Introductory activities

Defining ‘country’

A starting point for class discussion should be how to define ‘country’. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the definition of ‘Country’ (note the capitalisation) is very different to the thinking employed by Anglo-Australians. According to the AIATSIS website, it describes the lands and waters to which First Nations peoples are connected through ancestry, while also incorporating thinking about (among other things) law, language and identity. In essence, Country is more than the physical land that people live upon: it is a complex notion that encompasses a way of life and culture. Study the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia with students, as well as the interactive Gambay First Languages Map.

For Anglo-Australians, the meaning of the noun ‘country’ is twofold. One definition pertains to any area of land that has its own government: the land of a persons’ birth, residence or citizenship. The other definition is the one that applies to Growing Up in Country Australia: rural land located outside urban or industrial areas, typically used for farming or left in its natural condition. In fact, the title of Growing Up in Country Australia uses ‘country’ as an adjective. This anthology, edited by Rick Morton, shares stories of life in the country, drawing together narratives that celebrate (and commiserate) the experience of growing up in regional Australia.

Explore the differing notions of ‘country’ with students. Consider:

  • The importance of an Acknowledgement of or Welcome to Country – do students understand the difference and what the purpose is of each?
  • The colonial implications of the idea of ‘a country’
  • What comes to mind when they consider life in the country?
  • What are the stereotypes that exist and persist about country people?
  • Is country life different around the world compared to Australia?
  • What might be some positives of living in the country?
  • How do they think life in the country compares to life in the city?

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What makes a country town?

To help students understand the makeup of Australia, consider the definition of ‘small towns’ (versus medium/large towns and major cities) provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016). You could also examine the most recent census data that outlines some of the fastest growing regional centres in Australia. While Morton doesn’t specify what makes a place ‘country’, we can infer from the descriptions and distances outlined by the anthology’s contributors; the nature of the work undertaken by the people in the stories; and the stated access to resources, that small towns outside major city centres with populations between 200 and 5,000 people are the focus of the text. You may even consider pulling apart the report on regional Australia by the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation (2018), which details the importance of regional and rural communities and the challenges posed by continued growth and industrialisation of urban centres. There are plenty of statistics in this report that may help students grasp the geographical location and importance of these country towns.

Ask students what (if any) was the last country town they visited, then ask them to describe what it was like. To get them thinking about where they may have visited, show them some general images of Australian country towns on Google. If your students are from metropolitan areas, what did they notice about the town compared to where they live? For students who may be studying this text in regional or rural areas, what are the things that separate their town from bigger city centres?

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Growing up

Have students consider what it means to ‘grow up’. This is probably an expression they have used or heard before. The Growing Up series published by Black Inc. is incredibly popular as it captures the diversity of the Australian population while uniting writers under a common theme: creating empathy, celebrating difference, highlighting challenges and injustices, and advocating for understanding and connection. Discuss with students:

  • What kinds of rites of passage are involved in growing up?
  • What is the best part about getting older?
  • How might someone’s cultural heritage, geographical location, primary language, or even physical appearance or experience of disability contribute to their experiences growing up?
  • Why do you think these kinds of collections are popular?

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Personal response on reading the text

Australian pastoral writing

There has been much discussion in the literary space about the Australian interpretation of pastoral writing. Introduce students to the concept of pastoral literature. This genre celebrates an idealised version of rural life, typically written by urban inhabitants who long for the peace and simplicity of life on the land, and personified in the role of the shepherd/shepherdess and other ‘rural folk’. In Australia this usually takes the form of colonial or settler narratives and visions of life on the land. Such work celebrates nature and the landscape, and venerates the experience of life in a rural setting. Some students may be familiar with the following Australian pastoral works:

You may also like to have students analyse:

For those who challenge the idyll of the rural setting, consider (with careful selection for appropriate passages):

In what ways might Growing Up in Country Australia celebrate life in the country? Ask students to keep a record of instances when the contributors portray this as idyllic. Conversely, how does the anthology challenge the romance and beauty of the bush life that some Australian poets describe? To help students gain a clearer understanding of what to look for, consider this list of Romantic characteristics or even this School of Life video about the Romantic movement. You might like to ask students to contribute to a Padlet throughout their study of the text.

Andrew Taylor (2015) suggests that a modern interpretation of pastoral literature should focus on the tension between urban and rural life (p. 40). He cites the work of Australian academic, editor and publisher Ivor Indyk, who has previously alluded to the ‘tortured’ nature of Australian landscape poetry – and perhaps by extension, pastoral writing (Taylor, 2015, p. 41). If appropriate, discuss with students the extent to which they identify some of these qualities in Morton’s anthology. The below questions may be a helpful starting point, but as they are broad and will likely require some thinking time, you may wish to break your class into small groups to discuss before reporting back to the class. Encourage them to draw on examples from both Growing Up in Country Australia and their personal experiences:

  • Can you think of two examples of tension that exist in the collection? These could be dilemmas faced by people in the stories, or tensions within their settings or contexts.
  • Do you think that the collection highlights a rivalry or discrepancy between life in the country and life in urban areas? How so?
  • Are there hidden stories or secrets that can be uncovered in the anthology?
  • How is the idea of estrangement explored in the text? Who or what is estranged from whom?
  • The notion of isolation is a prominent theme in the text. Choose one reflection that you think best articulates your understanding of what it means to be isolated.
  • Is it possible to say that it’s ‘better’ to grow up in the city or the country?

Despite the tensions in the stories selected for Growing Up in Country Australia, there is also an element of understanding that indicates a shift in attitude toward the landscape itself. While there are several stories that illustrate what life is like on a land that can be harsh and threatening, there is also an underlying respect for the land; demonstration of the need to take greater care of it; and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ relationships to the land. This is a marked change from traditional pastoral literature.

  • What stories demonstrate an awareness of ecological threat?
  • Find two stories that discuss the power of nature and the landscape. How do the respective authors describe the land on which they live(d)?
  • How is the idea of ‘the country’ connected to nature in some of the stories? Are there certain characteristics of the country that the stories present?
  • Consider ‘the country’ as a character in the text, rather than the setting. What words and phrases would you use to describe its behaviour or personality?

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Romanticising the idea of ‘the country’

Complementary to the idea of the Australian pastoral genre is the knowledge that Australian literature has documented our changing relationship to the bush (and country) more broadly. This article from The Conversation suggests that more recent Australian writing has adopted an attitude of harmonious co-dependence between man and nature – a kind of romance. The notion of the romance of the country is a thread that runs through Growing Up in Country Australia. You could discuss with students some of the hallmarks of the Romantic movement, including an awareness of the beauty of nature, emotions over intellect, a sense of adventure, and spirituality. How might the text celebrate some of the principles of the Romantic movement? Can students identify any stories from the anthology that encapsulate these ideals?

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Outline of key elements of the text

The myth of the bushman and other Australian characters

The myth of the bushman is central to many discussions of Australian cultural identity. This is covered extensively by Russel Ward in The Australian Legend. Despite the text being published in 1958, there remains a strange preoccupation among Australians about who the quintessential Australian (the bushman) actually is. According to Ward, this Australian is a prolific swearer, gambler and drinker (see para. 6–7), as well as being:

  • Practical, unpretentious and unsentimental
  • Good at improvising and giving things a go
  • Uninterested in perfectionism
  • Strong and reliable in a crisis
  • Sceptical about religion, intellect and culture
  • Independent and anti-authoritarian
  • Hospitable and loyal to a fault

It is strange that, despite most Australians living in urban and coastal areas, the myth of the bushman has endured in our society. Early pastoral writers have a great deal to answer for in terms of romanticising the bush! Students are probably familiar with Crocodile Dundee, a pervasive stereotype despite the age of the film, or even The Man from Snowy River, an idealised stockman. Even people like Ned Kelly are key Australian bush figures. Not all Australians act or look like bushmen, but some still aspire to embody those legendary characteristics.

  • Do students agree with Ward’s characterisation of the ‘typical’ Australian?
  • Can students think of one present-day Australian who embodies these values?
  • Have students rank the aforementioned characteristics in order of ‘most desirable’ to ‘least desirable’.

It would be worth exploring the concept of the ‘typical Australian’ with students. Growing Up in Country Australia highlights the diversity of people that live in regional and rural areas. The text offers a range of perspectives and experiences that highlight the nature of what it means to be a person living in the country. Have students consider some of the archetypal figures in the Australian bush tradition (such as the bushman, the larrikin and the anti-authoritarian rebel) and contrast them with the people depicted in the anthology. What can we say about the myth of the Australian bushman considering the current makeup of Australia’s population – including gender, average age, occupation, cultural heritage and language spoken at home?

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Representation and othering

Considering the above, particularly the notion of the ‘typical Australian’ and the values that have been ingrained into the Australian psyche over time, ask students to think about who is being ‘othered’ by such a representation. They can complete a table like the below:

Characteristic Who meets this stereotype? Who is othered by this stereotype?
Unpretentious and unsentimental
Gives things a go
Strong and reliable
Sceptical about religion, intellect and culture
Independent and anti-authoritarian

Have students create a list of people from the stories you have focused on in Growing Up in Country Australia. What qualities and characteristics would they ascribe to these people? Do they conform to the notion of a ‘typical’ country Australian? How (or how not)? Ensure students support their observations with evidence from the text.

Discuss the importance of representation. Ask students if they think Morton was explicitly trying to curate an anthology that included perspectives from a diverse range of contributors. After reading some of the stories, why do they think that ensuring appropriate representation in this text is important?

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Negative experiences and characteristics

Despite the overwhelmingly supportive and uplifting nature of this collection, which celebrates and recognises little-heard stories of regional and rural life, a number of the entries reflect on the harsher and more unpleasant aspects of growing up in the country. Morton arguably includes these to illustrate the realities of such an experience, and perhaps to force the reader to confront their own biases about the picturesque vision of country life that has long been ingrained into the Australian psyche.

Have students identify some of the more unfavourable aspects of the country Australian experience as presented in the anthology. For example, in ‘The Country Club’ (pp. 40–55) Lech Blaine talks about murder, violence and drug use in Toowoomba. Michael Winkler’s story ‘Bob’ (pp. 83–90) recalls the frequent deaths of young people in his country town. Several contributors document instances of bullying and harassment because of a perceived fault, difference or deficiency. Descriptions of racism, ableism and homophobia punctuate the text.

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Nostalgia and memories

As one might expect of a text that is primarily concerned with the past, Growing Up in Country Australia is peppered with nostalgia, and there is a sense of reminiscence in several of the stories. Nostalgia is an incredibly powerful feeling – so much so that it was once considered a disease. This article from Inverse outlines some interesting scientific research about nostalgia and its importance for self-regulation. Ask students to document the things in their lives that make them feel a sense of nostalgia for their past. These could be things like:

  • Playing board/video games with their siblings
  • Reading certain books or listening to certain songs
  • Looking at photographs
  • Driving on a particular road or travelling a particular route

Nostalgia can be positive, negative or ambivalent. Some studies say that people tend to feel nostalgic when they have a low mood. Consider the publication date of this anthology (2022). To what extent do you think the COVID-19 context may have influenced some of these stories?

The concept of memories is especially interesting. Students may like to track their own formative memories, as well as collective memories and/or flashbulb memories (such as local, national or international tragedies). They could also reflect on their memories of events in the life of their community. Explore why the contributors to Growing Up in Country Australia may have chosen to focus on specific kinds of memories. How would students categorise the stories – can they be grouped according to positive or negative feelings? Autobiographical or collective memories? Minor or major life experiences?

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Thematic groupings for study

Below are some suggested groupings for stories with similar ideas and themes.

NOTE: Not all stories from the anthology are listed.

Growing up as a migrant in country Australia
  • ‘Sweet and Sour’ by Lily Chan (pp. 130–135)
  • ‘Move’ by Farz Edraki (pp. 176–181)
  • ‘Shallow Crossing’ by Tom Plevey (pp. 268–276)
Growing up Aboriginal in country Australia
  • ‘An Ogmore Story’ by Melinda Mann (pp. 288–295)
  • ‘Q&A’ with Tony Armstrong (pp. 27–32)
Growing up as an LGBTQIA+ person in country Australia
  • ‘Territory’ by Holden Sheppard (pp. 154–164)
  • ‘Seedpods’ by Benjamin Riley (pp. 182–194)
  • ‘Looking Back, Looking Up’ by Jes Layton (pp. 220–228)
  • ‘Irrigation’ by Jay Carmichael (pp. 254–261)
Growing up as a woman in country Australia
  • ‘Grafton’s Derry Queen’ by Bridie Jabour (pp. 21–26)
  • ‘1983’ by Olivia Guntarik (pp. 70–82)
  • ‘Homesick’ by Cassandra Goodwin (pp. 262–267)
Growing up with disability in country Australia
  • ‘Driven’ by Jessica White (pp. 195–205)
  • ‘The Devil and the Far North–West’ by Cade Lucas (pp. 239–249)
Growing up with concern for the environment and sustainability in country Australia
  • ‘Mousepocalypse’ by Annabel Crabb (pp. 5–10)
  • ‘Rain, Rain, Go Away’ by MA Plazzer (pp. 60–69)
  • ‘Meat’ by Claire Baker (pp. 110–116)

Synthesising task/activity

Challenge students to write their own reflection on growing up. Like the contributors to Growing Up in Country Australia, they may choose to focus on:

  • Experiences that have shaped their outlook
  • Routines that make up their daily lives
  • Reminiscences on a formative memory

Students may undertake this task in the form that best suits them: creative non-fiction, personal reflective essay, interview or fictionalised short story. They may even prefer to share their reflection as an audio file (like an audiobook). The goal is to shed light on what it has been like for them to grow up in their context.

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The writer’s craft

Morton’s reflections on assembling the anthology

On p. xii, Morton discusses the submissions to Growing Up in Country Australia and their unifying elements. Before reading this with students, see if they can identify one idea or concept that ties all the pieces together, aside from the fact that they’re about the country. Morton refers to there being something ‘ineffable’ about country life (p. xiii); is there anything students can articulate based on their observations OR their lived experience, if they have any?

Using hexagonal thinking, students will see if they can draw connections between the stories in the anthology. You could assign specific pieces and a few ideas to get them started (refer to the thematic groupings from the Initial Response section), or let them draw their own conclusions. You might guide them to create something that looks like this, with the potential to connect their thinking to that of other students (working individually or in groups).

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First person narration

Growing Up in Country Australia is a collection of writing that uses first person narration and the personal reflective voice. It is possible that some students will not be used to reading texts written from this point of view, let alone personal reflective pieces. If they are interested, you could introduce them to the genre of creative non-fiction. Have students complete a table such as the one below and discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of telling stories in this way. You might even choose an excerpt from the anthology and ask students to rewrite it in the third (or second!) person. What is lost and/or gained by the change in perspective? How does it alter the overall message of the individual story, or the whole anthology?

Advantages of first person narration Disadvantages of first person narration

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The past as a character

In his review of the collection for the Sydney Morning Herald (2022), Declan Fry identifies the past as the main character (para. 1). What do students think Fry means by this? Complete this table (PDF, 81KB) about how the past ‘looks’, ‘feels’ and ‘sounds’, and how the contributors have written about it.

Consider the traditional character arcs that authors employ in their writing. How might ‘the past’, as a character, develop according to one of these arcs? How is it represented through Morton’s selection and sequencing of stories? Start by exploring the transformation, growth and fall arcs. While these are usually associated with fiction, they can also apply to non-fiction narrative writing. How do elements of these arcs play out in the anthology? Which ones (if any)?

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Transit vs permanence

In the same review, Fry observes that the country is often portrayed as a place of transience or departure. In what ways is the transitory nature of the country represented in the text? Consider:

  • How many of the writers still live in the country?
  • How many of the stories refer to moving away from the country?
  • How many of the writers discuss returning to the country for a visit?

Alaina Dean’s piece, ‘it is all before us’ (pp. 277–287), tackles some of these ideas very well. She explores her transient relationship with the Central West of New South Wales, moving away for uni but returning during her breaks. Now, as an adult living in Melbourne, she talks about ‘unlearning’ some of the ideas and behaviours she has carried since childhood (p. 283). Dean wonders if she has managed to capture both the love and the resentment she feels towards country Australia (p. 285). It would be worthwhile using this piece as a springboard to explore the complex relationship with the country that many of the contributors write about.

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The school bus and the commute to school

Morton notes the significance of the country school bus and the politics of the commute to and from school (p. xii). How do Morton’s observations, and those of the writers who focus on this transportation, tie in with the notion of the country as a place of transit? Have students discuss how the bus itself operates as a place of belonging. Can they think of any other experiences in life that are quite like this?

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Text and meaning

Place and identity

It is clear from the pieces in this anthology that place and identity are inextricably linked. Each of the contributors reflects on the ways in which – for better or worse – the country has impacted their view of the world and their place within it. Many articulate that, although they no longer reside in the country, it still has a hold on who they are, what they value and how they understand the world around them.

Have students map the way that this manifests for a handful of contributors. They can select their own pieces, or you can assign them. This template (PDF, 81KB) may be helpful.

The anthology conveys the idea that place matters, and at times there are hints that things may have turned out differently for certain contributors if they hadn’t grown up in the country. Discuss this notion with students:

  • To what extent do you think that the place you live shapes who you are?
  • If people are more mobile than ever and move around a lot, can you really be ‘tied’ to a place?
  • In what ways is place central to some of the stories?
  • In what ways is place central to your own life?
  • Are there things that are ‘true’ or important where you live that you think may not be in other places?

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City vs country

Tom Plevey’s piece, ‘Shallow Crossing’ (pp. 268–276), is a poignant reflection on the divide between rural and urban Australia. Having left north-west New South Wales to study in Brisbane, he describes meeting people who appeared worldly but lacked introspection (pp. 272–273). He reflects on the social and cultural privileges afforded to people in the city, and the judgment that flowed one way towards people in the country (p. 273). Discuss with students what it means to be ‘worldly’, then have them consider Plevey’s comments. Break into small groups to complete this table (PDF, 80KB). Share responses as a class, drawing examples from the text to highlight key points.

You may like to explore the nature of rivalry and its significance in the Australian psyche. Consider various sporting rivalries (e.g. between Australia and England in Test cricket; the Wallabies and the All Blacks in rugby union; Carlton and Collingwood in AFL), or even ongoing rivalries between Australian states and Territories. Why do we have an urge to compete with others and assert our dominance? Google Arts and Culture has an interesting gallery that students could explore for further context about state sporting rivalries.

Alaina Dean rails against the idea that country Australia needs to be ‘saved’, arguing that urban centres have their own flaws and that no one is beyond reproach (p. 284). What do your students think she means here? Why would country Australia need ‘saving’? Is that something that urban Australia can or should do? In what ways do students think Australia, as a whole, needs to improve?

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Masculinity and gender roles

There are a few stories in Growing Up in Country Australia that deal with gender stereotypes, sexism, and pervasive ideas and attitudes about gender in Australian society. In particular, Lech Blaine’s ‘The Country Club’ (pp. 40–55) explores some of the harmful ideas that persist about masculinity and how they manifest in the country, as does Michael Winkler’s ‘Bob’ (pp. 83–90). These representations provide particularly rich discussion points.

  • Start by asking students to identify examples of gender stereotypes across the text. If they can identify examples of gender nonconformity, note those down too.
  • Have students group the stereotypes (e.g. physical appearance, work/vocation, temperament). Once they have finished, they should assign a ‘negative’ or ‘neutral’ label to each group.
  • Ask students what they notice about the stereotypes they have identified. Even in a book that aims to promote the diverse and varied experiences of country Australians, what kind of comments can we make about our society?

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Sport: the great unifier?

Growing Up in Country Australia is peppered with references to sport and its embeddedness in Australian culture. Some stories reflect on the importance of sport as a communal exercise in friendship and resilience, while others explain how uncomfortable their community’s obsession with sport made them, for whatever reason. Interestingly, both Holden Sheppard (pp. 154–164) and Samantha Leung (pp. 213–219) reflect on sport in Geraldton, Western Australia, and its role in their adolescence. Read these two stories with students and explore the authors’ attitudes to sport. Have students populate the below table with examples from the text. If they’re unable to find references in the text, have them brainstorm ideas based on their own experiences.

Sport as a unifier Sport as a divider

You might like to discuss this article with students and explore some of the author’s ideas about Australia’s obsession with sport (particularly AFL or NRL).

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Colonialism, racism and nation building

One of the throughlines of the collection is the incidence of bullying and racism (along with ignorance of First Nations history) – not necessarily by the authors themselves, but by people that feature in their accounts of growing up. For example:

  • Samantha Leung recalls being acutely aware of her majority-white year group as a student in Geraldton (p. 214).
  • Lech Blaine discusses the rise of white supremacy in the Darling Downs (p. 245).
  • Michael Winkler talks about the myth of egalitarianism, the hierarchical nature of his hometown, and racism towards First Nations people (pp. 83–84).
  • Tom Plevey reflects on the experience of being othered by people who consider themselves ‘the norm’ (p. 270).

What does it mean that people who live in Australia have had these experiences? How does it sit with students that many of the stories in this collection refer to bullying, harassment, discomfort and recurrent racism? Have them consider how stylistic choices such as voice, point of view, use of dialogue, and even structure contribute to the exploration of these issues. You could divide students into small groups to discuss before sharing their thoughts with the rest of the class.

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Other big ideas for discussion and exploration

Mental health and isolation

Several pieces in the anthology highlight the ways in which living in isolated regional and rural areas can lead to protracted periods of poor mental health, particularly for men. If appropriate, consider sharing the Rural and Remote Mental Health website with students, or this National Rural Health Alliance factsheet. Country Australians face a unique set of stressors, many of which feature in the collection (and some of which are outlined below). Creating awareness of these challenges will encourage greater empathy and compassion among students; consider how this may benefit your individual school context.

Access to medical care

On pp. 66–67, MA Plazzer recounts how her daughter contracted a life-threatening kidney infection from contaminated water. The local hospital was not equipped to treat her daughter, so Plazzer had to travel some distance to one that was. It should not take much effort for students to extrapolate the severity of these circumstances for those who live even further away from life-saving health care, including those in remote communities.

The environment and climate change

Discuss with students the ways in which the environment is integral for people who live and work in the country. How is their day-to-day life influenced by the weather? Consider these examples from the text:

  • MA Plazzer describes the inexorable power of the weather over life in Jeparit (p. 64).
  • Olivia Guntarik recounts the foreboding feeling of arriving in Bendigo (and being at nature’s mercy) after the Ash Wednesday bushfires (p. 77).
  • Gay Lynch describes a sense of belonging with the lands and waters of South Australia (p. 238).
  • Melinda Mann advocates for more regional and rural Indigenous leaders in the pursuit of positive climate action (p. 295).

Consider exploring material from the CSIRO that outlines how Australia’s climate is changing, and what impacts this is having. There may be cross-curricular opportunities for students to study the climate as part of the Humanities or Science, as well as English.


Farz Edraki recalls reading Australian books as a teenager, but struggling to identify with the picture of country life that they presented (p. 179). Discuss what she means by this, including the things that her family did not do or own when she was growing up. Compare this to Tom Plevey’s comment about Banjo Paterson and Mick Dundee on p. 271. Given what students have learned about the distribution of Australia’s population, as well as its cultural diversity, why is it important for individuals to recognise themselves in the stories they read or watch? Where does Growing Up in Country Australia fit in – does this text highlight a diverse range of voices and experiences of living in the country?

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Synthesising tasks/activities

  1. Have students write a letter to country Australia. They could write out of concern or appreciation for a particular element of country life, or in defence of a perspective put forward by one of the contributors. Students should articulate who or what they are addressing in their letter, as well as their rationale for writing.
  2. Students can create a travel guide for visiting country Australia. They might like to focus on a particular element that they found engaging, such as living on a farm or attending school. If your cohort is interested, you could introduce the concept of satire and have them create a guide that satirises the romantic image typically found in Australian pastoral writing (see Initial Response > Personal Response on Reading the Text > Australian Pastoral Writing), incorporating some of the more challenging aspects of rural or regional life.
  3. Have students create a playlist that people could listen to when visiting the country. Some of the contributors mention songs in their accounts; students can use these as a starting point. Have them select and annotate ten songs, explaining why they should be on the playlist. For each song, students should identify a corresponding piece from the anthology and explain how their song choice connects to what the writer was trying to present.

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Ways of reading the text

Feminist reading

Offer students a feminist reading (p. 298) of Growing Up in Country Australia. Using a feminist lens to critique some of the pieces will allow students to analyse the economic, political and social position of women in certain rural settings.

NOTE: Michelle Shalini Ramakrishnan’s explanation of feminist theory is situated within the teaching of domestic violence in the literature classroom. Teacher discretion is encouraged when deciding whether this is appropriate to share with your students.

A feminist reading may also encourage students to explore the impact of family and domestic violence as it appears in some of the stories; again, much sensitivity should be exercised to determine the appropriateness of this topic, given that it is a reality for many people.

Students may like to explore the following questions:

  • How are women spoken about in the text?
  • What kind of exchanges are had (i.e. who speaks to women, and in what tone/manner?)
  • What kind of opportunities are given to the women in the text? What education levels do they attain OR are encouraged to reach?
  • What is the social status of the men and women in the text?
  • What gender roles are afforded to the people depicted in the text, and in which environments are these roles encouraged?
  • In what ways do women resist the labels and circumstances expected of them?

Postcolonial reading

Ask students to consider the ways in which Growing Up in Country Australia can be considered a postcolonial text. Postcolonial critics argue that readers are only exposed to one privileged set of human characteristics, experiences and concerns – those of white Europeans – while the perspectives, values and struggles of other groups (for example, First Nations peoples) are overlooked. How does this relate to the anthology? How are First Nations peoples and perspectives represented, and what colonial attitudes and assumptions do the contributors address? Consider:

  • The ways in which white Australian values and attitudes are framed in the stories.
  • The ways in which First Nations peoples feature in the stories AND as contributors.
  • Has a range of First Nations perspectives and experiences been included?
  • Does the text deal with any concerns that directly correlate to the experiences of First Nations peoples?
  • Are there any intercultural relationships in the text and, if so, how are they dealt with?
  • Who would students say is othered in this text? How are they treated by other people?

NOTE: It is not widely accepted that Australia is, in fact, a postcolonial country. For more on this perspective, you can read an excerpt from Dhuuluu Yala (to talk straight): Publishing Indigenous Literature by Anita Heiss.

Ecocritical reading

Ecocriticism focuses on how the wilderness or nature is represented in literature, including the way it is constructed, valued and engaged with. The language that an author uses to describe the natural world highlights their ecological values and ideologies. Explore select pieces from the anthology with the purpose of answering the follow questions:

  • What is the primary role of the natural world in the text? It is expressly about ‘the country’ – what does this look like in terms of the way the land/nature is represented? What kind of role does it serve?
  • What is the difference between the natural world and the human world in the text? How are they represented?
  • What kinds of values do the contributors present about nature and the landscape?
  • What ideas about sustainability and environmentalism are presented in the text?
  • Does the text encourage any kind of reform or review of attitudes towards the environment?

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Comparison with other texts

An obvious point of comparison for Growing Up in Country Australia is the broader Growing Up series published by Black Inc.:

The structure and form of an anthology makes these texts suitable for comparing a wide range of coming of age stories about challenge, hardship, place and identity in Australia.

Students could also:

  • Compare pieces about the same theme in Growing Up in Country Australia
  • Compare pieces by the same writer, including their contribution to this anthology, other anthologies, and other samples from their portfolio
  • Contrast representations of particular places in the anthology
  • Use pieces from this anthology as the starting point for a bigger thematic study
  • Choose pieces that complement or contrast each other in terms of narrative voice or style

There is plenty to draw out in terms of the broader themes of the text and their relationship to the body of Australian literature and cinema. You could consider comparisons between Growing Up in Country Australia and:

  • Literature about growing up as a First Nations person in Australia. Recent texts like Becoming Kirrali Lewis by Jane Harrison, or The Boy from the Mish by Gary Lonesborough, would make great candidates.
  • Films depicting a certain version of Australiana, such as Crocodile Dundee or even The Castle. What kinds of characters transcend the country setting?
  • Television shows like Home and Away or Kath & Kim. How does the country compare to coastal or outer suburban Australia?
  • Classic Australian coming of age texts like Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
  • Stories about explorers or pioneers who traversed the country/outback.
  • Magazines like Australian Country or Country Style. Discuss the different representations of stylised country living in these magazines.

Similar in tone and content is Yumna Kassab’s novel Australiana. This is a collection of interconnected stories about life in regional Australia. In his 2022 review, Maks Sipowicz explains how Kassab’s stylistic choices (including characterisation, plot and text structure) help to explore different aspects of life in the country. Some of these ideas – such as the importance of close community networks, the hardships of the country, First Nations’ understanding of Country, and the enduring myth of the bushranger – are similar to Growing Up in Country Australia and would make for interesting comparison.

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Rich assessment task

Have students select an idea, theme, perspective or value that they engaged with during their study of Growing Up in Country Australia. Their task is to create a video essay that unpacks the theme and its representation in the text, as well as comment on how their own ideas have been challenged or supported by this representation.

Students should be familiar with video essays and probably use or rely on them in their personal lives more than they realise. These websites provide another helpful starting point:

The key to a successful video essay is preparation, so encourage students to make full use of storyboarding apps and graphic organisers; conduct thorough research; script their work; and cite their resources. Music, visual aids, slides and other graphics should be collated prior to recording and should be thoughtfully selected rather than randomly chosen. Consider showing students some video essayists, such as Mary McGillivray or The Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak), for inspiration. There are many guides that they can consult when they are ready to edit their footage, depending on the software they are using.

Alternatively, if you would prefer students to address this question in writing, the overarching idea can be easily formulated into an essay prompt.

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Synthesise core ideas

Have students work together to discuss the ways in which this text has shaped their understanding of life in the country. Depending on the focus you have taken in class, you might like to focus on a specific group of people, an overarching theme, or the like. Conduct a graffiti wall exercise by posting various statements or questions around the room and having students circulate, writing down their responses. Suggested prompts could be:

  • What lessons have you learned from studying this text?
  • What is your understanding of the First Nations concept of ‘Country’?
  • Why do you think people like to write about the country?
  • Why do we continue to romanticise the country/the bush when there are also many stories about the hardships and challenges of this lifestyle?
  • How is it that some characters become legends and continue to influence even contemporary Australian texts?

Once they have had time to reflect, students can discuss the answers to these questions in pairs, then in small groups, and finally with the whole class.

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Rich assessment task

In ‘Seedpods’ (pp. 182–194), Benjamin Riley reflects on the relationship between personal agency and the place a person has come from (p. 193).

For this task, students will compose a discursive essay that responds to the following prompt:

To what extent does Growing Up in Country Australia (edited by Rick Morton) demonstrate that individuals have agency over their own lives? Discuss with reference to at least THREE pieces from the collection.

It may be worth breaking down some of the following with students:

  • What is personal agency?
  • Do any of the contributors imply that their country upbringing has hindered them in some way? How?
  • Do any of the contributors defy what was ‘expected’ of them as a country Australian? How?
  • How does the place we live influence our opportunities in life?
  • Which pieces in the anthology do you most connect with and why?

Students should use any supplementary material explored in class, as well as their own thinking, to form a thesis statement that responds to the prompt. It may be useful to explain how a discursive essay differs from an analytical or persuasive essay. This handout (PDF, 135KB) may assist students in scaffolding their work and planning the arguments they wish to present.

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