Introductory activities

Activities prior to reading

Teachers should note that this unit, although ostensibly written for all Year 7 students, deals with a number of quite complex issues in some depth and also contains some class activities which may be beyond the capacity of some students at this level. Therefore, teachers should use their own discretion in how they use this unit within their own contexts. Elements of the unit could also be readily adapted to other year levels and to disciplines such as History.

Reading the Foreword by Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO, Chief of Army

[It is worth noting that Lieutenant General David Morrison, in addition to being Chief of the Australian Army until his retirement in 2015, was also named Australian of the Year in 2016, partly for his efforts to eliminate gender discrimination against women in the Australian Defence Force.]

Before students begin to read the book ask them to complete the cloze exercise (PDF, 104KB) based on the foreword to the book written by Lieutenant General David Morrison. This exercise will require close reading and will introduce students to the subject of the book, Captain Reg Saunders.

Cloze exercise: Foreword to the book

Cohesive writing is writing that hangs together well. It is writing that guides the reader carefully through a whole text so that its meaning is clear and easily understood. Cohesion in a text is achieved in four ways, through the use of:

  1. Conjunctions,
  2. Words that refer to each other (reference),
  3. Words that go together,
  4. Use of topic sentences in paragraphs.

This cloze exercise is not primarily about exploring David Morrison’s use of cohesive devices for their own sake but rather to see, firstly, how his use of lexical chains and, secondly, how the series of important ideas embedded in the paragraph topic sentences work together to build up a profile of Reginald Saunders.

Activity 1

Students are to read a copy of the foreword and fill in the words that have been deleted from the original. This is not a cloze test. Students should be able to fill in the blanks by finding word chains in the text to which the deleted words belong.

When students have finished Activity 1 they should work in pairs or small groups to share their answers. Then they should discuss what sort of profile of Reg Saunders they think Lieutenant General Morrison was trying to build up. They should also express a view on how successfully he has been in doing this. (Finally they can check their own answers against the original.)

Activity 2

Students should read the first sentence in each paragraph (the topic sentence) and underline the words that they think express the important ideas that each paragraph will deal with.

For example, in Paragraph 2 the words ‘a soldier’s soldier’ are important in the topic sentence and give direction to the rest of the paragraph.

Ask students to write out a list of the words they have underlined and then, again in pairs or small groups, discuss what qualities of Reg Saunders these words express and the overall profile of him that they create.
(ACELA1763)   (ACELT1621)   (EN4-3B)   (EN4-1A)

Finding out more about Reg Saunders’ background

  • It is quite likely that students are familiar with the words ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘Indigenous’. However, it is just as likely that they have only the broadest understanding of what these words refer to. Of course, this will depend on the background of the students themselves. Reg Saunders: An Indigenous Hero gives only the briefest of explanations of Reg Saunders’ family background. Therefore, as a starting point for this unit it would be interesting and informative to show students at least the official trailer for ‘First Australians – The Untold Story of Australia’.
  • To support information shown in the video, ask students to look closely at a map of Indigenous Australia showing that the whole landmass of Australia was occupied by Aboriginal clans for many thousands of years before the coming of white settlement. Challenge students with the fact that contemporary Australia has been overlaid on a more ancient Australia.
  • Have students enlarge the map until they they can identify the location of Reg Saunders’ people, the Gunditjmara, which is in the south-west corner of the modern-day state of Victoria.
  • In the early to mid-nineteenth century white settlers moved out over the lands of the Aboriginal clans. The pastoralists, especially, brought with them tens of thousands of sheep and cattle. The Aboriginal people felt that they were being invaded and fought back but were defeated by force of arms. The final result was the destruction of the Aboriginal way of life over a period of only 30 years. Ask students to read the newspaper report, The South-West’s bloody past which appeared in the Standard on 13 May, 2011, and then complete a Three-level Guide (PDF, 112KB) based on this report as a way of engaging with the content of the report. A three-level guide (PDF, 110KB) is a very good way of improving students’ reading comprehension.
  • Explain to students that after the frontier fighting the remnants of the Gunditjmara people were moved to the Lake Condah mission. Ask them to do some research on the mission purely for interest and to provide more context for the reading of the graphic novel.

(ACELA1782)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELY1723)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-8D)   (EN4-2A)

Learning more about the military campaigns

The graphic novel deals very succinctly with the various military campaigns in which Reg Saunders was involved, beginning with Operation Compass in North Africa. Undoubtedly students will find it interesting to find out more about these campaigns. Assign students in small groups to research one of the following:

  • Operation Compass
  • The siege of Tobruk and the battle for El Alamein (although Reg Saunders was not involved in these battles)
  • The defence of Greece
  • The rearguard action in Crete
  • The invasion of Syria (in which Harry Saunders was involved)
  • The beginning of the Pacific War (On p. 35 of our book there is a panel which shows three political leaders looking out towards the viewer: Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of Great Britain); Franklin D. Roosevelt (President of the USA); and John Curtin (Prime Minister of Australia.) Behind them is a map showing the route being taken by the convoy transporting Australian troops perhaps to Burma or perhaps back to Australia. This illustration depicts an absolutely pivotal moment in Australia’s history: Australia’s Prime Minister John Curtin insisted that the Australian troops should return to defend Australia while Winston Churchill wanted to deploy them in Burma against the Japanese. This was the moment when Australia turned from ‘the mother country’, Britain, to the United States of America to guarantee its security.)
  • The Papua New Guinea campaigns (Harry Saunders, Reg Saunders’ brother, was killed at Gona at the end of the Kokoda campaign in New Guinea. Many of the veterans who survived this bloody battle believed that the Australian soldiers at Gona took unnecessary risks because General Thomas Blamey had earlier very publicly inferred that they were ‘rabbits’ for running away after the retreat from Kokoda to just South of the farthest point of the Japanese advance, the Ioribaiwa Ridge, during the first phase of the campaign. Most of those veterans have never forgiven Blamey for this slur on the courage of the Australian diggers.)
  • The Korean War

There is a great deal of information available on the Internet about the campaigns of the Second World War in which Australian soldiers were involved and there are many relevant videos on YouTube. The Australian War Memorial also has easily accessible information about these campaigns. Much of this material is quite dense, written for adult readers. Therefore, the teacher will have to guide students to make a judicious selection of relevant material and also to show students how to note-take using an appropriate retrieval chart (PDF, 105KB).

Groups are to present their findings to the class using either Prezi or PowerPoint.
(ACELY1720)   (EN4-4B)

Learning more about army structure

Throughout the book there are many references to the constituent elements of an army: regiment; battalion; brigade; company; platoon; unit. Students should research the structure of a modern army in order to make more sense of the groups with which Reg Saunders served. Students should also note the rank of the commanders of the various groups within the army hierarchy. For example, after he has been promoted to the rank of lieutenant, Reg Saunders is described as being in charge of a unit and then a platoon (p. 46).

(There is no need for students to have a deep knowledge of this information. However, their research will give them a general sense of the groups with which Reg Saunders was fighting in any given campaign.)

Looking first at the book cover

The front cover of any book is a very important introduction to that book. The publisher will have commissioned an illustrator to design a front cover that will attract readers and also provide some information about the content of the book itself.

Students are to complete a Visual Literacy three-level guide (PDF, 121KB) as a way of thinking about and recording what they learn from the front cover of Reg Saunders: An Indigenous War Hero. (Refer to the completed guide (PDF, 138KB) to see one possible response to the cover).

Preface this exercise with some explicit teaching of some of the metalanguage of visual literacy (PDF, 114KB).
(ACELA1782)   (ACELA1764)   (ACELY1722)   (ACELY1723)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-4B)   (EN4-2A)


Personal response on reading the text

The following activities could be done singly, in twos or in small groups. They could be done as a writing exercise (in a reflection journal) or as discussion with sharing.

  • Many families in Australia will have some sort of connection with the military, either directly through family members who have served, or are currently serving in the armed forces, or indirectly through the regular commemorations (e.g. Anzac Day marches) held in memory of service people from earlier times. Ask students to find out about their own families’ experiences of war, either direct or vicarious and share these with the rest of the class.
  • Ask students to visit the Australian War Memorial website where they can, if they wish, find information about relatives who served in any of the conflicts in which Australia has been involved since the 1860s.
  • Students may wonder why Indigenous people have been so excluded from the mainstream of Australian society for so long. Initiate a broad discussion of race relations in Australia from the beginning of white settlement until now.
  • Students may also be interested to note that the  Australian War Memorial hosted an exhibition (PDF, 108KB) devoted exclusively to the contribution of Indigenous servicemen to their nation and their ‘country’. Obviously there is a move at official levels to acknowledge the place of Indigenous people in the nation.
  • Ask students to reflect on how the book is positioning them to respond to the representation of Reg Saunders. Have them explain whether they think that they are responding to him in a positive way. (That is, are they prepared to be an ideal reader of the book and its subject?)
  • Discuss with students whether they think that the very positive representation of Reg Saunders has changed the way they think about Aboriginal people. Challenge them with the idea that most non-Indigenous Australians only know Aboriginal people through crude stereotypes circulated in our culture.
  • Encourage students to research more about Reg Saunders from sources such as YouTube and the internet and ask them to share with the rest of the class what they find out.

Activities whilst reading 

  • Introduce students to the elements that make up a graphic novel like Reg Saunders: An Indigenous War Hero: panels, gutters, print narration, supporting images, speech balloons and motion lines. Find out more about these elements by watching How To Write a Graphic Novel by Dominique Sullivan or read the section Thinking Through The Format in A Guide to Using Graphic Novels With Children and Teens by Scholastic. Then choose a discrete sequence of panels from the book and discuss with students how each element of a graphic novel contributes to the overall meaning of the sequence.
  • Take another sequence of panels from the book. Ask students to read just the print narration and then explain what they have learned. Next, ask students to look at the images and think about what they learn from them. Finally ask students to think about how the print narration and the images work together: Do the images simply illustrate the information given in the print narration? Do they offer different information? Do the words and images work well together to create a cohesive text?
  • The graphic novel shares many of the features of a war movie. It places specific human participants, especially Reg Saunders, within the story of several momentous military campaigns of the Second World War which take place over five years. Ask students to imagine that the book is a story board for a war movie. Do they think that the changes of time and place and the transitions from panels showing dramatic action to those showing individual human beings have been well handled?
  • Ask students to reflect on how they read the information in each panel. Different readers will pursue different reading paths. Some will read the words first, then the images and then perhaps return to the words. Others might follow a different reading path, starting, for example, with the date at the top of each panel. Have students in pairs compare how they tend to read this book.
  • A graphic novel will have a particular rhythm created by the juxtaposition of static images with action images. As the class reads the book ask students to identify static images, action images and explain how their placement in relation to each other creates a sense of movement or rhythm. (Note that again this feature is very similar to what the director of a film will try to achieve.) Ask students whether this effect is achieved more by words or images.

(ACELA1528)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELY1724)   (EN4-6C)   (EN4-2A)   (EN4-8D)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-5C)


Outline of key elements of the text


This graphic novel comprises three very important storytelling elements which complement each other in telling the story of a particular individual within a complex story of historical events covering a number of years. The language in the text boxes at the bottom of each panel provides the essential information required for the reader/viewer to understand the sequence of historical events. However, it is the information contained in the images which brings the language to life. It is likely that the images, located above the text boxes throughout the book, will carry greater emotional weight with readers/viewers than the print text. There is also text contained within the images, usually as something said or thought by a character and presented in a speech or thought balloon. This text helps both to define a character and to provide more information about a situation. The dates given at the top of each panel also enhance the cohesion of the text. In addition to representational images there are a number of maps and diagrams distributed throughout the book which help the reader/viewer to make sense of the movement of troops over large distances in different theatres of war.

Because this is a story about war there will obviously be a number of story panels representing violent, deadly action. Pages 15–20, especially, contain a sequence of images showing bloody fighting on the island of Crete. However, the author and illustrator have been careful to intersperse this violent action with quieter static images which slow the rhythm of the book and give readers/viewers the chance to reflect on the meaning of the action and to focus more on significant characters. This pattern of shifting from large-scale action to more static images representing politicians, military leaders planning strategy or individuals within the overall war story continues throughout the book.

These prompting questions will assist students in completing the following task based on p. 14:

  1. What information do you gain from the top left-hand panel? Who is the character in the panel gesticulating and apparently shouting? What orders do you think he is giving to the other men who are dressed in military uniform?
  2. Did your reading path take you next to the right-hand panel? Each new panel in an illustrated book generally represents a movement forward in time (unless the author wants to include a flashback). How much time has elapsed between the top left-hand and right-hand panels. How did you fill in the gaps in the story between the two panels?
  3. Who is the character in the foreground of the top right-hand panel? How does what he says in the speech balloon help readers to understand the situation?
  4. The next panel shows a large number of German soldiers on an airstrip with a number of aircraft in formation in the background. What effect is produced by the vectors created by the shape of the planes lined up one behind the other? Most of the soldiers are represented as a generic group (except for a few in the foreground.) However, in what direction are most of them looking and what is significant about this? What meaning does the orange colour used in this panel have?
  5. What purpose does the map of Crete serve?
  6. What point of view is used in the illustration in the bottom panel? Where is the viewer located? In cinematic terms this is a wide angle long shot. What effect is the illustrator trying to create? Do you think that he has been successful?

Now ask students to look at the double-page spread on pp. 14–15.

  • Students are to discuss how each panel on page 14 contributes to the reader’s understanding of what then happens on the facing page. Notice the time sequence given by the dates, the narrative flow from Hitler in the top left-hand panel giving orders through to the map of Crete, which sets the scene, to the long shot of intense action in the bottom panel.
  • Ask students to consider what is significant about the fact that in these five panels only one character, Major-General Freyberg, has his speech shown in a speech balloon.
  • The fairly static images on page 14 give way to a large panel on page 15 which shows large-scale fighting. Students should use the model provided (PDF, 132KB) to unpack and describe what is happening in any of the panels on pp. 16–20.


This is a non-fiction book based on historical events from the Second World War and on events in the life of one significant Aboriginal Australian, Reg Saunders, who was the first Indigenous soldier to be promoted into the commissioned ranks of the Australian army. Therefore, it could be argued that Reg Saunders’ personal story, especially, follows the typical plot-line of a narrative: an Orientation – a Complication – a Resolution – and finally, a Coda.

Set students to identify the plot points in Reg Saunders’ life story as they are presented in this book.

  • Orientation:
  • Complication:
  • Resolution:
  • Coda:

The story of Reg Saunders ends on a relatively high note. However, there are significant silences in the text about the status of Indigenous Australians within the nation of Australia in our time. The story of Reg Saunders is far from over.
(ACELA1531)   (ACELA1763)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELY1724)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-3B)   (EN4-5C)   (EN4-6C)


This book literally has a cast of thousands of characters, telling as it does the story of great battles fought during the Second World War and beyond. However, obviously, the focus throughout remains on the individual Reg Saunders who is the subject of this graphic novel. All other characters are arranged within a hierarchy of importance designed to make the story coherent and to explain the unfolding of historical events. (It is worth remembering that since this is a history of real events involving real human beings that the word ‘characters’ here is interchangeable with the words ‘people’ or ‘persons’.)

  • At the highest level are the politicians/statesmen, people such as Churchill, Hitler and Mussolini.
  • At the next level are subordinate politicians and the military leaders who are responsible for prosecuting the war.
  • Next are the subordinate military commanders who plan the strategy for each battle.
  • Finally come the ordinary soldiers who must do the actual fighting. Among them, of course, are Reg and Harry Saunders.

Representation of the leaders 

  • Ask students to share what they know about such historical figures as Churchill, Hitler and Mussolini. They may have to do some basic research on them. They should also research Australian Prime Ministers Menzies and Curtin, and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who all appear later in the book
  • Have students focus on the information given in the print text at the bottom of each panel containing images of the leaders to understand just how important this information is in explaining the historical situation.
  • Next have the students analyse the way in which the illustrator has represented the various leaders. This could be done in pairs of students with each pair assigned to just one panel. Some of the elements of representation that students could explore include:
    1. The appearance of the person. How closely does the illustration match the actual appearance of this person as shown in a photograph? What is he wearing? What sort of expression does he have on his face? Can viewers make a judgement about the sort of person he is from his appearance?
    2. What is the person doing? How is this significant for the overall structure of the book?
    3. Where is the person located? Is this significant?
    4. What connection, if any, does the viewer have with the person? Is this person placed at eye level with the viewer or above or below the viewer? Is this person placed in front of the viewer or at an angle?
    5. Is colour used in the image in a distinctive way? What meaning could this have?
    6. Which element in the panel is most important: the words in the text box; the image; any words within the image itself?
  • Once students have analysed their assigned image panel ask them to write a short paragraph explaining how they have ‘read’ the particular person/character. They can be guided in this by the Churchill and Menzies model (PDF, 361KB).

Representation of the officers

The military officers, too, are represented in a particular way.

Ask students to look at the panels which feature the officers and apply their understanding of how images are constructed to unpack these scenes. They can be guided by these examples (PDF, 151KB).

Representation of the soldiers

Students should choose panels in which the soldiers are represented and use their understanding of how images are constructed to unpack these scenes.
(ACELA1764)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELY1724)   (EN4-6C)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-8D)   (EN4-4B)


  • European settlement in Australia
  • Indigenous history
  • Indigenous identity
  • Australian military history
  • Race relations in Australia
  • Racism
  • Mateship among soldiers
  • Heroism
  • Family


Synthesising task/activity

Students are to work in pairs on this task, Student A and Student B.

Student A:

You have been given several pages from an appropriate graphic novel or comic. The print text and any verbiage (in speech/thought balloons) have been deleted.

Your task is to use the images in each panel to construct a possible scenario of what is going on in the sequence of images and then to provide print text (and perhaps verbiage) for each panel in the handout.

Student B:

You have been given the original print text for each panel from a handout of several pages from an appropriate graphic novel or comic. However, all the images have been removed. 

Your task is to illustrate each panel with an image that either adds to or reflects the information in the print text. Stick figures will be acceptable if you are not too confident in your drawing ability. (Provide instructions to the illustrator to explain how you want the images to look.)

You are then to share your work and explain to each other the decisions that you have made.

Finally, you are to compare your own work with the handout from the original graphic novel or comic.
(ACELA1764)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1728)   (EN4-4B)   (EN4-6C)   (EN4-2A)

The writer’s craft


1. A Hero’s Journey?

The books title indicates the possibility that it will have the structure of a hero’s journey narrative. Students will be familiar with this type of narrative from such popular texts as The Lord of the Rings, the film Star Wars and the epic poem Beowulf.

In its basic form the hero’s journey narrative has three parts:

  1. The hero sets out on an adventure.
  2. The hero faces many obstacles and dangers and finally wins a great victory in a decisive battle.
  3. The hero returns home but is now a changed person, having been transformed by the events of the journey.


  • Ask students whether they think that the story of Reg Saunders follows the basic structure of a hero’s journey.
  • Have them try to locate in the book the events that could possibly correspond with the three broad sections of the hero’s journey outlined above.
  • The conventional hero’s journey ends with a sense of triumph over both adversity and personal weakness. Ask students to consider whether this is how the author and illustrator of this book have framed Reg Saunders’ journey. If students have a range of opinions then this could lead to some lively class discussion. However, students should be encouraged to support their views with evidence in the text itself.
  • Ask students to think of any Indigenous heroes from other cultures (e.g. Sitting Bull; Mannalargenna; the Zulu king Cetshwayo; Mahatma Ghandi) who might fit the hero’s journey model.

Note: The ‘hero’s journey’ narrative structure identified by Joseph Campbell has 12 stages, and is more complex than the structure of Reg Saunders: An Indigenous War Hero. However, students should find it interesting to identify some similarities between the 12-stage mono-myth and the trajectory of Saunders’ life.

2. An historical recount?

This book combines some of the features of a text-type called the Historical Recount with those of another type of recount, the Biography. The author and the illustrator have retold the events and incidents of various military battles in which Australian troops were involved during the Second World War (and later) and then inserted into this broad sweep of historical events the personal story (the biography) of one specific individual, Reg Saunders, an Indigenous war hero.

Students have already researched the various campaigns retold in this book (the North African campaign; the defence of Greece; the war against the Japanese in Papua New Guinea and finally the Korean War) so the subject matter of the book should be familiar.

Begin by asking students to read several examples of Historical Recounts (the Golden Hind, the Spanish Armada, pp. 11–12).

Then, from the examples, identify with the students and list on the whiteboard the language features and text structure (PDF, 106KB) of the Historical Recount. Ask students to work in pairs on several pages of the book and decide whether its structure and language conform to the list they have made.

Some things to think about:

  • After the first few pages (pp. 5–10) of the book the author uses verbs in the present rather than the past tense (‘sail for’; ‘arrive at’; ‘are retreating’ and so on). Ask students why they think the author has done this and explain whether they think this departure from convention is successful.
  • The cohesion of an Historical Recount depends on the clear signalling of time and place through the use of adverbs, circumstances and clauses expressing time and place. Have students, individually or in pairs, unpack a significant stretch of the book (say, five pages) and list these language features. This may need to be preceded by a short grammar session so that students know what they are looking for. They may be amazed to discover how often the recount in each text box below an image begins with an adverb (‘Occasionally’), a circumstance of time (‘in the early afternoon’) or place (‘On air bases throughout Southern Greece’), or clauses expressing time and place (‘Once the air attacks stop’). Ask them to consider how successful they think the author has been writing a cohesive recount of events.
  • Now have students consider what visual elements of the book support and complement the print text. Some things to think about include: the use of maps; action scenes to complement the use of verbs in the text (e.g. the verb ‘begin their advance’ in the text box under an image of soldiers running), speech balloons containing what leaders say and commands given to explain a complex series of events and so on.

 3.  A biography?

The focus of this book is obviously on the life and achievements of Reg Saunders. This is signalled by the title of the book on the front cover. Of course, the significance of Reg Saunders is that he was the first Aboriginal soldier to be promoted to the level  of officer in the Australian army.

The recount of a person’s life is called a biography. It has a fairly simple structure:

  • Orientation: the name of the person and an explanation of why that person is famous.
  • Sequence of important events and achievements in the person’s life (in chronological order).
  • Re-orientation: a reiteration of why the person is famous and an outline of the contribution they have made.

However, in this book the personal recount of Reg Saunders’ life is contained within the broader historical recount of military campaigns from about 1940 until 1951.

  • Discuss with students the possible reasons that the author of the book took the approach that he did.
  • Ask them to decide, with reasons, whether this approach has been successful.
  • Have students extract information specific to Reg Saunders’ personal story from the book using an appropriate note-taking format (PDF, 101KB).

(ACELA1531)   (ACELA1763)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELY1721)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-2A)   (EN4-3B)

Approach to characterisation: exploring the representation of Reg Saunders in the text

1. The role of processes in constructing character

Explain to students that characters in a story (and even real people who are human participants in an historical recount or biography) can be partly constructed by the processes (realised by verbs) with which the author (and in this book also the illustrator) have associated them.

Show students the main process types and discuss with them the sorts of characters most likely to be created by being associated with each:

Participant  Process  Type of character 




Doing (‘charged the enemy’)


An active character who is associated with physical activity.




Thinking (‘planned the attack’)


A character who is associated with mental activity.





Saying (‘The politician declared that …’)




A character who has something to say. (What characters say can give a clue to the sorts of people they are or to the power they may hold.)





(‘He is an excellent soldier. He has all the qualities of a fine leader.’)


Here the verbs ‘is’ and ‘has’ tell readers the qualities of the character. (They can be used to identify: ‘He is the only Indigenous army officer.’)


Student activity:

If we think of Reg Saunders as a character in his own story we can begin by scanning the print text to note the types of processes that are most associated with him.

  • Ask students to scan the print text to find the verbs associated with ‘Reg Saunders’. (Have students do this in pairs so that each pair is looking at only a few pages of the whole book.)
  • Then ask students to write their findings on a whiteboard or some similar medium of display.
  • Ask students to decide what sort of person Reg Saunders has been constructed as: Is he active, a do-er? Is he a thinker? If so, what does he think about? Is he a say-er and, if so, what does he say? How is he identified? What qualities does he have? Then, as a joint construction, have students write a short paragraph explaining how the character Reg Saunders has been constructed by the processes with which he is associated. Here is a possible beginning:

Reg Saunders is associated throughout the book with a large number of do-ing verbs. Early in the story he ‘began working’; ‘played football’ and ‘went hunting’. As a soldier, of course, he is also associated with the activities of war: ‘He shoots’; ‘Reg and his mates charge…’; ‘He could move silently’ and so on. However, a person who only acts, would be very one-dimensional. Therefore, the writer has also associated Reg Saunders with some thinking and saying verbs to give him an ‘inner life‘. For example: ‘Reg, his mate Mick Baxter, and about a dozen others…don’t want to surrender’ (p. 25) and, ‘It’s no country for black men, either’. Reg Saunders expresses an attitude towards Korea. (p. 50) 

2. Positioning the reader/viewer to adopt a particular attitude towards Reg Saunders

The author and the illustrator of this book have used words and images to position readers to adopt a particular attitude towards Reg Saunders. The following framework can be used to analyse how words and images have been deployed to construct a positive representation of him.


Words expressing emotions


Words that make a judgement (social esteem or social sanction) about the character



Words that express an appreciation of the character


Language that is used to scale up or down the intensity of the representation of the character


The range of voices engaged in expressing an opinion of the character


e.g. ‘Reg and his comrades


e.g. ‘Reg is recommended


e.g. ‘an…officer


‘an excellent officer’


e.g. The selection panel which recommends Reg for officer training.



Images that position viewers to make an emotional response to the character



Images that suggest how viewers should judge the character


Images that express an appreciation of the character


Visual elements that increase or decrease the intensity of the representation of the character


Images that illustrate the range of voices expressing an opinion about the character


The image showing Reg’s ‘sad reunion’ with his father after Harry’s death (p. 38)


Preface this exercise by re-visiting the handout on the metalanguage of visual literacy (PDF, 114KB).

Ask students to complete this framework by using the information given below. (They can, of course, also find their own examples.)

When they have completed the exercise they should share and defend their selections with the rest of the class. Hopefully this will produce some robust class discussion.

Note: More than one of the suggested words and images can be placed in any of the cells of the framework.

Words Images
  • ‘Reg and his mates…’
  •  ‘…an outstanding combat soldier’
  • ‘The panel recommends…’
  • ‘…his white mates…’
  • ‘…an Australian war hero…’
  • General Blamey: ‘If Sergeant Saunders is acceptable as an officer…’
  • The parish priest: ‘You ought to be a very proud man.’
  • ‘…the disgust of the local white population…’
  • ‘…deadly jungle warrior…’
  • ‘…excellent bush craft skills…’
  • Mick Baxter jokes with Reg Saunders: ‘You can get a black eye and nobody even knows about it.’
  • ‘…he still proudly led…’
  • ‘…few men had given more to their country in time of war.’
  • ‘It was a fitting decision.’


  • p. 28, top left-hand panel. The gaze of at least four members of the Cretan family towards Reg Saunders tells viewers that they value him as a guest.
  • p. 20, bottom image: This image contains very strong vectors. In the left foreground the vectors are formed by the extreme angles of Reg Saunders’ legs and by the downward angle of his gun and bayonet. Because Reg Saunders is on the left of the image viewers can feel the full weight of his deadly thrust at the German paratrooper. The use of natural colour makes the scene seem realistic.
  • Not all  characters in the book judge Reg Saunders positively. The cover illustration and the selection panel scene (p. 43, bottom left-hand) contain characters whose facial expressions and gaze suggest scepticism towards him.
  • The inside front cover image (repeated on p. 43) offers Reg Saunders to the gaze of the viewer. He is offered in mid-shot as a strong stalwart soldier, wearing his uniform and displaying his sergeant’s stripes with pride.
  • p. 43, top right-hand panel: Reg Saunders and his wife Dorothy Banfield, look out directly at the viewer who is positioned directly in front of, and slightly below, them. This is a mid-shot which suggests a relationship of social distance between the people represented and the viewer; the two represented people are making a demand of the viewer, perhaps something like, ‘Please accept us.’
  • p. 44, bottom right-hand panel: Reg and one of his white mates congratulate each other on becoming officers.

3. Tracking the representation of Reg Saunders in images

This selection of images (PDF, 218KB) from the book tracks the personal growth of Reg Saunders from young soldier to Indigenous statesman.

Students should study how several of these images have been analysed and then, using a metalanguage of visual design, unpack the remaining four images. This could be done individually or as a whole-class exercise.
(ACELA1764)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELY1724)   (EN4-4B)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-6C)

Point of view

The story of Reg Saunders, Indigenous war hero, is told in the form of an historical recount. Normally a recount would be written in a very objective way. However, because the personal story of Reg Saunders is embedded within the historical recount, it may be reasonable to think of the book also as a story, a narrative, told in third-person narration. Therefore, the narrator gives readers an objective account of the historical events in which Reg Saunders is involved but also maintains a strong focus on him, constantly moving between the broad picture of the various campaigns and Reg Saunders’ personal story within them. The narrator’s aim is to present him as an individual within large groups of men. Early in the book Reg Saunders is often referred to in company with other soldiers (‘Reg and his mates’; ‘Reg and his mate Mick Baxter’) to emphasise his acceptance by the other men, but later in the book the references change subtly (‘Reg’s platoon’; ‘Reg and his unit’) to reflect his changing status, now as a leader of men.

The images also encourage viewers to identify strongly with Reg Saunders. There are scenes of him with his brother and later with their father Chris; these are designed to produce an emotional response from the viewer. However, the use of long shots in those scenes do tend to reduce the involvement of the viewer. As with third person narration, the effect is to offer Reg Saunders to the viewer’s gaze rather than to produce a connection between him and the viewer. However, the images on the last few pages of the book (pp. 50–52), while still denying contact with the viewer, do represent the personal growth of Reg Saunders to the status of Indigenous statesman.

Interestingly, there are a few images (PDF, 138KB) which locate the viewer behind Reg Saunders and encourage identification with him through the offered point of view, but this approach is not deployed often.

There is no doubt that this book presents a very positive representation of Reg Saunders. Undoubtedly, like any human, Reg Saunders had his failings but they are not mentioned in this story. This is presumably because the author anticipated that the story of the contribution of Indigenous soldiers to Australia’s security will now circulate in the broader contemporary political conversation about the place of Indigenous people in Australian society.
(ACELA1764)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELY1724)   (EN4-4B)   (EN4-2A)   (EN4-6C)


There are many voices in this story. What the characters say is contained in the speech balloons throughout the book and is used to to make more vivid and more immediate the information provided in the print text. Some of the voices, those of senior politicians and military strategists, simply elaborate on the information about the conduct of the war or about particular battles, which is also given in print. But more demotic speech (‘what a black bastard can do to a white bastard’; ‘Everybody hit the deck!’) is assigned to the ordinary soldiers, including Reg Saunders, to create a sense of authenticity.

In a speech balloon on page 48 Reg Saunders denounces the decision by the Australian government not to allow Indigenous soldiers to serve in the occupation forces in Japan. This is a lengthier statement than any other that he has made throughout the book and marks a turning point in his growing political consciousness.

Students should look for examples in the book of significant things that Reg Saunders says or that other characters say about him.
(ACELA1529)   (ACELT1621)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-8D)

Language and style

Textual and topical themes

Throughout the book, sentences in the text boxes often begin with a circumstance (preposition + noun group) of time or place (e.g. ‘In late April…’; ‘On the other side of the world…’) or a clause expressing time or place (‘When he turned 14…’). Have students go through the book to identify these circumstances and clauses and ask them why they think the sentences have been structured in this way.

Note: These circumstances and clauses are textual themes; they link sentences to provide cohesion.

Next ask students to identify the topical themes (the topics which are the point of departure of many of these sentences) to identify what the author wanted to focus on in each sentence and from sentence to sentence. A scan of just a few pages (pp. 11–12) reveals these topical themes:

  • ‘Reg and Mick’
  • ‘Hitler’s forces’
  • ‘Reg and his comrades’
  • ‘Other Australians’
  • ‘Reg and his mates in 2/7 BN’
  • ‘The 2/7th’
  • ‘his brother Harry and the 2/14’
  • ‘The allied forces’
  • ‘German paratroopers and glider-borne troops’

Discuss with students the significance of the pattern of topical themes that unfolds on just these two pages. (A clue: The author wants to keep a focus on war hero Reg Saunders and his battalion comrades-at-arms within the broader picture of a world war involving tens of thousands of soldiers). Students could do the same exercise elsewhere in the book to try to uncover similar patterns.


Occasionally the author turns verbs into nouns and places them in a topical theme position in sentences. For example:

  • ‘…conflict once again engulfed Europe…’ (p. 6) instead of ‘The countries of Europe started to fight each other again.’
  • ‘The German invasion of Poland began’ (p. 7) instead of ‘The Germans invaded Poland’.
  • ‘The combat is brutal’ instead of ‘The soldiers fought each other brutally.’
  • ‘…soon the ferocity of their assault…’ (p. 17) instead of ‘The Germans assaulted the New Zealanders ferociously’.

Ask students to consider why the author has done this. Ask them whether it is possible that the author wanted to emphasise the violent reality of war by foregrounding these words.

Use of the passive voice of the verb

The author has also used from time to time the passive voice of the verb. Ask students to look at the following examples and try to explain why the author has used this device in these sentences.

  • ‘…Anthony Eden is sent to Athens…’ (p. 10).
  • ‘General Thomas Blamey has been informed…’
  • ‘…the commander of the New Zealand division has been placed…’ (p. 14)
  • ‘Crete was surrendered on 31 May…’ (p. 27)
  • ‘The French resist much more fiercely than was predicted…’ (p. 31)
  • ‘…a heated series of telegrams is exchanged between Churchill, Roosevelt and Curtin.’ (p. 35)

(A clue: An author may use the passive voice of the verb simply to foreground an important participant in topical theme position but sometimes it is used to disguise who is responsible for an action. Ask students what they think the motive is here.)

Noun groups

The author has to pack a lot of information into the print text and often does this through the use of noun groups (PDF, 102KB). In the following sentence note how much information is contained in the post-modifying clauses after the head word ‘casualties’.

division suffers hundreds of casualties [including Harry Saunders and his best mate Alan Avery], [who are wounded] [when a grenade explodes nearby.]

It would be a useful exercise for students to find other noun groups like this one and unpack them to uncover their structure.
(ACELA1534)   (ACELY1724)   (EN4-6C)   (EN4-3B)


Settings are important in this illustrated book and obviously there are many of them, ranging from a bush land setting near Portland in south-west Victoria to some of the major battlefields of the Second World War. Traditionally the settings in a novel are created through the use of descriptive language. However, in this book the overall effect created by the sequence of settings constructed by the images contained in each panel is cinematic. Dramatic and violent battle scenes are juxtaposed with static images showing leaders speaking, army officers planning and ordinary soldiers simply recovering with their comrades.

The main settings in the book are:

  • the battleground scenes,
  • the scenes displaying the materiel of war, including ships, landing craft, aircraft and trains,
  • indoor scenes focusing on politicians and military strategists,
  • scenes showing Reg Saunders with his comrades,
  • scenes showing Reg Saunders with his brother and his father,
  • scenes back in Australia showing how Reg Saunders and his family are treated by white society.

The illustrator has used a range of strategies to create an appropriate setting or background for each image and these vary according to his purpose. These strategies include:

  • the use of colour ranging from black and white to highly saturated colour,
  • the degree of context provided,
  • the amount of detail given,
  • the depth of perspective,
  • the play of light and shade,
  • the amount of light in the image.

The following examples could be used with students to show them how to use the strategies listed above to unpack other settings (PDF, 105KB) created by the illustrator.

1. The battle scene in the top panel (p. 15)

The illustrator here has used saturated colour to create a hyper-real battle scene. However, this is appropriate for a scene capturing the fight-to-the-death violence of soldiers trying to kill each other. There is greater detail in the foreground, even though the soldiers are more generic than individualised, but the background is still sufficiently detailed (soldiers running, mortar explosions, smoke rising) to create a believable and vibrant setting.

2. Reg Saunders and his father (p. 38)

There is sufficient detail in the setting of this image to tell viewers that this is the country town where Chris Saunders lives. However, the context is not completely realistic. For example, there are no people in the town apart from Reg and Chris. The colours, too, are slightly more saturated than naturalistic. The illustrator has used red, orange and yellow to create a warm ambience, presumably to capture the emotional warmth of the father-son relationship and also to encourage the same response from viewers of the scene.
(ACELT1803)   (ACELT1622)   (ACELY1724)   (EN4-6C)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-5C)


Text and meaning

Exploration of themes and ideas

Year 7 students might find it difficult to identify the themes in Reg Saunders: An Indigenous War Hero. They will certainly be able to say that the book is about war and soldiers fighting or about a war hero called Reg Saunders. However, the teacher should explain that these are really the subjects of the book rather than its themes.

Explain that themes are the main ideas or issues that emerge from what we focus on as readers. For example, some readers will focus on the heroism of the Australian soldiers (e.g. as they fight a rear-guard action against the Germans on Crete) and for them a theme of heroism will be the most important idea that they take from the book. Other students might focus on the treatment of Reg Saunders and his family and for them the ingrained racism of Australian society may be the most obvious theme.

Explain to students that in order to identify themes they should try to identify conflicts in the story. These could be a clue to possible themes. For example, the fight with the British soldiers (a conflict) could signal both a fairly obvious theme, racism, but also a deeper theme, the loyalty and friendship of some white Australian soldiers like Mick Baxter for Reg Saunders.

The following themes, once identified, should be a rich source of discussion in the classroom. Perhaps allocate one of each of the themes to various small groups and ask students to decide whether they agree or disagree with the ideas expressed below. This should produce some close reading of the book itself.

European settlement in Australia

This theme is not dealt with explicitly in the book However, towards the end of the book readers learn that Reg Saunders is not given one of the soldier settlement farming blocks that have been carved out of his traditional land because he is Indigenous. Instead these blocks are given to white ex-soldiers.

Indigenous history

Again, this is another silence in the book. There is a reference on page one to the Gunditjmara people and to the Lake Condah mission, but the author does not elaborate on their history. Late in the book readers are told that Reg Saunders became an advocate for Indigenous rights but readers will have to bring personal knowledge to this theme.

Indigenous identity

Readers may wonder about Reg Saunders’ name. It hardly sounds like an indigenous name. Interestingly, Harry Gordon, the author of The Embarrassing Australian on which this graphic novel is based, included a chapter titled ‘The Name That Got Lost’ to signal that Saunders’ tribal name has been ‘lost’ in the new white story.

Australian military history

Adrian Threlfall has taken great pains to recount with historical accuracy the details of the campaigns in which Reg Saunders took part. This is important to guarantee that the book has credibility. Dolan also emphasises the courage and steadfastness of Australian troops even when they are involved in a military disaster like the Greek campaign.

Race relations

Adrian Threlfall does acknowledge that in the broader Australian community Indigenous Australians were treated as second-class citizens. There are references throughout the book to the quasi-apartheid that operated at the time. One of the most ironic episodes is in North Queensland when Reg Saunders and his white mates, who are on leave from defending Australia in Papua New Guinea, choose to sit in the segregated ‘blacks only’ section of a cinema.


Dolan has sprinkled examples of racism (the drunken soldier; the drunk on the tram; the treatment of Reg Saunders’ family in Melbourne) throughout the book to remind readers of ingrained racism in Australian society.

Mateship among soldiers

This is a very important theme in the book. The point is made strongly throughout that a soldier’s life depends on his comrades and that there is no place in life-and-death situations for worrying about the colour of a man’s skin. (However, it is worth noting that the volunteer battalions, divisions and units of the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF), including Reg and Harry’s battalions and divisions were widely regarded as elite troops and, at least early in the war, looked down on by the army’s militia units, which were raised only for service in Australia and its territories, including Papua New Guinea. Some Second AIF veterans maintain this distinction to this day, despite the fact that many militia units served with distinction before and after their assimilation into the AIF later in the war.)


Reg Saunders’ heroism is illustrated in vivid battle scenes throughout the book to reinforce its title. Significantly, by the end of the book Reg Saunders is no longer an Indigenous war hero but an Australian War Hero. Possibly the author hopes that his book will contribute to reconciliation between settler and Indigenous Australians.


The author emphasises the love and loyalty of Chris Saunders and his two sons to each other. However, again, there is a silence in the story since there is no reference to their mother or to an extended family.

Each of these themes offers scope for further research. Invite students to explore more deeply the themes that they have been allocated to uncover material that has not been dealt with in the book.

Suggest to students that they might like to present their findings in the form of a story, a recount, a newspaper article or a diary entry to give voice to a hitherto untold story.
(ACELA1782)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (ACELY1721)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-8D)   (EN4-2A)   (EN4-3B)

Meaning in context

This is the story of one exceptional man who achieved great things despite the constraints placed on him by Australian attitudes and values during his lifetime. The book is also a celebration of the role that the Australian army played in helping him. Inevitably, however, the book will go beyond celebration to circulate at a political level within the ongoing national debate about the status of Indigenous Australians in our national life now and into the future.


Synthesising task/activity

The Australian War Memorial has asked you to write a biography of Reg Saunders which will be added to the Memorial’s collection of the biographies of famous Australian soldiers. You have already made notes about Reg Saunders’ life from Reg Saunders: An Indigenous War Hero, so you have plenty of information about his life to use in the biography that you have been commissioned to write.

The context for your writing is:

Subject matter: The life and achievements of Reg Saunders.

Your role: A writer who has been commissioned to write Reg Saunders’ biography.

Your purpose: To celebrate the life of Reg Saunders.

Your audience: Anybody who visits the Australian War Memorial to find out about famous Australian soldiers.

Mode: Written; part of an Internet website.

Medium: Website.

Use the following outline to structure the biography:

  • Orientation: Tell your readers that this is the biography of Reg Saunders. Explain why he is famous and why you have been asked to write his biography.
  • Important events: Explain to your readers the important events in Reg Saunders’ life. Deal with these in chronological (time) order starting with details of his birth and early life.
  • Achievements: List Reg Saunders’ achievements in chronological order.
  • Re-orientation: Remind your readers why Reg Saunders is famous and explain his contribution to Australian society.

Make sure to use these language features in your biography:

  • Use action verbs to tell what Reg Saunders did.
  • Make sure to use the past tense of the verbs e.g. ‘He went…’; ‘He trained…’; ‘He fought…’.
  • Use time signals to tell about events in his life and his achievements e.g. ‘First’, ‘Then’, ‘After that’ and so on.
  • Use cause and effect signals e.g. ‘because’; ‘as a result’; ‘led to’.

(ACELY1721)   (ACELA1763)   (ACELY1725)   (EN4-3B)   (EN4-4B)

Ways of reading the text

Different perspectives/theoretical approaches

Post-colonial theory deals with what happens when a country that has been colonised gains its independence from a colonising power. A classic example would be the case of India which gained its independence from Great Britain in 1947 after several centuries of colonisation. The colonial experience inevitably changes both the coloniser and the colonised in profound ways and post-colonial theory explores these changes in depth.

The Indigenous people of Australia have been, and remain, a colonised people because the coloniser has not departed. Arguably, white settler society in Australia itself remains a colony with a head of state, who is the constitutional monarch of another country on the other side of the world.

The situation for Indigenous Australian is very difficult. Their old way of life has generally been destroyed over the more than two centuries of colonial occupation. Their cultures and beliefs have largely been destroyed. As the Australian poet Judith Wright has written on her poem ‘Bora Ring’:

The song is gone; the dance

is secret with the dancers in the earth,

the ritual useless, and the tribal story

lost in an alien tale.

In most postcolonial societies the original people of the country have been able to adopt and adapt to the culture of the coloniser in new and innovative ways. However, this has been difficult for Indigenous people in Australia (although there has been a very welcome upsurge in Indigenous writing across a range of genres in recent years), partly because of their experience as a conquered people and partly because the settler society has been unwilling to treat Indigenous society and culture with anything but contempt. Indeed, until the High Court of Australia over-turned the doctrine of Terra Nullius (‘nobody’s land’) as a result of its judgement in the Mabo case (a claim for prior ownership of Mer Island in the Torres Strait) in 1992, the continent was considered to have been uninhabited until the First Fleet arrived in 1788.

Why then, would young Indigenous men volunteer to fight in the Australian army? (Remember that Reg Saunders’ father, Chris, fought for Australia in the First World War and there were 50 Indigenous soldiers at Gallipoli.)

Students could try to answer this question by exploring and discussing in small groups the following:

  • What do they think the quote from ‘Bora Ring’ means?
  • Do they agree that Indigenous culture and way of life was destroyed by white settlement?
  • Would they agree that when a people’s language and culture are destroyed, they lose their sense of personal and group meaning and direction?
  • What elements of past culture do students think Indigenous people may have been able to preserve?
  • Do students agree that the contribution of Indigenous soldiers has brought pride to the Indigenous community of Australia?

An article on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs website may contain some answers to the question of why Indigenous soldiers volunteered to fight for Australia. Perhaps the answer is that, for these young men this was a way for them to accommodate their role as warriors in their own culture to the new reality?

After considering the questions above, what do your students now think?
(ACELT1619)   (ACELT1620)   (EN4-8D)   (EN4-2A)


Comparison with other texts

Versions of the text in other modes, media and contexts

While writing the text for his illustrated book, Adrian Threlfall drew heavily upon material contained in a biography of Reg Saunders called The Embarrassing Australian by Harry Gordon. Gordon was a war correspondent who met Reg Saunders in Korea and decided to tell his story. The book was first published in 1962 and although Harry Gordon was certainly sympathetic to Reg Saunders, nevertheless the language used in the blurb on the back cover reveals the prejudices of white Australians towards Aboriginals in the middle of the twentieth century.

  • Students might like to consider why Harry Gordon (or his publisher) regarded Reg Saunders as an ‘embarrassing Australian’.
  • They should also discuss the sort of thinking behind the description of Aborigines as ‘primitive’ and ‘a Stone Age people’.
  • Reg Saunders is described as ‘one in 80,000’. Is this statement somewhat ambiguous? What do your students think it means?

Other versions of Reg Saunders’ life are contained in such short video documentaries as Bush TV Untold Stories, Australia’s First Aboriginal Officer Reg Saunders and there is some interesting information about Indigenous soldiers on the Australian War Memorial website.


The illustrated book belongs to a family of texts which includes comics, picture books and graphic novels. The word ‘comics’ today conjures up images of Marvel super-heroes fighting crime and evil, but in fact the history of comics goes back into nineteenth century Europe. Comic strips evolved into comic books in the US in the early years of the twentieth century and Superman, the first of the superhero comic books, was published in 1938.

The aesthetic features of the comic book (four-colour illustrations; speech and thoughts shown in balloons within the same frame as the illustration) were appropriated by artists with more serious intentions (e.g. Alan Moore’s Watchmen comics) and by graphic novelists such as Art Spiegleman whose graphic novel, Maus became a classic of the genre. An interesting recent cross-cultural development in comics has been the Japanese manga comics. Students may be interested to find out more about this Japanese version of the comic book.

More recently picture books for children have become enormously popular. In these books images and words work together to tell the story. Sometimes there are no words at all and the story is told entirely by the illustrations alone. There are also picture books for adults and indeed today many of the great classics of the English canon have been translated into picture book format.

The illustrated non-fiction history book (of which Reg Saunders: An Indigenous War Hero is an example) shares many of the features of these other illustrated forms. However, the most important element of an illustrated book is the print text contained in the text boxes usually located at the bottom of each panel. Readers can understand the story of Reg Saunders without the accompanying illustrations. However, the illustrations enhance the story and give it a more cinematic appeal.

Picture books and illustrated books have been criticised for ‘dumbing down’ readers, especially school students. However, there is a case to be made that they provide a way into print texts for reluctant readers and those with poor literacy skills who might not otherwise read anything at all. These books are valuable ways of promoting literacy across a range of students from advanced readers to reluctant readers (especially boys) to those with language acquisition problems such as special-needs students and English language learners. For these latter groups the illustrations can provide contextual clues to the meaning of the written text and for autistic students they can provide clues to emotional context. These books attract and motivate all children to read and can even promote critical reading skills. The prejudice that picture books and illustrated books ‘dumb down’ students’ reading is completely misplaced: the best of these books today are as linguistically and culturally subtle and complex as any traditional book. They should be on the shelves of every school library in Australia.

Other texts using similar approaches or dealing with similar ideas

  • Ever since the feats of the great warrior Beowulf, who defeated the monster Grendel and Grendel’s mother, were recorded and celebrated in the Old English poem named after the protagonist of the story, cultures down through the centuries have honoured their military heroes. Today in Australia the achievements of our great soldiers, men like ‘Weary’ Dunlop and General Peter Cosgrove, are easily accessible to a reading public through their biographies. Of course, the Australian War Memorial has as one of its primary functions the recording of the names and exploits of all those who fought in Australia’s various wars. The story of Reg Saunders is part of this tradition.
  • The comic strip format has proved to be a popular medium through which to tell the story of various military campaigns. The story of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 in which the Allies led by Great Britain attacked the Turkish forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey has been a rich source of material for comic book covers and comic strips which are essentially a forerunner of the illustrated book. Students should be encouraged to search the Internet for examples of such comic book versions of the Gallipoli campaign using search terminology such as: ‘War comics based on the Gallipoli campaign.’

(ACELA1528)   (ACELT1619)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELY1765)   (ACELY1724)   (EN4-2A)   (EN4-8D)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-5C)   (EN4-6C)


Evaluation of the text

Representative of Australian culture

The writer of this book, Adrian Threlfall, is also the author of an adult non-fiction history of the Gallipoli campaign during the First World War. This campaign is very important to the birth of the ANZAC tradition and is considered to have given the young nation of Australia its ‘baptism by fire’. Dolan has a military background himself as readers learn from his profile at the front of Reg Saunders: An Indigenous War Hero. He obviously subscribes to the idea that the Australian army is a very important Australian institution.

Through the story of Reg Saunders, he brings together two important themes in Australia’s national life. One is the proud history of Australia’s defence forces and the other is the appalling treatment of the country’s Indigenous people. There are opinion makers in Australia even today who still deny the atrocities committed against Indigenous people in the colonial period and beyond up to the present day; Prime Minister John Howard once described historians like Professor Henry Reynolds, who wrote about such events, as having a ‘black armband’ view of history.

Students can do their own reading about Indigenous history, both pre- and post-1788, on an appropriate website. They can also read about such topics as:

  • the 1967 referendum,
  • the Mabo decision in 1992,
  • the Stolen Generation and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Sorry speech,
  • Closing the Gap,
  • and the Recognise campaign.

Spend some time talking about the Recognise campaign. This is a contemporary campaign with which our politicians are currently grappling. Students should be given some class time to engage in discussion about this campaign.

Adrian Threlfall has acknowledged the injustices done to Reg Saunders and his family. Readers will be astounded to learn that he was not allocated one of the soldier-settlement farm blocks that were being carved out of traditional Gunditjmara land and that his wife and children had to live in slum housing in Melbourne.

However, the main focus of the book is to celebrate the achievements of an exceptional individual and the role that the Australian army played in enabling those achievements. A major focus in the book is linking Reg Saunders and his comrades to the concept of ‘mateship’. This word essentially means ‘friendship among men’ but within the army it has a deeper meaning, referring to a relationship of total trust and belief that one soldier must have for his comrades in the heat of battle. Interestingly, a controversy blew up in March, 2017, when the word ‘Mateship’ was replaced with the word ‘Friendship’ on a sign along the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. Australian veterans insisted that the sign be changed.
(ACELT1619)   (ACELT1803)   (ACELT1622)   (EN4-8D)   (EN4-5C)   (EN4-1A)


Synthesising task


The action in a graphic novel moves quickly across gutters from panel to panel. The reader/viewer must fill in anything in the story that is not dealt with in the panels in order to make sense of the text.

Your task

Choose a scene from the book Reg Saunders: An Indigenous War Hero. Intervene in that scene by speculating about what might have happened in the gap between panels in the book.

For example, on page 43 in the bottom left-hand panel, viewers see Reg Saunders standing at attention in front of the three members of a selection panel. Intervene in the text at this point by creating three or four new panels to illustrate what happened at this interview.

Create images for the new panels, add text in the text boxes below the panels and show the thoughts and speech of the depicted characters in balloons.

(If you are not confident about your artistic skills just use stick figures and add instructions to the illustrator to explain how you want the scene to look).
(ACELA1529)   (ACELA1764)   (ACELT1622)   (ACELY1724)   (EN4-8D)   (EN4-4B)

Synthesising task

Persuasive speech


Recognise teams have been going around Australia for some time now alerting all Australians to a campaign to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders explicitly included in the constitution of Australia. (At the moment the existence of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders is not recognised in the constitution, which is the nation’s rule book.) Once a suitable wording has been agreed on, a referendum will be held so that all Australians can vote on this proposal.

You have been doing some research on aspects of Indigenous history, identity and human rights and your teacher has also been leading class discussion on these issues.

Your task

You have been asked by the Recognise committee to take part in a campaign advertising launch to educate the broad Australian community about the issues involved in a change in the constitution to recognise the prior and continuing occupation of the land by Indigenous people.

Prepare and present in a three-minute talk to the organising committee:

  • Your ideas for an advertising display poster (images and words) emphasising connection to Country. Have another look at the AWM Indigenous exhibition notice (PDF, 108KB).
  • The text for a radio advertisement referring to the past dispossession of Indigenous people. You could refer to earlier research; for example, on the Lake Condah Mission.
  • A short persuasive article outlining the contribution of Indigenous soldiers to Australia’s security.

Some issues that you could include in your presentation are:

  • the denial of citizenship to Indigenous people until the 1967 referendum,
  • the way in which Indigenous people have been dispossessed of their land,
  • the destruction of their way of life,
  • their present disadvantages,
  • the need for Indigenous Australians to be recognised as full members of the nation
  • the contribution of Indigenous soldiers in Australia’s wars.

The aim of your advertising campaign is to educate the community and to to convince them to vote ‘Yes’ in the up-coming referendum. You don’t need to be an expert on the constitution but you have gained some useful knowledge about this issue from your background reading.
(ACELA1531)   (ACELA1536)   (ACELY1804)   (ACELY1720)   (ACELY1725)   (EN4-1A)   (EN4-3B)   (EN4-4B)


Rich assessment task 1: Responding


On the first page of Reg Saunders: An Indigenous War Hero readers are told that Reg Saunders came from a long line of Aboriginal warriors. Presumably this ‘long line’ stretched back into the colonial period before 1901. However, there is no information in the book about these warriors and their fight against, firstly, the British, and later, the white settlers who occupied their lands.

Students should research some of the Indigenous warriors who resisted the encroachment of the whites. Some famous names include: Pemulwuy, Windradyne, Yagan, Jandamarra, and the Tasmanians, Mannalargenna and Tongerlongerter, but students will learn about others in the course of their research.

In New Zealand and North America Indigenous warriors are officially acknowledged as having fought for their land against the newcomers. However, in Australia the directors of the Australian War Memorial refuse to acknowledge the Indigenous fighters who took part in the Frontier Wars, 1788–1928.

Your task

Write a letter to the executive director of the Australian War Memorial to argue a case that Indigenous warriors who fought in the Frontier Wars against the British and the white settlers should be honoured at the Memorial in the same way that Australian soldiers who fought in overseas wars are.

Choose two of the warriors you have researched, give some information about them, explain why they fought and why you think that they should be honoured at the Australian War Memorial.

There are some helpful guides online to writing an argument but the following structure for writing a letter to argue a case will help to scaffold your writing:

  • An opening comment (‘It’s about time that the Australian War Memorial acknowledged the Indigenous heroes of the Frontier Wars in Australia’)
  • A thesis (Stating your case)
  • Argument 1: Your first point and supporting information
  • Argument 2: Your second point and supporting information
  • Argument 3: Your third point and supporting information
  • Re-state your thesis

Length: 300–500 words.
(ACELA1532)   (ACELA1534)   (ACELA1536)   (ACELY1725)   (ACELY1726)   (EN4-4B)   (EN4-2A)   (EN4-3B)


Rich assessment task 2: Creating


The story of the landing at Gallipoli in April, 1915 has achieved mythic status in Australia. A military failure has been framed as the moment when the infant nation of Australia was forged in the heat of battle. It has been immortalised in many texts including the 1981 film Gallipoli starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee. You may be interested to see how Ruth Starke and Greg Holfeld have told the story in An Anzac Tale, an illustrated book featuring iconic Australian creatures (an emu, a koala bear, a wombat and Roy and Wally the kangaroos) as characters.

Your task

Read a short passage from a book or website about either the Gallipoli (First World War) or the campaigns in Papua New Guinea (Second World War.) Then, using the information from this passage write a script (about 1 to 1.5 pages long) as the basis for a sequence of panels for an illustrated book about 4–5 pages long.

Create this section of the book, using images, print text (in text boxes) and text in speech balloons. Include in the story of your illustrated book, two soldiers who are ‘mates’, one white and the other an Indigenous soldier.

(If you are not confident about your artistic skills just use stick figures and add instructions to the illustrator to explain how you want the images to look).

There are sites like Gene Yang’s which can help you with creating a graphic novel.
(ACELA1764)   (ACELT1621)   (ACELT1622)   (ACELY1725)   (EN4-4B)   (EN4-1A)