Introductory activities

How the collection can be used

Guwayu is an exciting anthology commissioned by Red Room Poetry to share First Nations stories, languages and cultures. It features 36 emerging and established poets and celebrates culture, community, land, language and identity (p. xiii). Because of the interconnectedness of these elements – and because of the great diversity in theme, content, form, perspective and voice – the poems are best studied as a collection. This unit is suitable for Year 10, but individual poems can be shared with students from Years 7–12. Different pieces will be appropriate for different stages, so exercise professional judgment and pay attention to the subjects, themes and language in each poem when making selections.

In her Reading Australia resource for Tara June Winch’s The Yield, Emma Jenkins outlines the importance of cultural sensitivity and establishing the tone of your classroom (Initial Response > Introductory Activities). This includes leading students safely in and safely out of the material being covered. Jenkins also links to some helpful resources, including Magabala Books’ guide to teaching Indigenous content and Cara Shipp’s AATE Digital resources. Shipp has written a book called Listening from the Heart: Rewriting the Teaching of English with First Nations Voices and has spoken extensively about teaching First Nations literature, including as part of the 2023 Literature Symposium and the 2023 AATE/ALEA National Conference.

Throughout this unit, teachers will engage with the knowledges and understandings of First Nations peoples in Australia. It is important to note that educators who are not Indigenous do not and cannot hold this knowledge. Additionally, First Nations educators who are not from the particular cultural or language group represented in the text would not assume to hold that specific cultural knowledge. They would teach broader concepts and themes that apply across nations, but would not teach the specific language or cultural information; for this we look to the Traditional Custodians of that group. It is important to learn about the cultures and cultural contexts of any texts you intend to teach, and it is especially appropriate (and expected) for a text by First Nations writers in First Nations languages. The unit writers encourage the use of language and/or poetry recordings in class, as well as allowing students to read the poems privately and quietly to themselves.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority emphasises the value that teachers are to place on First Nations knowledges, experiences, values and perspectives. Key connections to English are available on the Australian Curriculum website.


Background to the collection

Guwayu — For All Times consists of poems commissioned by Red Room Poetry in the sixteen years prior to 2020. It is edited by Wiradjuri writer, poet and academic Dr Jeanine Leane and published by Magabala Books.

‘Guwayu’ is a Wiradjuri word meaning ‘still, and yet, and for all times’. The collection features twelve First Nations languages, celebrating untold hours that the poets have spent sitting with their Elders on Country to learn said languages – in some cases for the first time. It pays homage to the moments Custodians have spent in saltbush scrub hearing Dreaming stories, and the time spent listening for guidance on the wind by the river. Guwayu acknowledges the decolonisation of identity and reveals new phrases of self-description; as Leane explains in the foreword, it was written for and by First Nations people from different communities across the country (p. xiv). Themes include the environment; detention; justice; extinction and preservation of First Languages; and culture and Country. The poets ask important questions and invite readers to witness the prowess of self-determination and activism.

Activity 1: looking at the back cover

To begin, give students some time to look closely at the front and back covers of the book. Note the web- and thread-like lines in the illustration, their irregularity, and the way they intersect. This process is leading to a guided reading of the testimonials on the back cover.

If students are unfamiliar with the parts of a book, direct them to a summary. You could point out that the foreword to Guwayu is more like an introduction because it is written by the editor (who is also a poet) rather than another writer, friend, or scholar in the field.

You could also explain that when most people pick up a book for the first time, they scan the front and – if they like what they see – flip over to the back for more information. This experience is replicated online, where books are listed alongside their front cover image and back cover blurb. The blurb performs an important promotional function: to entice readers to buy the book. For this reason, publishers may include testimonials or recommendations from credible and noteworthy people to highlight why that book is worth reading. Consider the status of the back cover, then, when examining Guwayu with your students.

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Activity 2: Natalie Harkin

Before examining the testimonials, display some information about Natalie Harkin. Briefly discuss with why she may have been invited to comment on Guwayu and why her quote may have been selected for the back cover. Read her testimonial aloud and ask students to follow along as you do. Pause where necessary to explain unfamiliar words or to prompt thinking by asking questions.

As a class, predict and discuss some themes and images a reader may expect to find in Guwayu based on Harkin’s comments. Discussion points might include:

  • time and timelessness
  • resilience and writing back
  • images of nature and natural beauty
  • place and landscape
  • movement and momentum

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Activity 3: Tony Birch

Display some information about Tony Birch and explain who he is, if students are unaware (see also the short bio on Red Room Poetry’s website). Birch has appeared on The Garret podcast and is the subject of several Guardian profiles, which could be useful for this activity. Draw attention to the titles of his novels, short stories and poems, as well as his many literary prizes.

You could also show students the Red Room Poetry video in which Birch answers the question, ‘What does poetry mean to me’? Ask students to complete the following task verbally or in writing:

Summarise what Tony Birch means when he says that poetry offers ‘infinite engagement with simple and direct language’.

Read Birch’s testimonial for Guwayu aloud as students follow along. At the end of the reading, ask them to discuss in small groups:

  • Which words stand out in the quotation and why?
  • What are some of the people, elements, etc. that the collection brings together?

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Activity 4: languages

Guwayu is organised around the themes of various Red Room Poetry projects, including Poetry in First Languages (PIFL). You might like to read about how ‘language learning and connecting to Country, Culture and Community’ helps students ‘find strength in their cultural identities’, as described on Red Room Poetry’s website.

The collection was launched via live-stream by Leane, Kirli Saunders and Anne-Marie Te Whiu, and co-presented by Melbourne Spoken Word. Several contributing poets performed their work as part of the launch, including Bruce Pascoe, Steve Dibirdi Hodder-Watt Bunbajee, Adrian Webster and Lyndsay Urquhart.

Watch the launch up until 16:59 and consider the following questions:

  • What is the significance of Indigenous poets writing and speaking in First Languages?
  • How did Kirli Saunders go about learning language? Who did she learn from and why?
  • Why do you think the featured poets were included in the collection?
  • What is the significance of the diversity of First Nations languages in the collection?
  • How did the poets develop their language knowledge?

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Activity 5: visible thinking

This activity uses the ‘I used to think… Now I think…’ routine to develop understanding about language in the context of First Nations communities. This is an opportunity for non-Indigenous educators to learn about language alongside students. Please consider the point made by Stephanie Woerde (2016 Peter Mitchell Churchill Fellow) about cultural authority in teaching language (see the sentence at the top of p. 78 of her report, and the associated footnote).

Direct students to jot down everything they currently know about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages under the title ‘I used to think…’. Then have them access the following resources:

Main resources Posts by Sharon Davis for:

These posts contain information about Aboriginal English, traditional languages, and Standard Australian English. Students can read through each one to complete the web quest (PDF, 106KB), then return to the AIATSIS post to take the quiz.

Additional resources

Have students note down all their newfound knowledge about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages under the title ‘Now I think…’.

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Personal response on reading the text

See, think, wonder

Students can create a ‘see, think, wonder’ (STW) table consisting of three columns: one for what they see, one for what they think, and one for what they wonder about an aspect of their learning so far. This might be what they see, think and wonder about Guwayu as a whole. See the Thinking Pathways website for more information and a STW template.

Alternatively, students could develop a KWL chart to record what they know and want to know about Guwayu. They could then return to the final column to fill in what they have learned at the end of their study.


You might like to give students some time to write a brief reflection on what they have learned from the introductory activities. Prompts could include:

  • How do the testimonials on the back cover work to promote the book’s contents?
  • Why are multilingual texts like Guwayu so important?

Hear and experience

Versions of two poems from the collection are recorded and freely available on the First Nations Poetry page of Reconciliation NSW’s website.

‘Disconnection’ by Kirli Saunders

Watch the Guwayu launch from 28:30–31:25, where Saunders briefly discusses the PIFL project and how she came to write ‘Disconnection’ (pp. 127–130). Then listen as she reads her poem (or listen to the alternative reading), which was originally published in her debut collection Kindred. Ask students to discuss and then write down answers to the following questions:

  • What is the poem about?
  • What do readers/listeners gain from hearing Saunders read the poem aloud?
  • Which aspects of the poem do you find particularly powerful or memorable? Why?
‘Wuri Rising’ by Nicole Smede

Read Nicole Smede’s poem ‘Wuri Rising’ on p. 73 of Guwayu. Her song ‘Gugara Kuragia’ is loosely based on this poem. Watch the short video in which Smede explains what her song is about, then listen to the recording. Can students hear the kookaburra calling and the day waking (or rising) in the music?


Ask students to select any ONE poem from the collection and read it with a focus on their personal response:

  • How do they feel as they read the poem?
  • Do they personally connect with any aspects of the poem?
  • Can they identify any words or images that stand out for them?
  • Why did they select this poem to read and respond to?

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Outline of key elements of the text

Storytelling is integral to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) has produced some helpful information on this topic, including links to specific Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal examples. To this day, oral traditions are used as a means of developing cultural knowledge and understanding; truth-telling about the past; understanding relationships; and receiving important instruction from elders.

We can see these oral traditions at work in First Nations-led writing projects, such as those facilitated by Red Room Poetry. Guwayu brings together First Nations voices from all over Australia and from different generations, speaking and writing in a variety of languages. This gives the anthology a collaborative and communal spirit, which is especially evident in the launch video.

While the poems have been written by individuals, they are grounded in a shared experience: storytelling. In Indigenous Australian cultures, the emphasis of storytelling is on continual and perpetual sharing rather than the story as a product. This is also reflected in Guwayu; on pp. 44–46, for example, Declan Furber Gillick explains that his piece ‘Bigger Than School Stuff’ is continuously evolving and that it is not yet complete (see the first and last paragraph of his author’s note).

Further explore the nature of oral storytelling by reading Furber Gillick’s note in its entirety and discussing his commentary as a class. There is a related activity under Close Study > The Writer’s Craft > Using Notes.

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Close reading

As a class, conduct a close reading of the foreword to Guwayu (also available from Sydney Review of Books). Explain what a foreword is and what it does, taking care to differentiate it from the word ‘forward’. Before you begin the reading, identify and explain any vocabulary that might be unfamiliar to students and address any knowledge gaps. Also introduce Leane as Guwayu’s editor, but more often referred to as its curator. Explain what a curator is and brainstorm any synonyms and connotations of this word. This can be done on the board or collated as a word tree.

Have students read along with their own copies of the foreword, pausing to ask questions that check for understanding. Encourage students to build on their current understandings, such as how poetry can be experienced (in word, song, dance or digital spaces), or how it can be a form of sharing stories, voices, languages, emotions and identities.

Ask students to form groups and assign one of the following questions to each group. Students are to re-visit the foreword looking for information that will help answer their assigned question. Each group will make notes and present their findings verbally to the rest of the class, with the option of creating a poster to accompany their presentation.


According to the foreword:

  • What is the purpose of the collection?
  • What was the process in assembling the collection?
  • Why is the collection important and unique?
  • Why is the term ‘interpretation’ preferred over the term ‘translation’?
  • What points does the foreword make about language?
  • What does Leane say about the editing process for the collection and its uniqueness?
    • NOTE: This topic will be explored further under Close Study > Text and Meaning > The Editing Process and Representation.

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Synthesising tasks

Create a bio

Individually or in pairs, students are to research ONE of Guwayu’s contributing poets. They should find out any other names by which the poet is known, as well as their:

  • Country
  • languages
  • heritage
  • other publications
  • literary prizes
  • unique stylistic or thematic attributes
  • other significant information

Red Room Poetry’s website and pp. 151–165 of the text are useful places to start. There are 36 poets published in the collection, but for this activity it is recommended to exclude Jeanine Leane, Matthew Heffernan, and Kirli Saunders (they are featured in other activities in this unit).

Guide students to collate their poet’s biographical information, weaving the threads of their research together cohesively. They can present the information as imaginatively as they would like OR simply create a research sheet summarising what they have learned.

One of the purposes of this task is to demonstrate the variety of places, languages, and cultures among Guwayu’s contributors. Encourage students to locate and mark the poets’ Country and language regions on a map of Australia. The 50 Words Project, a visual representation of Australian Indigenous language groups (alongside a list of 50 words spoken in those languages), may assist with this part of the task.

Weaving metaphor

Students are to synthesise and summarise their understanding of the collection as a ‘weaving together’ of cultures, languages, experiences, identities and time. Guide them to do so creatively; they could use Powtoon, Picsart, Sway or Wix to gather, select, organise and then unite images and/or words, telling a ‘story’ about the associations with weaving in Guwayu.

Students should draw on the work they have done in class so far, thinking about the significance of the cover artwork and the title, and referring to relevant comments from Harkin and Pascoe’s testimonials; Leane’s foreword, especially pp. xvii–xix (see the second paragraph on p. xviii, which is quoted on Red Room Poetry’s website); and (optionally) Timmah Ball’s review for Sydney Review of Books.

It might be a good idea to invite a local First Nations artist or cultural educator into the classroom to weave and talk, illustrating the role of storytelling and oral history as well as embodying the metaphor of weaving. This could be an opportunity for students to ask questions about some of the upcoming themes in the collection (e.g. the environment, detention, justice, extinction and preservation of First Languages, culture and Country, self-determination, activism). Supply Nation and Indigenous Business Australia, as well as your local library, art gallery or museum, would be good places to look for local contacts.

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A note on cultural safety and remuneration

It is essential that you provide a culturally safe environment for any Elders or cultural educators coming into your classroom, as they will be sharing knowledge and information that may be very personal and sensitive. A culturally safe environment is one that recognises and respects the traditions, histories, protocols, beliefs and practices of the person(s) within it. This includes respectful communication in which everyone is engaged in open two-way dialogue.

Characteristics of culturally safe environments, and examples of actions that can support cultural safety, can be found in the following resources:

Elders and cultural educators should also be remunerated for their time and expertise, just like any other specialist. The fee will vary depending on the nature of the services required; some useful considerations can be found on p. 10 of NSW Health’s Aboriginal Cultural Activities Policy (see section 8.4, ‘Fees for service’).

The writer’s craft

Resisting conventional Western typography and form

The second-last paragraph of Leane’s foreword (p. xix) speaks of decolonisation: of writing outside the confines of Western typography and form, and reclaiming storytelling practices. Guwayu’s contributors decolonise poetry through their use of form and structure. They challenge notions of ‘approved’ or ‘correct’ poetic devices and literary techniques and, in doing so, communicate in a way that is true to each of their voices as First Nations people.

Ethan Bell’s poem ‘2560’ (p. 40), for example, is written in Dharawal and Aboriginal English. The use of capital letters, and of punctuation more generally, does not adhere to Standard Australian English protocols. Where colonialism demands dominance, Bell rejects the obligation to ensure that his work can be understood by a settler audience.


Students should select and conduct a close reading of ONE of the following poems:

They should then answer the following questions:

  1. Describe how the poem looks on the page. Does it include a First Nations language? How does it use left and right margins? How does it use bolding or italics? How does the text break? Are there obvious stanzas?
  2. How is this poem an example of decolonisation?

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Using notes

Some poets include additional notes alongside (or as part of) their poems. These notes might provide definitions, explanations, comments or background information, or they might cite references from throughout the poem. An example would be an epigraph or a footnote. These may allude to other sources or provide relevant personal, literary, historical or geographical information. In this way, the notes in Guwayu are crafted to provide context, and potentially create stronger connections between reader and poet: they are a way of speaking to readers and explaining what the poets identify as essential information.

For example, as mentioned in the previous section (Initial Response > Outline of Key Elements of the Text), Declan Furber Gillick uses the preliminary notes to ‘Bigger Than School Stuff’ to express his uncertainty about his poem’s form (p. 44, para. 1). He directly addresses readers with a request to keep an open mind with regards to its evolving nature (p. 46, para. 3).

It is interesting that these notes are simultaneously extrinsic and intrinsic to interpreting the poem, particularly in the way that they tell the story of its writing and translation, and capture Furber Gillick’s aims (p. 46, para. 2, l. 3–5).


Students should select ONE of the following poems and conduct a close reading of the accompanying notes to determine their function:

They should then answer the following questions:

  1. Do the notes and/or epigraphs encourage a non-linear approach to the poems (p. xvi)? What is the significance or effect of their placement? How does their inclusion/location affect the way the poem is read?
  2. Do the notes and/or epigraphs offer another voice to the poems? Explain how.
  3. How do the notes and/or epigraphs help the poet to play or innovate with form to shape meaning?
  4. How do the epigraphs contribute to the mood or themes of the poem?

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Text and meaning

Language, context and themes

‘Ngurrparringu (Forgotten)’ by Matthew Heffernan

Matthew Heffernan is an Indigenous/Irish poet. Read his bio as a class, highlighting for students his connections to place; his stylistic influences; and themes that are common in his poems.

Give students a map of Australia. Guide them to look up where Luritja land is so they can shade the area on their own maps. Point out that ‘Luritja’ is both the name of the people and a dialect of Wati, the language of the Western Desert people (you may need to explain the difference between a language and a dialect). Also highlight that there are other spellings of Luritja, such as ‘Luridja’ or ‘Loritja’; ask students why this might be the case. Explain that many languages of this region are no longer spoken or are under threat of disappearing.

Direct students to pp. 26–27 of Guwayu. Ask them to follow along as you play Heffernan’s reading of ‘Ngurrparringu (Forgotten)’, first in Luritja and then in English. Play each poem a second time and ask students to highlight or circle any words or phrases that stand out as they listen.

Students will now consolidate their understanding of the poem by creating a collage that reflects its themes, images and/or mood. They may even like to include key words or short phrases that help capture the poem’s meanings.

As a class, or in small groups, discuss:

  • How does hearing the poem in Luritja add to its feeling and meaning?
  • Why do you think it is important that the poem is written and read in Luritja (as well as English)?
  • How does reading/listening to the poem in Luritja influence the way you understand and respond to the poem in English?

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The editing process and representation

‘Baladjarang’ by Adrian Webster

Refer students to Leane’s discussion of the editing process on pp. xiv–xv of her foreword. Discuss what this means in terms of Guwayu’s readership and its unique representation and diversity of languages and themes.

As an example, consider how ‘Baladjarang’ by Adrian Webster (pp. 86–87) is written in Gumea Dharawal. The Gambay First Languages Map features audio of Gumea Dharawal man and cultural educator Jacob Morris, who – along with Joel Deaves – provided the interpretations for Webster’s poem (recording also accessible via ABC listen). Morris locates the Dharawal area on the east coast of Australia. He speaks about the importance of reviving First languages and dialects, and explains how language connects him to his Country and family. Significantly, for Morris, language is also about responsibility.

Now have students listen to Webster’s reading of ‘Baladjarang’, either on Red Room Poetry’s website OR as part of the Guwayu launch (44:50–46:38). Ask them to think about the effects of language in the context of the poem:

  • Is it powerful or in other ways moving?
  • What are some effects of hearing the two languages read successively?

Now ask students to read the poem for themselves. They may notice a particular effect from seeing the poem printed in Gumea Dharawal on the left, and in English on the right. They may also notice that its apparent simplicity disguises complexities in interpretation, culture and identity.

Students should also consider the concept of sovereignty over storytelling. The following resources may assist with this:

Building upon Leane’s comments from the foreword, in what ways does Webster’s poem:

  • challenge the limits, borders and boundaries of western literary practices?
  • endorse and celebrate language diversity?
  • connect themes of language, country and identity?

Once you have finished exploring ‘Baladjarang’, direct students to follow the same process for ‘Ban Maganindadjyang (My Old People Done)’ by Jacob Morris (pp. 125–126). A distinctive feature of this poem is the speaker’s voice, created in part by the choice and repetition of the word ‘done’.

Themes in the collection


Students should select ONE of the following poems and conduct a close reading, focusing on themes:

They should then answer the following questions:

  1. Which of the following themes are conveyed in the poem? What is their significance?
    1. landscape
    2. connections to community
    3. identity
    4. love
    5. connections to language
    6. political perspective
    7. dispossession
    8. other themes
  2. Find two lines in the poem, appearing either together or separately, that communicate the theme(s) identified above. Do these lines evoke particular images? How else do they present the theme(s)?

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Synthesising tasks

Initial response

Students will choose TWO of the four poems from the preceding activity and answer the following questions to assist with their reading and interpretation:

  1. At first glance, what is the poem about (i.e. its subject)?
  2. Does the poem’s speaker/persona seem attached or detached from the subject? At what point(s) do you feel that the speaker expresses particularly strong emotions?
  3. How would you describe the mood of the poem (some vocabulary charts might be useful here)? Does the mood change as the poem develops?
  4. Which words and/or images in the poem connect to its title? What ideas or images are foregrounded by these connections?
  5. Does the poem have a broader or more universal subject (beyond the speaker’s immediate experience)? What themes are highlighted?
  6. What is your response to the poem? How does it make you think or feel? Does it reinforce or challenge any of your practices, beliefs or ways of seeing the world?

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Representing ideas

NOTE: This next task is about interpreting a poem creatively, NOT reproducing or mimicking artworks previously produced by First Nations artists. It is important to teach students about cultural appropriation before they begin. The following resources may be useful:

Direct students to select ONE of the two poems from the previous task, and consider how they could visually represent its main ideas using one of the following forms:

  • a series of eight original photographs
  • a mixed-media collage

Each student should write a short exegesis or explanation detailing:

  • their choice of poem
  • their choice of form
  • the links between their chosen poem and the symbols/images they selected

Students should then present their finished works in a mini exhibition. Give each student a set of sticky notes so that they can leave positive feedback for their peers.

This is an excellent opportunity to invite other members of staff, particularly First Nations staff, and members of your local First Nations community to attend the mini exhibition.

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Ways of reading the text

A focus on voice

Guwayu was curated with a view to celebrating First Nations voices. Those that are represented in the collection work together to foreground the diversity of human experiences, along with the fact that there is no singular Indigenous voice. The voices in Guwayu are multigenerational and include (among many others):

  • new, emerging and established poets
  • different cultures and language groups (see p. xvi)
  • male, female and non-binary writers
  • performers, musicians, translators, artists, students and teachers

Reading Guwayu with an emphasis on voice highlights the distinct and varied nature of the poets’ experiences as they relate to the text’s themes. The multiplicity of perspectives adds range and depth to the insights readers stand to gain into different issues, attitudes, concerns, feelings and beliefs, as well as the extent to which these are shared.

Check students’ understanding of ‘voice’ as it applies to literature (the Australian Curriculum English glossary may be useful here). While ‘voice’ has a meaning in everyday vernacular, in literary studies it is seen as the individual style or personality of a text. It is constructed through language and stylistic choices, and the combination of the two.


Students should select ONE of the following poems and conduct a close reading, focusing on voice:

Macro or whole-text questions:

  1. Who is speaking in the poem? Is anyone directly quoted or cited?
  2. What attitude does the speaker have towards other voices? What is the speaker’s view of the world (i.e. their attitudes and values)?
  3. Does the voice (or do the voices) change throughout the poem? How many voices are included?
  4. How would you describe the voice(s): resilient, determined, hurt, resolved, critical, pleading, something else?
  5. How are the voices related to power?

Micro or part-text questions:

  1. How do the following textual features contribute to voice in the poem?
  2. Punctuation and its effects on pacing
  3. enjambment
  4. typography (the shape of the words on the page, e.g. division into stanzas; upper and lower case letters; indentations; use of gaps or spaces; ellipses or dots)
  5. syntax and grammar
  6. language choices (e.g. First Languages; descriptive language; conversational language; straightforward language)

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Comparison with other texts


Kirli Saunders’ award-winning verse novel Bindi can be compared to Guwayu based on its use of voice, form (including typography) and themes. A Reading Australia teaching resource (aimed at upper primary) is available for this title.

Catching Teller Crow

Catching Teller Crow is a story told half in verse and half in prose by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina. It has strong links to the themes in Guwayu. You can find a variety of teaching resources for this book via The National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature.

Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling

In Finding Eliza, Larissa Behrendt uses the story of Eliza Fraser to interrogate how Aboriginal people – and Indigenous peoples from other countries – have been portrayed in their colonisers’ stories. Behrendt explores many of the same themes as the poets in Guwayu, such as identity; language; life and loss; land and landscapes; cultural resilience and vitality; and communities and connections. There are opportunities to consider these themes across both poetry and creative non-fiction; see, for example, ‘Forever, Flag’ by Claire G. Coleman (pp. 88–89), which addresses identity and power dynamics between colonial and First Nations narratives. A Reading Australia teaching resource is available for this title.

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Evaluation of the text

Guwayu is a collection of poetry written by First Nations people, curated by First Nations people, and published by a First Nations publishing house. This means that ownership of these stories sits with First Nations storytellers. A collection like this should not be groundbreaking; Australia is publishing more First Nations stories than ever before. But this has not always coincided with ownership and leadership in the writing, editing and publishing processes (see Leane’s comments on pp. xiv–xv). Guwayu is an example of a First Nations-led publishing project, offering its contributors both creative freedom and cultural safety (see Leane’s concluding paragraph on p. xix).

First Nations leadership in publishing can be seen in (and is by no means limited to) the following organisations:

Red Room Poetry An important platform for First Nations poets (consider their vision, mission and values).
Magabala Books Australia’s leading Indigenous publishing house, Aboriginal owned and led, celebrating diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices.
First Nations Australia Writers Network (FNAWN) The peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers.
black&write! A national project – the first of its kind in Australia – to nurture First Nations writers and editors through fellowships and internships.

As was mentioned previously (and in Leane’s foreword, pp. xv–xvi), Guwayu is organised around the themes of various Red Room Poetry projects:

Extinction Elegies Endangered and extinct species and habitats
New Shoots Plants, places and cultural connections with nature
Poetic Moments Cultural place-making and temporal-physical connections
Poetry Object Treasured, curious, everyday, extraordinary or talismanic objects
The Disappearing Mapping poetry to place and encouraging non-linear readings
Rhyming the Dead Poems inspired by deceased poets
Unlocked The healing and reflective power of poetry
Poetry in First Languages Sharing and preserving First Nations languages and culture

These themes are relevant to the lives and experiences of First Nations peoples in Australia, as well as having cross-cultural and international significance. There is an opportunity here to do some comparative work between Guwayu and other poems that consider the same themes; the poetry of Joy Harjo, Robert Sullivan or Hone Tuwhare would be appropriate international examples.

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Identifying and justifying language and stylistic techniques

Language, symbolism and imagery

Poetry can be wonderfully complex. Part of engaging with this complexity involves exploring language, symbolism and imagery, and how these contribute to meaning. These aspects are often broken down into the following features, which students might consider in their approach to analysing a poem:

  • diction
  • figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification, etc.)
  • level of usage/register (colloquial, formal, etc.)
  • recurrent images
  • use of symbols, allusion and repetition
  • sentence length, grammar, word order and verb tense

It is important to remember that Guwayu is organised thematically. A close reading of the collection will include considerations of the poets’ language, symbolism and imagery, but to focus solely on these features would be to read through the lens of Standard Australian English. Guwayu actively challenges this notion. A reading that does not consider the poem as a whole – or indeed the collection as a whole – may lack the necessary nuance to carefully consider its themes. Please refer to the Initial Response section where language is addressed in detail; the knowledge to be gained from these introductory activities is essential.


Below are some suggested poems for looking at the ways in which language shapes meaning (though any poem from the collection can be used for this purpose):

  • Pre Dawn’ by Nicole Smede (p. 74)
  • Mother’ by Kirli Saunders (p. 131)
  • Oyster Shell Necklace’ by Ellen van Neerven (p. 81)
    • Reading by the poet available from Red Room Poetry
  • La-pa’ by Brenda Saunders (p. 100)
  • Mudjis and Yiliman (Friends and Spears)’ by Lyndsay Urquhart (pp. 123–124)
    • Additional notes available from Red Room Poetry

Working in pairs, students are to read the poems and make notes on their themes and meanings (ensuring that they read for comprehension before analysis). Once they have a broad understanding of each poem, they should add to their notes, looking for the language/stylistic techniques listed above AND those that they can give evidence for but are not familiar with. Ask students to note any stylistic devices that are characteristic of the author, or that ‘decolonise’ writing and publishing by presenting non-linear or other unconventional approaches. They can then discuss their findings and thoughts in small groups. Yarning circles could add value here; they are a timeless way of learning and encourage the weaving of stories, both of which are particularly important in studying Guwayu (see also this guide for participants).

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Rich assessment task

Analytical essay (written response)

Students will write an essay that analyses at least one poem from the collection, focusing on voice, language, imagery and form. You might like to use some or all of the following prompts for this task:

  1. Poetry can be unconventional in the ways it encourages understanding of people, places and perspectives. Examine this statement, making reference to at least one poem from Guwayu.
  2. Discuss how representations of time and place contribute to the themes presented in at least one poem from Guwayu.
  3. Discuss how TWO poets from Guwayu construct poems that ‘shine, rupture and stun’ (Natalie Harkin).
  4. Dr Jeanine Leane says that ‘guwayu’ means all times are inseparable, everlasting and unfinished (p. xi). Discuss the significance of Guwayu’s title in relation to at least one poem from the collection.
  5. Literature is always shaped by the context in which it was produced. Discuss the significance of this statement in relation to at least one poem from Guwayu.
  6. Discuss how the language in at least one poem has encouraged you to respond to beauty and/or degradation in our world.
  7. Explain how specific poetic features work to illuminate and explore a controversy in at least one poem.
  8. Discuss how a poem endorses particular values and attitudes.
  9. Discuss how a poem appeals to the senses to evoke a response.
  10. Explore how language is used to represent a complex idea in at least one poem from Guwayu.
  11. Reflect on how at least one poem offers a perspective to readers that is new or different.
  12. Explore how the imagery in at least one poem is constructed to enhance our understanding of the world around us.
  13. Compare and contrast the ways in which at least one poem comments on aspects of human experience.

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Synthesising core ideas

Summarising the learning

As a way of bringing together everything they have learned in this unit, and as a means of making connections between the poems, students can create a summary table that includes such details as:

  • the poem(s) they have studied
  • the poet(s)
  • languages used
  • what the poem is about (comprehension)
  • themes conveyed
  • a comment on the poem’s unique features of form and typography
  • images evoked
  • ways of reading
  • personal response

Reflecting upon learning

To help students reflect on their experience of reading Guwayu, ask them to revisit and complete their STW tables (or KWL charts) from the Initial Response section (Personal Response on Reading the Text > See, Think, Wonder).

  • Have their questions or wonderings been answered?
  • What have they learned that surprised them or sparked their curiosity?

Allow time for students to review and build on the tasks from the start of the unit (Initial Response). For example, they might revisit the text’s foreword (Outline of Key Elements of the Text > Close Reading); the blurb (Introductory Activities > Background to the Collection > Activities 1–3); or the motif of weaving (Synthesising Tasks > Weaving Metaphor). Encourage students to make notes as they reflect on what they have learned. This is a way of consolidating their learning, and leads into the final assessment task.

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Rich assessment task

Panel discussion (oral response)

Students will work in groups of four or five to present a panel discussion that demonstrates their speaking and listening skills, as well as their understanding of the importance of Guwayu.

Introduce the task by explaining that a panel discussion brings together representatives (who are often experts in their fields) from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives to debate contemporary issues. For a panel focusing on the importance of Guwayu, students might consider:

  • how the collection contributes to learning about poetry, languages and cultures
  • the impact of the collection on literature and literary communities
  • the collection as a rich source of shared stories about human experiences (life, love, family, grief, etc.)
  • in what ways the collection might reflect and shape Australian identity and understandings of who we are as a nation
  • any other relevant points

Alternatively, you could assign or allow groups to choose ONE of the above sub-topics as the focus of their panel.

Students should prepare individual discussion points and agree on some questions that will help guide their conversation. The panel discussions:

  • will be structured classroom discussions, with each group taking on the role of panellists while the rest of the class serves as the audience;
  • should be facilitated by a chairperson or panel leader, who will ensure roughly equal contributions from all panellists and maintain flow in the discussion;
  • will expose students to new perspectives and different ways of approaching topics of interest/concern;
  • will allow students to demonstrate their ability to listen to and acknowledge other viewpoints, and to use non-verbal strategies to support their verbal communication; and
  • will encourage collaboration and productive learning and foster critical capabilities.

Consider inviting a member of your local First Nations community to chair the panels OR be a guest panellist. If you do so, ensure that you preview and frontload the task/their role to help them feel comfortable. The invitation should be open so that your guest can bring a colleague or family member to accompany them, if they wish. You should also revisit the previous Note on Cultural Safety and Remuneration (see Initial Response > Synthesising Tasks > Weaving Metaphor).

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