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 men/women to be best friends with an animal?
  • Where is a place that you feel most comfortable?
  • How would you describe Australia to a person who has never visited here?
  • 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 of 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.

Illustrations

Each chapter of Blueback begins with an illustration. The illustrations allude to what is to occur in the subsequent chapter. By studying the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, students can work out what the chapter may be about and can make guesses as to how the plot of the story develops. Have students study the illustrations before starting 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 feelings, emotions or moods attached to colours by completing a table such as the one below. The meaning and symbolism of colours have changed throughout time and across cultures and this can provide an interesting point of contrast for students to discuss. Once students have an understanding of the symbolism of the colours, they can colour the images from Blueback and add subtle meaning to them through the choices made.

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
Orange
Purple
Pink
Brown

(ACELA1764)

Allegory or Fable?

Blueback is described as a ‘deceptively simple allegory’ on the blurb of the text, however, one of the reviews explains the story as a ‘true fable’.

Allegories and fables are similar however they both possess unique features that make them clearly distinct from each other. Have students research the definition of both and complete a Venn diagram (PDF, 85KB). 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. Have students consider parables. What elements of allegories and fables do parables use and which ones do they discard?

Have students look up the word origins and etymology of the words ‘fable’, ‘allegory’ and ‘parable’ and record their findings in this table (PDF, 108KB).
(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. When Abel first meets Blueback, Winton writes he was ‘…the biggest fish he had ever seen. It was gigantic. It had fins like ping-pong paddles. Its tail was a blue-green rudder. It looked as big as a horse.’

The Government of Western Australia Department of Fisheries has produced an information 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 how to read and interpret an informational text. After reading the fact sheet, have students consider the features of the informational text. Consider the following questions:

  1. What do you notice about how the information is set out?
  2. What kind of special features does the information text have (images, maps, colour, subheadings etc)?
  3. What is the effect of these text features? A suggested worksheet is available here (PDF, 98KB).

The Western Blue Groper can grow up to 1.7m long. Have a group of students trace a scale image of the Western Blue Groper on butcher’s paper or cardboard to display in the classroom. Whilst some students work on the Groper image, the remainder of the class should find and measure an assortment of other items. Small items such as a pair or 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 in size.
(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 the 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 the responsibility of investigating the Department of Fisheries or Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) websites for the state/territory they reside in and for Western Australia. Look up the regulations and requirements for fishermen who are fishing for abalone. Have students complete a table (PDF, 95KB) that compares the restrictions in places around Australia.

With the class, discuss the following points. Each of the points 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 the ecosystems in the ocean or river systems?
  • Do you think it is important to preserve some fish species in the ocean?
  • Have you heard of sustainable fishing practices?

(ACELY1721)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)

 

Personal responses 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. Whilst reading the novel, have students keep a record of the evocative descriptions that Winton uses to illuminate the environment, characters and Blueback. After reading the novel in its entirety, they can be directed back to analysis of their selection quotations. Starting with the first example on page 1, ‘Sunlight caught the windows of the shack above the beach so that every pane of glass looked like a little fire’, generate some discussion with your students about what we can learn about the environment and the setting of the novel from this quote. Use this to explain your expectations for marking evocative language as the novel is read together.

Whilst analysing the quotations, provide students with sticky notes. Have the students divide the note into thirds so that each section can be used for analysis. In the first third, students should focus on paraphrasing the quote. In the second third, have students analyse the quote with particular attention being given to the use of figurative language and word choices. In the last third, students should evaluate the quote and explain its significance. Conduct an example of this with the quote from page 1 and help your students to analyse and evaluate what they have read. After this example, students should be independently able to identify quotes to reference with their sticky notes. Alternatively, you could use a record keeping template (PDF, 126KB).
(ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)

Memories and shrines

Students will learn that Abel’s father died in a shark attack whilst diving for pearls. In Blueback, Dora visits a peppermint tree and leaves an offering of a candle, pearl shells and a wood carving of a dolphin made by her 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 of worship such as a church or a cemetery to pay their respects
  • establishing a small shrine or private place to visit.

Shrines are an important way to worship and pay respects for a range of people. Across cultures, the shape and size of shrines varies, as do the purposes for the shrines, be it to an ancestor, hero, deity, saint or other figure of respect in a particular culture. Most shrines have a place where offerings can be left.

Divide the class into six groups. Each group will be responsible for finding out a little more about six different 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 the shrine different from the other types and briefly discuss some notable examples (where appropriate).
(ACELY1723)   (ACELY1725)

Nautical fiction and the dangers of the sea

Blueback allows for 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 students’ context, some students may have had experience with the dangers of the sea. Discuss with students what dangers might lie in the water and what kind 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, however if not, there is a short animated film that won the Academy Award for the Best Short Animated Film in 2000. Students should be guided to draw comparisons between the setting and characters of this story and Blueback. Whilst one is invariably a story about the struggle the ocean presents, the importance of the sea, the fortunes it can bring and relationships it can foster are central themes to both texts. Source excerpts of other works of nautical fiction and have students read over them looking for similar tropes and themes. Between excerpts 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. A collection of 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 the students. Examples such as:

Have students research sea shanties – popular songs sung aboard ships during the Age of Sail. They are believed to have been sung in order to combat the long days and monotonous nature of daily work life on the ships. The rhythm and length of the sea shanties helped sailors to coordinate their efforts in completing jobs aboard the ships 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 fo’c’sle songs were also sung for entertainment during leisure time. These songs were often accompanied by fiddles and were brought from home or picked up at port stopovers and sung amongst sailors. 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.
(ACELA1782)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELY1721)   (ACELY1722)

Greed

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 the waterways, taking more than his fair share of the catch with little regard for the fragile ecosystem and governmental restrictions. 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 examples of other greedy characters from the literature and film adaptations of Roald Dahl stories. Start with the four rotten children from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, move to Boggis, Bunce and Bean from Fantastic Mr Fox, and read about The Trunchbull in 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 the different?

(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 understandings of who they are and 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 two quotes from the novel:

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

Break students into pairs or groups of three and have them discuss what each of the quotes means to them and what they think Winton is trying to convey about the significance of place in the lives of Dora and Abel. 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 that they feel they belong to. 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 in things that match their personality or it’s because their family lives there. What kind of connections do they have to this place? Think about Abel’s connection to his place of 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
Family
Love
Loyalty
Preserving memories
Ambition

(ACELT1620)   (ACELY1722)

 

Synthesising task

The synthesising task is designed to bring together students understanding of the story of Blueback as a ‘fable’ and their exploration of the theme of greed in the novel. For this task (PDF, 114KB), students will create a fable where the moral of the story is one that condemns greed, ‘nothing in nature is as cruel and savage as a greedy human being’.

Consider some of the following scaffolding ideas for students:

  • 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)
  • characters (try to limit to two or three, consider mainly animals)
  • revisit plot structure:
    • Beginning – remember to state the problem
    • Middle – including actions taken by the characters
    • End – resolve the problem, state the message of the fable.

(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 eventual wildlife sanctuary.

Students are to create a digital display of images that best represent the picture of Longboat Bay that they have in their minds when reading the story. Have them imagine that they are creating an advertisement for tourists to come and visit the area. Brainstorm with them ideas such as:

  • Colours that they visualise when reading the story
  • What kind of flora and fauna might be around when they picture 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?

(ACELT1620)   (ACELY1723)

Structure

Blueback is written in brief chapters that separate the story into short sections. Each section is separated 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 one 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 how they would structure the text in this new format? Groups could be challenged to draw small images in the style of Blueback that complement what each section is about.
(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 and all the while Abel remarks that he feels like he is ‘holding his breath’ (p. 91) whilst being away from Longboat Bay. Document Abel’s 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.
(ACELT1621)   (ACELT1622)

Approach to characterisation

Winton relies on indirect characterisation techniques to tell us about the personality of the characters in Blueback. The STEAL acronym is a common way of having students identify the storytelling devices used by Winton to reveal particular characteristics about each character. Premise this activity with students by thinking about:

  • What might Winton be trying to tell us about how the characters live their lives?
  • What beliefs do the characters 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 
Speech
Thoughts
Effect on others
Actions
Looks

(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, work, within the family or 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 the students, brainstorm and think about the following:

  • What other everyman characters can you think of from television programs, 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.
(ACELY1722)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1622)

Dora

Abel contemplates the way in which his mother is different from the other mothers he knows. He begins to recognise that she is quiet and does things quite differently to others. He remarks, ‘she looked like the land and sea made her’ (p. 70). Ask students to consider 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.
(ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)

The relationship with Blueback

Practice formal paragraph writing 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, 93KB), 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 that have 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 of LassieBlack Beauty or Baloo from The Jungle Book.

Students could also explain 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 informing that connection?
  • Can students relate to this feeling and experience? Do they have somewhere their mind travels to and where they wish they could spend their time?
  • How is it that this place is so deeply embedded in Abel’s psyche?

(ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1622)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)

 

Text and meaning

Development and the 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 and flora and fauna in order to turn a profit is something that is not unique to fiction. Expose students to three examples of developments that have gone ahead, or are in the process of being discussed, at different locations in Australia. Use the suggested hyperlinks to read articles about the developments and have students keep notes of what they believe will be the main positive and negative effects of such developments. In particular the second example about the Carmichael Coal Mine development poses a huge threat to an already endangered species, the Black Throated Finch. How might the actions of Costello be similar to the actions of those wanting the Adani mine development to go ahead?

Working with these articles as a basis, have students investigate the negative impacts that developments such as these have on the environment. They may consider developments in their local area that have taken place, or could hypothesise about the impacts to 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 at this point to demonstrate their understanding of the impacts of developments on the environment:

  • Write a social media post campaigning against a local development (this could be real, imaginary or be based on Blueback).
  • Write a feature article explaining the effects of development.
  • Put together an advertising campaign against development (print or audio-visual).
  • 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 that tells the story of a town meeting where 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 other animals that may become extinct due to improper management plans and reckless development

(ACELT1619)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1625)   (ACELT1805)   (ACELY1723)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

Indigenous Australians’ approach to caring for the land 

Indigenous Australians have a special relationship with the land. As we know, before white settlement, 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 our Indigenous people practised very sophisticated land and water management systems and approaches. In many ways, Abel and Dora’s approach to the land mirrors that of Indigenous Australians. Have students research the Indigenous ranger programs in operation in many states and territories. What kind of responsibilities do the Indigenous 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 are charged with working with an Indigenous ranger in Longboat Bay. Use the Country Needs People website to identify the similarities in the concerns and practices of Indigenous rangers and Dora and Abel. Record them in a table (PDF, 100KB).

Consider the influx of tourists who climbed Uluru between when its closure was announced and the closure was effected. Show students images or a short news clip depicting the stream of tourists climbing up the steep rock. Why might Indigenous Australians be offended by tourists climbing Uluru? What are their concerns about people’s visitation to this sacred site? How do you think tourists respecting Indigenous Australians’ sacred sites helps them to care for their country?
(ACELY1723)

Whaling practices in Western Australian history

Use the State Library of Western Australia’s website to find out more about the history of whaling in Western Australia. Dora expresses that Abel’s father was from a whaling family.

It is just over 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 kinds of qualities does it seem like whalers would need to have in order to hunt whales for days on end?
  • Are there times in Blueback when Abel and Dora use 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 whaling mentality and/or range of characteristics.
(ACELY1723)

 

Synthesising task

Abel describes Dora as a woman who learns about the land and about her commitment to it by ‘staying put, watching and listening’ (p. 125). At the end of the novel, Dora passes away and Abel and his wife stay on in Longboat Bay to continue the work she has started in protecting and advocating for the environment in the community. In this task (PDF, 102KB), students will write a letter from Dora’s perspective passing on her lessons from Longboat Bay and advice to Abel, Stella and her granddaughter who live on after her.
(ACELT1625)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

Comparison with other texts

Moby Dick

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

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 with the crew
  • when Moby Dick is first sighted by the crew of the ship.

Contrast these excerpts with the similar scenes from Blueback.

How is Abel’s meeting of Blueback different or similar to that of Ahab meeting Moby Dick?

How do their relationships differ?

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

Have students rewrite one of these scenes taking the personality of the other fish and incorporating that into their new version (i.e. Make Moby Dick more gentle and Blueback more aggressive).
(ACELA1764)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1622)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)   (ACELY1725)

The Lorax

The Loraxboth the book by Dr Seuss and the film adaptation of the same name, provide a point of contrast to Blueback. Both stories centre around a character who is instrumental in protecting the environment. Whilst both texts take place in different locations and one deals with life on the land and the other life on the sea, there are many similarities to be drawn.

Both the Once-ler and Dora leave words of wisdom for the future generations. The Once-ler says, ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.’ Dora’s advice is to stay put and to watch and listen. In what ways do students think the advice of Dora and the Once-ler are similar? Do they have the same sentiment? The Lorax leaves a rock with the word ‘unless’ 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 the resources of 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 recent speech at the United Nations could provide an interesting point of discussion for the class. As a young person, she has captivated the world with her passion and persistence in ensuring her message and warnings about climate change are heard. She has become an inspiration and idol for many young people who want politicians and world leaders to take more responsibility and action for the impacts they are having on the environment. How might Greta be inspired by Dora Jackson and her humble lifestyle?
(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 in Blueback as he is often referred to as a person that Dora and Abel both have strong feelings towards. Abel obsesses over Blueback’s welfare as if he were a part of his family.

When looking over the descriptions of Blueback and his behaviour, ask students what they see. 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 as acting in a humanlike way. What kinds of examples can be found?

Introduce students to the concept of anthropomorphism and highlight the differences to personification. Anthropomorphism is when non-human characters are actually doing things like humans do, such as talking, moving their face and expressing emotions. Discuss with your students the concept of anthropomorphism 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 detracted from if Blueback were given human traits and characteristics 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 starting ideas, have students adapt a section of Blueback into a seven-to-nine frame comic strip. Here they can depict Blueback acting human through his gestures and actions under the water, as well as with his dialogue.
(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, 92KB) 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.
(ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELY1721)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

Task 2: Productive mode

In this creative task (PDF, 156KB), students will write a ‘literary mashup’ where they take a character from another story and drop them into Blueback or vice versa.

By identifying the qualities and characteristics of Abel Jackson, students will be able to transplant him into another text to create a ‘mashup’ – a story that combines two texts into one.
(ACELT1625)   (ACELT1805)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

Synthesising core ideas

Is Blueback a fable after all?

Have students revisit the notes they took about fables, parables and allegories at the beginning of their study of Blueback. 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 display in the classroom that celebrates all of the moral lessons they were able to derive from Blueback. Students can write or type their morals on a piece of paper, decorate around it or create an accompanying artwork that celebrates the important moral they have taken out of the story.
(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 protest posters from recent climate action strikes or do this ahead of the lesson and share a selection with students. Are there any parts of Blueback that might make an acceptable quotation for a protest poster?
(ACELT1805)   (ACELY1725)

What other lessons can be learned from Blueback?

Aside from the moral lessons that students will have gleaned from the novel, ask them what other lessons the novel could teach them or others about family, love and the environment. Have students create a listicle that explores the top lessons they have learned from the novel.
(ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)

Quotes at the beginning of the novel

At the beginning of Blueback there are two quotes. The first is from Randolph Stow, a Western Australian writer and poet, from his poem ‘Portrait of Luke’. This quote contains three metaphors – ‘his eyes are open harbours’, ‘the dolphins of his thoughts’ and ‘the coral bones of all our ancestors’. Pair students up and allocate each pair one of the metaphors. Ask students to respond to the following:

  • What is a metaphor?
  • What does the metaphor you have been allocated mean?
  • Draw a picture that represents your metaphor

The second quote in the front of the novel is from the American poet Robinson Jeffers’ poem ‘Carmel Point’. This poem details the beautiful landscape of Carmel, a town in 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 latter part 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 (PDF, 94KB) diagram that explores ways that students, their families and communities might be able to help the environment rather than destroy it.
(ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELY1722)

 

Rich assessment task

In this task (PDF, 111KB), students will create a podcast that explores one of the themes and concerns of Blueback. Working in pairs, students should select a theme to explore, create 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-sounding audio for the listener.
(ACELA1782)   (ACELA1763)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1805)   (ACELY1723)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)