Note on the text

All references within this unit are based on the following edition of The Divine Wind.

Author: Garry Disher

Publisher: Hachette, Australia

Date of publication: 2002

ISBN: 978 0 7336 1590 0


Introductory activities

  • Begin by locating Broome on a map and doing some quick research about Broome’s history as a pearling port and its current status as a premier tourist destination. Emphasise its proximity to Asia and the fact that from the beginning it has had an exotic mix of people from different backgrounds. Note that one of the major themes of the novel is the tension between White Australia and multiculturalism.
  • Show students a short film about pearling luggers to give them some idea about what it is that Hart’s father, Michael Penrose, does as a pearling master.
  • Continue with a class discussion about what students think the title of the novel means. (Students may be familiar with the phrase from their History studies.) To help them with this exercise show them the short video about kamikaze pilots during the Pacific War and also have them read the short Encyclopedia Britannica entry about the original meaning of ‘the divine wind’, ‘the gift from God’, in Japanese history.
  • Ask students to speculate about what this title might foreshadow about the novel that they are about to read. (For example, could the divine wind of the title be a metaphor for events that will bring great changes, both positive and negative, to the lives of the characters in the novel?)
  • Garry Disher has said that he thinks that the title refers to changes in the lives of his characters but also to several violent events (a cyclone, an air raid) in the novel. Students should keep these possible meanings in mind as they read the novel.
  • In an interview available on, Garry Disher stated, “the whole novel is there in the first paragraph… We have who, when, where, why, the main issue.” Ask students to complete a three-level guide (PDF, 102KB) as a way of encouraging them to do a close reading of the text (PDF, 160KB).
  • Once the three-level guide has been completed compile the findings of the class on a retrieval chart using the categories: Who, When, Where, Why, Main Issue. Discuss with students whether they agree with the author that the essential ingredients of the novel are indeed present in the first paragraph.
  • As a way of providing more background to the story teachers may like to show students a report on the bombing of Broome, a short video about the Broome cinema and a video about the place of indigenous people in Broome.

(ACELT1633)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELY1739)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)


Personal response on reading the text

  • Ask students to predict what the book might be about after reading the blurb and noting the cover design.
  • Ask students to keep a reading journal in which they write a series of chapter summaries in the style of the Deadly Unna model (PDF, 154KB) as a way of engaging with the story of the novel.
  • Have students share their observations in small group discussion throughout the initial reading of the novel.
  • Talk to students about first-person narration and the idea of having a protagonist who narrates the past from a vantage point in the story’s present. Explain the idea of a ‘reliable’ narrator whose observations and judgments can be trusted by the reader. Ask them whether they think that Hart is a ‘reliable’ narrator and challenge them to justify their position.
  • Encourage students to share any personal experiences that they may have with aspects of the novel (a holiday visit to Broome; a film that they have seen e.g. ‘Empire of the Sun’; a grand-father who fought in the Second World War; a mother who owns a pearl necklace.)
  • When students have finished reading the novel initiate a class discussion about what they think will happen when Mitsy returns to Broome. Ask students to debate whether external events or characters’ own motivations are more important in determining their future.

(ACELT1636)   (EN5-4B)


Outline of key elements of the text

  • Ask students,using their chapter summaries, to create a timeline of events in the novel for class display. The timeline should indicate the sources of conflict that arise in the story, the major turning points in the plot that resolve to some extent the earlier conflicts and the way in which the novel is finally brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
  • Have students complete a character chart (PDF, 116KB) as they read the novel for the first time as a way of  helping them to come to a better understanding of the major characters.
  • Conduct a whole-class discussion to arrive at a reasonable definition of the word “theme“. Then, have students brainstorm what they think are the major themes of the book. Make a generally agreed upon list of themes.
  • Garry Disher has said (again, on the website, referred to earlier) that, for him, a major theme in the lives of both flesh and blood human beings and fictional characters in a novel is the search for a “true home” by which he means a belief or philosophy that makes sense of the world or a true love or just peace of mind. Students are to discuss this in relation to Hart. What is his “true home”? Is it hopefully a loving relationship with Mitsy or perhaps just some freedom from earlier regrets and feelings of guilt?
  • Ask students whether they agree that other themes in the novel include growing up, intolerance, racism, friendship and love. Students should discuss in small groups how well these themes have been developed in The Divine Wind.
  • Ask students whether these themes are of interest to them and whether they were able to relate to any of the characters in the book.

(ACELT1635)   (ACELT1636)   (ACELT1772)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-4B)   (EN5-6C)


Synthesising activity

ABC Radio National hosts a story-telling program called The Moth: True Stories told live. The producers of the show say on their Tell A Story web page that “Everyone’s got a story. What’s yours?” They then invite anyone with a good story to make a one-minute ‘pitch’ to them to have the story broadcast on The Moth radio program or even at a live story-telling “slam”.

Your task is to prepare a one-minute pitch to tell a true story from your own life about an event which changed you. Your pitch should be a telling of the actual story and give a sense of the narrative arc from beginning to climax and conclusion.

You will make the pitch to a small group of your classmates who will give you feedback about whether the story was interesting and gave a sense of the relevance of the event to your own life. You will use their feedback to refine and polish your story for a later performance.
(ACELY1741)   (EN5-2A)

The writer’s craft including such elements as:


Garry Disher has described the protagonist of his story, Hart, as a hero so perhaps the structure of the novel is that of a hero’s journey? The hero’s journey is usually undertaken in search of a “holy grail” which is a symbol for something of paramount importance to the hero.

  • Discuss with students the idea of Hart as hero.
  • Do they agree or disagree?
  • If Hart is a hero, what is the “holy grail”?

A hero’s journey is characterised by the overcoming of a series of obstacles until the final goal is achieved. (In fact Hart says on page 39, “My life has been a series of beginnings.”) The structure of a hero’s journey novel would be shown as: Orientation (setting the scene in time and place and setting the protagonist a goal) to Complication (the first obstacle) to Temporary Resolution (of the first complication) to Evaluation of the situation (the hero’s reflections) to a new Complication and so on until the Final Resolution, the achievement of the goal.

Here is an example taken from early in the novel:

Pages Narrative event Role in the development of the novel 
17–20 Complication: Hart reluctantly helps Mitsy and Alice to remove a drunken Derby from the cinema. He then has to face the racism of his mother, Ida Penrose, and fails to defend Mitsy against that racism.

Resolution: This episode ends badly with Hart estranged from Mitsy.

Evaluation: Hart is aware that he has betrayed his friendship with Mitsy and has not behaved honourably as Alice has done. This theme of betrayal dogs him throughout the novel.

This is an early test of the “hero”, one which Hart knows he has failed.

He has not confronted his mother’s racism and defended Mitsy.

Hart reflects on his capacity for the betrayal of friends, a theme that runs through the novel. However, as Hart, the narrator, reflects on this episode he can see that it has been a stage on his journey towards self-knowledge and personal growth.

Ask students to analyse other narrative events in the story that could be considered complications. Some possibilities include:

  • Hart’s brush with death at sea.
  • Hart and Alice’s reactions to visits to Hartog Downs by the Webbs and Major Morrissey.
  • The effect of war on the Broome community.

(ACELA1553)   (ACELT1772)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-6C)

Approach to Characterisation 

1. The central problem of the main character

The story of The Divine Wind is centred on the main character, Hartley Penrose. Hartley is the “focalising” character, the narrator of and participant in the story, who chooses the episodes from the past that he considers important. Much of the interest of the novel lies in the way that Hart gradually changes and develops over the course of the story as he, an individual in the world at a particular time and place, faces and deals with the central problem of the novel. The central problem of this novel is essentially how an immature young man comes to terms with difficult, sometimes bewildering, issues in a world on the brink of tumultuous change. How Hart responds to the central problem of The Divine Wind is a major factor in his character development and also contributes to the emergence of the themes of the novel and to the resolution of the plot complication.

Explain to students how exploring the protagonist’s central problem can help them to better understand the novel as a whole. Guide students through the Central Problem slideshow (PPT, 117KB). At Slide 6 show them the first statement and then ask them, either as a whole class or in groups, to build up a coherent set of statements to describe the central problem of the novel and how this constructs Hart as a character.
(ACELT1633)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELY1742)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-2A)

2. The other characters

Because the novel is basically about Hart’s personal growth to maturity the author has given his character an “inner” life of thoughts, feelings and observations. In this way readers come to learn about his attitudes, values and beliefs towards both the issues of the novel and the other characters. All of the other characters in the novel are represented by Hart’s description of them, both their physical appearance and their personalities, and by the selection of details about them.

The chart below shows how Hart has described various other characters in the story. (Students can find more descriptions for themselves). Ask students to complete the right-hand column of the chart by explaining how they think Garry Disher wants readers to respond to those characters. (An example has been given).

Character  Hart’s description  How Garry Disher wants readers to respond 
Zeke Sennosuke
  • “…a slim, fit, sun-browned man who wore his hair scraped back tight over his scalp” (p. 7)
  • “I suddenly felt the powerful wrap of his left arm around my chest, and for the next twelve hours we rode the sea together…” (p. 43)
Garry Disher wants readers to “read” Zeke as a proud, brave man, loyal to his employer and his son.
Mitsy Sennosuke
  • “… a face of sly knowledge and good humour rather than classical beauty” (p. 8)
  • “… gave her face a permanently sceptical cast, as though she never fully believed the things she witnessed” (p. 8)
  • “… tough and nuggety looking…” (p. 22)
  • “… Jamie snapped into action…” (p. 23)
Lester Webb
  • “He looked like a back-alley skulker…” (p. 72)
  • “… his air of cunning…” (p. 72)
Derby Boxer


  • “Derby always looked fine and flash…” (p. 15)
  • “He looked dented and scarred by his life of cattle branding and horseback mustering” (p. 68)
Carl Vennng
  • “…he was too tall, rangy and over-confident, a man careless of the feelings of others…” (p. 64)
  • “She was beautiful…” (p. 58)
  • “She was easy to read: desire, compassion, envy, anger, hurt and love were clearly there…” (p. 58)

Students can continue with other characters, exploring how they have been represented by Hart’s observations of them.
(ACELA1551)   (ACELY1742)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-2A)

3. Characters and their “goings-on” in the world

Explain to students that characters are partly constructed by the processes (realised by verbs) with which the author has associated them.


  • The soldier raced towards the enemy, leapt over the razor wire, hurled a grenade and then fired his gun. (The soldier character is active, a “doer”, because he is associated with “doing” verbs.)
  • She thought back to a happier time, remembered past laughter and recalled their optimism in those days. (This character is constructed as a thinker by being associated with “thinking” verbs.)

(Note the deliberate gendering in this example, the man as active and the woman as thinker. Students should note whether Garry Disher has done something of the same thing with his male and female characters when they complete the exercise below.)

The following chart shows the main processes and the sorts of characters associated with each.

Character Process 
Sayer Saying (e.g. “stated”)
Doer Doing (e.g. “dragged”)
Thinker Thinking (e.g. “calculated”)
Behaver Behaving (e.g. “dozed”)
Perceiver Perceiving (e.g. “noticed”)
Be-er Being (e.g. “was”)
Have-er Having (e.g. “had”)

In the table below are listed the names of characters from the novel and in the second column verbs (to realise processes) that the author has associated with these characters. Students are to identify the processes most generally associated with each character and then, in the right-hand column, write about how that character has been constructed through the choice of processes. (An example has been completed).

Character  Verbs used (to realise processes)             Type of character constructed 
Hart “remember” (p. 11)

“fell in love” (p. 11)

“thought” (p. 12)

“dreamed” (p. 12)

“sighed” (p. 17)

“stared miserably” (p. 20)

“knew” (p. 21)

“watched” (p. 22)

“glanced” (p. 26)

“wanted”  (p. 30)

Mitsy “laughed” (p. 12)

“shoved” (p. 12)

“shook (her head)” (p. 17)

“scowled” (p. 35)

“flashed” (p. 35)

“murmured” (p. 48)

“frowned” (p. 53)

Jamie “snapped into action” (p. 23)

“sprang back” (p. 24)

“burst out (of the house)” (p. 29)

“power away” (p. 29)

“swung around” (p. 140)

“ran” (p. 140)

“sped (away)” (p. 140)

Jamie is associated very heavily with ‘doing’ processes which construct him as a very active character.

This fits with his representation as an able-bodied young man who joins the Air Force to fight for his country.

Carl Vennng “walked (with a bounce)” (p. 64)

“crashed the Gypsy Moth” (p. 65)

“clipping (the trees)” (p. 65)

“walked away” (p. 65)

“flew low” (p. 67)

“swooped (over a rise)” (p. 67)

Alice “pushed back” (p. 5)

“crane (her head)” (p. 12)

“smile” (p. 16)

“peered” (p. 17)

“shook off” (p. 80)

(ACELA1551)   (ACELA1557)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-3B)

4. Tracking the characters

Readers expect the main character in a story to change and develop over time. In the previous exercise Hart is represented as a passive thinker and observer but on page 139 he is described as launching himself, swinging his fists, knocking over a chair and swinging around during a fight with Jamie. This representation of Hart as now more active (although, regrettably, in a negative way) continues on pages 141–145.

Students should list the “doing” processes associated with Hart in this section and discuss the growth and change of this character. Explain to students that this sort of change or development convinces readers of the authenticity and credibility of the character.
(ACELT1633)   (EN5-8D)


The description of time and place is very important in a story. It can achieve a variety of purposes that convince readers of the truthfulness and authenticity of the story.

Ask students to recall their own one-minute true story “pitch” from the storytelling exercise earlier in the unit. Ask them to draw a map of the place where their story is set. They should make it as detailed as they can to prompt their memories.

The chart below shows how Garry Disher has used setting in The Divine Wind. Have students use his examples as a model for writing descriptions of the setting of their own story in the column, “Your Own Story“. (They should not worry if they can’t fill in all the details yet, for example characters. They can come back later to fill the gaps. Similarly they can leave the “similes and metaphors” column blank for now).

Foreshadow to students that they will be asked to develop their spoken story into a 3–5 minute performance by the end of the unit so this preparation work is very important.

Element  The Divine Wind  Your Own Story  Using similes and metaphors 
Use of setting to create atmosphere “The graveyard was illuminated by a cloudless moon, the tiny red specks of burning incense, and the paper lanterns in the trees.” (p. 82)
Setting that creates visual images “…the pulsing heat of the iron shed at the aerodrome…” (p. 62)
Time setting
  • “In the final weeks of 1941” (p. 1)
  • “…during the Wet…” (p. 71)
Characters and setting


Saltwater Jack: “He was in his thirties … but looked seventy”

Carl Venning: “… charming in a knockabout way…”

Setting and theme “… attracted by the Chinese gamblers, the Japanese divers, the lemon-squash stallholder, the Ambonese woman stirring mangrove crabs in a spitting wok…” (p. 9)

(ACELA1553)   (ACELY1742)   (EN5-2A)

Point of view

Activity 1

Use the following information about the construction of point of view in The Divine Wind to write a paragraph in the style of the model paragraph about point of view (PDF, 125KB) in another coming-of-age novel, Deadly Unna.

The Divine Wind How does point of view position readers to “read” characters, respond to events and make sense of emerging themes?
The story is told through first-person narration. Hart is the “focalising” character, the protagonist of the story and the reliable first-person narrator. The reader is aware that Hart’s narration of events and reflections on life are somewhat immature and limited but is positioned to accept the “truth” of his attitudes, value and beliefs.

This approach gives an “inside” account of events. It places the reader in the position of an involved participant in the action.

The reader is positioned to accept Hart’s attitudes, values and beliefs in regard to such themes as racial intolerance and war.

This allows the writer to illustrate the theme of growing up. The reader accepts Hart’s point of view while understanding his immaturity and limitations. The major themes of the novel emerge as characters are engaged in the various episodes that comprise the plot of the novel. How the reader is to respond to these themes is orchestrated by the use of the point of view of the main character, Hart.

The character Hart is given an “interior” life (interiority) so that readers are aware of his thoughts and feelings in relation to the various events of the novel while minor characters in the novel (e.g. Major Morrissey; the Webbs) are mere caricatures or one-dimensional characters. This technique allows the writer to provide a direct insight into Hart’s philosophical reflections on love and friendship. Again, certain attitudes, values and beliefs are reinforced by the stance of the narrator towards minor characters such as the Webbs, in their case on the issue of racial intolerance.

Activity 2: Point of view

(The writer’s use of language to position readers to adopt a particular attitude to a character.)

It is possible to unpack a text to see how a writer has used language to represent a character in either a positive or negative way. The following framework for analysing the character, Alice Penrose, illustrates the aspects of language use that should be explored.

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
“Most people loved her” (p. 58)

“Most people smiled” (p. 58)

“If anyone didn’t (love her) (p. 58)

“… given to showy disasters or glorious triumphs” (p. 58) “beautiful” (p. 58)

“easy to read” (p. 58)

“plain at heart” (p. 58)

“itching to burn across the sky” (p. 58) “Most people” (p. 58)

“If anyone” (p. 58)

Using language to create a point of view towards a character (a summary based on the above analysis):

Garry Disher is obviously using language here to position readers to adopt a generally positive attitude to the representation of the character, Alice Penrose. The emotional response is mainly one of “love”, although this is tempered by the concession that a few people may not love her. The judgments made are usually positive and appreciative words like ‘beautiful’ enhance the representation of the character. The intensity of the representation of the character is scaled up by the phrase “itching to burn across the sky” which carries associations of brilliance and passion. Only a couple of “voices” are engaged in the appraisal of Alice Penrose, “Most people” and a few “Anyones”.

Students should carry out this sort of analysis with another character from the novel and then write a short paragraph like the one above to explain how Garry Disher has used language to position readers in regard to the character.

Carl Venning

(Some of the analysis has already been done.)

Words expressing emotions


Words that make a judgment
(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.
“I didn’t like him” (p. 64) “… a man careless of the feelings of others” (p. 64)

(ACELA1551)   (ACELA1552)   (ACELY1742)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-2A)

Figurative language in The Divine Wind

Figurative language refers to the use by the author of symbolism and such figures of speech as similes and metaphors. Some examples of Garry Disher’s use of figurative language are given on the following chart.

Ask students to discuss the effect of the use of this sort of language on the telling of the story. Answers can be written in the right-hand column of the chart. An example has been given.

Use of figurative language  Examples The effect of the use of figurative language in the telling of the story.
  • “where double-storeyed dwellings breathed over one another (p. 9)
  • “the little aircraft steered a drunkard’s path” (p. 33)
  • “They hadn’t been silver insects in the sky but death dealers” (p. 141)
  • Bombs fell “like silver rain”
  • Webb looked like “a back-alley skulker” (p. 72)
  • “Broome was wound as tight as a spring” (p. 102)
  • “The water of Roebuck Bay was like a sheet of tin foil…” (p. 107)
  • “like a wraith” (p. 121)
  • Michael Penrose’s legs shot out “like rams” (p. 128)
Symbolism  Chapter headings: e.g. “Sunshine and Shadow 1946” Suggests optimism for the future? Hart looks forward to the possibility of love with Mitsy. However, “shadow” suggests a recollection of deaths and tragedy?

Now ask students to return to their Setting chart (above) and create similes, metaphors and symbols to enhance their own story.

Turning similes into metaphors

One way of making writing more vivid is to turn similes into metaphors. For example, from the list above, “Webb looked like a back-alley skulker” can be transformed into “Webb, the monster from the back alley, stared malevolently at us” or Bombs fell “like silver rain” into “Deadly silver rain poured from the bomb bays of the Japanese warplanes”.

Ask students to experiment with turning their own similes into metaphors.
(ACELA1552)   (ACELT1637)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-4B)

Noun groups

Explain to students that noun groups are an important way of building up quite complex representations of people, places and things based on a Head Word. Show them the noun group framework (PDF, 110KB) and work with them to build up a noun group like the following. (Head word in bold text):

These two famous old Gothic cathedrals which were built in Germany in the fourteenth century…

Then explain that Garry Disher has used noun groups to construct at least some of his characters, e.g. (Zeke was) “a slim, fit, sun-browned man, who wore his hair scraped back tight over his scalp.”

Encourage students to use noun groups to build up representations of people, places and things in their own story. This would be an appropriate time for them to return to their Setting chart above to add characters to their own story.
(ACELA1561)   (EN5-1A)


Synthesising task/activity

Go back to the spoken story “pitch” that you prepared earlier in the unit. Think of this true personal story as the raw material for a short story.

Your task is to write an “Author’s Note” (250 words) explaining how you intend to transform your earlier spoken story into a fictional short story told through first-person narration by a character in the story.

In your “Author’s Note” you should reflect on a possible conflict in the story, the characters involved (only 2–3 needed), a likely theme emerging from the story, a rudimentary plot line and the sort of narrative genre (e.g. action, horror, war etc.) within which you will tell the story. (The Divine Wind is an example of social realism genre and this may be most appropriate for your story too).

See the Author’s Note model (PDF, 122KB) as a guide.
(ACELT1635)   (ACELT1773)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-6C)

Ways of reading the text

Reading positions

Writers will generally try to position readers to read a novel from a particular perspective. Readers cannot know confidently just what meaning the author wants them to make of the novel but they can identify the attitudes, values and beliefs that the novel seems to be promoting and the textual strategies that the author has used (e.g. the use of a narrator who provides a particular point of view) to encourage them to make a certain, usually conservative, common-sense reading of the cultural assumptions of the story. This is certainly true of The Divine Wind in which readers are expected to read the novel from the point of view of the narrator, Hart Penrose, who is a young white Australian male and so occupies a privileged position in his society.

  • Ask students to discuss why Hart occupies a privileged position in his society.
  • Ask female and non-white students in your class how easy it was to read the events of the novel and Hart’s observations of other characters (of different sex, race and ethnicity from his) through his eyes.
  • As an interesting experiment ask students to re-write an incident from the novel from, say, Mitsy’s point of view, to see whether Mitsy, as a girl of Japanese heritage, sees the incident in the same way as Hart. The incident on pages 34–35 (Zeke and Mitsy counting money from the social club to send to Japan) would be appropriate.

(ACELY1739)   (EN5-8D)


Writers will also try to position readers to make a “preferred” or “invited” reading of a novel. Ask students to suggest a possible preferred reading of The Divine Wind. They may come up with something like, “Fate intervenes in the lives of the characters to destroy relationships and a way of life.” Explain to students the concept of an alternate reading which challenges the preferred reading and ask them to suggest such a reading. (Perhaps, “Relationships fail because of flaws in the characters themselves”?) Conduct a class discussion to arrive at a reading that satisfies most students.
(ACELT1635)   (EN5-7D)

The ideal reader

Ted Dawe, a New Zealand English teacher and author of two novels for young people, has said recently in an article in the Guardian newspaper that, “When I wrote Into the River I had an ideal reader in mind…This reader does not have a specific age, but I guess is somewhere between 14 and 17.”

Explain to students the concept of an ideal reader, a reader who will make the invited reading of the novel. Ask students to explain whether they are ideal readers of The Divine Wind. If not, ask them to elaborate on points in the novel where they “read against the grain” of the novel.
(ACELT1635)   (EN5-7D)


Comparison with other texts

Exploring childhood

Even though coming-of-age novels for teen and young adult readers are fairly recent, adult writers have always been interested in exploring their own experiences of growing up. Two prominent Australian authors who have done this are Miles Franklin (in My Brilliant Career – See the Reading Australia entry and unit for this text) and John Coetzee (in Boyhood).

The first of these books tells in first-person narration the coming-of-age story of Sybylla Melvin, an Australian country girl, and the second book tells the story of a boy growing up in South Africa. It is hard to tell whether these books are novels or thinly disguised autobiographies. Is Sybylla just a fictional version of Miles Franklin? Is the boy in Boyhood a young John Coetzee? To complicate matters the latter story is told in third-person about the protagonist, i.e. “he”. Perhaps both authors wanted to distance themselves to some extent from the characters in their books. Show students the extracts (PDF, 111KB) from each book and discuss with them whether they have anything in common (in terms of subject and style) with later teen novels.
(ACELT1633)   (ACELT1635)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)

The search for identity

However, John Coetzee, the author of Boyhood, says that autobiography should really be called autre-biography (“autre” is a French word meaning “other”) because the earlier “selves” that the writer is writing about were different to the writer’s current self. That is, identity is not fixed but constantly changing over the course of our lives.

Initiate a whole class discussion on the nature of identity. Ask students to try to define their own identity. Then, challenge them with the notion that Hart Penrose’s earlier “selves” are in fact “other” selves, not just earlier versions of him. Ask students to apply this insight to them-“selves” now and have them write a paragraph or two about an incident from their own past in which they narrate the event and then reflect on the sort of “self” they were then.

Some elements that contribute to an individual sense of identity that teachers might like to discuss with students include:

  • Family and family narratives,
  • Ethnicity,
  • Aspects of the local community,
  • Friendship groups,
  • School,
  • Religion,
  • Aspects of national culture,
  • Effect of popular culture,
  • A sense of physical place and
  • An awareness of gender.

Representing sex in teen novels

Begin by sharing the following quote from The Catcher in the Rye, written in 1951, with students. Explain that the speaker is Holden Caulfield, the teenage protagonist of the novel, who is just starting to take an interest in girls.

I think if you don’t really like a girl you shouldn’t horse around with her at all and if you do like her you’re supposed to like her face and if you like her face you ought to be careful about doing crumby stuff to it like squirting water all over it. It’s really too bad that so much crumby stuff is a lot of fun sometimes. (Holden has just been watching another boy squirt water at his girlfriend.)

(The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger, Little Brown and Company, New York, 1945, p. 62)

Students will recognise that there is very little honesty or openness about this description of Holden’s growing sexual interest in girls and that this can be related to the social attitudes of the time.

Then, ask them whether they think that social attitudes today are somewhat different to those in 1951. (The answer to this question is quite obvious, but it could lead to some interesting discussion.) Read to them the following extract from On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (Viking/Penguin Books, Camberwell, 2006, p. 184) in which the protagonist narrates her first experience of sexual intercourse and then ask them in what ways this representation of sex may reflect the social attitudes of contemporary society. Also ask them if they think that this description is honest and authentic.

Everything hurts. Every single thing including the weight of him and I’m crying and he’s telling me he’s sorry over and over again and I figure that somewhere down the track we’ll work out the right way of doing this but I don’t want to let go because tonight I’m not looking for anything but being part of him and being part of him is not just anything, it’s kind of everything.

There are several episodes in The Divine Wind which deal fairly explicitly with a sexual relationship between Hart and Mitsy: a playful scene at the hospital where Hart is recovering from his injuries after the cyclone and later when Mitsy and her mother come to live at the Penrose’s home.

  • Ask students to give their opinions about whether sex should be mentioned at all in novels written for their age group, mid-teens to young adult.
  • If they are comfortable with discussing this issue, ask them if they think that Garry Disher’s representation of the sexual relationship between Mitsy and Hart is honest and open with some degree of emotional complexity.

A more confronting topic for students will be the representation of diverse sexualities. They may already be familiar with the book or the movie of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, so they may be interested in another John Green novel, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which has a gay protagonist. If so, the attached discussion and teaching ideas (PDF, 127KB) may be useful.


Ted Dawe, mentioned above, has had one of his novels for young people (Into the River) banned in his home country, New Zealand. He says, “They thought that by counting the F-words and the C-words they could make a judgment about what was OK.” He also says, “We need new youth literature for a new age.”

  • Ask students to speculate about what Ted Dawe means by a new age and new literature.
  • Ask students to discuss whether a novel should be banned because it contains some swear words.

(As a matter of interest his first novel is called Thunder Road).


Evaluation of the text


The coming-of-age novel written for a readership of mid-teens to young adults is quite a recent publishing phenomenon. Students may be interested to know that “teenage-hood” as a stage in our lives dates from only the middle of the twentieth century. Out of this new life phase of prolonged dependence emerged “youth culture”, so powerful and pervasive today. Some historians and psychologists think that teenage-hood is a result of the complexity of contemporary society but other commentators believe that advertisers and mass marketeers created teenage-hood as a way of creating a new market for consumer products. For example:

Because mass marketeers* are driven to find ever new targets, they installed the category of “teenager” between childhood and adulthood. This invention reached Australia during the 1950s.

From a newspaper column by historian Humphrey McQueen which appeared in the Weekend Australian, 4–5 December, 1993.

(* A mass marketeer is one who sells products to large numbers of people.)


White points out that it was advertising that came up with the other great targeted group of our time: “In the fifties they created the teenager, not alone, but advertisers were certainly influential in saying there’s this new category. People hadn’t talked about teenagers until then. There was youth or adolescence but they didn’t see the teenager as a specific category.” Advertising’s aim was to construct a generation of consumers and to create markets…

Quote from an article in the Weekend Australian colour magazine, pp. 26–27 February, 1994.

  • Ask students whether they agree with White and McQueen that teenage-hood is just the invention of advertisers and mass marketeers.
  • Ask them whether they think that it is possible that teen novels are just another product being targeted at them.
  • If they disagree with the first two propositions, ask them through whole class discussion to arrive at a list of what they think are the special features of teenage-hood that teen novels can legitimately deal with.

The following list may help them with this.

Teenage-hood is a time for:

  1. Trying to define one’s identity or sense of self,
  2. Facing one’s own inadequacies,
  3. Dealing with an unsympathetic adult world,
  4. Coming to terms with friendship, love and sex,
  5. Taking greater responsibility for oneself,
  6. Emotional growth and awareness.


Synthesising task

Read the extracts (PDF, 125KB) from several teen novels and ask students to decide whether they do in fact deal with at least some of the features identified above. Initiate a discussion with the class about the value of novels written specifically for their age group.
(ACELT1636)   (EN5-4B)

Rich assessment tasks

1. Receptive

From time to time new editions of a popular novel are published and generally the new edition is given a new cover illustration. This is possibly done to freshen up the novel’s appeal for potential buyers, but the new image will also represent an attempt by the illustrator to give a particular interpretation of the main themes of the novel.

Step 1

Choose one of the four cover illustrations (PDF, 205KB) from previous editions of The Divine Wind. (The class can be divided into four groups, each group assigned a different book cover.)

Step 2 

Unpack the illustration using the analysis framework (PDF, 98KB).

Step 3

Design your own cover illustration for the next edition of The Divine Wind. Emphasise what you consider to be the most important aspects of the novel.

Step 4

Write a paragraph to explain how you used visual and other techniques to try to communicate the elements of the novel that you consider to be most important.
(ACELA1553)   (ACELA1560)   (ACELY1739)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1745)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-8D)

 2. Productive

Speaking task: Storytelling

  • You are to take part in a live storytelling “slam” based on the radio program, The Moth.
  • Your story will be based on the one-minute pitch that you prepared earlier in the unit.
  • You will speak “in character” as a performer telling an interesting true-life story based on an event from your own life.
  • Your audience will be your classmates, some of whom have already given you feedback on your pitch.

Length of speech: 3–5 minutes.

Method of work

  1. Take your original one-minute pitch and amplify the details in it to produce an entertaining self-contained true story about yourself.
  2. Write a draft of your story.
  3. Make sure that you are only including essential information. Structure the story so that the point or theme of the story becomes obvious. Also, make clear how the incident that you are narrating changed you as a person.
  4. Rehearse your performance. Do not memorise your script; you want to sound reasonably spontaneous in your presentation.
  5. Be prepared to present on the due date.

(ACELY1741)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1746)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)

Writing task: Short story

  • Write a full-length short story (450–600 words) based on your Author’s Note about a real life event from your own life.
  • You are writing in character as a storyteller who understands the conventions of writing short fiction.
  • Your intended audience is other Australian teenagers who will enjoy a short story based on a real-life event that has happened to someone like themselves.
  • Your story should be word processed. It is possible that your story will appear in an anthology of teen writing.

Method of work:

  1. Read the sample short story (PDF, 118KB) based on the Author’s Note that you read earlier. Note how the writer has taken material from the Author’s Note and amplified it in various ways.
  2. View the short story writing slideshow (PPT, 264KB). It contains a number of techniques that will help you to improve your writing. Continue to refer to the slideshow as you work your way through the writing process.
  3. Write a first draft of your story and seek feedback from your teacher.
  4. Make changes based on the feedback.
  5. Prepare a final copy and submit it to your teacher on the due date.

(ACELT1773)   (ACELY1811)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1747)   (ACELY1748)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)