put, watch and listen. In what ways do students think Dora and the Once-ler’s advice is similar? Do they have the same sentiment? The Lorax leaves a rock with the word ‘UNLESS’ written on it once the environment has been destroyed by deforestation and pollution. If Dora was to leave a sign or message for the people looking to exploit Longboat Bay, what might it be? Where would she leave it? Who would it be directed at? Have students draw the sign that they think Dora would leave and write a short description.

Greta Thunberg’s speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit could provide an interesting point of discussion for the class. As a young person, she captivated the world with her passion and persistence as a climate activist. She has become an inspiration for many young people who want politicians and world leaders to take more responsibility for and action on climate change. How might Greta be inspired by Dora Jackson and her humble lifestyle?

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LA07)   (AC9E7LE01)   (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE03)   (AC9E7LE05)   (AC9E7LY04)   (AC9E7LY05)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELA1764)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1622)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)   (ACELY1725)

Language and stylistic techniques

Personification and anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is a stylistic technique that lends itself nicely to analysis of Blueback, as the titular fish is often referred to as a person that Dora and Abel have strong feelings towards. Abel in particular obsesses over Blueback’s welfare as if he were a part of the family.

Ask students what they notice when they look over descriptions of Blueback and his behaviour. Is Winton describing Blueback as if he were a human character, or is he just assigning Blueback human traits and characteristics? Remind students that personification is the use of figurative language to describe a non-human character or thing in a humanlike way. What examples can be found?

Introduce students to the concept of anthropomorphism and highlight the differences to personification. Anthropomorphism is when non-human characters actually do human things, such as talking, moving their face and expressing emotions. Discuss this concept with students and see if they can come up with any examples from popular culture. Some examples to get them started include:

Return to Blueback and ask students how the story would be enhanced or diminished if Blueback were given human traits and acted as a human. What if he could talk? Give your students specific scenes when Blueback is interacting with Abel (such as when they first meet) and have them include some dialogue. Using these ideas, have students adapt a section of Blueback into a seven- to nine-frame comic strip. They can depict Blueback acting human through his gestures and actions under the water, as well as through his dialogue.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE03)   (AC9E7LE04)   (AC9E7LE05)   (AC9E7LE07)   (AC9E7LY04)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1622)   (ACELT1625)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1725)

Rich assessment tasks

Task 1: receptive mode

Students have already considered the way that place can shape their own identity. This task (PDF, 84KB) is a mini-essay (introduction and one paragraph only) that has students explore the way that Abel and Dora’s identity is intrinsically linked to Longboat Bay.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE01)   (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE03)   (AC9E7LY03)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELY1721)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

Task 2: productive mode

In this creative task (PDF, 143KB), students will write a ‘literary mashup’ by taking a character from another story and dropping them into Blueback (or vice versa).

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE07)   (AC9E7LE07)   (AC9E7LY04)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1625)   (ACELT1805)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

Synthesising core ideas

Is Blueback a fable after all?

Have students revisit their notes about fables, parables and allegories from the beginning of this unit (Initial Response > Introductory Activities > Allegory or Fable?). Now that they have completed the novel, can they confirm that the story is a fable after all? If so, what do they think is the moral of the story?

Have students create a classroom display that celebrates all the moral lessons they were able to derive from Blueback. They can write or type their morals on a piece of paper and decorate around it OR create an accompanying artwork that celebrates the important moral they have taken out of the story.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LY04)   (AC9E7LY05)

Version 8.4: (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)

Is the novel a call to arms?

Have your students consider how the novel can be used as a guide for young environmentalists. What can they learn from Abel and Dora about caring for the environment? Have students research posters from recent climate action strikes, or do this ahead of the lesson and share a selection with the class. Are there any quotes from Blueback that might make be suitable for a protest poster?

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE07)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1805)   (ACELY1725)

What other lessons can be learned from Blueback?

Aside from the moral lessons that students will have gleaned, ask them what other lessons the novel could teach them about family, love and the environment. Have students create a listicle that explores the top lessons they have learned from the novel.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

Quotes at the beginning of the novel

At the beginning of Blueback there are two quotes. The first is from ‘Portrait of Luke’, a poem by Western Australian writer and poet Randolph Stow. This quote contains three oceanic metaphors relating to eyes, thoughts and ancestors. Pair students up and allocate each pair one of the metaphors. Ask them to respond to the following:

  • What is a metaphor?
  • What is the meaning of the metaphor you have been allocated?
  • Draw a picture that represents your metaphor.

The second quote at the front of the novel is by American poet Robinson Jeffers, from his poem ‘Carmel Point’. This poem details the beauty of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a city on the coast of California, and muses on how civilisation has destroyed the pristine landscape. Jeffers romanticises nature and expresses annoyance at humanity for invading and conquering the space. The quote at the front of Blueback is from the end of the poem. It is a call to action, asking the reader to find a way to live in harmony with nature. Read the poem with students and ask them to come up with their own interpretation. As a class, brainstorm ways that humankind might be able to live more harmoniously with nature. Complete a ripple effect diagram (PDF, 476KB) that explores how students, their families and their communities might be able to help the environment rather than destroy it.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LE01)   (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LY04)

Version 8.4: (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELY1722)

Rich assessment task

In this task (PDF, 108KB), students will create a podcast that explores one of the themes or concerns of Blueback. Working in pairs, students should select a theme to explore; come up with questions that allow them to respond in a way that demonstrates their understanding; and then write their responses. The next step is to record their audio, paying particular attention to the conversational style of podcasts and clear audio for the listener.

Version 9.0: (AC9E7LA02)   (AC9E7LA04)   (AC9E7LE01)   (AC9E7LE02)   (AC9E7LE04)   (AC9E7LE07)   (AC9E7LY05)   (AC9E7LY06)

Version 8.4: (ACELA1782)   (ACELA1763)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1805)   (ACELY1723)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)