Introductory activities

Class activity: local frontier narratives

Before students begin reading the novel, teachers can engage students’ prior knowledge by leading a discussion about the way stories have been told in Australia about the frontier or first contact. Ask students about the stories of first contact in their local area or provide them with some of these accounts. As a class, brainstorm the common elements of these frontier narratives and consider whether there is a common narrative or formal representation that has been established in Australian history. Part of this discussion should be about the language or discourse used in the telling of these narratives. The words ‘frontier’ and ‘contact’ are particularly important to this discussion.

Class genre study: comparing representations of history

As a class, view and compare some of the more recent television representations of Australian history, for example, Banished or The Secret River versus First Australians or First Contact. Consider the differences between the way history is represented in these different productions and the way it affects the audience. This would be helpful preparation for the class debate later in this resource.

For a more genre focused study of this novel it would be helpful to also explore the historical novel’s recent history in Australian literature. Looking at some of the debates surrounding Kate Grenville’s The Secret River would provide interesting contextual information about the reception of archival work and the ownership of ancestoral stories in telling an Australian history. It could also be helpful to look at the publishing history of historical fiction in the post-bicentenial and post-Mabo moment.

Individual investigation: the historical novel

The historical novel is an extremely popular form with both contemporary writers and readers. Students should write a summary of their experience of this form and what they feel to be its appeal.

Author’s note: locating the narrative

Kim Scott’s note at the end of the novel clearly locates the narrative in a specific historical and geographical context. Spend some time understanding the location of King George Sound and the southern coast of Western Australia, as well as some of the historical sources that this representation of the ‘friendly frontier’ draws upon and a brief history of the whaling traditions in this region.

Class wiki/blog: Noongar culture 

Create an online space that all students have access to. One area of this space should be dedicated to developing a degree of understanding about the Noongar people – their history, cultural traditions (lore, beliefs, social structures), connections to place, their stories and language. Allocate students to be the moderators of each of these categories and allow research time to create the repository of information. Teachers might wish to have students present this information to the class as an oral task, but it could also be used as a class resource. Some helpful information can be located through the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council.
(ACELR053)   (ACELR054)   (ACELR055)   (ACELR056)


Personal response on reading the text

Individual task: the indigenous voice

The construction of voice in this novel is important to the telling of the story. As they read the novel, students should make notes about their response to the voice. The story is told from the perspective of Bobby and other indigenous characters, but the point of view employed is third person. There are moments of great closeness between the narrator and Bobby and moments where there is a greater distance. This is quite unusual in Australian literature where the indigenous voice is often silent or in some way removed from the centre of the novel. At the end of reading, students should write a summary of the importance of the voice used in the novel and use one particular instance from the novel as an example of their observations.

Creative visual task: place

As the novel unfolds we learn more details about the locations and the environment where the story takes place, but we find the descriptions are often so closely embedded within this place that it can be hard to establish a clear image. From European traditions we are trained to understand landscape in terms of wide, establishing views and sweeping panoramas of a location. This is not the case in Scott’s writing; the descriptions of place are close to the land itself, a ground or water level experience. Students should create a collage of images or a Pinterest page where they collect a range of images in line with the descriptions of place in the novel: specific plants and animals of this location, precise locations, types of rock and subterranean structures. This more detailed but almost fragmented visual construction will help students to adjust to the different experience of description of setting and place, but also appreciate the closeness of connection to place.

Group discussion: expectations of genre and Australian history

That Deadman Dance plays with a disruption to our expectations of frontier narratives and most versions of Australia’s colonial history. Asking students to discuss their expectations about this form of narrative before, during and after reading the novel will provide interesting and helpful points for their study. Students should outline their expectations about plot, characterisation and setting in the table below and at the completion of reading, hold a class discussion where each student reflects on the way their expectations influenced their reading and reaction to the text at particular points of the novel.

Expectations about Plot Characterisation Setting
Before reading
Before Part I
Before Part II
Before Part III
Before Part IV
Reflections on the impact of our expectations

(ACELR053)   (ACELR054)   (ACELR055)   (ACELR056)   (ACELR059)   (ACELR060)


Outline of key elements of the text


That Deadman Dance is a story of prehistory, historical flashpoints and future, but it does not adhere to a traditional narrative trajectory or chronology to tell the story. It is a story told through recollection, a ‘yarn’ of experience and a tale embedded in a place and its people. This is not a reading experience that students might be familiar with so working firstly to make sense of this story telling will be critical to their response to the text – a timeline activity for this is listed in the next task.

Individual and group task: shifting narratives

Bobby’s story, and the story of the settlement, are not told in a linear or chronological narrative. Instead the story shifts between time periods, between different moments of the past, so that locating a ‘present’ is often difficult for the reader. Students should try to establish a timeline of the narrative as they read. This could be initially based around the timeframe indicated by the sections of the novel (1826–1844), but students may also choose to locate certain moments outside of this period. Once reading is complete, and each student has their timeline in place, students might display their timelines for the class to consider and then form groups of four. In this group they should ask each other questions regarding their views of time allocation and discuss the effect of this narrative structure.

Class activity: prologue

Consider the origins and the important function of a prologue in the process of storytelling. Compare other texts that students might have read or seen that have a prologue. Some common examples might be Romeo and Juliet, Lord of the Rings (each of the film adaptations has a separate prologue also), Star Wars, The Canterbury Tales. (A selection of these could be read or film versions shown.)

Ask each student to write their definitions of what a prologue is and what is its function.

One definition to share after this might be:

The primary function of a prologue is to let the readers/audience be aware of the earlier part of the story and enable them to relate it to the main story. This literary device is also a means to present characters and establish their roles.

Reading or re-reading the “Prologue” to That Deadman Dance, students should locate the common elements of the form and establish a purpose/s for its inclusion.


Character Diagram

This is a story of an emerging community and there are many characters who weave in and out of the narrative. Students should create a symbolic diagram/map of the colony and, using the list of characters below, place them in particular camps (literally – Indigenous, Whaler, Settler, Sealer, Barracks, etc.), or move between these camps, or to another space (a spiritual presence or away from the settlement). This would be a useful resource for students to create and refer to throughout their study. Important characters to include are:

Bobby               Menak                         Manit               Wunyeran

Wooral              Binyan                         Dr Cross         Geordie ‘Kongk’ Chaine

Mrs Chaine       Christine                     Christopher      Killam

Skelly                Governor Spender      Mrs Spender   Hugh

Jak Tar             Jeffrey                         James

Students could use their smartphone or another digital tool to record the changes to the diagram/map as the narrative develops, or record the movements/routes of particular characters around this coastal site.


Class wiki/online space

Unlike many Australian novels and plays that operate as narratives of nation, the treatment of themes in That Deadman Dance is extremely subtle. However, they are also extremely powerful. Some of these themes are: Exchange (commercial, cultural and personal); Relationships; Language; Connection; Communication; Cultural processes; Spirituality; Loss; and Community.

Students may need assistance in locating themes and considering the novel’s presentation of and perspective on these ideas. For this reason, providing students with an online space that identifies themes within the novel could be useful, and rather than requiring students to identify them, they can instead record their encounters with these themes and how they understand the novel to be treating them.

Teachers should create a wiki or online document using individual themes as headings (e.g. Exchange, Relationships, Language, Connection, Communication, Cultural Processes, Spirituality, Loss, Community) and students can add to the collection of ideas under each theme. Organising students contributions into categories such as related characters, critical scenes, significant quotes and important symbols/motifs might also assist.


Synthesising task

Individual task: close reading

Teachers should select one of the passages below for this task.

  • ‘Returning on a Rope’ pp. 9–11
  • from ‘Chaine’ pp. 17–19 (passage beginning, “The sun dropped below…” to “…holding him in its gaze.”)

Students should present a response or reading of one of the passages. The instruction to students might simply be to respond to the passage, or it might be in the form of a prompt or question such as:

  • Explain the significance of place in the following passage.
  • How does the passage construct ideas about people?
  • Describe the effect of point of view in the following passage.
  • How is the reader positioned by the text?

(ACELR058)   (ACELR059)   (ACELR060)   (ACELR061)

Individual task: oral response

In the style of a press interview, students should respond to the following question. The response should be no longer than 30 seconds in length and be submitted as a voice recording. This is an opportunity for students to practise their selection of supporting evidence as well as their refinement of ideas.


Kim Scott’s novel That Deadman Dance presents a different story of the Australian frontier narrative than we often read. The representation of Bobby’s world in the ‘Prologue’ of the novel depicts an intimacy between Wirlomin locals and white settlers. This intimacy is demonstrated through language and connected stories. While the closing of the novel shows an altered relationship, what is your response to this initial intimacy?
(ACELR057)   (ACELR065)

The writer’s craft

Scott’s writing style is considered distinctive. That Deadman Dance gained much attention and praise as an Australian novel at the time of its publication, including winning the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Both Scott’s reputation and the response to the novel can mainly be attributed to the poetic style of the writing and the way that traditional and Indigenous constructions of form are blended for particular effect.


Order and placement of events

As described earlier in this resource, the structure of That Deadman Dance is not linear. Its order is disrupted, as is our reading of the story. Ask students to cite other examples of this narrative structure from their own reading and viewing and consider the effect that the choice often has on the audience.

Writing exercise

Students should experiment with this device by creating a small autobiographical passage. It might be a moment of reflection where the narrator goes back to explain the story so that the location and further action will make sense or have significance. It might be a moment of revelation that has only been achieved by piecing together information from the past. This passage should be no more than two pages. After this experimentation, consider the order of Scott’s story and as a class discuss the effect and possible reasons for this disruption.

Class investigation: time and Indigenous storytelling

Go to the Wirlomen story site and listen to the various stories that appear online. Consider the way time is treated in this cultural form; it is not necessarily linear or seen as significant to meaning or didactic messages. As a class discuss how this might play a part in the storytelling style of That Deadman Dance.

Approach to characterisation

As has also been explained earlier in this resource, the personal history of Bobby frames the entire narrative. It is his story and the way it is intertwined with the new settlement that create this larger story of contact. Aside from his individual experiences, it is his interaction with other characters that enables Scott to embed the reader within this story. It is not just what the groups represent that enlightens the reader about history, it is how they are portrayed.

Student activity

Choosing their favourite character from the novel, students should select four scenes in which something is revealed about them and locate them in their copies of the novel. Looking at how the language brings the character to life, students should note the different ways that similes, metaphors and descriptive language are used. It is the construction of each figure and how this positions us to respond to the character that needs to be noted.

Here are four significant quotes about Bobby.


‘Such a closed-in life made Bobby ill, and for a long time he saw the trees and sky only through the frame of a window or doorway…The paper of his lessons was old skin beneath his fingers.’ (p. 26)

‘Bobby looked into future graves, and into some people’s hearts and minds, went into the hollows within them, into the very sounds they made. All his friends and their goodness kept him alive. And he never learned fear, because he was not just one self. He was bigger than that, he was all of them.’ (pp. 127-8)

‘The smell of earth in the ochre and oil, his increasing sense of the fine and delicate paths of blood and nerves and the many fine sinews connecting him to this place, this perpetual moment.’ (p. 334)

‘We will sign a paper with them about how we might live. There will be no more gaol. We show our talent and good grace, and Wooral and them no longer need use fire and spears and fight them and their guns.’ (p. 390)
(ACELR058)   (ACELR059)   (ACELR060)

Use of parallels and contrasts

Group activity – relationships and character pairs

Relationships and community are critical themes in That Deadman Dance and this is largely communicated through character pairs in the novel. Below are five different pairings that are crucial to our understanding of power, culture, exchange and language.

Divide the class into five groups, one for each character pairing. Ask them to locate the most powerful scene involving this pairing and explain what the pairing enables us to understand through the similarities or differences represented.

  • Cross and Wunyeran
  • Menak and Manit
  • Bobby and Chaine
  • Jeffrey and James
  • Christopher and Christine
  • (Other pairs can be added)

Narrative point of view 

Class activity

We know that this story is told through a third person narrator that is ambiguous, omniscient and shifting, but mostly the narrator rests close to Bobby.

Guide the class through a discussion of the significance of this fluid use of point of view in the following passages.

“We thought making friends was the best thing, and never knew that when we took your flour and sugar and tea and blankets that we’d lose everything of ours. We learned your words and songs and stories, and never knew you didn’t want to hear ours.” (p. 106)

“Wooral was in the pilot boat now, heading for where the ship rested, its wings folded and tied. But it is a ship, not a bird, Menak, reminded himself again.” (p. 14)

“Bobby sang, and it happened just as in the song: the boats left the shore and home receded, but the singer was on the boat, not on the shore like in the old songs, not on a hill and watching others leave, not scanning the seascape for a first or last sight of whale spout or tilting sail. Singing, Bobby thought of the marks he’d made when he was on lookout: his pen on paper, his chalk on slate, his roze a wail and the like, but there was no getting those marks into song, though sometimes he wrote letters in the sand, to show whaling men he knew their schooling and way of being civilised, too.” (p. 317)

In addition, consider writing from different narratorial positions. How would this text affect us if it was written from:

  •  Bobby’s first person position,
  •  Chaine’s first person position,
  •  Cross’ first person position,
  •  a more distant third person position?

(ACELR066)   (ACELR068)

Language and style 

One of the distinctive elements of Scott’s work is his choice of language. His stories are often described as ‘yarning’ and the language used in this novel connects his work in a culture and place – that of the Wirlomen people.

Class activity

The first word of this novel is significant – “Kaya”. Discuss the power of this word in relation to Australian history and linguistic traditions, then read the following passage.

‘Nitja wadjela. Your friends? the old woman said, no longer so friendly and playful. Tjanak! Devils! Smile to your face but turn around and he is your enemy. These people chase us from our own country. They kill our animals and if we eat one of their sheep . . . they shoot us. Baalap ngalak waadam! The very smell of them kills us.’ (p. 24)

Students should consider how the use of both English and Wirlomen language affects the reader and how the reader is positioned to respond to such language use.

Locate other passages to analyse in this same way, finishing with the passage pp. 390–393. The quote reproduced below is significant to target within that passage. 

“In moments, Bobby wore little more than a thin belt made of human hair, with blonde strands woven through it. A mysterious, well-dressed human form hovered on its toes in the corner of the room like a ghost, a silent witness, a hanging man; like all those things at once.

Bobby was singing softly …

Bobby knew his audience felt the animal fur and feathers brush their skin, so softly, knew they breathed the scent of sandalwood smoke wisping across them … “ (p. 393).
(ACELR059)   (ACELR060)


Group activity

There are relatively few specific settings in the entire novel of That Deadman Dance. Where there are buildings, huts or ships, it is often their placement within the natural world that is most significant and this helps us to understand the significance of the locations to the characters of the novel and to ideas of culture, spirit of place and belonging. Allocate groups within the class to locate and read around the following quotes. Consider the construction, significance and effect of the following passages. Share each group’s reading with the class and summarise the novel’s construction of setting through a discussion.

‘Because you need to be inside the sound and the spirit of it, to live here properly. And how can that be, without we people who have been here for all time?’ (p. 394)

‘All day they worked to escape the confinement of scraggly, twisted, pressing scrub. It was as if a great many limbs restrained them, disinterestedly; as if thousands of fingers plucked at their hair and clothing. Tree roots tripped them.’ (p. 49)

‘The trees were women leaning to the water to wash their hair, and when the children stood under their limbs they were among loved ones.’ (p. 204)

‘The tightly bound mallee all around him was like waves of the ocean. Clouds in waves, too, and the moon a ship, itself plummeting.’ (p. 226)

Governor Spender and his wife Ellen think: ‘You might drown in forest, sink and never be seen.’ (p. 174)

‘Beneath his feet the bow tossed foam and water like scattered applause, and the swollen sails were all pride and power.’ (p. 19)

Bobby’s awareness of the white man’s power is poetically described here, as it is later: ‘Chaine, rising up and down on his toes like a buoy bobbing on the ocean swell, watched them.’ (p. 197)

‘The only thing worse than sailors in a ship was whalers in a ship; maggots in a floating abattoir.’ (p. 303)

Littoral zone

The depiction of the littoral is critical to the setting in this novel. See the notes about the littoral in the next section, “Significance”.

Symbolism and motif

Student activity

Complete the table connecting important symbols or motifs with the characters and ideas of the novel.

Symbol or motif  Explanation of meaning  Connected characters  Important references  Connections to theme/ideas 
Whale jaws


Synthesising activity

As a timed, in-class activity students will be given a copy of the chapter ‘People’s attention scatters like sheep do too’ (pp. 252–255). After reading the passage and annotating the use of narrative devices, students should respond to the following statement with close reference to the passage: explain how the use of narrative devices positions the reader to understand ideas about culture in the passage.
(ACELR058)   (ACELR060)   (ACELR062)

Ways of reading the text

Contextual reading: post-colonial spaces

Both Scott’s context of production and our own reading contexts are post-colonial spaces and this should be an important consideration for a classroom study. Placing Scott’s work against other writers from different spaces shows the impact of this space on the novel. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness both occupy very different spaces in relation to post-colonial thought. Reading Scott’s work in comparison to either work would make a rigourous and enlightening program.

Genius loci

Reading Scott’s novel within the concept of genius loci is a valid literary position. Providing students with an understanding of this concept, and its importance within particular literary traditions is crucial. While Scott draws heavily on the Indigenous story telling traditions of old stories and yarning, his writing is also infused with European traditions and theoretical understandings.

Some helpful starting points for students are the two quotes below;

‘Definition of GENIUS LOCI

1:   the pervading spirit of a place

2:   a tutelary deity of a place’

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

‘… you begin to realize that the important determinant of any culture is after all the spirit of place.’

Durrell, Lawrence. (1969) Spirit of Place (London, Faber), p. 169.


Scott’s novel has received some criticism for its representation, or lack of representation, of women in the narrative. There are many reasons why there are few female characters, and even more reasons for a lack of interaction between Bobby, whom we follow, and many of the female figures in the colony.

Consider the presence in the novel of each character listed below and, as a class, discuss whether the criticism of Scott’s work is valid.

  • Mrs Chaine
  • Christine
  • Binyan
  • Manit
  • Mrs Spender

Another aspect of gender that could be explored through the figure of Bobby is the concept of masculinity. As the narrative spans the lifetime of Bobby, his journey to ‘manhood’ is also represented as a highly constructed process that negotiates indigenous and western cultural expectations.

Regional writing

Scott’s novel is a novel of a specific regional location. This location is defined by indigenous borders and connections to place, as well as the historical narrative that played out in this location. Other works by Kim Scott are also closely connected to this region, as is the writing of other Western Australian writers such as Tim Winton, Dorothy Hewitt, Jon Doust, Lucy Dougan and Amanda Curtin.

As a class compare the ideas, style and representation of place in the “Prologue” from That Deadman Dance and Dorothy Hewett’s poem “The First House” from her collection, Wheatlands.

Australian literary scholar Philip Mead’s chapters “Nation, literature, location” in The Cambridge History of Australian Literature (ed. Peter Pierce, Port Melbourne: Cambridge, 2009) and “Connectivity, Community and the Question of Universality: reading Kim Scott’s chronotype and John Kinsella’s Commedia” in Republic of Letters: Literary Communities in Australia (eds. Kirkpatrick, P and Dixon, R., Australia: University of Sydney Press, 2012) are both useful reading for teachers on this topic.

World Literature

Reading from a World Literature perspective, or a postnational space, can be a liberating experience for students who have always read Australian literature within a national paradigm. Aside from its comments that are specific to an Australian story of settlement, That Deadman Dance connects with ideas that are global, both in terms of literary traditions and universal themes and ideas. There are a number of ways to do this, but here are some that could be accessible for secondary students.

World canonicals – That Deadman Dance and Moby Dick

Scott’s novel draws much from Melville’s literary classic. Aside from the prevalence of whales in both novels there are also connections between characters, natural imagery and geographic locations. Reading the novels together or taking passages from Moby Dick could be an extension activity for students. Comparisons with the biblical story of Jonah could also function in this way.

Cosmopolitan site or figure

The regional location of Albany can be read as a cosmopolitan site with the connections between Noongar culture, the Yankee whalers and sealers, French explorers and whalers, Chinese seamen and settlers and the imperial British marines and settlers. The depiction of the interactions between cultures (mainly based on archival information) is largely that of a harmonious relationship. Look closely at the scene where United States sailors attempt to overthrow the British governor as an exception to this, as well as the closing ‘dance’ by Bobby. In relation to the cosmopolitan elements of this novel, Bobby can be read as a cosmopolitan figure. This characterisation is not in keeping with the traditional depiction of Indigenous figures in literature. Bobby looks out to sea, he travels (as do other Indigenous figures), learns languages easily and converses with the many cultural groups who arrive on the south coast and acts as a mediator between various groups and individuals. While there are moments where he appears naïve, he is generally aware of the politics of trade and exchange and acts throughout as an intermediary for all forms of negotiation. Allocate scenes throughout the novel for students to consider this non-archetypal construction.

Littoral connections

The littoral zone is the area of the coastline bound by low and high tide. This zone is literally an area of exchange, where a geographic location becomes connected to other parts of the world through the sea. In That Deadman Dance this littoral zone is a critical location and has an extremely symbolic, liminal significance to the themes of the novel. Other writers from this region also consider issues within the littoral zone, most notably Tim Winton, and reading passages of his work, The Land’s Edge, would be helpful in understanding the significance of the motif to Scott’s novel. Other writers throughout the world also explore the littoral: Melville, Hemingway, Richard Flanagan, Defoe, Proulx or Derek Walcott.


Comparison with other texts

Versions of the text in other modes, media and contexts

Mamang (picture book)

Created as a community language reclamation project, Mamang (Whale) is a traditional story, or an ‘old story retold’ that belongs to the Wirlomin people. The story is immediately recognisable to those who have read That Deadman Dance as the ancestral story of the whale and the young Noongar man, which reappears throughout the novel and is closely connected to Bobby and Menak’s experiences. Visit the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project website to explore the close connections between these texts, and to hear the story read in its original language. This is extremely helpful for students to understand the language used in Scott’s novel and the themes of cultural exchange and language.

Aspects of genre

Historical fiction and Remembering Babylon

The genre of the historical novel has dominated Australian fiction in the post-bicentenial and post-Mabo period. Novels, often based on archival research or historical accounts, function as commentaries about Australia’s past and the way that that past continues to be part of the present and the future. That Deadman Dance is considered by some to be a continuation of this genre’s development, others consider it a disruption to the genre. Compare the first appearance of Indigene Bobby in “The Prologue” to the first appearance of non-Indigene Gemmy in David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon with his critical first line of dialogue in the opening pages, “Do not shoot, I am a B-b-british object!”

Other texts using similar approaches or dealing with similar ideas

Last of the Mohicans (novel)

This novel is referred to twice in That Deadman Dance and its exploration of a different colonial experience makes an interesting comparison. Students should be aware of this novel and the significance of the references to it, particularly it’s circulation within the King George Settlement, even if they don’t read or study the novel.

Benang by Kim Scott (novel)

Scott’s other novel is a complex exploration of later stages of settlement and the resulting lives of Indigenous Australians. Its discussion of eugenics and the family histories of people during a particular period of Australian history can be read as a continuation of Bobby’s story. Aside from thematic connections, reading Benang alongside That Deadman Dance provides an extension to the study of Scott’s writing style. Benang is too complex a text for most Year 12 classes but reading some selected passages as comparative examples would be an interesting task.

Jandamarra by Steve Hawke (stage drama)

A project that emerged from the Bunuba people, this play explores the historical story of Jandamarra and the Bunuba resistance. Not only is Jandamarra an interesting historical figure for students to explore (and there a number of ways that his story has been told: documentary, picture book, etc.) but he is also an interesting counterpoint to the character of Bobby in That Deadman Dance. This play is a community project that places language at the centre of the writing process. Visit the Jandamarra website to see the interesting study that could be created by studying Jandamarra and That Deadman Dance together. A comparative focus on language, community, culture, form and historical narratives could be easily created.

Translations by Brian Friel (stage drama)

This text is an example of a postcolonial play from Ireland. Although written in a slightly earlier postcolonial context and time to That Deadman Dance, considering this play would assist students to understand the transnational connections between those disenfranchised by British colonialism, and how the stage production context can influence the ideas and views represented within a text. Like Scott, Friel focuses in the importance of language to cultural heritage and identity.

Seamus Heaney’s “Act of Union”, “Digging” and “Relic” (poetry)

A small selection of Heaney’s most well-known poems, these three provide a focused comparision with the Irish experience under British colonial rule, as well as the cultural significance of time, language and land.

No Sugar (stage drama)

Fellow Western Australian and Noongar man, Jack Davis, is a helpful figure to study alongside Kim Scott. Not only are there comparative possibilities in terms of region, Davis’ conceptualisation of British, white Australian and Indigenous relationships also explores the importance of language as a signifier of culture and power. See also the Reading Australia teaching resource on the work.

To the Islands by Randolph Stow (novel)

Stow is an acclaimed novelist and poet whose Western Australian writings can provide helpful comparisons through representations of historical events within fictional texts. This particular novel of Stow’s also represents the Oombulgurri Massacre and the policies of assimilation and missionary institutions, a later story in the settlement process from Scott’s. Stow’s representation of Western Australian landscape would also provide many opportunities in a regional study and his written style would make a strong comparison to Scott’s. This comparative study could also focus on the literary prize culture, with both novels being Miles Franklin Literary Award prizewinners.

The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (picture book)

This is a powerful allegory which assists the teaching of postcolonial perspectives. Explore allegory as an important literary device and have students attempt their own allegorical telling of a situation as an experiment of how carefully crafted the device must be. It also makes an interesting comparison to Scott’s almost visual and extremely symbolic construction of the deadman dance, and the implied meanings that it carries.


Rich assessment tasks (Receptive)

1. Response: in-class essay

“He has a language for the real story inside him, but it is as if a strong wind whips those words away as soon as they leave his mouth. People say he twists words, but really it is the wind twisting and taking his words away to who knows who will hear them.” (p. 165)

Respond to this quote in the form of an essay.

On completing the study of this novel, students should write an essay in timed conditions that explores some of the main themes of this novel, such as language, culture and power. Provide the students with the quote above one day before the assessment. They may bring 100 words of notes and this quote when writing the essay. Notes may be summary points or quotes, and allow students a reasonable time in which to complete the essay (45 minute to 1 hour). In this time students should be able to write approximately 600–1000 words.
(ACELR062)  (ACELR063)  (ACELR064)

2. Reading genre: response

Consider these questions.

  1. Are you more attracted to writing that is driven by ideas about social issues or interior states of mind?
  2. Do you look to fiction for knowledge about our social, historical and political realities in the present?
  3. Do you think fiction writing can address moral issues of the past?

Choose one of these questions and record (audio or video) a response that considers how you view reading historical fiction. You might like to refer to some passages from the novel or other texts you have read. This response could be a formal discussion, a personal reflection or simply a series of points or ideas.

Recordings should be submitted for teachers (and possibly other students) to listen to or watch. Evaluation could be based on the clarity of expression, structure of argument points and accuracy of references.
(ACELR063)   (ACELR064)   (ACELR065)

Synthesise core ideas by:

Reconsidering your response

Students should revisit the predictions they made about That Deadman Dance recorded in the table as they initially read the novel. Considering these earlier thoughts students should write an evaluation of the accuracy of the predictions with detailed references to knowledge about genre, context and style. 

Debating: evaluation of the text as representative of Australian culture

Create groups of six students to debate the topic, “Historical fiction can provide an understanding of a nation’s past that history alone cannot.” Three students will argue the affirmative, three students the negative, in accordance with formal debating rules.


Rich assessment tasks (Productive)

1. Create an imaginary text 

The vivid characterisation of Bobby is critical to the impact of this novel. Closely consider the prologue of That Deadman Dance and the way the figure of Bobby is built, starting simply with the word “Kaya” through to a complex cultural and historical figure with an intimate connection to “the spirit of place”, all in five pages.

Experiment with Bobby’s voice and write a series of four paragraphs that might fit within this prologue. It might be a further description of his surrounds, an interaction with Cross or Chaine, or a further connection with the whales. They needn’t be sequential but might fit into the prologue at different points. Writing should be approximately 1000 words in total.
(ACELR066)   (ACELR067)   (ACELR068)   (ACELR069)

2. Response: essay

In publicity for the novel the following statement is used repeatedly.

“It is a story for our times.”

Discuss this statement with reference to That Deadman Dance. You might write specifically about the text or about it as an example of its form, the historical novel.

(Teachers might set this as an in-class task where students write for a specified time or as a take-home task where students write a 1500 word essay.)
(ACELR053)   (ACELR054)   (ACELR062)   (ACELR064)

3. Response: tutorial discussion

In the style of a shared discussion between students and teacher, explore the following quote by Kim Scott taken from the Author’s Note at the end of the novel:

“I wanted to build a story from [Noongar] confidence, their inclusiveness and sense of play, and their readiness to appropriate new cultural forms – language and songs, guns and boats – as soon as they became available. Believing themselves manifestations of a spirit of place impossible to conquer, they appreciated reciprocity and the nuances of cross-cultural exchange.”

Students should be given an opportunity to prepare for this discussion and create notes to aid their participation in the discussion. Teachers should consider how much structure the class requires for this discussion to occur.
(ACELR053)   (ACELR054)   (ACELR062)   (ACELR064)