Introductory activities

Cultural and historical understanding

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ experiences of life after 1788 can largely be divided into the eras of ‘invasion’, ‘first contacts’, the ‘Frontier Wars’, ‘protectionism’, ‘assimilation’ and ‘self-determination’ under Commonwealth and State Government policies. Much of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature explores the effects of all of these eras in some way (looking at what is now termed ‘intergenerational trauma’).

Provide students with information on the following key ideas. This could be divided up among groups of students so that each group studies one element and reports back to build a class understanding of all elements.

Key ideas

The author is of Wiradjuri (Central Western NSW) and Torres Strait Islander descent. Her character, Fuzzy, lives with her Nan and Pop; Nan is of Aboriginal and Irish descent and Pop is South Sea Islander. His grandparents were kidnapped and brought to Queensland as child slaves to work on the sugar cane plantations. They were brought up learning the Scottish culture of the station manager. Fuzzy’s mother was also Aboriginal. It is important to understand how place and time impacts on these characters’ identities.

1Post-1788 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history

Students should research and develop a basic understanding of the eras of ‘protectionism (missions)’, ‘assimilation’ and ‘self-determination’ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under Australian law.

Suggested resources are:

Draw out from discussions some understanding of how past interactions between Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have impacted on people and families right up until today, including affecting connections to culture, way of life, and the impacts of trauma (e.g. cycles of abuse leading to alcoholism, crime, mistrust of authority).
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2. Diversity of cultures and histories

Australia is made up of different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups. They have many similarities but they have some different cultural customs and languages too (see the Aboriginal Languages Map). Some groups know more about their traditional culture and language than others due to the impact of colonisation. In heavily colonised areas, many Aboriginal groups have lost a lot of traditional knowledge, or they have some stories and memories but limited language. A lot of this is being re-learned from records that European anthropologists took in the early days of colonisation. In more remote places, where less colonisation and urban settlement occurred, groups have been able to maintain a lifestyle very close to traditional customs, but children learn how to function in both Aboriginal and Anglo-Australian ‘worlds’.

Ask students to view and compare two Indigenous resources, one from a remote community that lives more ‘traditionally’ and one from an urban environment. If at all possible, invite local Aboriginal guest speakers into the school, visit a local cultural centre, or access websites/books about local groups.

For example, learn about the Yolngu culture and way of life through the Twelve Canoes digital resource and accompanying study guide. Compare it with your local culture. Or, for example, you could look at the Awabakal culture of Aboriginal people in the Hunter/Newcastle region, through the Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre, who are reconstructing and re-teaching Awabakal language. Direct students particularly to the creation stories (including Biame, ‘god’); possum skin cloaks history (especially interesting as possums are protected under the Wildlife Act 1975); terminology and the Awabakal language.

It is important that students do not take away the message that one group is superior to another, or that a group who seem to have less access to traditional cultural knowledge is in any way inferior or not ‘real Aboriginal people’. There is a strong cultural identity in both contexts; however, they are very different depending on their experiences of colonisation. The urban Aboriginal groups still feel a sense of connection to and pride in culture, they are not ‘assimilated’ into European culture and society.

Students should be supported in discussion to make some general reflections on what they have learned so far on:

  • the role of storytelling in maintaining connections to culture
  • modes of storytelling – elders passing on stories; songs; ceremony; art
  • what ‘connection to country’ means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • how different Aboriginal and Islander groups may have different contemporary cultures due to their experience of colonisation (you may want to come back to this after reading the chapter ‘Michael, Row the Boat’ (p. 31), where we learn about Nan’s unconventional Christianity. It is a part of her cultural identity due to being brought up on a mission during the protection era).

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Personal response on reading the text

Family structures and the role of grandparents

Focus students on the book’s dedication, ‘To grandparents everywhere’. Discuss the role of grandparents in society – ask students about their own relationships with grandparents.

  • What is the value of grandparents in terms of being repositories of wisdom/history/culture?
  • Why is time spent with grandparents often considered to be ‘special’?
  • Why might grandparents be called upon to do parenting roles?

A useful teacher resource on this topic (or you could select excerpts of this to share with students) is the Australian Institute of Family Studies report on ‘The Changing Role of Grandparents’ (2006).
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Anecdotes and bildungsroman/coming of age stories

Prepare students for the genre of the text in terms of a coming of age story, and the notion of teenage years being the time when young people struggle with conflicting ideals, finding out who they are, and building a sense of identity. The key element of a bildungsroman is that the protagonist struggles against society in some way (such as over conflicting values) and the end of the novel sees the protagonist accept society and be accepted in return. This calm acceptance is reflected in the “grace” motif throughout this novel.

Anecdotes are short, amusing stories that are often intended to amuse the audience but can also reveal something about a person’s past or teach a moral. They generally centre around an insightful incident that illustrates a particular point or idea. While anecdotes are usually non-fiction in nature, forming part of a person’s autobiography (such as in Roald Dahl’s Boy), the anecdotal form can be adapted for fiction and Grace Beside Me is made up of a number of anecdotes woven together to tell the story of Fuzzy Mac’s life. Prepare students for the assessment to come by advising that they will be asked to write a short anecdote about a significant moment in their life that either illustrates something about the person they are, or was a pivotal event where they learned something, changed their path or changed their view on something. They should keep this in mind while reading and reflecting on the novel.
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Personal response on reading the text

Students are to complete a double-entry journal as they read the text. Set up the journal by ruling pages in half: on one side they make notes about events ‘In the text’, on the other side they make notes about ‘My Connections’. If you are working with a group requiring scaffolding, you could read the novel aloud together in short bursts, discuss, then have them add to the notes. You might choose to provide some prompts (PDF, 137KB).

After completing the text, students complete a written reflection on which part of the text they connect most with and which character they either identify with or reminds them of someone in their own lives. As there is a sexual assault and domestic violence episode in the novel, it may be prudent to remind students of your role as a teacher (mandatory reporter) and provide details of counsellors, lifeline, and local rape crisis/domestic violence community organisations that students can contact if the novel brings up any issues for them.
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Outline of key elements of the text


‘The thing is, everyone has a story.’ (p. 107).

The novel weaves together the stories of the town and its people – how their histories have shaped them. We learn about how Fuzzy Mac got her nickname and came to be living with her Nan and Pop; the different experiences of Nan (being brought up on a mission) and Pop (descending from South Sea Islanders who were brought to Queensland as slaves); the history behind Fuzzy’s mother (deserted by her father and caring for a very sick mother and younger siblings); and the story of Nan and Pop’s extended families, such as Aunt Nell with her intellectually impaired granddaughter ‘Special Girl Esther’. We learn about the historical events that have impacted these people – the mission era, post-war immigration, the Snowy Hydro Electric Scheme, Sorry Day, refugees and boat people.

These interwoven stories emphasise the idea that everyone has a story to tell, a reason why they are who they are, and that we must simply accept each other for all our strengths and weaknesses. One shouldn’t judge another person: you have no idea where they’ve come from and what they have experienced. Furthermore, “grace” – acceptance, and a calm self-assurance – is achieved when one knows where they have come from and can accept the good and bad things that have shaped their life.

Ask students to consider the following plot points in terms of Fuzzy’s growing awareness and acceptance of self in her journey toward ‘grace’. Students should work in groups to decide where these plot points might fit on a narrative frame: orientation, complication, climax, resolution, coda.

  • How Fuzzy Mac got her nickname. (Chapter 1)
  • Fuzzy’s mother died from a drug overdose when she was a baby. The older she gets, the more information she is given about her mother. (Chapter 2)
  • Fuzzy kisses Teddy and they become close – although they decide not to rush into being ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’, despite what their peers might expect of them. They do not define their relationship or put any expectations on it. (Chapter 17)
  • Nan and Pop teach Fuzzy about treating all people with respect, no matter how odd (Yar); being kind (visiting people in jail); giving others strength (Lefty); being proud of one’s identity, no matter how ‘conflicting’ it might be (playing bagpipes on Anzac Day); and how stories can help us have empathy for others and become more tolerant and understanding (the story of Ruby).
  • Fuzzy also makes her own conclusions from observing Yar – realising how much freedom comes with not caring what others think about you.
  • Being propositioned by the mayor, and told about her mother’s prostitution, Fuzzy is filled with anger and hurt. She can only address this by connecting to Country and going out to ‘sit a while’, so she asks Nan and Pop to take her to their local spiritual place, Lola’s Forest. Here she faces her feelings, allows them to come out, and then feels calm and strong again. (Chapter 26)
  • In the final chapter, New Year’s Eve represents the idea of ‘perseverance’ that Fuzzy has learned – ‘within us lies a great bundle of strength capable of surviving just about anything’ (p. 216). Fuzzy talks about how you can ‘shake off all the shit’ from one year and keep moving forward.

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Motif – brown sugar

There is a deep historical context to the recurring motif of “brown sugar”. A sexual connotation for dark-skinned female body parts and sexuality, our colonial history reveals a complex relationship between settlers and Aboriginal women. A view that Aboriginal women were merely chattels to their Aboriginal male husbands/masters, and were often beaten and treated roughly, seemed to give permission to settlers to take similar liberties. A low female settler population meant that sex was a valuable commodity. Much has also been written about the exoticism attributed to Aboriginal women, and how they were both feared and guiltily desired by settlers. Sexual assault was also, as in most contexts, an important mechanism of control within the frontier wars – rape is a common war strategy.

A good teacher resource for background on this subject is a 2008 Honours thesis by Amy Humphreys, Representations of Aboriginal Women and their Sexuality.

Discuss this motif with students and draw out the connections between Nan’s dream and Mr Ridgeway’s admission:

  • Nan dreamed about brown sugar when Fuzzy’s mother disappeared to Sydney (pp. 36–7).
  • Mr Ridgeway admits that he helped Fuzzy’s mother financially in return for sex (pp. 182–3).

Mr Ridgeway mentions that the ‘brown sugar’ he is talking about is different to the sugar slave trade that Pop’s grandparents were part of. However, both concepts are about white settlers’ exploitation of a people they both feared and saw as inferior.

Students should explore the slave trade history using the ‘The Sugar Labour Trade’ resource via the National Film and Sound Archive website. After researching, students should compare the sugar slaves story to Mr Ridgeway’s conduct towards Fuzzy’s mother and Fuzzy. What similarities in attitudes and treatment of Aboriginal/Islander people can they draw out?

You may wish to explore this topic from a more philosophical viewpoint using a Socratic dialogue exercise (PDF, 104KB), and remembering the common Socratic dialogue questions. You could also have students consider Dr McNamara’s story (pp. 100–105) – a man who fell in love with an Aboriginal woman and wanted to marry her but was prevented from doing so by his family who were said to have Aboriginal ancestry. The idea of ‘black skeletons’ in the closet is another aspect of colonial history – babies born from these illicit liaisons between white men and Aboriginal women would pose a threat to family ancestry and therefore true identity would be denied.
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Have students work in pairs on different characters – Nan, Pop, Fuzzy, Fuzzy’s father Sonny Boy, Mr Ridgeway, Yar.

Assign characters so that there are two or more pairs studying the same character. Have the pairs discuss and collect evidence from the book using the STEAL character analysis scaffold:

  • Speech – significant things the character says and how they say it.
  • Thoughts – what is revealed through the character’s thoughts and feelings?
  • Effect – what effect does the character have on other characters?
  • Actions – what does the character do? How does the character behave?
  • Looks – appearances/body language/manner.

After pairs have worked on their analysis for a while, have larger groups form to share their notes on the same character. Students should add new ideas to their own analysis, and/or debate and dispute any analysis they disagree with.
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Teachers could draw out a number of themes from this text:

  • finding peace in acceptance (‘grace’)
  • grandparents as primary caregivers
  • strength in family
  • community and cultural heritage
  • identity and acceptance of diversity (knowing yourself and accepting others)
  • perseverance
  • connections to Country
  • the role of storytelling in expressing identity and maintaining connections to culture/family history
  • the impact of trauma through generations.

Two of these, Perseverance and Connection to Country, are deserving of closer attention.


Many of the characters in the novel have had to learn to persevere through difficult situations. The importance of ‘continuing to move forward’ is reinforced for Fuzzy when she must deal with the hurt and anger she experiences after being assaulted by Mr Ridgeway.

Discuss some examples with students and have them identify what strategies the character has used to help them persevere. For example, Pop has moved forward from his sad family history through his adoption of Scottish heritage and pride in his small immediate family (p. 43). And on page 133, he says, ‘What’s the use of getting angry, son? I learnt early on, anger makes your heart weak…I have you all to look after, can’t be having a weak heart around here’.

Nan’s mission childhood, being part of the stolen generation, has been dealt with through her adoption of her own kind of Christianity and her emphasis on giving to others (Chapters 4, 9 and 12, especially pp. 31 & 48).

Lefty lost all his family and had fallen into alcoholism and crime – but he improved his life through his friendship with Nan and Pop and connection to church (pp. 92–96).

Connection to Country

A major motif in the novel is the concept Pop introduces to Fuzzy, ‘sit awhile’ (pp. 44-46). It’s the idea that anyone can connect with the land and that by going back to nature you can re-focus on what matters and move on from your anger and hurt. If you find ‘grace’, you achieve a calm acceptance of your situation and feel strong and positive about the next steps moving forward. If you don’t find ‘grace’ straight away, you might need to ask your mob for help and find the right questions to gain more knowledge. The more you understand the situation, the easier it will be to tackle it.

Nan and Pop tell Fuzzy that all cultures have connection to Country. Consider how nature is represented in cultures across the world and how humans take strength from nature: mindfulness, meditation, yoga, the symbolism of water and rain, the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world. You may like to have students explore some different cultures and share with the class: e.g. Japanese, Maori, African, Canadian Aboriginal and Native American; also worth looking at are the Ancient Celtic religion and its practices in Ireland/Wales/Scotland.


Synthesising task

Consider the importance of storytelling in expressing identity and maintaining connections to culture/family history. Have students brainstorm the stories that are important and recurrent in their families. These stories could be:

  • about how their family came to live in Australia
  • memories their mum and/or dad have about what their parents used to tell them (‘Dad always used to say…’)
  • important recipes that have been handed down through generations
  • about how Mum/Dad/Nan/Pop met
  • about an ancestor who served in the war
  • about how someone in the family got a particular nickname.

Students may need to go home and ask family members for ideas if they are stuck; this could be a homework task.
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The writer’s craft


The novel is constructed as a series of anecdotes, some of which link to each other at different points in the novel. An example of this is Nan’s recollection of her dreams about brown sugar when Fuzzy’s mum disappeared, and then, fourteen years later, Fuzzy’s encounter with Mr Ridgeway and what is revealed about his past relationship with her mother.

This circular storytelling is a feature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander narratives and is different from the conventional linear approach. Fuzzy concludes the novel by saying, ‘I still have lots of questions unanswered. But you know what? I’m OK with that. I figure time is my biggest friend when it comes to understanding the truth. I don’t need to know it all now; when the time is right, well, that’ll be fine by me.’ (p. 216).

Fuzzy has come to appreciate how knowledge is gained: ‘I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more information Nan gives me.’ (p. 33). The circular narrative emphasises how stories never end – there are always new perspectives, interpretations and new learning gained as we move through life.


The first chapter provides a detailed description of the NSW town, Laurel Dale or Laurie, and the second chapter provides insight into this town including: the vernacular and traditions and superstitions e.g. bloomers, Bex, short-back-and-sides, getting a good clip around the ear, must sit at the table with a buttoned-up shirt on, no elbows on the table, don’t put new shoes on the table, don’t put up an umbrella inside, break a mirror, or walk under a ladder.

The closure of the timber industry and mill has meant many people have left the area to find work, and what is left is apple and pear orchards and vineyards.

Ask students if they have connections with a small regional town like Laurie and what similarities they can see between their town and the novel’s depiction of Laurie.
(ACELT1633)   (EN5-8D)

Language and style

Written in first person, past tense, Fuzzy’s voice is honest and genuine. She speaks candidly about the events that shape her and have an impact on her as she grows up. Colloquial language and swearing is used to capture the down-to-earth, warm, loving but no-nonsense characters. Discuss the following quotes with students in terms of how the dialogue enhances characterisation.


‘Fuzzy, all of us have a totem, and you and I are part of the budgerie family. You also have a connection to all the other birds you see flyin’ around…Sometimes, girl, I reckon you’re a few pennies short when you start askin’ me stupid questions like that. If the bird’s buggered, I’m buggered and I need a shandy, end of story.’ (p. 12).


‘Pop winks at me then yells out to Nan, ‘”What you bloody doin’ to those roses, woman, talking away there like they got their own set of ears! You keep that up, Nan, I’ll have to send you off to the funny farm.” He giggles in his big Islander voice.’ (p. 134).

Aunt Nell

‘”There’s a fuckin’ nutter prunin’ roses over at your neighbour’s house,” she almost yelled. “You’d better come and ‘ave a look!“‘ (p. 111).

And next time your’re speakin’ to the dead tell ’em to keep out of my sleepin’ time. They can talk to you whenever they wants to. But leave me out of it, fuckin’ freaky it is.‘ (p. 173).
(ACELA1551)   (EN5-5C)

Figurative language

Ask students to take note of the use of figurative language throughout the novel and how these descriptions enhance the narrative. The following examples could make a good starting point.

  • ‘…lines running like gutters on their sun-hardened faces‘ (p. 11)
  • ‘…relentless dry heat can suck the last breath out of an exhausted budgerigar’ (p. 11)
  • ‘…like an old stockman’s boot, as tough as Pop’s Blundstones‘ (p. 13)
  • ‘…can throw bad language around better than a miner in a thunder box‘ (p. 14)
  • ‘I’ve got a headache that could take out Muhammad Ali and Lionel Rose‘ (p. 17)
  • ‘…her hands dance a jig with needles and wool‘ (p. 29)
  • ‘He has a voice as smooth as honey on a warm day‘ (p. 42)
  • ‘…Christmas rushes in like a bush turkey after kitchen scraps‘ (p. 208).

(ACELT1636)   (EN5-4B)


Text and meaning

Return to the notion of a Bildungsroman as discussed in the Initial Response section. Consider the following events/anecdotes in the novel and what they reveal about Fuzzy:

1. Chapter: ‘Teddy and Me’ (when they kiss for the first time)

It’s now two weeks since the party and, yes, we have seen each other since. And, yes, we have kissed again. We decided we would continue to be friends rather than jump into a teenage love drama.

Others in our class noticed the change and have seen the closeness…They don’t understand why we don’t become boyfriend and girlfriend. But that’s OK because it’s not all about them, is it? (p. 127).

2. Chapter: ‘Crazy’ (Fuzzy’s acceptance of Yar)

Like Nan, Yar is gifted. He has a spirit named Bruce that follows him around wherever he goes. He is an educated spirit…

The good thing about this is that if I’m stuck with my homework I ask Yar for help and, if he can’t, which is rare, Bruce is always available with the right answer. (pp. 108–109).

3. Chapter: ‘Family Catch Up’ (Fuzzy setting the cane toad free)

Toad, you poor bloody thing, you and me might look different but I reckon I totally understand the predicament you and your mob are in. This is how I see it. All cane toads, foxes and rabbits have had a bad run in this country. You were all brought out here for a reason and here you are, living in the land of plenty. You’ve been hard at work eating up the dreaded cane beetle but the government forgot, didn’t it? It’s not all about the cane here. Like the rest of us, you are one of God’s creatures and it’s natural that you’d find a partner, pair up and have a big family and, next thing you know, your family is having a big family of their own, and on and on it goes…

Generally speaking mate, this is how you, rabbit and fox got on that dreadful wanted list…

Yep, Toad, I understand, and for that I reckon we are connected and you should be freed… (pp. 158–159).

4. Chapter: ‘Sorry Day’ (when Fuzzy defends her opinion in class against Catherine)

My friend Tui reckons she is unscrupulous. I’m not sure about that, all I know is she gives me the shits.

Anyway, we were all in class in deep conversation about the past when Catherine says, ‘Well my family and I believe all of this nonsense with the so-called Stolen Generation is a waste of time and money. Surely Mr Rudd has better things to do, like looking after the people on the land.’

I let her have it. So did Mr Sidebottom. (p. 71).

5. Chapter: ‘Sweet Words Hurt’

(After her encounter with Mr Ridgeway, Fuzzy gives herself some time to ‘mope’ and then she asks Nan and Pop to take her to the forest so that she can ‘sit awhile’ and heal. This shows how much she respects herself and knows what to do to look after herself and move forward from a set-back.)

It has been a week and I have moped around the house long enough. It is time to ask Pop and Nan to drive me out to Lola’s Forest, a reserve just out of town. The forest is healing, a great place to visit when you need a quiet moment…

I can’t afford to be going on like this any longer. So, like Pop said, it’s time to step forward. (pp.188–189).
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Synthesising task/activity

Fuzzy ends the novel by setting four challenges (‘dares’) for the reader:

  1. Sing your own song
  2. Be tolerant and fair
  3. Fight for what you want and what you believe
  4. Love yourself.

Students should reflect on how the characters in the novel have met these challenges and cite specific examples for each challenge. The previously mentioned examples of Fuzzy’s development could also be analysed in terms of how she met these challenges.

Students should reflect on how they might meet challenges in their own lives and set some achievable goals for themselves. Students create an ‘inspiration board’ or ‘collage’ containing significant quotes from the novel, appropriate accompanying images representing aspects of the novel, and words/images to reflect personal goals.

This response should be accompanied by a written rationale (PDF, 131KB) explaining why and on what evidence they have constructed their inspiration boards or collages.
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Ways of reading the text

Post-colonial literature

Post-colonial literature seeks to explore the impact of colonisation on the colonised and re-dress or reverse the assumptions and cultural bias of the colonisers. Post-colonial fiction may:

  • Incorporate the native language of the colonised, or in this novel’s case, the Aboriginal English that has been adopted when native language has been lost: ‘shame’, ‘gammon’, ‘deadly’, ‘yarn’, ‘gurras’ are some of the words Fuzzy uses, particularly when talking with her cousins.
  • Re-write ‘traditional’ history so that colonisers are no longer seen as the victors and brave warriors but recognised for the violent atrocities inflicted upon the colonised.
  • Valorise cultural identity – we admire the deep spirituality and cultural knowledge of the colonised, challenging the view that they are inferior to the colonisers.
  • Ask questions about the nation’s cultural, political and social identity which can then be debated and interrogated.

Questions students can be encouraged to consider:

  1. What features of Aboriginal language and communication style are we exposed to through the Aboriginal characters in this novel?
  2. What information about the poor treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander people have you discovered in this novel? Does this challenge the ‘Captain Cook’ view of history for you?
  3. In what ways is Aboriginal culture valorised – held up for admiration – in this novel? Is the culture romanticised in any way?
  4. How does the novel interrogate the ANZAC legend, the Australian identity and the value of mateship?

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Historical context

Stolen Generation

The ‘Sorry Day’ chapter reflects on the day Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation. Liberal leader Brendan Nelson’s address is also examined, and it is noted that Nan did not connect with what Nelson was saying. Fuzzy thinks he started off ‘alright’, and he seemed genuinely moved by one of the Stolen Generation’s stories he read aloud. But she is puzzled as to why he brings up sexual abuse in Northern Territory communities, and concluded that he failed to acknowledge the significance of saying sorry. View Kevin Rudd’s and Brendan Nelson’s speeches from that day in the light of this chapter.

  • Is the author justified in her analysis?
  • Why was Kevin Rudd’s Apology so important to people like Nan? How did it help her to heal?
  • Is this an illustration of the theme of ‘perseverance’, and does it show how Aboriginal people can move forward (as opposed to ‘getting over it’ as some people argue that Aboriginal people should do)?

(ACELT1633)   (ACELT1636)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-4B)


The ‘populate or perish’ migration policy is mentioned on page 25.

Fuzzy, Pop and Nan debate immigration policy and ‘boat people’ on pages 135 to 138.

Students can research the populate or perish policy, the subsequent white Australia policy and the refugee/boat people debate. Ask students to compare and contrast the opposing views about immigrants and refugees.

A simpler task is to complete an ‘alternative mind portrait’ of Nan and Pop’s perspectives (from Kalantzis and Cope). Students draw two head silhouettes. Represent Nan’s perspective inside one head and Pop’s inside the other head by either writing or drawing ideas that convey their perspective. Additional ideas can be added as labels around the outside of the head silhouette. Students then share their portraits with a partner.
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Indigenous soldiers

The chapter entitled Anzac Day provides a perspective that is often unknown. Students could be prompted to research more about:

  • Indigenous or Torres Strait Islander soldiers having to lie about their background in order to enlist
  • Having to be of ‘substantial European descent’ to enlist
  • Black soldiers being left out of the ‘soldier settlement scheme’ upon their return from service. (Students could look at the Reading Australia teaching unit on Reg Saunders: an Indigenous War Hero by Hugh Dolan and Adrian Threlfall, to gain an understanding of one Indigenous man’s service in WW2 and his life afterwards. See also the Reading Australia unit Alfred’s War, while aimed at year 6, still has relevance here and the poignant story stimulates enquiry and reflection.)

The Australian War Memorial website provides resources such as ‘understanding the context’ and the ‘For Country For Nation’ exhibition.
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The Holocaust

Mr and Mrs Steiner were family friends who were Jewish and had escaped from German soldiers during WW2. Mr Steiner’s twin sister, Ranni, was killed at Auschwitz. Nan always gets teary when Auschwitz is mentioned. The Sydney Jewish Museum is a fantastic resource for exploring stories of the Holocaust.

An important story is that of William Cooper, a prominent Aboriginal activist of the 1930s and 1940s who led a protest to the German consulate about the Nazi treatment of Jewish people. The generosity of spirit and humanity of William Cooper and his delegation to use their limited resources to show solidarity with an oppressed people on the other side of the globe – when they themselves were in the midst of fighting their own oppression and mistreatment – is inspiring. Students may be able to draw comparisons to the generosity of Nan and Pop: how they help others despite having limited resources of their own; how they treat all people with respect; how they empathise with others through story-sharing.


Comparison with other texts

There are many young adult novels dealing with growing up, discovering one’s identity and dealing with racism. Becoming Kirrali Lewis by Jane Harrison deals with a young Aboriginal teenager who leaves her home town in rural Victoria to take on a law degree and in the process discovers her true identity. Songs that sound like blood by Jared Thomas explores the journey of Roxy May Redding who moves to the city to pursue her musical passion and in working through the many challenges this involves discovers her sexuality, and has to confront the reality of resistance from her family. (Both of these texts have Reading Australia teaching resources developed for them). Non-Indigenous authors have also explored these themes. They include James Moloney’s Dougy, which explores the character of Gracey and how she strives for her dream to become a champion runner despite the discrimination she faces from both the townspeople and the expensive boarding school who offer her a scholarship, and Clare Atkins’ Nona & Mewhich depicts the friendship of an Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal girl in the Northern Territory community of Yirrkala, and the slow realisation, as they get older, that the society in which they live is divided by deep racism. This latter novel also delves into key historical events, such as the Northern Territory intervention.

Some key television series that consider contemporary Aboriginal identity include: The Gods of Wheat Street and Redfern Now. In particular, Episode Four of Redfern Now where a boy is expelled from school for refusing to stand for the Australian anthem can inspire rich discussion about nationalism and patriotism and how Aboriginal people may see these nationalistic gestures.

Other texts that document similar identity struggles in the ‘coming of age’ genre include Growing up Asian in Australia by Alice PungComing of Age – Growing up Muslim in Australia by Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren; and Growing up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss.


Evaluation of the text

Representative of Australian culture

Students are to participate in mini-debates in the classroom about the extent to which they feel the novel captures ‘Australian culture’ and to what extent the novel increases understanding and empathy for Aboriginal Australians.

A lead in to these mini-debates ought to be a discussion of exactly what is meant by ‘Australian culture’ today, both in fact and fantasy. This would include examination of concepts such as ‘a fair go’, ‘mateship’, the ‘ANZAC spirit’ and other stereotypical interpretations. These ought to be put alongside our European history of invasion and oppression, as well as the immigration programs of recent years and what this has meant for our cultural values.

As a warm up to the debates, you could provide a series of value statements to do with these topics and have students place themselves on the ‘value line’ between ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’. Students explain with those around them why they placed themselves at that spot on the line, and the teacher invites some students to volunteer their reflections to the class.

Students are to record their reflections/evaluations, noting others’ views, in a class blog or in a journal entry.
(ACELT1633)   (ACELT1634)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1744)   (ACELY1745)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)


Rich assessment task – receptive mode

Students use their evaluation of the text (above) and the analysis of historical context and text meaning in the Close Study section to gather notes and plan, draft, and publish an extended response to an essay question:

Sue McPherson’s Grace Beside Me teaches us how storytelling can give us strength in our identity and help us acknowledge the past so that we can continue to move forward in life. Discuss with reference to the historical events and moral lessons explored throughout the novel.

Students should plan and draft their responses, receiving feedback from their teacher and/or other students before proceeding to write final copies. During the drafting process, students should examine model annotated responses, written by the teacher or students, and use feedback to make further improvements to their own essays.
(ACELA1551)   (ACELT1633)   (ACELT1771)   (ACELT1634)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1744)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1747)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)

Synthesising core ideas

Before getting started with the Rich assessment task that follows, students have already prepared the groundwork for this assessment task by considering significant stories in their own families (Synthesising task in the Initial Response section). They could further prepare for this task by:

  • Walk and talk: students form pairs and walk in a designated area outside. The challenge is to keep moving while they are talking, as this often helps with processing thoughts. Students are to share with their partner the two most important, life-changing events they have experienced so far in their lives.
  • Reflection: after their walk and talk, students write a personal reflection:
    • How did it feel to share those stories?
    • Did you share everything about the event or did you hold some information back?
    • Did you make a joke about any of it, or try to down play it?
    • Why did you choose those particular events – what effect have they had on the person you are now?
  • Interviewing family: ask them:
    • What memories do you have of events that have had a big impact on me?
    • When do you think I was at my happiest/calmest/most comfortable/saddest/angriest/most excited/most frustrated?
  • Review their understanding of what an anecdote is. A good minilesson on anecdotes is available on YouTube, which looks at how anecdotes can be used in both narrative and persuasive writing.


Rich assessment task – productive mode

Students are to write their own anecdote about a significant moment in their lives. They must think carefully about how they can connect with their audience and what they are aiming to reveal about themselves. The anecdote should end with some kind of reflection about how they felt at the time of the reported event and what they think now, looking back – how did this event contribute to who they are/where they are today? As an extension students may wish to illustrate their anecdotes with illustrations or photos.

An example of a short anecdote with some prompts (PDF, 217KB) is available for discussion in class before students begin.
(ACELA1551)   (ACELT1773)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1747)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)