The subject of Reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples, in relation to Journey to the Stone Country, now spans two decades; from its historical 1995 setting (which is soon after the implementation of the Native Title Act), its year of publication (2003), which featured intense debate about an official apology, and now in the mid-teens when focus is upon constitutional recognition of first Australians. The Prime Ministerial speeches listed below, spanning twenty years, offer some useful context to the political priorities of each period. A comparative study of the speeches, as textual constructions that address the issue of Reconciliation, can also be undertaken; some suggestions for this are provided in theComparison with other texts section of this unit of work.
Prime Ministerial Speeches:
1992: Paul Keating delivers Redfern Speech in context of opening program for the International Year of Indigenous peoples (this is the year after he established the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation).
1996: John Howard delivers speech at the Nation Reconciliation Convention. Part One, Part Two
2008: Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations Speech
2013: Tony Abbott’s speech to the Sydney Institute in support of Constitutional recognition. This is much longer than the other speeches at 27 minutes, but a transcript is included, allowing the text to be examined in detail and extracts of it viewed.
Much of the novel’s drama takes place around the plot element involving the central characters engaging in cultural surveys around Central Queensland. It is made clear that Annabelle’s friend, Susan, is inundated with work from mining companies and developers needing to negotiate with traditional owners of the land. This requirement is a direct result of the High Court’s 1992 Mabo decision and the Native Title Act that followed in 1993. Students would benefit from some awareness of these events because the novel does not refer to either event specifically, even though both impact on some of the issues covered in the narrative.
Class quiz (to encourage careful reading of the material)
- Students read the Native Title page on the Creative Spirits website. Prior to this, some discussion should be directed towards the purpose and genre of the website, and how these affect the way information is communicated.
- Each student crafts one question based on each section of that page – each on a separate strip of paper.
- These questions are collected and students form groups for a quiz challenge.
- Teacher selects questions randomly and each group writes down their answer on a separate page.
- After about fifteen to twenty questions the answer sheets are collected, given to other groups and marked as a class.
Personal response on reading the text including such aspects as:
There are a number of ways students can be guided to make relevant connections between the themes, characters and events in the novel to their own lives.
- Students identify a significant place in their own or their parents’ lives and reflect on the impact it made on them.
- Students identify events from their own or their parents’ lives and describe how they have shaped them.
- Students discuss and comment on what they understand about Reconciliation. For this it is worth considering the broader meanings of reconcile and reconciliation before moving on to how it relates to the relationship between Aboriginal people and the wider Australian community.
Upon completing the novel, students consider what ideas the novel promotes in terms of:
Outline of key elements of the text
Journey to the Stone Country features two simple plots running in parallel and involving two central characters, Annabelle Beck and Bo Rennie. The first of these plots follows the developing romantic relationship between Bo and Rennie, who know each other as children and are reunited after Annabelle’s husband cheats on her and she leaves Melbourne seeking emotional refuge in her family’s abandoned home in Townsville. For Annabelle, this triggers an assessment of her urban existence and reflections on what the Central Queensland of her childhood means to her. The second plot thread proceeds in parallel to the first as Bo and Annabelle embark on a journey together to complete a cultural survey of Aboriginal and European settlement sites of significance in advance of mining developments and the potential damming of an isolated region important to both of their early years.
The fact that they come from very different cultural backgrounds – Bo exhibiting pride and confidence in his Aboriginal heritage as part of the Murri clan of Central Queensland, and Annabelle as a successful university lecturer from a white, well-off pastoral family – allows the novel to explore the tensions and conflicts arising from cultural differences. As they travel together, they realise their present and potential future together are significantly affected by past events that involved their grandparents. This reaches a climax when it is revealed by Bo’s great-Aunt Panya that Annabelle’s grandfather participated in a massacre of the Murri. Bo and Annabelle realise they must make concessions to things that are culturally important to each other and reconcile their cultural differences with respect and understanding. Ultimately, the novel also suggests that a moment comes when the past must be left behind for the sake of progress.
Bo and Annabelle’s inter-racial relationship can be read as a metaphor for the broader Reconciliation process taking place in Australia during the novel’s writing and publication. The novel’s 1995 setting also places it in the years immediately following the landmark Mabo decision, recognising Native Title, a key moment in the path towards reconciliation. Read in this way, the novel has significant political implications which make the novel’s final conclusions – to forget the past and move on – more problematic and contentious.
Students write a book review of a novel which expresses their intellectual and emotional responses to the novel. The review should also make a comparison between this novel and another text they are familiar with (written or visual) that has explored one or more of its themes.
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The writer’s craft
Journey to the Stone Country follows a simple chronological structure within which accounts of past events in the lead characters’ family histories are provided, mostly through dialogue. Although there are two characters on the journey of the title, it is Annabelle’s which is foregrounded, beginning with her spontaneous departure from Melbourne after learning of her husband’s infidelity. Like most journeys or road trips, the novel consists of many episodes in which Bo and Annabelle confront different aspects of cultural difference and the influence of history through the characters they encounter along the way, revealing opportunities and barriers to cultural Reconciliation. The Stone Country of the title is referred to as Bo’s ‘heartland’ (p. 95) and it the end of the journey for Annabelle in this narrative. Deeper into this place, however, is the spiritual stone playgrounds of the old people, which Bo earlier invited Annabelle to visit. However, the journey of the novel doesn’t extend this far because Annabelle chooses not to go out of deference to the spiritual significance to Aboriginal people, a significance she would not be able to understand adequately from her cultural perspective.
Some readers may consider that the novel does not meet expectations established earlier about journeying to the stone playgrounds of the old people. Like Annabelle, readers are denied access because of cultural distance. Students should discuss the effect of this omission in terms of ideas concerning cultural difference and Reconciliation. Specifically, what idea/s would be affected if Annabelle had accompanied Bo to the sacred site, and how?
The trip through physical landscapes is also a trip back through time as past events are revealed. The emphasis is on the continuity of existence at a personal and cultural level, but an existence through time that fundamentally changes the subject; each moment is a new reality. This is symbolised in the the first chapter when Annabelle sees, ‘her ghostly reflection suspended in the windowglass, gazing back at her, detached and incurious, as if from a place in the future already far removed from this moment’ (p. 6). The places she travels to – the Zamia Street home, Verbena Creek homestead, Ranna Station, Burranbah Coal Mine – all contain echoes of the past, communicating to her historian sensitivities.
While reading, students note down references to historical continuity for both European and Aboriginal cultures. Through these observations can they identify points of difference in the representation of each (which may lead to conflict), and any common points?
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The Central Queensland setting is a vital part of the novel because of the role the natural environment plays in the traditional Aboriginal owners and the European family striving to survive and prosper in it. Bo Rennie is Annabelle’s and the reader’s guide to the landscape, who is seemingly able to understand it on a deeply connected level. The numerous descriptions of landscape are highly detailed and evocative. One which can serve to highlight the way imagery is built up by Miller is the interlude where the travelling party go to the river at Ranna Station (pp. 159-160). Such emphasis on physical setting elevates it from mere backdrop as may be the case in other novels, but rather an integral part of the lives of characters, past and present.
Students complete a close reading of an evocative description of a landscape, noting how details appeal to different senses. What would you see, hear, feel, taste and smell in this setting? Students can then be given an opportunity to write a similar description of a place they know well.
A valuable resource when considering setting is Google Maps where some of the important locations can be visited. They can even ‘travel’ along roads in ‘satellite mode’ getting a sense of the landscape travelled by the characters.
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The novel’s starting point in Melbourne is also important because it provides a contrast between the urban life of an academic History lecturer and the life in regional Queesnland she left behind. Such a contrast is put in the service of exploring themes of cultural difference and the effects of history. In the comfort and security of her family’s Zamia Street home, Annabelle reflects: ‘Townsville isn’t Melbourne. Here the past could not be ignored, was not covered over and obscured by the accretions of city life, but was laid bare, the open wounds still visible,’ (p. 94). Such reflections are also a product of the historical setting of the novel, the 1990s, when issues of Aboriginal land rights, acknowledgement of past wrongs, and Reconciliation were significant parts of the political discourse.
Third person limited perspective: Annabelle as focaliser
Some people believe that there are ethical problems with writing from an Indigenous viewpoint. The following positions have been taken by Indigenous writers over the last two decades:
- It is wrong for white Australians who have only known a life of relative privilege to write from the position of marginalised Indigenous Australians. The act of writing in this way reflects an assumption that white people can straightforwardly understand Indigenous experience and suffering.
- White Australians do not understanding the cultural nuances of Indigenous culture and experience, therefore should not attempt to write from it. It is naive and racist to think an authentic Indigenous ‘voice’ can be so easily produced.
- White writers should not assume that they can ‘speak for’ Indigenous Australians. This may contribute to a cultural silencing of Indigenous voices that, in a just society, must be allowed to speak for themselves.
An alternative position, espoused by Indigenous scholar, Marcia Langton, is to recognise that there is no single Aboriginality to be quarantined from any group of writers. Instead, Aboriginality is a field of ‘intercultural subjectivity. . . that is remade over and over again in a process of dialogue, of imagination, of representation and interpretation. Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people create ‘Aboriginalities’’ (Aboriginal Art and Film: The Politics of Representation, 2003, pp. 118-119).
In Journey to the Stone Country Miller avoids the pitfalls of directly entering the Aboriginal consciousness by employing an omniscient narrator that is mostly focused on Annabelle’s perspective. The reader of the novel is limited to observing the Aboriginal characters in terms of their physical appearance, actions and dialogue. Through Annabelle as focaliser, however, these are sometimes given an interpretation that suggest particular Aboriginal worldviews or imbuing them with mystical significance. A significant example of this is her apparent connection with the maker of the mysterious conical artefact she found at Burranbah, an object that Aboriginal characters feel no desire to interpret. Annabelle, on the other hand, comes to the confident realisation that the stone is a sculpture, a realisation that creates a perceived connection between herself, the stone and its maker: ‘There was a relation . . . she was not claiming ownership, but understanding. She was convinced she had understood something true and significant about the stone, something that the person who made it would have been pleased to have her acknowledge and would themselves have understood,’ (p. 73). In this way the actions of an unknown and ancient Aboriginal craftsman is given meaning by Annabelle.
Another technique used by Miller to avoid definitive comments about Aboriginality is the frequent use of the phrase, ‘as if,’ when commenting on an action or behaviour. So when, for example, Arner is constructed as an enigmatic character with some kind of mystical connection to the ‘old ones’ it is written: ‘He was golden in the wash of sunlight; modest serene, enigmatic and beautiful, as if he possessed a thousand years and more and might await the moment of his destiny without the anxiety of time’ (p. 54). This amounts to the power of suggestion rather than employing direct assertions about Aboriginality or mysticism.
An in-depth discussion of the issues surrounding the issue of Aboriginality in writing can be seen in the Masters thesis, White Writing Black: Issues of Authorship and Authenticity in Non-Indigenous representations of Australian Aboriginal Fictional Characters.
Although the novel does not adopt an Aboriginal voice, to what extent can the Annabelle-focused perspective trigger some of the three criticisms mentioned above in relation to white Australians representing the Indigenous worldview?
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Text and meaning
Along Bo and Anabelle’s journey, they encounter a range of characters, both white and Aboriginal, who contribute to the exploration of cultural differences. In a sense, a binary is set up representing opposing worldviews and priorities. These characters exhibit different aspects of the central characters, and through the exposure to Annabelle’s efforts to come to terms with and understand her own cultural influences, while trying to understand Bo’s, the reader is given insight in the tension that results in one culture trying to engage with and understand the other. The experiences of these characters can be read as a reflection of the Reconciliation process necessarily underway in the broader Australian society. A summary of this binary and the associated characters are given in the following table:
|White, Western culture
|Characters: Annabelle, Elizabeth (sister), Susan, Tom Glasson, John and Ruth Hearn
|Characters: Bo, Arner, Aunty Panya, Grandma Rennie, Dougald Gnapun
|inquisitive, searching for meaning, stable settlements, rational, believe in progress, superficial, value intellectual knowledge
|lack curiosity, instinctive, deep connection to land, hold to tradition, part of an ancient line, spiritual
An important scene that foregrounds this binary occurs in the rapidly deteriorating remains of the library at Ranna station where numerous books full of Western knowledge are being consumed from the inside by termites. Annabelle, the historian, is determined to record the remnants because they seemed ‘enormously significant’ and could be considered part of a site of national importance, potentially able to halt the approval of the damn. Bo, on the other hand can not see their value, asserting, ‘It’s just the past . . . this stuff is all done with’ (pp. 174-5). What follows is a discussion about the relative significance of European historical sites compared to Aboriginal ones. Bo’s dismissal of the past, it seems, only extends to European artefacts because his emotional, indeed spiritual, attachment to the stone playgrounds of his ‘old people’ is vital to his sense of self.
Bo’s attitude that ‘This place is all dead and dried up’ and that the ‘playgrounds are different to this stuff’ (p. 177) signify a state of affairs post-Native Title Act where traditional owners are able to re-establish culture and connection to land, at least in some regional areas. The ancient culture, despite past violence and injustice inflicted upon them needed to only wait for the land to crush the grand dreams of an ambitious, but transitory white settlement. Such certainty exhibited by Bo is not mirrored by Annabelle and her intellectual, rational reflections. While she was ‘defending the cultural significance of the Ranna homestead as being equal to the significance of the playgrounds of the old Murri people . . . she was not convinced of its rightness . . . it was not a matter, however, of weighing the evidence dispassionately, but of responding to emotion. Bo’s playgrounds might have a prior claim, but could she believe in them emotionally for herself’ (p. 179). Both recognise the importance of the past, but is the past of their own cultures that hold the greater value for them.
Such differences in views may seem irreconcilable, especially when the violence of the past still haunts the present. At one point, Annabelle wonders, ‘Maybe they all hate us, she thought. Deep down. For what we’ve stolen from them. For what we’ve done to them’ (p. 94). After the discovery of her grandfather’s role in a massacre of Murri people, reported with venomous loathing by Aunt Panya in the last chapter, Annabelle feels ‘that her fate was not something she could manage to determine herself but that would be determined for her by the vast impersonal forces of culture and history’ (p. 350).
Importance of place
Some common ground can be found, however, in these two central characters in that their personal (and family) histories are firmly rooted in specific places: for Bo it is Verbena Creek, the stone playgrounds and the Ranna Valley where he mustered as a young man; for Annabelle it is her family’s Zamia Street home in Townsville and Haddon Hill. The one place they had in common was the landscape of the Suttor River and in Bo’s dream to reclaim Verbena. Here they have a shared attachment to the place, the novel ending with: ‘For the moment it was enough to be together in this place’ (p. 364). It is a place with a shared history and a shared future.
Creating a reference bank for Journey to the Stone Country
Using this retrieval chart as a template (PDF, 141KB), instruct students to locate at least five textual references that address at least two of the themes. The activity works best when the document is made shareable online so all students can contribute to it. This can be easily done by uploading the document to Google Docs (you will need an account for this), making it public and then sharing the link with your students. The resulting document will make for an excellent resource for students in preparing their analytical report assessment. (Hint: The link provided by Google Docs will be very long. Try going to a url shortening service like bit.ly where you can submit any length url and convert it into something much shorter, and memorable like http://bit.ly/stonecountry). To ensure adequate coverage is given to the whole novel, different chapter ranges can be allocated to individual students.
Instructions to be given to students
Reference bank for Journey to the Stone Country. This is a shared document to be filled in by the Year 12 English class. When complete, the table will serve as an excellent resource to locate relevant quotes and other references that will help you understand and write about the novel. The goal is to fill it in as much as possible by you all making a small contribution. Each of you is asked to contribute only five textual references that relate to at least two of the themes provided on the chart’s top row, including at least two direct quotes.
These textual references can be in the form of direct quotes (at least 2); references to settings, characterisation, language choices, structure, genre, conflicts or representations. Please avoid writing what someone else has already contributed – UNLESS you can make the evidence relate to another theme OR elaborate upon what another person has said (write in your own row, but refer to the other comment).
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Ways of reading the text
Since its publication and as recipient of the 2003 Miles Franklin Award, Journey to the Stone Country has regularly been held up as an optimistic representation of the potential pathway to harmonious relations between white and Aboriginal Australians, without shying away from the violence of the past and existing prejudices. The comments from the Miles Franklin Award judging panel speak to this dominant response to the novel:
The journey central to Alex Miller’s novel is one of both time and space, through a confrontation with the brutalities of the past to the possibilities for a happier future . . . Issues crucial to any reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians could be difficult territory for a novelist, but Miller handles them with skill and tact, ensuring that they come alive on the page and that the journey is never less than an engrossing one.
Other reviews, such as those listed in the More Digital Resources page, reflect similar sentiments.
However, in his thesis ‘National Mythology and Colonial Trauma in Alex Miller’s Journey to the Stone Country’ Houda Joubail strongly argues that:
- ‘. . . the author dismantles colonial myths only to construct neo-colonial ones, particularly in plotting out Aboriginal activism as a racist movement, and in portraying the Aboriginal characters as uneducated, dirty, untrustworthy, and obsessed with revenge’ (p. 4);
- ‘. . . Miller’s representation of of the Indigenous characters abounds with stereotypes which betray the author’s colonialist bias’ (p. 39). Then, more specifically, ‘From the mystical Aborigine through the dusky maiden to the violent warrior, each Aboriginal character occupies a stereotypical position the roots of which reach deep into primitivism. There is then room for criticizing these insidious representations, which cannot break free from the parameters of a colonialist brand of discourse.’ (p 53);
- ‘Miller’s representation of Aboriginality and of the colonial past [displays an] obvious lack of authenticity . . . in his approach [evidenced by many] historical implausibilities, principally when dealing with the colonial issues of inter-racial marriages, settler racism, frontier violence, and the fate of half-caste children.’ (p. 5);
- ‘Miller . . . trespasses on the Aboriginal people’s cultural tradition in making use of the notion of sacredness to serve his neo-colonial agenda . . . the author, seduced by Aboriginal sacred abilities and knowledge, feels no qualms about ascribing them to his white characters in an attempt to make them benefit from the (mixed) blessings of indigenisation [amounting to] blatant cultural appropriation which seeks short-cuts towards the retrospective legitimizing of the settler Australians’ unfair ownership of the land.’ (p. 5); and,
- ‘. . . though he apparently engages in the venture of exploring the colonial past, Miller ultimately advocates the law of silence, in a way which . . . is hardly compatible with the requirements of a true reconciliation.’ (p. 5).
It is well worth a teacher’s time to read Joubail’s detailed evidence to support the above assertions, but it is recognised that it is beyond the scope of a short teaching unit to address each in detail in the class. Instead, teachers are encouraged to select one or two of the assertions made and explore them with the class, thus providing an experience and model of resistant reading. One such approach may include, for example, questioning the charcterisation of the central characters in terms of them fitting into stereotypical models.
- Students are asked to consider stereotypes of Aboriginal people and consider if any of the novel’s characters fit such stereotypes.
- Students identify particular actions, descriptions or dialogue of Aboriginal characters and consider if any of these fit existing stereotypes of Aboriginal people.
- In groups, students discuss the extent to which representations of Aboriginal people in the novel reinforce and/or challenge perceptions of Aboriginal people in Australian society.
- Each group reports back to the class key points of their discussion; these are noted down by all students.
- From these discussions, students write a response in which they form a resistant reading in relation to Aboriginal representation in the novel.
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Comparison with other texts
There are many texts that have addressed the question of reconciliation using their respective conventions to influence readers/audiences. A number of these texts are included here as suggestions to compare how different text forms address the issue.
In each of the Prime Ministerial speeches listed in the Introductory Activities section of this unit of work, students analyse them in terms of tone, language choices, structure and context. As persuasive text types, students should also consider the purpose of each speech in relation to Reconciliation; particularly, what attitudes are being expressed and what values these reflect?
As well as being speeches, the videos of Howard and Rudd’s speech can be examined in terms of persuasive visual texts. That is, they have been edited and constructed usingvisual text conventions to provoke stronger and/or additional responses.
Recent call for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people has prompted many articles and opinion pieces. The official Recognition Australia website, Recognise.org, has collected many of these. The two suggested here employ various persuasive techniques
‘It will take time and a resolute heart to exorcise the terra nullius demon’ by Muriel Bamblett
‘In the beginning there was . . .’ by politicians Steve Irons (Liberal) and Melissa Parke (Labor)
Australia Day has become a focal point for call for recognition of past injustices in recent times. The poem, ‘Hate He Said’ by comedian Steven Oliver employs a range of poetic devices to express the disconnect Aboriginal people feel towards Australia Day in the absence of recognising the dispossession of land it represents for them. In addition to the text of the poem, a video of Oliver saying the poem is available on his public Facebook page.
Each of the opinion articles and the Steven Oliver poem present a range of arguments to support Constitutional Recognition. Students can be asked to list these arguments and identify the persuasive techniques to give them strength and emphasis.
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Evaluation of the text
Literary response to the Native Title Act and a path to Reconciliation
Journey to the Stone Country takes its place among a growing list of texts that have emerged post-Mabo and which feature interactions between white and Indigenous Australians as well as considerations of past events. In the decades after the Mabo decision Australian literary and artistic culture embraced the exploration of devisive race interactions in the time since colonisation. Paradigmatic of this movement is Ralph de Heer’s The Tracker. As Felcitiy Collins and Theres Davis have explained (Australian Cinema After Mabo) this film represents the need to revisit moments from Australia’s past of a process of reconciliation, therefore mimicking the careful attention given to the ‘tracks’ or traces left by the actions of others, a task performed by the figure of the Indigenous tracker in so many Australian narratives. Important texts among this group include novels written by the non-Indigenous authors David Malouf, Andrew McGann, Roger McDonald, Kate Grenville and Rohan Wilson. Indigenous authors writing about these subjects include Kim Scott and Alexis Wright.
Identifying and justifying language/stylistic techniques for specific narrative or dramatic purposes
Biography as fiction
Alex Miller has acknowledged that Journey to the Stone Country is based on two of his friends, represented by the characters of Bo Rennie and Annabelle Beck; a fact confirmed in the novel’s dedication that reads, ‘. . . to the real Bo and Annabelle’. In this sense the novel contains aspects to biography that underpin the central characters, Annabelle and Bo. Miller makes explicit reference to the biography/novel hybrid early in the novel when he refers to Annabelle’s estranged academic husband’s next conference he will attend on ‘Biography as Fiction’ (p. 1). Miller’s own reflection on the writing process for this novel (available in this Notes for Reading Groups) offers interesting insights into his approach to the subject matter. Even though names of the principal characters have been changed, in Miller’s reflection he continues to refer to the protagonists’ real life counterparts as Bo and Annabelle – blurring the line between biography and fiction (for the sake of clarity, we will also refer to the real people by their character names). Miller recounts that Bo encouraged him to write a novel ‘about these old places and their stories’ so, from the outset, Aboriginal culture in Central Queensland was established as a significant theme. A key creative decision after deciding to structure the narrative around a physical journey across Central Queensland was to include the romantic drama between Annabelle and Bo in order to ‘give the story its full narrative force’.
While changing the names of the real Annabelle and Bo provided them with a degree of privacy, from a novelist’s perspective it also allows for creative license to alter the ‘true’ story to suit thematic and narrative priorities. The blending of the real and the imagined is a feature of all realist novels, but the openly biographic influence brings the implications of representation into sharper focus. Miller’s own experience as a University of Melbourne graduate of History and English reflects his awareness of the two forces shaping his writing, a topic he expands upon in a 2006 Victoria’s Writers’ Centre lecture entitled, ‘Truth in Fiction and History’.
- Students read Alex Miller’s reflection on writing Journey to the Stone Country.
- Discuss what Miller means by the romantic drama giving the novel its ‘full narrative force.’ Consider:
- What do powerful narratives require?
- What does the romantic element bring to the novel?
- Conduct an informal debate about the ethics of using real people then changing facts to suit narrative objectives.
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Representation of Indigenous perspectives of reality
When a writer from one culture attempts to represent the perspectives of another cultural, significant ethical and philosophical issues arise. Theses issues are addressed in the Close Study section of this unit of work under the heading of ‘Third person limited perspective: Annabelle as focaliser.’ After considering the points made there and completing the associated activity, students can be asked to debate whether a white, male author should foreground the thoughts of a white woman or an Aboriginal man. Part of this discussion can include considering why one sex writing from the perspective of the other draws less criticism than a white, Anglo person adopting the viewpoint of another cultural group.
Rich assessment task
Students select a significant episode from the novel and write a report on how it links to various aspects of the novel study. The length is 1000 words and will contain direct references from the novel and/or other sources. Depending on the topics chosen, a recommended structure for the report is:
- Introduction that introduces novel, author and selected episode, including its context.
- Body comprising 4–5 topics under clear headings. These topics can refer to, for example:
- characterisation techniques employed in the episode and their effects;
- internal structure of the episode;
- the role of the episode in the novel’s larger structure;
- how the episode contributes to thematic concerns (there could be multiple headings for multiple themes);
- language choices and their effect on different narrative elements.
- Appendix consisting of a photocopy of episode showing the student’s annotation.
The rationale for a report format is to allow a greater range of reading understandings and skills to be demonstrated without the added complexity that comes from formulating an extended argument.
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Synthesise core ideas
Activity: Panel discussion
Panel discussions are ideal vehicles through which students demonstrate understandings and gain experience in engaging in literary discourse. The activity presented here is not formally assessed so that they gain confidence in the format (although panel discussions can be used as an effective assessment mode). It is also designed to act as a revision of major concepts and knowledge covered during the unit and takes advantage of small group discussion to explore ideas, clarify concepts and develop skills. The audience will also benefit from each panel discussion by listening to other interpretations and responses to Miller’s work. Since the panel discussion requires students to synthesise knowledge and skills gained over previous lessons, extensive preparation time is not required. In fact, minimal preparation time is preferred so students focus on revising what they know and avoiding having the activity itself distract from their formal assessments.
Teachers can follow these suggested guidelines:
1. Divide students into groups of four or five.
2. Each group member prepares comments specifically addressing:
- an attitude that has shifted over the course of reading or study;
- a view towards one or more of the stylistic features of the novel;
- an aspect of the novel that has had the biggest impact for them;
- the significance of the novel’s ideas in contemporary Australia.
3. The time given to each panel discussion should equate to an average speaking time of three minutes per student (that is, 15 minutes for a five-member group).
4. A simple set of prompt cards can be created to stimulate discussion and should be placed face-down near the panel. Should the panel members struggle to keep the discussion flowing, the top card can be selected to shift the discussion to that topic. These cards can read: narrative point of view, themes, ideas, contexts, structure, representation of history, Reconcilaition, characterisation, physical setting, historical setting, representing Aboriginal culture and world views.
5. Some guidance should be given about the purposes and conventions of panel discussion; principally, it is not a debate where points are given for diminishing the contributions of others in the eyes of the audience/assessor. Rather, all members are responsible for the success of the discussion by maintaining the flow of ideas. This means coming prepared with questions to ask of each other and willingly responding to other members’ comments, whether to agree, disagree, elaborate, seek clarification, or support with other examples. A panel discussion guide (PDF, 148KB) is provided for students to be aware of conventions and expectations.
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Rich assessment task
Constructing a biographical narrative
This creative assessment requires students to reflect on a particular place that has significance to them or a member of their family and employ narrative techniques to explore aspects of cultural identity.
Students plan, draft and edit a narrative of 1500–2000 words consisting of an experience with a particular place that has had an impact on, or reveals an aspect of their own or a family member’s cultural identity.
The narrative should employ:
- evocative language to describe the central setting;
- characterisation techniques to create well-rounded characters, including some use of dialogue;
- attempts to employ figurative language;
- a third person writing perspective.
An annotated version of the narrative should also be included. This should clearly indicate the student’s creative decisions and their purposes.
A short rationale, stating the key ideas about the themes of the importance of place and cultural identity the student wished to convey through their narrative (approx. 250 words).
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