Connecting to prior knowledge
The first few lessons in this unit should be used to ascertain how much knowledge students have about the following:
- the Gold Rush era
- explorers in Australia
- the history of Australia after white people arrived, and our strong links with Britain during the nineteenth century.
There are several ways of sharing students’ own knowledge. A plan to elicit prior knowledge, share it and add to it, is outlined below:
- Write the term Bushrangers in the middle of the whiteboard, as in the middle of a word web. Students are invited to come up to the board one by one or in groups, and add any contribution of their own, linking their bubble to the central term. Alternately they could create their own word webs working in small groups on butcher’s paper and then sharing and adding.
- As a class, read together the Wikipedia entry for Bushrangers and ask the students to make a list of the following words and terms mentioned in the article:
- English settlement of Australia
- survival skills
- Australian bush
- robbery under arms
- the Gold Rush
- Ben Hall
- Ned Kelly
- Wild Colonial Boys, and
- Add to this list, the former items of: explorers, history of Australia after white people arrived, and our strong links with Britain during the nineteenth century.
- Divide these topics among student pairs or small groups depending on the size of the class, and set one computer lesson for students to do a quick Wikipedia (or other simple) research on their topic. One way to do this is for one student to read the Wikipedia text out slowly while the others all jot down in their notebooks/journals – three points each. Groups then collate their points so none are doubled up and an elected scribe writes the points on a sheet of butcher’s paper to share later with the class. Alternately, the research could be assigned as a homework task.
- Show the trailer of the film, Ned Kelly (with Heath Ledger).
- Books and films tend to romanticise bushrangers. Midnite not only makes bushranging seem like a harmless frolic, but also turns it into a children’s story. As a class, read Affirm Press’s description of the publication of Black Snake written by the great grandson of the policeman who was shot by Ned Kelly, Leo Kennedy.
- Was Ned Kelly a hero or a villain? Class discussion (or small group discussion).
Introducing the novel
Introduce the novel, Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy by Randolph Stow, after these preliminary activities.
Points to think on:
- the spelling of Midnite
- the cartoon nature of the illustration on the front cover of the book – the animals depicted and the background country
- the blurb on the back cover
- the date of first publication
- the table of contents
- the dedication – Moondyne and Captain Starlight (undertake a brief class Wikipedia research on both and then a short class discussion.)
- this discussion could be followed by a prediction. Students are asked to predict the genre of the novel from the cover and the blurb. (Comedy, classic, children’s book – or what?)
Personal response on reading the text
The book needs to be read by every student in the class. There are several ways of ensuring this happens:
- The teacher reads the first chapter out loud in the class to ensure everyone is engaged.
- Following on, a chapter a night is assigned as homework reading, followed by a guided discussion the next day – maybe in the form of journal entry discussions – in pairs, groups or as a class.
- As part of their reading homework, each student could prepare a question for a class snap quiz to be given at the start of every new reading session.
- Read the entire text in class and set journal tasks for homework – to be discussed in class the next day before continuing reading.
- Class reading in groups followed by journal entries for homework.
- Both a complete reading of the text and journal entries on each chapter are set as a homework contract – to be finished by a certain date.
Suggestions for reading journal activities – to be done after each chapter and discussed prior to reading the next chapter.
- Questions students may have – about anything
- List of vocabulary not understood
- List of characters as they appear in the text – with very short descriptions of each one, animal and human
- Observations about narrative, style, characters, setting, history, similarities to other texts – or other miscellaneous things that occur to students as they read
- Any pictures, cartoons, poetry or other forms of creative activities that students might like to engage in while reading the text.
Points to discuss on reading the first chapter together in class:
- ‘Once upon a time…’ plus ‘…cottage in a forest’ – what genre of story does this opening usually introduce?
- ‘At least, that is what I am going to call him…’ Who is the ‘I’? This is an unusually intrusive authorial voice. The hero and protagonist of the novel is Captain Midnite, yet the story is not from his point of view. The author has not used the first person as Midnite, but as himself, Randolph Stow. What effect does this running background commentary have on the story? Are there advantages of telling it in this way?
- Introduction of all the animals, with Khat, the Siamese cat, being the central animal protagonist.
- Humour in the form of Khat’s conversation and bossy nature, the description of Midnite and the way in which each animal goes about bushranging, according to their abilities and personalities.
Either for homework or in class time, students might like to draw either the cottage (p. 1) or the Hidden Valley (p. 7) from the very descriptive passages. These could be completed in their journals or done on butcher’s paper and displayed around the class.
(ACELT1619) (ACELT1620) (ACELT1622) (ACELY1721) (ACELY1722)
Reflections on completion of the text
One day Midnite’s father became ill, and soon afterwards he died. It is sad to have to begin a story like this, but that is what happened and this is a true book. So Midnite was left alone in the world with his five animals. (p. 2)
This style could be described as chatty or confidential, creating a bond between the reader and the author, so that together, they are viewing the absurd antics of Midnite and his band of animal comrades.
Ask students to comment on this style of writing. Do they find it entertaining or amusing – or is it somewhat off-putting? Perhaps they could experiment with this sort of writing by describing a recent family or school scenario with their own authorial voices coming through as commentators.
What best describes this text? Is it fantasy, comedy, history, satire? This has already been predicted by the title, cover and blurb. Students might now be more definite about it, and note also that it fits several genres, as do many texts.
This short narrative presents as a children’s story, but it operates at many levels and some of its nuances are decidedly adult. Satire, sarcasm and irony are all used extensively to poke fun at the social values and the colonial system and culture of mid-nineteenth century Australia.
Students should look up and write down definitions for the words: satire, irony and sarcasm.
The illustrations in this text are unusual. They occur on pages: 6, 18, 32, 107, 119, 144.
Ask the students:
- How are these cartoon illustrations created?
- Have they ever seen this style of illustration before?
- Do they add to the humour of the book – and if so, how?
Outline of key elements of the text
The plot of this short novel is absolutely straightforward, linear and chronological. It is adequately summed up by the blurb.
Even though Midnite was seventeen, he wasn’t very bright. So when his father died, his five animal friends decided to look after him. Khat, the Siamese, suggested he become a bushranger, and his horse, Red Ned, offered to help. But it wasn’t very easy, especially when Trooper O’Grady kept putting him in prison. So it was just as well that in the end he found gold.
There are a few other little twists that occur such as the delightful Mrs Chiffle hiding him under her bed, the romance with Laura, the encounter with the German explorer, Johann Ludwig Ulrich von Leichardt zu Voss, and the trip to England to meet the Queen.
Much of the humour of the novel comes from the characterisation.
The human characters:
- Trooper O’Grady
- Judge Pepper
- Mrs Chiffle
- Queen Victoria and The Prince of Wales
- The Poet Laureate of England
- The Governor of Western Australia
- Miss Laura Wellborn
- Johann Ludwig Ulrich von Leichardt zu Voss.
The animal characters:
- Khat – cat
- Dora – cow
- Red Ned – horse
- Major – parrot
- Gyp – sheepdog.
- law and order
- crime and punishment
- early Australian History
- founding myths and legends of colonial Australia
- gold prospecting
- early explorers
Choice or both?
Students read the reviews from Goodreads and then write their own review suitable for inclusion in this site. The length of the review would be determined by the teacher, and any possible inclusions stipulated, such as the use of authorial comment, style, characters, as well as the effects on the reader. Note – the review does not need to be pure praise, but any criticisms should be backed up with evidence from the text. Hopefully these reviews could also be published on the Goodreads website.
(ACELA1782) (ACELT1619) (ACELT1620) (ACELT1803) (ACELY1725)
Create a poster, advertising this book for your school Book Week. Students can draw on any aspect of the text for their posters. Suggestions include animal characters, human characters, bushrangers in general, a setting, an incident, a ‘Wanted poster’, or anything to do with the Gold Rush. They could be encouraged to experiment with the medium of their choice, such as computer generation, free sketching, collage, painting or pen and ink – similar to the sketches in the book. Students will also need to consider aspects of advertising such as: product placement (in this case the book), foreground, background, words used, logo/motto (if using one), colour and target audience. Bright Hub Education has a useful site for this.
(ACELA1764) (ACELT1621) (ACELY1725) (ACELY1728)
The writer’s craft
The structural plotting of Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy is simple and covers a segment of the life and adventures of Midnite from late boyhood into early adulthood. The events are chronological without any noticeable devices such as flashback or alternate points of view. The story also lacks the common fictional structure of rising action, climax and denouement. This style of narrative could be described as a yarn (a long or rambling story, especially one that is implausible – Oxford Dictionary).
- Ask students if they can think of any examples of other published yarns.
- Do students think that yarns are typically Australian?
- Do Indigenous people use yarns? Why?
- Refer students to Swag of yarns. Read together ‘What is Storytelling?’ and then read the sample yarns. What impression of Australia would one get from reading these two yarns? Are yarns like this still told or are they outdated – belonging to an Australia of yesteryear?
Approach to characterisation
All the fun and comedy of this text come from the characterisation, especially the characters of Captain Midnite, Khat and O’Grady, although the supporting characters of Judge Pepper, Mrs Chiffle and the team of animals also add humour.
Note: Much of this humour is based on satire (Cambridge Dictionary – a way of criticising people or ideas in a humorous way, especially in order to make a political point, or a piece of writing that uses this style). So many institutions are sent up or laughed at in this short novel, including colonialism, imperialism, privilege, law and order and Australia’s early ties with Britain. This almost double understanding that an adult would bring to the reading may well be lost on Year 7 or primary school students who would be unlikely to have the political or historical knowledge to grasp the double entendres that abound everywhere in Randolph Stow’s tongue-in-cheek style of writing. However, some could be pointed out and appreciated and it is likely that students would also get pleasure and amusement just by taking the story at face value.
(ACELA1782) (ACELT1619) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1803) (ACELT1622) (ACELY1719) (ACELY1721) (ACELY1722) (ACELY1723)
In the words of the author’s confidential and chatty tone:
This is the place to tell you some things about Midnite that make him different from most heroes in books. One of the things you may have guessed already. It is that Midnite was not very clever. In fact he was rather stupid, though even Khat forgave him for this, because he was so good natured. (pp. 3–4)
Midnite is also described as being not very handsome. He is not a typical hero. Yet he has endearing traits.
Ask the students to look up the word ‘trait’ if not familiar with it, and then to make a list of the traits that Midnite possesses that they find admirable. They then need to find textual evidence for their claim. This could work well as a Think-Pair-Share activity.
For example, Midnite is:
- polite: ‘That’s awfully good of you…’ (p. 21)
- generous: “‘Oh, no,” said the bushranger (Midnite), embarrassed. “No, you keep it.”’ (p. 20)
- humble: he always defers to Khat’s judgement – ‘That is a very interesting plan’ (p. 5)
- foolish: allows himself to be pickpocketed and imprisoned over and over again (p. 73)
- gullible: trusts O’Grady and Miss Laura (p. 91)
- romantic: ‘I think I have fallen in love’ (p. 39)
- honest: ‘as soon as Midnite had made his first million pounds, he wanted to send it to Trooper O’Grady…’ (p. 118)
Captain Midnite has several career changes within the course of the novel. He is a bushranger, an explorer, a prospector, a self-made millionaire (when he becomes Mr Daybrake), a mayor, an ambassador, a gentleman, almost a knight and an obedient husband.
- Ask students to think about (or discuss in pairs) which role suits him best, and why?
- Students share their thoughts with a partner or the class.
Khat is the mastermind behind all the escapades and schemes. As a Siamese cat, he is a foreigner and speaks with a strange accent, and he is the only one of Captain Midnite’s animal family who can talk.
Khat is all of the below:
Students need to write two paragraphs.
In the first, students are to choose one adjective from the above list and write a short paragraph on the topic. For example:
- Khat is very bossy. He knows he is more intelligent than any of the gang and so he uses his position as the natural leader to boss everyone else around, especially Midnite. There are numerous examples of his bossy nature. For example, on page 8, after Midnite had laboured all day on building the gate, Khat instructed him to ‘Leave it open’, but on the next page he said, ‘Get up and close the gate’. He makes many demands and never says please or thank you. The surprising thing is that although he is only a cat, everyone always obeys him.
The following topic for discussion can be used as a starter for the second paragraph.
‘In the novel, Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy, Midnite is the anti-hero – just a sidekick for the real hero, Khat.’
Students could then work in pairs on this and spend some time discussing the statement and putting forward their views. They could either compose their paragraph together as a joint effort, or each do their own.
Guidance could be provided by the teacher:
- Opening topic sentence agreeing or disagreeing with the topic for discussion and using the same words as the given statement.
- The following sentences should back up their topic sentence and provide textual evidence to support their views.
- The final sentence needs to reinforce the first using different words.
As this is really a compare/contrast paragraph (comparing Midnite to Khat), a list of useful conjunctions such as: although, despite, on the other hand, it would seem, therefore, in contrast, by comparison, etc. – would also be useful.
Dora, Red Ned, Major and Gyp
All these domestic animals are portrayed as caricatures in that they have one or two absolutely defining characteristics that are exaggerated to make them seem one-dimensional and comical.
Ask students to match the adjective to the animal in the table below.
Ask students to look at the cartoon depiction on page 6 and insert a speech/thought bubble to each character expressing how they are feeling at this moment, trying to keep within the caricature boundaries.
Complete the following sentences.
- Randolph Stow creates a vivid character portrayal of Trooper O’Grady by ………………………………………………………………………………
- Trooper O’Grady is the opposite to Captain Midnite, however he shares characteristics with Khat in that ……………………………………
- Despite the fact that Trooper O’Grady is a thief and a pickpocket, one can’t help liking him because …………………………………………
‘It has been my lifelong ambition,’ said Mrs Chiffle, ‘to hide a bushranger under my bed.’ (p. 28)
Mrs Chiffle provides comedy throughout the text but she is also a very loyal friend to Midnite.
- Describe one way that she supports Midnite.
Laura is portrayed as a vain and superficial girl, interested only in appearances. She has romantic notions of bushranging as evidenced by references to Robin Hood and Maid Marion, but she loses all interest when she discovers that Midnite is ‘only a boy’ (p. 82) and not even handsome. She is also happy to betray him (pp. 90–92) and then to reconsider him when she learns he has prospects.
- If students are not familiar with the story of Robin Hood, ask them to look it up and then write a short explanation of how Captain Midnite differs from Robin Hood.
- Which of the animal gang does Judge Pepper most closely resemble, and why?
Characters like Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales, the Poet Laureate, the Prime Minister and the Governor all make brief appearances, yet add immense amounts of humour to the story.
- Ask students to choose a scene from the book, featuring one of the above characters, that they find funny and read it aloud (to the class or a group), and then explain why and how this character and this incident adds humour.
- As an aside: Ask the students if they have any idea why Queen Victoria uses the pronoun, ‘we’ when referring to her own feelings, for example, ‘We are hot and disagreeable’, ‘We shall go and sit in the shade.’ (p. 33).
Ask students to choose a page in the novel that contains a great deal of dialogue, and if possible, some humour. There are many possibilities. A good example would be pages 23–24 where Khat and Midnite are talking together after their first attempt at bushranging. Students create a first draft comic strip (PDF, 262KB), creating both the characters (in this case, Midnite and Khat) and incorporating their dialogue in comic book type speech bubbles. This could be as sketchy or detailed as they wish. (Stick images could be used for figures.)
(ACELA1528) (ACELA1529) (ACELA1764) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1805) (ACELY1725) (ACELY1728)
- Hidden Valley
Read (in groups or as a class) the description of the Hidden Valley (pp. 7–8).
Consider how Randolph Stow has created this vision in language, so that we can see the valley so clearly in our minds.
In the paragraph beginning: ‘The Valley’ (p. 7) and ending ‘…make this cave our hideout.’ (p. 8), he has used:
- a comparison
- the use of the sense of sight.
See if students can identify all the above.
Show students pictures of a striking landscape – for example, desert, jungle, mountains or rivers. Just doing a Google search for images of jungles (etc.) will provide a plethora of views.
Ask them to make a list of the adjectives, expressions and comparisons they would use to describe their picture. Just a list will suffice.
Compare the lists in pairs or groups. For homework students will turn their lists into a paragraph.
Together read pages 114–15 (description of outback). What sort of feeling do you get about the desert while reading this?
Use of parallels and contrasts
Hopefully the students have already pondered on the fact that there are several character parallels in the text. For example, Trooper O’Grady and Khat are similar, as are Judge Pepper and Major. Are there any other parallels between characters, either animals and/or people? Students could be encouraged to compare Midnite and Red Ned or Dora and Laura.
The most obvious contrast in the novel is that between the new colony of Australia and its ‘Mother Country’, England.
Ask students to consider the list of descriptions and terms written below and assign either an E (England) or an A (Australia) to them – and then to underline the one word or expression in the fragment or sentence that gives them the clue.
- ‘The cottage was very small, with a roof made of bark and a verandah all around it.’
- ‘At the bottom of the valley was a pretty creek.’
- Every day he and Red Ned went for a canter in the park…’
- ‘The only thing there was plenty of in the Never Never Desert was flies…’
- ‘And she walked away towards…an immemorial elm tree…’
- ‘Sometimes in the soft red dust they saw the tracks of bare human feet…’
Ask the class – based on the above exercise – to raise their hands if they identify as being like Midnite – a colonial child. If they don’t identify as being colonial, ask them to explain why they don’t.
Point of view and voice
Both the point of view and the voice are really just the eyes through which a story is told and the the author’s unique way of speaking.
In the novel, Midnite, Randolph Stow, as the author, intervenes continuously into the narrative.
‘The young man was called Midnite. At least, that is what I am going to call him, because that is what he called himself, later on, when he was famous.’ (p. 1)
- Ask the students to find and write out any other examples of authorial intrusion like the one above.
- What sort of effect does this persistent author voice have on the reading of the text?
Ask the students to write the beginning of a short narrative in the third person, for example:
Tracey was thirteen when she got her first bicycle. Her father had decided she needed more independence, and it was time she could ride to school on her own.
They can write any story they like. It could be a recount, but if it is, they must still use the third person. Ask them to write about half a page. Obviously, it won’t be even half way through, just the beginning of a narrative. Now ask them to add their own voice into the story, as the author, commenting on the action and the characters. Use a different coloured font, or, if handwriting, use a different coloured pen and add the writing above the already existing story. Ask them what effect this has on their own writing. Does it enhance or detract from their story?
Language and style
Working in pairs or small groups:
1) Ask students to study the following two passages and answer the questions below:
So Midnite helped her, and took her down, leaning on his trembling arm, to the cave, and gave her his best sheepskin to sit on. And all the time, as she looked around the cave, Miss Laura was saying: ‘But how brigand-like! But how exquisitely barbaric!’ And all the time, as Miss Laura was saying these things, Khat was looking at her with cold blue eyes. (p. 81)
Presently the stony desert gave way to the most ferocious country anyone had ever seen. It was all soft red sand-hills, running east and west, and as the horses struggled to the top of one dune, all they could see ahead of them was more sand stretching for hundreds of miles. There was scarcely even any spinifex there, and the black people got tired and went away for a while and stopped peeping at Midnite, and water was very hard to find. (p. 111)
- Underline all the adjectives. Look up the meanings of the ones you don’t know.
- Underline the conjunctions (linking words) and notice the use of the word, ‘and’.
- Circle all the punctuation. Do you notice any patterns in the punctuation?
- How is this writing different to most of the contemporary novels you read? Discuss together in pairs or groups.
2) Even in the year it was first published, 1967, the novel would have been considered old-fashioned writing because the author has set it in the year 1866 (p. 27).
- Ask the students to evaluate what it is in the writing that makes this novel sound out-of-date to the modern ear. They will probably need to categorise the writing in some way to do this. One way would be to make columns with headings like: Vocabulary – Themes – Description – Point of View – Punctuation. In other words, summary of the above section.
3) Finally, they need to prepare a short (first draft) defence or a criticism paragraph (or maybe a couple of paragraphs) describing this old-fashioned language and style and stating whether it works with modern young readers, or not. Although first-draft level of writing is all that is necessary at this point, students could be preparing it for a team from Reading Australia who are considering revamping this old text for modern school use. Students could compose their paragraph in pairs or individually.
(ACELA1528) (ACELA1529) (ACELT1619) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1803) (ACELT1620)
Text and meaning
Exploration of ideas and themes
Read the first paragraph of the article, ‘Moral and instructive children’s literature’, that introduces the concept of ‘instruction with delight’ and its connection with children’s literature.
Midnite is a story that contains morals. There are morals about drinking, falling in love, stealing (bushranging), getting rich quickly and being too trusting.
Ask the students to choose one of these aspects of the novel – in which Captain Midnite behaved in a foolish way and then learnt his lesson (the moral of the story) and changed his ways, or didn’t but should have. Ask them to reflect on the message the author is putting across and then to explain the moral in their own words to the rest of the class. They could then apply this reflection to their own lives, past, present or in their imagined future, present this short recount and finish up with the expression: ‘The moral to this story is…’
This is a big word that simply means giving animals human characteristics. Stories of this nature seem to be as old and as varied as human storytelling itself.
Discuss: How are Khat, Dora, Red Ned, Major and Gyp made to seem human – especially given that only Khat can talk?
Further investigation of some of the novel’s themes:
- law and order, crime and punishment
- gold prospecting and the Gold Rush
- royalty, imperialism and colonialism
- founding myths and legends of colonial Australia.
Law, order, crime and punishment
These words are all obviously connected.
Ask students to write out in their journals their own definitions of all these words, then to look them up in a dictionary and compare their definitions with the dictionary ones.
Discussion: ask students to look at the following quotes from their text, and then in pairs or in small groups, discuss the idea of law and order, then and now.
- ‘Judge Pepper’s job was to send people like bushrangers to the great grey gaol by the sea…’ (p. 15)
- ‘…he was going in the coach to a country town to sentence a few people to spend years and years in prison.’ (p. 15)
- ‘The prisoner is sentenced to twenty-five years in the great grey gaol.’ (p. 54)
- ‘You will be in gaol for the next one thousand three hundred Sundays. Take him away!’ (p. 55)
Points for discussion
- Who makes laws?
- Who enforces laws?
- Who decides on the verdict/sentence/punishment for the law breakers?
- Has law and order changed much since 1866?
- Is prison the only solution for those who break the law?
- Bushrangers don’t really exist anymore. These days, what are some common crimes that will get people sent to prison?
If any groups or pairs have come up with insightful ideas about law and order today, they may wish to share them with the class.
Ask students if they have ever heard of the term, white-collar crime. Discuss the list of crimes identified on this site.
Or as Queen Victoria calls it – ‘stealing’ (p. 126)
- Ask the students if they think that bushranging and thieving are the same thing? Why/why not?
- Introduce the idea of connotations.
Definition of a connotation: A connotation is a feeling or an idea that is suggested by a word. Connotations can usually be seen as positive and negative and these feelings can often be subjective. For example connotations around the word ‘nun’ could be positive or negative depending on one’s own upbringing and beliefs. However, some connotative words have a fairly universal understanding. Consider the word, ‘skinny’. It does not sound as pleasant as the word, ‘slender’. Likewise, ‘old’ does not sound as positive as the word, ‘mature’.
Gold prospecting and the Gold Rush
Refer back to the discussion undertaken in the Introductory Activities in the previous section.
Definition: ‘Australian: a mode of conduct among Australian men that stresses equality, friendship, and solidarity.’
One hears the term ‘mate’ and ‘mateship’ a good deal in this country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison used the term ‘mateship’ while praising Australia’s ties with the USA.
- Ask students to consider this term, and then to take a moment to reflect on who is their ‘best mate’ – and why.
- Ask them to list the qualities that they value in this person. (It needn’t be a friend – it could be a sibling, relative or even a dog.)
- Midnite has several ‘mates’. Who is Midnite’s best mate?
- Having given this question some thought, ask students to list (in their journals), the qualities that make this character a good mate to Midnite, and another list as to how she/he is not a good mate.
- Ask students to look up the definitions of the ‘royalty’ and ‘imperialism’, and then, in their journals, write out the meaning for both in their own words.
- Canvass students’ knowledge on who is the Head of State in this country. Discuss the concept of having a ‘foreign’ monarch as head of our country.
- Reading circle: students to sit in groups of three or four. They need to nominate one of their group to be a reader, and the others bring pencil and paper, and are the note-takers. Ask all the readers to read from Midnite, pp. 31–37, ‘The Queen Versus Midnite’. Students need to make a heading in their journals (or paper): British (mother country) control over Australia (colony) in the nineteenth century. As the reader reads, note-takers jot down all the ways that Britain, under the reign of Queen Victoria, was influencing and controlling Australia. Compare with others in the group, and with the class afterwards.
- Discussion: what has changed?
Founding myths and legends of colonial Australia
- As a class watch Dr Hook’s YouTube version of ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’.
- Read the descriptions of the origins of the ballad as well as the original lyrics in Wikipedia.
- As a class, read Midnite, pages 69 to 72 to get Randolph Stow’s (and Trooper O’Grady’s) version.
- Ask the class if they notice one big difference between the bushranging of Midnite compared to that of Robin Hood and Jack Doolan (Duggan). They might come up with the fact that Midnite did not rob the rich to help the poor!
- Turning our attention to another classic myth/legend of Australian early settlement and hardship, consider the songs that the bones sang in the novel, Midnite (pp. 114–115).
- As a class read together the original poem called ‘Where the Dead Men Lie’ by Barcroft Boake, and do the attached comprehension sheet about ballads (PDF, 114KB).
Finally, as a class, read ‘ON THE OPENING OF THE EXHIBITION OF ANGLO-SAXON MILLIONAIRES (1869)’ on page 125 of Midnite. Then read ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson and notice any similarities.
- Ask students to consider why it is that Randolph Stow is taking and using snippets of other famous poems/songs – and changing them for his own purposes.
Persuasive speaking/Public speaking
A lighthearted way to approach this topic would be to set up a classroom debating activity first. This would not be assessed in any way, and could be conducted as group activities.
A simple way is to have just two students involved at a time. Various topic sentences could be written on the board, and working in their pairs, students choose one topic that they would like to debate. Within their groups, students stand/sit facing each other, each with a sheet of paper that contains an introduction, two or three points either for or against the topic, and a brief conclusion. Students in the group name the winner before another pair have their turn in the hot seats.
Possible topics based on themes from the novel, Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy.
- Bushranging is theft and should be punished accordingly.
- Queen Victoria had no right to meddle in the affairs of NSW.
- If gold is found underground, its wealth belongs to all citizens, not just one.
- Bushranging is justified in a country that has been stolen from its original inhabitants.
- Australia should become a republic.
- Mateship is the foundation of Australian society.
- The best way to learn history is through literature
- Learning history through literature is distorting and dangerous.
Or any other topics that students and/or the teacher decide would work.
A good website for fun and quick debating styles is called Implementing Debates in the Primary School. This site has some original forms of classroom debating, however there are many online resources for teaching debating. One advantage of this is that students will have given the topic some thought before they come to write their speech.
Scenario: Your school has been invited to an all-schools forum entitled, ‘Young Australians re-imagine the future’. In this forum, (which could take place at a central venue in your city, town or even in Canberra), students from all over Australia have been invited to reflect on Australian history, truisms and the way forward – in general.
Students to take one of the more suitable above topics (such as numbers three, four, five, six or seven) and prepare a short (three-minute) speech either agreeing or disagreeing with the topic. Guidance for persuasive/opinionative writing/speaking can be found on the Persuasive and opinionative writing worksheet (PDF, 173KB). Public speaking tips are also provided.
Ways of reading the text
Midnite was first published in 1967. There was a different sensibility in this time; the zeitgeist was entirely unlike our’s today. For one thing, Australia still adhered to the ‘White Australia’ Policy. From our contemporary perspectives, we can easily identify the racist and sexist elements of the text.
A racist reading
- Ask students to work together and find some of the very few occasions where Indigenous people are mentioned.
- Write down these references in their journals.
- ‘In the side of the hills were big caves with rather clever paintings on the walls, made by black people long ago.’ (pp. 7–8)
- ‘Sometimes in the soft red dust they saw the tracks of bare human feet, and now and again, out of the corners of their eyes, they would see a movement as a black man hid behind a bush and stared at them. For as long as they travelled, a thousand miles, the black people followed and hid and peeped at them.’ (p. 110)
- ‘There were no ladies at Daybrake, except for a few black ones, who were very shy.’ (p. 120)
Black people are presented as an unknowable, shy and shadowy people, even though the land had only been seized from them less than 100 years ago – just a lifetime ago!
Note: In the chapters about Queen Victoria, people other than white people or Australian Indigenous people are mentioned.
- Students are to read page 33, on their own or in pairs.
- Who are the groups of people referred to?
- Students are to look up the terms ‘maharajahs’ and ‘Nubian’ slaves. Discuss the context in which these people appear.
- ‘At her left hand was a tall black Zulu king, who was brushing the flies off her with a lion’s tail.’ (p. 123) Where do Zulu people live?
- What does this say about Britain in the Victorian era?
A sexist reading
Students could apply the same method in order to do a sexist reading.
- ‘…just as aggravating when a cow does it as when a little girl does it.’ (p. 8)
- ‘Spoken like a man!’ (p. 36)
- ‘Say: “Enough of your young lady’s nonsense.” Sweep her off her feet, Captain Midnite. Do not take “No” for an answer, for she certainly won’t want you to…’ […] ‘”it sounds, ma’am,” said Midnite, “remarkably like breaking a horse, which comes easily enough to me.”‘ (p. 136)
However caricatured are the figures of Dora and Laura, Stow depicts Mrs Chiffle and Queen Victoria as strong and capable women.
Many ‘sacred cows’ (an idea, custom, or institution held to be above criticism) of early colonial life are satirised by Midnite, making it simultaneously a children’s book and an adult book, much like George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
These ‘sacred cows’ include: colonialism, imperialism, law and order, early explorers, metaphysical poets and privilege.
Ask students to look up (or refer back to their previous definition of) the word ‘satire’. (Collins Dictionary provides a simple definition: A satire is a play, film or novel in which humour or exaggeration is used to criticise something.)
Ask them to consider the following three quotes and try and articulate what is being satirised. They could do this in pairs, small groups or as a homework activity.
- ‘“A gentleman!” said Midnite crossly. “Why, he’s not even British.”’ (p. 86)
- ‘There was another thing, too, that the Judge had never considered, and that is that a young man who had already learnt bad habits might feel safer if he became a policeman.’ (p. 16)
- ‘The desert belongs to Queen Victoria, and I have named it after her, and made a note in my Diary.’ (p. 112)
Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy has already been turned into a play: Midnite by New Theatre. It is so full of dialogue that it obviously lends itself to the genre of drama script. This New Theatre play was performed in 2010.
Evaluation of the text
Representative of Australian culture?
It is probably likely that this novel would resonate most profoundly with adults over sixty years of age. One needs a knowledge of bushrangers, squatters, convicts, gold prospecting and Australia’s early ties with Britain, in order to get the maximum impact and humour.
However, it is representative of Australia’s early colonial life, albeit in a vastly simplified and caricatured way. It is extremely humorous too. Although not resonating specifically with today’s adolescents, as a history text, it could be invaluable!
Students are to read the following two quotes taken from subsidiary sources about this novel.
As children, my older sister, my younger brother and I were all given Stow’s Midnite to read or had it read to us. For me, it was one of the pivotal reading moments of my young life, equally significant as The Little Prince and The Red Balloon. I have since read Midnite to my daughter and then my son, and several times again for myself. The book never disappoints. Not just funny; it is LOL, as the teenagers say. Not just insightful – about Australian history and the Australian character – it is positively wise. And of course, exquisitely written.
from ‘My mother and Mick’ by Gabrielle Carey in The Australian, 1 Sept 2010.
The expatriate writer Randolph Stow was deeply formed by his Western Australian childhood, an upbringing that became the basis for three of his most quintessentially Australian novels: Tourmaline (Penguin, 1963), The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea (Penguin, 1965), Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy (Penguin, 1967)
by Gabrielle Carey ‘On being Australian’ in Griffith Review, Edition 51
Consider the fragments in bold text.
- Do students agree that this novel is LOL, insightful about Australian History and character and in general, quintessentially Australian – or do they feel it is not funny, boring and outdated?
- Students could be divided into two camps depending on their opinions, one each side of the classroom. Give them 10 minutes to get their main points together and elect a spokesperson. Each case could then be put forward to the class.
Choose either 1 or 2
Note to the teacher
Task 1 could be extended into a comparison text/letter by having students consider the writing of two authors and on the basis of that comparison, recommending one or the other. A comparison language and letter structure example (PDF, 117KB) has been provided. However, if this seems a little daunting, students could just do the task provided in Number 1.
As there has been an emphasis so far on the genre of persuasive/opinionative writing/speaking, teachers may prefer to choose the creative second option.
1. Persuasive letter/article
‘I pity the poor school children of contemporary times whose library shelves are jammed with the overproduction of Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman rather than this masterpiece of Stow’s.’ (Gabrielle Carey)
Encourage students to look back to the previous close reading work where they looked at Randolph Stow’s language and style.
Ask students to do their own reading of Jennings and Gleitzman, or refer them to this short story written by Jennings.
Ask them to fill in the worksheet (PDF, 95KB) where they compare the writing of Stow and Jennings.
Your task is to decide whether you wish to make a defence of Paul Jennings (or Morris Gleitzman if this was your choice), or if you wish to agree with Gabriel Carey’s view and further promote Randolph Stow’s children’s novel, Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy. Your emphasis will be on the significance of this writer (the one of your choice) in the wider world, so you will mostly be emphasising the themes and the style of writing (vocabulary and punctuation) as well as this novel’s overall relevance to today’s society.
Create your persuasive writing as an opinion letter/article suitable for publication in your school’s newsletter.
The audience will be school staff and parents.
2. Play script
Midnite is a book that abounds in dialogue – on almost every page, and sometimes it goes on for several pages. (See page 87 for a good example.)
Your task is to create a one-page dialogue scenario either to insert into the text or as dialogue that could happen after the completion of the action.
Ideas as part of the text:
- A conversation between Laura Wellborn and Mrs Chiffle about Midnite’s prospects once he has become respectable
- A conversation between Midnite and one of the prison guards
- A conversation between Captain Pepper and one of his friends about the hold up at the beginning, the court room or sentencing Midnite to prison
- A conversation between Queen Victoria and the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the need to make Midnite a Knight.
Ideas for after the text:
- A conversation between Khat and Midnite reminiscing about the good old bushranging days
- A conversation between Laura and Midnite about life in the Hidden Valley
- A conversation between O’Grady and Midnite the next time they meet – after the wedding.
There are many other possible dialogues.
Once about a page of dialogue has been written between two characters, you are to turn it into a drama script.
For this, you will need:
- a title
- a cast of characters (even if there are only two)
- stage directions.
Stage directions and setting are usually written in italics and placed in brackets to differentiate them from dialogue. See How to Write a Play for further assistance.
Synthesising core ideas
Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy by Randolph Stow, is difficult to pin down as a school text as it is obviously written both as an adult satire and a children’s story. Much of the humour concerning colonialism, imperialism, law and order issues, early explorer attempts, gold prospecting, class inequality, etc. could well be lost on an average modern Year Seven Australian student. The novel operates on two distinct levels. Hopefully, students today will enjoy the humour and the quaint, old-fashioned style, as well as the wonderful characterisation – and will find studying it worthwhile, at any level.
Rich assessment tasks (creating and responding)
Below is a range of assessment tasks to choose from depending on class type, time and context.
All of the tasks (except the last one which is already contextualised) could be contextualised by being prepared for display either in the School Book Week celebrations, or for the School’s Open Day exhibition.
Design an advertisement attracting potential recruits to Captain Midnite’s bushranger gang. Recruits could be human or animal. The advertisement can be for any visual medium: magazine, billboard, television, social media. Students need to refer back to the advertising poster they created in the Introductory Activities and think carefully about all aspects of an advertisement such as: product name, product description, logo, copy, persuasive language and symbolism, colours used, characters used, foreground, background and target audience. Worksheets have been provided previously and Media education lab is also very useful.
1b. One-page description
Write a one-page description of your advertisement outlining the main persuasive tactics you have used to attract recruits to Midnite’s bushranging gang. It would be most effective to set this out under headings (supplied in 1a. above).
(ACELA1764) (ACELA1528) (ACELA1782) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1805) (ACELY1724) (ACELY1725) (ACELY1728)
2. Comic strip
Students could extend their activity from the Close Study section of this unit and develop their first draft comic strip into a short comic or comic segment on an aspect or a chapter of Midnite. Some poetic licence could be given in the form of added dialogue, however, students need to adhere to the narrative flow of the original text. (Note: A simple worksheet (PDF, 262KB) is provided but there are many helpful videos and worksheets available, such as ‘How to Create a Comic Strip’.
(ACELA1528) (ACELA1529) (ACELA1764) (ACELT1623) (ACELT1625) (ACELT1805) (ACELY1725)
3. News report and Letter to the Editor
On page 13, Midnite wondered: ‘Will they write about me in the newspapers?’
Later on page 35, Queen Victoria confirmed that Midnite had indeed been written about in the newspaper:
The Tower of London
4th July, 1866
It is with feelings of anger and dismay that We read daily in Our loyal Times of the liberties taken by horrid Captain Midnite with the people, horses, cattle, sheep and money of Our beloved Colony…
Obviously Captain Midnite was infamous and notorious throughout the Mother Country, England, as well as in the colony, Australia
Compose a news report for either a local NSW newspaper of 1866 (Check when The Australian newspaper first started), or for The Times of London.
Students need to be aware of the upside down pyramid structure of a news report: Who/What/When/Why – followed by more details and attributed quotes, followed by less important detail in the last section. See the worksheet (PDF, 263KB) provided.
Community newspapers or a local broadsheet might be the most accessible reports to use as models.
Create a Letter to the Editor from a member of the public (either in Australia or England) after they have read the news report about Captain Midnite and his bushranging ways. This letter could be from someone who has been directly affected by Midnite’s crimes such as Judge Pepper’s wife, or Laura Wellborn’s mother.
4. Persuasive writing/speaking task
Scenario. A team of writers and educators from Reading Australia is visiting schools in your area. They are considering whether it is worthwhile to put Australian classics such as your recent set class novel, Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy, on the National Curriculum for all Australian primary and secondary schools.
Prepare a defence or a criticism of this novel to be delivered to the team when they come to your school. This defence/criticism could be in the form of a short persuasive piece of writing or a short speech. NB. In the article, ‘Solitary writer, Randolph Stow chose silence’ by William Grono and Denis Haskell (The Weekend Australian, 1 June, 2010), Midnite is described as a ‘classic’.
(ACELA1763) (ACELA1782) (ACELT1619) (ACELT1620) (ACELT1803) (ACELT1622) (ACELY1719) (ACELY1804) (ACELY1720) (ACELY1725)