Introducing the anthology
This anthology, compiled by Libby Hathorn, contains over eighty poems dating from 1885 to the present day representing the diversity of Australia. In order to assist you in selecting poems for your classroom, a table of poems (PDF, 271KB) has been organised, but this is in no way prescriptive. Suggestions are offered about the year level to target and themes and the poetic devices you can explore, but your own context will inform what you do. Not all the poems can be represented in the teaching resource but many of the activities can be adapted for different poems.
1. Pre-reading discussion
- Do you like poetry? What kind of poetry do you like or know?
- What kinds of poems would you expect to find in a collection of ‘Australian Poetry’?
- Can you give some examples of famous Australian poems?
- What sorts of topics or themes do you think will be featured?
2. Exploring context
In this contextual introduction to the resource and to Australian poetry, students will raise their awareness of the people, places and events that inspire poets in Australia. The ultimate aim is to appreciate and write their own poetry; this introduction will start the process, not only of poetry study but of poetry composition, opening their eyes to the possibilities of the world around them. There is a cross-curricular element in the introductory Worksheet 1: Context (PDF, 210KB) with research on place (geography) and events (history), seeing these as an impetus for creative responses. Worksheet 1 is divided up into the following sections:
1.1 Photo map of Australia: Poems are about places
1.2. Collage/Mind map: Poems are about choices
1.3.1 Research timeline: Poems are about events
1.3.2 Research timeline: Poems are written by poets
1.3.3 Biography poster
3. The cover and foreword
As a foreword at the start of the collection, Hathorn leaves the audience a ‘note from Libby Hathorn’ suggesting that the purpose of the text is to, ‘compile a rich collection of Australian poetry’ that contains ‘old favourites’ and contemporary poets. Her aim is to preserve some ‘classics’ of Australian poetry for young people and to bring to life the phases of our history. The poems are chosen as they represent the ‘Australian poetic voice and identity’.
This book is beautifully illustrated by Cassandra Allen, so let students take some time to look at the cover and the early illustrations.
- What age do you think the book is targeting according to the images? Justify your answer.
- What can you see in the illustrations? What features of Australian life can you see?
- Why do you think the landscape and nature are important in Australian writing?
- How important are our native animals and plants to our national identity?
- There are six parts to this anthology dividing the poems into geographical regions controlled by the motif of a river which passes between different geographical regions of Australia:
- All along the river: Beginnings
- All along the river: Mountains forests and plains
- All along the river: My country
- All along the river: Through the city night and day
- All along the river: To the sea
- All along the river: Horizon and beyond
Why do you think Hathorn and Allen have chosen to use ‘the river’ as a motif or metaphor in the collection? Think about the features of rivers and how important water is for life. In particular reflect on how important water is in outback Australia, or in farming, or for swimming in summer.
- Look up ‘What do rivers symbolise in literature?’ or read ‘Symbolism of the river in storytelling’. How does the river fit in with a collection of Australian poems?
- What do you think the leaves under each title symbolise?
4. Quick think
The purpose of this activity is to get students to listen to poems as aural texts, to enjoy the sounds but also to respond quickly. They can later return to the poems for extended and in-depth discussion and compare their first reactions against more considered interpretations later.
Read through the selected poems with students. These have been chosen from the different parts of the collection, representing poems from both classical and contemporary Australian writing, a range of themes and topics, and a diverse group of poets.
Have students fill in the table for each poem:
|Title||Author||Date||What the poem is about||Your feelings as you read the poem||Any questions you have about the poem|
|‘In the Forest’||Thomas Shapcott||between 1956 & 1988|
|from ‘In Time of Drought’||Mary Hannay Foott||(c. 1880s)|
|‘Trouble on the Selection’||Henry Lawson||(c. 1990)|
|‘Uluru’||Eva Johnson||(c. 1950s)|
|from ‘The Law About Singing Out’||Gela Nga-Mirraitja||(unknown)|
|‘My Country’||Dorothea Mackellar||(1908)|
|‘Rainwater Tank’||Les A. Murray||(c. 1970)|
|‘Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest’||Mary Hannay Foott||(1881)|
|‘Clancy of the Overflow’||A.B. (Banjo) Paterson||(1889)|
|‘Andy’s Gone with Cattle’||Henry Lawson||(1888)|
|‘Face of the City’||Grace Perry||(c. 1960)|
|‘Profiles of My Father’||Rhyll McMaster||(c. 1990)|
|‘The Rock Pool’||Peter Skryznecki||(1983)|
|‘Dolphins’||Peter McFarlane||(c. 1970)|
Students can also listen to some of the poems being read:
- Dorothea McKellar reads ‘My Country’
- Various readings of ‘Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest’
- Jack Thompson reading ‘Clancy of the Overflow’
- ‘Andy’s gone with Cattle’ song – Rick Griffiths
Making connections discussion:
- Why is it easier to understand the poems when they are read aloud?
- Can you relate to any of the experiences in the poem? If so, which ones?
- Which poem was your favourite? Why? What was it that caught your attention in the poem?
5. Written task – Tell us your story
Present the following task to students:
Write down a personal response or story about how you connected to one of the poems.
Was it a place you had been? An experience you are familiar with? A part of Australian history you enjoy? A feeling or emotion that you understand? Something that caught your imagination?
(ACELT1620) (ACELT1627) (ACELY1719) (EN4-2A) (EN4-5C) (EN4-1A)
Writing a poem
Have students write a poem about their favourite place in Australia. For example: a particular beach, a city mall, a mountain area, their local park, the swimming pool, their bedroom.
They might find it easier to start with people, animals or things they are very familiar with in those places and whose descriptions come easily to mind. Encourage them to be as specific as possible; they can use the names of the place and its features (i.e. the shops that line the street or the types of trees nearby). These will help to develop a strong sense of place. If a photo would help, they could bring this in during the activity. Alternatively, they could visit that place and write the poem whilst there, they may even want to take a ten-minute walk or sit for a few minutes, noting down the sights, sounds, smells, even texture of the environment. What does the ground feel like when they sit there or with it under their toes? Does the place have a unique smell, or even a taste that they associate with it?
Encourage students to focus on developing an authentic portrait of the place using a full range of the senses. They may want to concentrate on one sense (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing), but also encourage them to build the atmosphere of the place by employing a number of the senses. They don’t need to include all and shouldn’t approach the task by just listing what they sense. Instead they may want to take some dot-point notes on those senses before writing the final poem. Have them work on incorporating at least one metaphor in the poem as well.
(ACELT1619) (ACELT1626) (ACELT1806) (ACELT1620) (ACELT1807) (ACELT1632) (EN4-8D) (EN4-2A) (EN4-4B)
The writer’s craft
The anthology represents a vast array of poetic structures, themes, points of view and voices. As such, this sequence aims to embed a developing understanding of the variety through a sequential look at Australian bush ballads of the 1800s, lyric poetry of the 1900s and contemporary free verse poems. Setting, themes and perspectives will be addressed with a consideration of how they have been revised over time. There will be further activities about the significance of specific poems in the next section.
Reminder for students: Note that individual poems should appear with quotation marks (double or single, as long as you are consistent) but a book of poetry such as The ABC Book of Australian Poetry appears in italics if typed and underlined if handwritten. When copying more than one line of poetry the lines should appear on separate lines or they should be separated by a backslash (/).
Know the poetic forms and techniques
In Worksheet 2: Poetic forms and techniques (PDF, 235KB) students can revisit their knowledge of techniques or extend their understanding. Many of the activities in the resource will assume some knowledge of techniques. Students should be made aware that many of these techniques, such as metaphors, are not specific to poetry, but techniques such as enjambment and metre are specifically referring to poetry.
1. Australian bush ballads
This collection includes a variety of structural approaches to poetry spanning three centuries and many literary movements. Many of the early works fall into the category of bush ballads, as Hathorn’s express purpose was to preserve these ‘classics’ for the generations to come.
The ballad is a very old form of poetry, developing out of oral traditions, dating back to the epic poems of ancient Greece about ancient heroes, capturing elements of song. Australian bush ballads build on this past and are characterised by the following prescriptions.
- based on the life, character and scenery of outback Australia or rural life;
- heavily reliant on rhyme scheme and structure and sometimes designed to be sung;
- telling a story, often of adventure and action on topics such as: Australian legends, bush ranging, droving, life on the road, shearing, horsemen, droughts and floods, war, conflicts between the working class and squatters, love, life in the bush and colourful characters;
- written in the Australian vernacular, employing colloquial language, slang and idiomatic Australian expressions;
- often considered an expression of national spirit.
Examples of bush ballads in the anthology include:
- ‘Trouble on the Selection’ by Henry Lawson (circa 1890), p. 52
- ‘Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest’ by Mary Hannay Foott (1881), pp. 94–95
- ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ by A.B. (Banjo) Paterson (1889), pp. 106–107
- ‘Andy’s Gone with Cattle’ by Henry Lawson (1888), pp. 108–109
Students can test the definitions of ballads against the poems in the series. They can add an explanation and an example of the features of the ballad form for each of the poems.
|Poems||‘Trouble on the Selection’||‘Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest’||‘Andy’s Gone with Cattle’|
|About outback Australia
|Rhyme scheme and rhythm
|Telling a story
|Using Australian vernacular
|Captures the Australian spirit|
|Language techniques with examples|
In Worksheet 3 (PDF, 219KB), students will explore bush ballads by undertakinh a close study of ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ by Banjo Paterson.
(ACELA1547) (ACELT1619) (ACELT1626) (ACELT1806) (ACELT1620) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1630) (ACELY1733) (ACELT1625) (ACELT1632) (ACELT1768) (ACELT1805) (ACELY1725) (EN4-1A) (EN4-8D) (EN4-2A) (EN4-6C) (EN4-4B)
2. Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is one of the most common categories of poetry and many in the collection fall within this form. Lyric poetry is thought to have originally been accompanied by music and can be defined as having these features:
- a clear rhyme scheme
- a regular metre or rhythm established on the number of syllables or on stress
- usually clearly defined stanzas with the same structure
- usually set in the first person, expressing the thoughts and feelings of the poet on a particular subject
- usually containing language that is melodious, with techniques like alliteration, assonance, euphony, cacophony and sibilance.
Examples from the selected poems include:
- from ‘In Time of Drought’ by Mary Hannay Foott (circa 1880s), p. 48
- ‘My Country’ by Dorothea Mackellar (1908), pp. 75–77
- ‘Rainwater Tank’ by Les A. Murray (circa 1970), pp. 88–89
Students can test the definitions of lyric poetry against the poems in the series
|Poems||‘In Time of Drought’||‘My Country’||‘Rainwater Tank’|
|Metre or rhythm
|First, second or third person?
|Language techniques with examples|
In Worksheet 4: Lyric poetry (PDF, 210KB), students will engage with lyric poetry further through a close study of ‘In Time of Drought’ (p. 48) and ‘Rainwater Tank’ (pp. 88–89).
3. Understanding free verse poetry
Free verse means exactly what it says: it is poetry without rhyme.
Free verse poetry is often thought of as a modern form of poetry, but its roots go back hundreds of years, even as far back as the Hebraic psalms. One of the great American poets, Walt Whitman, derived much of his rhythms from the King James Version of the Old Testament. (H. T. Kirby-Smith, 1998). By its nature, being free from the constraints of metre and rhyme, it invites experimentation and adaptation. Poets through the Victorian, Modern and Post-modern periods have played with the form and it has become the most popular structure for contemporary poetry. Whilst free verse is often seen as liberating for poets, its proponents like T. S. Eliot remind us, No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job. (quoted in Jackson, 1942)
Free verse can usually be identified as having these features:
- No exact rhyme scheme or metre, although poets may use internal rhyme in their lines (and not at the end of the line) or within the words with poetic techniques like assonance and alliteration;
- Often regarded as prose with poetic lines intentionally constructed by the poet. It may also contain stanzas but these can vary quite considerably in length and structure. Regularity of structure is not as important a feature. The visual appearance of the poem is part of its artistic expression;
- Whilst free verse does not follow a strict rhythm, it usually employs the natural rhythms of speech and is often written with sentences that span a number of poetic lines. Enjambment, as a technique, may be used to carry the sentence across the lines.
Examples from the selected poems include:
- ‘In the Forest’ by Thomas Shapcott (1956–88), p. 35
- ‘Uluru’ by Eva Johnson (circa 1950s), p. 68
- from ‘The Law About Singing Out’ by Gela Nga-Mirraitja (unknown), p. 74
- ‘Face of the City’ by Grace Perry (circa 1960), p. 120
- ‘Profiles of My Father’ by Rhyll McMaster (circa 1990), pp. 124–125
- ‘Peacocks’ by Kate Llewellyn (1990), pp. 138–139
- ‘Diver’ by R.A. Simpson (1972), p. 153
- ‘The Rock Pool’ by Peter Skryznecki (1983), pp. 154–155
- ‘Dolphins’ by Peter McFarlane (circa 1970), pp. 158–159
Students can test the definitions of free verse poetry against the previous lyric poetry in the anthology.
|Poems||‘In Time of Drought’||‘My Country’||‘Rainwater Tank’|
|Language techniques with examples|
In Worksheet 5: Free verse (PDF, 255KB), students will undertake a:
- Close Study ‘The Rock Pool’ by Peter Skrzynecki
- Close Study of ‘Uluru’ by Eva Johnson
- Comparison of ‘The Law About Singing Out’ by Gela Nga-Mirraitja and ‘In the Forest’ by Thomas Shapcott.
1. Creative writing
Write a short poem that uses an extended metaphor to describe a unique place. You might think of a river, the sand dunes, a forest, a garden, your bedroom, the school, the sports field, etc.
(ACELT1623) (ACELT1625) (ACELT1632) (ACELY1725) (EN4-1A) (EN4-6C) (EN4-4B)
2. Analytical response
Using SMILE to organise ideas
Acronyms are a good way to start the teaching of a text but they can also be limiting. The acronym SMILE reminds students of what needs to be covered when studying poetry and is therefore helpful, as long as it is extended as students progress in their study of poetry.
Use SMILE to collect notes and organise paragraphs.
|ACRONYM||Related questions||Bringing it together|
|S||Structure||What type of poem is it? (Ballad, free verse, lyric, other?)
Is this a rhyming poem? How does this affect the sound and rhythm?
How many stanzas and lines per stanza can you find? (Is this regular or irregular?) Is there a reason for this?
Comment on line length: short or long lines and what are the effects?
|You’ll notice in the questions that effect and theme are often necessarily repeated. All aspects of the poem support the development of a theme so when students note different line lengths or repetition, etc. they need to ask why this is happening in a poem about…?
Students have to synthesise information. For example, if a poem has a strong rhythm and repetition and is about trains, the rhythm and repetition could be capturing the sound of the train on the tracks.
Overall effect is equally important, with everything in the poem selected for an effect on the reader.
|M||Meaning||What is the main idea (theme) of the poem? This often comes at the end because poems are about building mood and then finishing with a strong statement or implication.
What is valued?
What is being criticised?
Make sure you look at the title in relation to the poem as often the title acts as an extra line and hints at meaning.
|I||Imagery||Look at visual and aural imagery, how they support the themes and the effect created.|
|L||Language||Look at the word choice, grammar and punctuation (including capitalisation) of the poem to see how language supports the themes and creates an effect.
What register is used (formal, informal colloquial, slang etc.)?
|E||Effect||How does this poem make you feel?
What are the mood and tone and how are these created?
Do specific lines or images stand out for you and why?
Students can select any poem from the collection and apply the SMILE approach to their analyses.
(ACELA1547) (ACELT1620) (ACELT1621) (ACELT1803) (ACELT1623) (ACELT1630) (ACELY1721) (ACELY1733) (EN4-1A) (EN4-2A) (EN4-5C) (EN4-3B)
The dangers of the outback
Other poets followed Lawson in highlighting the harshness of the Australian outback and the tragedy of many that would venture deep into her wilderness. Students have read Mary Hannay Foott’s ‘In Time of Drought’, but her other poem in the collection ‘Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest’ (pp. 94–95) stands as a memorial to some of the unfortunate explorers who never returned. The poem juxtaposes what is said of the bush and the experiences of those who venture too far. It is also based on a true story in a newspaper article in the Brisbane Courier from September 1932 after the death of two explorers: Cornelius and Albert Prout.
Read the poem with students or listen to a reading.
Language focus: Inference
The poem is written in three stanzas or in a tripartite structure. The first stanza outlines the explorers’ preparation, the second, what they were seeking in ‘the West’, and the third, their failure to return. The tone is subtle in this poem and it takes some contextual knowledge of the story and a close look at the lines to understand the tragedy.
Note: The unexplored parts of Australia are sometimes spoken of by the bushmen of Western Queensland as the home of the pelican, a bird whose nesting place, so far as the writer knows, is seldom, if ever found. (Sydney University, 1998)
The final stanza:
The creek at the ford was but fetlock deep
When we watched them crossing there;
The rains have replenished it thrice since then,
And thrice has the rock lain bare.
But the waters of Hope have flowed and fled, ß Note: Tonal Shift
And never from blue hill’s breast
Come back – by the sun and the sands devoured –
Where the pelican builds her nest.
Taking a scaffolded approach
Explain to the students there’s a tonal shift in the fifth line that gives the strongest indication of Hannay Foott’s intention in the poem. Here she suggests that the ‘hope’ suggested by the waters of the river they crossed has fled away. The start of the stanza explains that it has been three years – rains have replenished it thrice (winter) and three times it has lain bare (summer) – since the explorers were seen. The inference here is that the explorers never came back. Hannay Foott follows this with the metaphor, sun and the sands devoured, that carries the tragic inference that the explorers have died somewhere out where the pelican builds her nest.
Tracing a tonal shift through connotation
Remind students that words and phrases carry connotations that go beyond the dictionary meaning, conveying positive or negative feelings and attitudes. Students then annotate the poem to trace the change in perspective through the three stanzas. Ask them to highlight phrases and actions that convey excitement, hope, dreams in the first two stanzas and then tragedy in the final stanza. They can plot them out in a horizontal line, spacing the words with arrows in between, illustrating the tonal shift or the tragic inference in the final stanza.
Stanza 1: Stanza 2:
The horses were ready → we are going → pastures wide and green → opal lit → gold ‘neath
the river’s flow → lain bare → waters of Hope have flown → sands devoured.
- How has Hannay Foott extended on Lawson’s ideas?
- Whose perspective do you prefer: Paterson, Lawson or Hannay Foott? Who do you think gives a more accurate portrayal of the Australian bush?
- Why do you think Paterson is the more famous of the three poets and the one that Australians prefer to think of when it comes to his perspective of the Australian outback?
Comparison with other texts
Although the Australian Bush debate is well known, a few critics have suggested that its dominance is also a distraction from many of the other qualities of Australian life and literature. One British reviewer of The Bulletin debate of this topic suggested:
That a man’s lot should be cast in the wilds of Australia is no reason that his whole inner life should be taken up with the glorification of shearers or the ridicule of jackeroos. And a genuine Australian poetry can only arise when such matters fall into their true place and assume their relatively small artistic importance. (‘Bulletin Debate’, Wikipedia, 2019)
Tony Moore in an essay in 1997 suggested Paterson and Lawson’s characters were almost caricatures (exaggerated cartoons) of Australian identity that excluded Australians from thinking of other ideas like family life, the beauty of the city, women, Indigenous heritage and issues, and protecting the environment from things like over-farming, pollution and deforestation. (‘Bulletin Debate’, Wikipedia, 2019)
Another poem of renown included in this collection with equal literary stature to Paterson and Lawson is Dorothea Mackellar’s ‘My Country’ (pp. 75–77). Like Paterson, the poem’s speaker dwells on the beauty of the Australian continent. Yet, she provides a somewhat ‘balanced’ account of the natural beauty, celebrating its striking landscape, but also the harsh, arid conditions. It is a poem that has captured the imagination of generations of Australians, both young and old, as we can all identify with the images she conveys.
- Ask students to identify visual imagery that Mackellar uses to depict the alternating conditions of the Australian climate.
Note: These two writers (Paterson and Mackellar) are famous for their depictions of the Australian outback, but just like Paterson, Mackellar was from the wealthy upper classes or aristocracy. She was born in a house in Point Piper, Sydney and her family had large land holdings near Gunnedah in NSW. The poem was reportedly written on one of her many overseas trips to Europe with her father, when she was nineteen. She was given private tuition at her home, particularly in painting, fencing and languages and attended lectures at Sydney University. (Doretheamackellar.com, 2019). At the same time as Mackellar was living in Point Piper and taking regular overseas holidays around the world, the vast majority of Indigenous Australians were living in poverty and under extreme conditions on the fringes of society, removed from their traditional lands. She uses a number of possessive phrases to give an impression that the land belongs to her. Some of the phrases include:
This wide brown land for me!
Core of my heart, my country (repeated twice in the poem)
She pays us back three-fold…
All you who have not loved her
Whilst this possession is not the focus of the poem, some critics have suggested that the poem presents a colonial or white vision of the country. At the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2017 a number of panellists including Indigenous Australians and recent migrants were asked to respond to the classic poem, for the purpose of ‘broadening the scope of what it means to live in Australia’. On the panel were well-known contemporary Australian poets, Eileen Chong, Ellen van Neerven and Ali Cobby Eckermann. In particular, Ali Cobby Eckermann’s poem ‘Transforming My Country’ (Australian Poetry Journal, 7, 1, 2016), which was read on the day and published in August 2017, addressed the idea of ownership in McKellar’s original piece from an Indigenous woman’s perspective. Eckermann writes in her final stanza:
Who pays back to Earth?
Not she and soft-hearted love
What a hush of her heart, and her
I have her share, her jewel
Though not her land
Your love of my land is tragic
…understand you cannot know
Of sunburnt land and love
In the poem, Eckermann only uses the words from the original poem, ‘My Country’ in order to realign them with her own perspective and voice as an Indigenous woman of this country.
- Place the two poems alongside each other; students locate the words that Eckermann uses from Mackellar’s poem to understand how we can intervene in a text and change its meaning.
A final note on ownership
‘Dolphins’ by Peter McFarlane (pp. 158–159).
Language focus: Extended metaphor
Read the poem with students.
Model an analysis of the extended metaphor of the music in McFarlane’s poem for students. Draw special attention to the way that McFarlane revisits this metaphor throughout the poem, deepening its meaning as it progresses.
- In McFarlane’s poem, who is it that owns the sea?
- What is humanity’s role in the poem then?
- How is this view of ownership different to Mackellar’s and Eckermann’s?
- Who do you agree with more: Mackellar whose poem alludes to ownership of land (by those who can afford it), Eckermann who reserves ownership to the traditional custodians of the land, or McFarlane who sees humanity as a spectator to the ‘song of the sea’, where the animals claim it for themselves?
- Students can then take another poem and practise their own interpretation through intervention taking a few crucial phrases or lines to change the meaning. They might use ‘The Man from Snowy River’ and write from the point of view of the brumby being chased; they could be the bird in the way of the gardener (see ‘The Gardener’ by Rowbotham p. 122); they could be the kangaroo sighting the person at dusk (from ‘The Dusk’ by Robert Gray p. 101); they can rewrite ‘The Eclipse of the Moon’ (by Elizabeth Riddell p. 169) to be about the sun; or they can choose any other poem in the collection to rewrite.
Critical thinking activity: (however-ing)
This activity aims to help students develop an ability to discuss the complexities and contradictions of issues in order to present an informed judgement in their writing.
Ask students to write down a series of statements based on their views of the poems in this section.
- Paterson is by far the best poet to represent the Australian fighting spirit in the bush.
- Lawson deals with life in the bush with a much greater awareness of the harsh reality of the poor.
- Dorothea Mackellar’s ‘My Country’ is an excellent poem that represents the beautiful Australian landscape.
Now ask students to list an example where these big statements are not always the case. For example,
- Paterson is by far the best poet to represent the fighting spirit in the bush; however, Lawson’s treatment of the harsh life of the farmers is important to recognise as well.
- Lawson deals with life in the bush with much more of an awareness of the harsh reality of the poor; however, he fails to recognise the beauty of the country and the spirit of the Australian people in the bush in his poem, ‘Andy’s Gone With Cattle’.
- Dorothea Mackellar’s ‘My Country’ is an excellent poem that represents the beautiful Australian landscape; however, her voice does not reflect the issues faced by the traditional owners of that land or their unique connection as its custodians.
Students can use these opening statements to write a short paragraph exploring these ideas in more depth and giving evidence in the form of quotes and examples to support their judgements. This activity has been adjusted from The Literature Toolbox (2014) by G. Pearsall.
(ACELT1619) (ACELT1626) (ACELT1806) (EN4-8D)
Representations of Australian culture
The discussion about what it means to be an ‘Australian’ is not a new one, having been represented in poems from past centuries as well as today. Below are four poems, three from the collection and one that can be found by following the link, which represent a range of ideas about Australian culture and values.
Read the poems with students and discuss their meaning.
- ‘Trouble on the Selection’ by Henry Lawson (pp. 52–53)
- ‘Diver’ by R.A. Simpson (p. 152–53)
- ‘Face of the City’ by Grace Perry (p. 120)
List the Australian values depicted in these texts:
- ‘Trouble on the Selection’: larrikinism, humour in hardship
- ‘Diver’: overcoming fear and fighting spirit
- ‘Face of the City’: resisting change and destruction of the city
Do you agree with these values/themes? Why/Why not?
Memorialising great poets: Who do we remember and why?
Direct students to the Monument Australia website that alphabetically lists the monuments that have been set up to commemorate people who have served Australia through the arts (writing, film, painting, etc.).
- Some of these poets are considered to be ‘Great Australian Poets’ and their texts are part of the idea of an Australian literary canon. Examine the concept of a literary canon and what values we would expect in an Australian context (refer back to the activities above). Why would some people want to reject the idea of a group of ‘classic’ texts that represent Australia? (Think about the people represented in the texts – who is present? Who isn’t? Think about the way that values change, especially gender roles.)
- Some of these poets have also been memorialised and are honoured each year with festivals and literary prizes. Which poets have been honoured with a poetry prize?
- Why is it important to memorialise writers and honour their legacy? How can these legacies be questioned and their significance change over time? Look up some information on memorials to Lawson, Paterson, and Mackellar. How have they been remembered? Why have they been honoured in such a way? Are there any controversies surrounding their lives?
- From the knowledge of your study, what similarities and differences are there between the three poets: Paterson, Lawson and Hannay Foott.
- poetic form,
- perspectives on Australian life,
- places they lived.
If students or teachers are interested in poetry competitions, an extensive list can be found at the Australian Writer’s Resource website, which is updated regularly.
(ACELT1807) (ACELT1619) (ACELT1626) (EN4-8D)
Rich assessment task
A personal evaluation of the text
Write a letter to Hathorn in which you congratulate her for the diversity of the collection
request that she change some of the sections and add other poems.
In this task you should:
- Introduce yourself and your background, as this will be important in establishing the voice you represent.
- Provide a number of paragraphs that support an argument – with examples and quotes from the poems you have studied – as to why Hathorn has compiled an excellent collection or why she needs to make changes. You can draw on the paragraphs you wrote in the ‘However-ing’ activity.
- Outline the themes and issues you believe are important for young people in Australia to engage with.
- Conclude by summarising your main points and explaining why interacting with poetry is important for young people.
Synthesising core ideas
In this part of the resource students will reconsider their views on ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ in the light of extra evidence and through a comparison that will inform their response.
Life in the Australian bush
Not all writers share the same perspectives on the same topics or issues, and many strive to present alternatives to the ‘norm’ or popular view of things. It is a natural part of human existence to ask questions and seek answers from different viewpoints. The role of the poet is to bring to life these questions and concerns in the minds of readers, without just trying to persuade them like you would in an essay or exposition. Hathorn has done well to include a range of poems that show different perspectives on the same themes or topics. These poems present different perspectives on the experiences of living in Australia.
One of the key debates that raged in Australian literature was the ‘Bulletin Debate’ primarily between A.B. Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson between the years 1892 and 1893. On one side was Paterson who framed the bush characters and their lives as iconic representations of the ideal Australian traits: courageous horsemen, tough drovers, humorous shearers, who were independent and masculine – the Australian man as a kind of heroic underdog. On the other side was Lawson, who was sharply critical of the ‘romanticised’ view of bush life, preferring to write what he and others saw as the ‘real’ hardships of the bush. He presented a contrasting bleakness and desolate version of the bush that inflicted a lot of suffering on its inhabitants. Whilst the two men knew each other well and it is readily cited that they undertook the debate to raise their profiles, their different perspectives on life in the bush and the national character have echoed through Australian literature ever since. Read the exchange in verse.
Students have previously examined ‘Clancy of The Overflow’ by Paterson; in this activity they will undertake a comparison with Lawson’s ‘Andy’s Gone with Cattle’. Coming in slightly behind the swagman of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (pp. 56–57 in the text) and ‘The Man from Snowy River’ (pp. 58–62 in the text), ‘Clancy of The Overflow’ stands as one of Paterson’s most well-loved characters. Paterson wrote Clancy after Lawson’s challenge of the romantic portrayals of the Australian drover in ‘Andy’s Gone with Cattle’, showing how persistent the bushman myth was.
Read ‘Andy’s Gone with Cattle’ by Henry Lawson (pp. 108–109) with students.
Language focus: Diction
1. Visual Activity:
- What words stand out to you?
- What words carry negative connotations or ideas? (e.g. battle, dejection, out of order, dull, slackest…)
- Compared with your perception of Clancy, how does this version of the Australian bush drover differ? You may want to describe another rendition of the home that Andy leaves behind.
3. A closer look:
Henry Lawson makes a lot of intentional language choices when crafting this poem. Poets are encouraged to write with an ‘economy of language’ meaning that each and every word is very valuable and has to have an intentional place in the line. Here, Lawson’s shorter poetic lines are cut back so as to allow the words that are left to speak louder. The title is an interesting starting point, ‘Andy’s Gone with Cattle’, using the phrase ‘gone with cattle’ instead of the more romantic ‘gone a droving.’ The image carries a bleaker connotation, that Andy has abandoned the humanity of his home and family to head out with the animals. Lawson followed up the publication of this poem with his famous short story, ‘The Drover’s Wife’ three years later. In a similar fashion it depicts the abandoned family of a drover, battling to survive while the man of the house goes off for months at a time. The story builds on the bleak and decrepit living conditions of those in the bush. It features in the Reading Australia teaching resource for Lawson’s While the Billy Boils.
The poem contains some other striking language choices. Lawson uses a number of poetic techniques to develop a supplicating tone from the persona. The questions in the third stanza highlight this:
Who now shall wear the cheerful face
In times when things are slackest?
And who shall whistle round the place
When Fortune frowns her blackest?
The personification of ‘lady fortune’ and the symbolism of the superlative ‘blackest’ conveys the desperation and despair of the speaker. The next lines, Oh, who shall cheek the squatter now / When he comes round us snarling? portray the wealthy land owners or ‘squatters’ as snarling animals using a technique called zoomorphism. These are a far cry from the bush friends that Paterson speaks of so fondly.
4. ‘Clancy’s reply’:
Follow up discussion after listening or reading the poem.
- How does Clancy’s reply challenge Paterson’s original version?
- What particular features does he ‘revise’ from Paterson’s original?
- Why do you think this isn’t as well known and Australia has chosen to stay with Paterson’s character of Clancy?
Point of Interest
Paterson said Lawson’s version of the bush was full of doom and gloom, which is a view held by many Australians who have chosen to accept Paterson’s version as the one to uphold. Paterson, taking aim at Lawson and others in his poem, ‘An Answer to Various Bards’, suggested they, ‘take something for their lives and be cheerful for a change.’ And to Lawson personally, he left one of his most stinging remarks in his ‘In Defence of the Bush’: ‘For the bush will never suit you, and you’ll never suit the bush.’ In 1993 Paterson replaced Lawson as the face on the Australian ten-dollar note and his poem, ‘The Man from Snowy River’ was written into the note in microprint. The new ten-dollar note retains some lines from the poem.
- How has this information about Paterson, Lawson and Clancy altered your original view of the poems and the poets?
Guided reflection: ‘What have I learned from studying this collection?’
Help students to compose an informed reflection on the text. This can be conducted as a guided reflection task in which students compose a substantial response with the help of prompts and scaffolding or teacher modelling.
The following questions can begin the process of guided reflection:
- What have you started to understand about Australian poetry?
- How has your knowledge of poetic devices and features developed through the study?
- What are the trappings or dangers of choosing some poems and excluding others?
- What have I learnt about the craft of writing poetry in this study?
- What would you like to change about this text?
The following prompts can be used to guide students into writing a reflection. Students should be encouraged to add examples.
- In this study of Australian poetry, the poems I most enjoyed were ………………………………… because ……………..……….
- This text covers the main themes of ……………..….; These themes are relevant to Australians today because……………….
- From studying the poems I started to understand about the features of poetry such as: ………………………………………….
- This ‘collection of poems’ is important for …………….…..[e.g. preserving an understanding of Australia and our identity]
- I have learnt about ………………………………………………………………………………………….………
- What I would like to change about the text is…………………………………………………………………
Rich assessment task one: Responding
Have students break into groups of six to debate one of the following motions/resolutions:
- That Libby Hathorn’s The ABC Book of Australian Poetry accurately represents the people of Australia.
- That Libby Hathorn’s The ABC Book of Australian Poetry depicts themes and issues that are relevant for young people today.
- That poetry is an important part of any society that wishes to critique itself.
- That only the famous poets of Australia should be studied by students.
- Other: teacher or student developed motion.
They can use a student debating scaffold to structure, prepare and run their debates.
(ACELT1619) (ACELT1626) (ACELT1806) (ACELT1627) (ACELT1807) (ACELY1719) (ACELY1720) (ACELY1731) (EN4-8D) (EN4-5C) (EN4-1A) (EN4-4B)
Rich assessment task two: Creating
Have students construct their own anthologies of Australian poetry. They are to choose three poems from the text or others that have been approved by the teacher and compose one additional poem*.
*They may revise one of the poems they have composed as part of the classwork in this unit. If this occurs, they should seek to re-draft the poem and make changes based on the teacher’s feedback.
Students can choose to theme their collection around a central idea that they see as relevant to an understanding of Australian culture.
Instructions for students: The collection should include a foreword/note, like the one provided by Libby Hathorn at the text’s opening. This should be a maximum of 200 words. It should outline the approach taken to collecting and choosing the three poems; explain what aspects of Australia your poems represent and why they should be passed on to the next generation. This introduction should explain what ‘voices’ you have chosen to include and your own definition of what it means to be Australian in our context. Include a discussion of some significant language features you noted in selected poems or added to your own poem and how the language conveys the ideas.
- Front cover illustration or title page
- Foreword (200 words)
- Table of contents
- Three selected poems that represent the values or spirit of Australia
- One poem of your own composition
- You can include illustrations for your poems if you wish
- You may name your own publishing company.
Integration of digital technology
You may wish to complete this task using a range of software such as Microsoft PowerPoint, Word, Pages, or an online publishing website or a wikispace.
(ACELT1619) (ACELT1625) (ACELT1632) (ACELT1768) (ACELT1805) (ACELY1721) (ACELY1725) (EN4-8D) (EN4-6C) (EN4-4B) (EN4-3B)