Getting to know the author, including:
- cultural background
- family, family history and relationships
- personal experiences
Jane Harrison is a descendent of the Muruwari people of NSW. As mentioned in the interview, she grew up in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria. Harrison cites that her motivation for writing Becoming Kirrali Lewis was to reflect some of her own experiences as someone who “grew up in a city with Aboriginal heritage”.
Becoming Kirrali Lewis, with its inclusion of multiple characters of Indigenous background, reinforces the concept that there is no one monolithic past or contemporary experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Ambelin Kwaymullina puts it quite simply in her assertion that: “Literature without diversity presents a false image of what it is to be human.” Own voices narratives, which present a multiplicity of experiences, are crucial in overcoming common misconceptions or limitations in understanding First Nations peoples and cultures.
Activity 1: Amplifying Indigenous works
The Reading Australia teaching resource for this text includes several useful orientation activities for students to learn about the author, her background and influences.
It would be helpful for students to gain, through research and reading, further understanding of some of the initiatives and programs that exist to amplify lndigenous voices and experiences in Australian literature, playwriting and the arts. Starting points could be:
- Blak & Bright First Nations Literary Festival
- black&write! Fellowships
- Indigenous publishers:
- #WeNeedDiverseBooksOZ on social media
- Meet Me at the Intersection, edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina
Students may be divided into groups to summarise and share their findings using a collaborative document (e.g. OneNote, Google Docs) or Padlet.
Activity 2: Family, family history and relationships
To complete this activity, students should use the transcript to locate quotes from the speakers about family, family history and relationships. These may be comments made by either Harrison or Edwards, as both reflect on these ideas.
Once they have located two suitable quotes, students may share their selections with a partner. The pair may then compose a reflection of two to three sentences, explaining some of the quotes and what they show about Harrison and Edwards’ thoughts about family and history.
Possible quotes to analyse include:
- “It’s also the story of adoption, and it’s a story exploring identity, and growing up, and race, and where all of these meet.”
- “I read your work on a number of levels and I thought that your depiction of adoption was actually quite beautiful…”
- “Of course, there is a little bit of yourself in all of the characters you write, probably, but I think when I was 13 I knew everything…”
- “It’s also a huge amount of pressure – to always know the answer, to always have the politically-correct point of view or the right point of view, and to know everything.”
- “You can only speak from your own personal experience.”
- “I came from a very working class outer suburban background.”
- “I wanted to upend stereotypes of all my characters…”
Activity 3: Indigenous rights in Australia, 1967–2008
Encompassed within the narrative (and informing Harrison and Edwards’ discussion) are movements for Indigenous rights in Australia, including the Stolen Generations, the 1967 Referendum, the 1992 Mabo decision and the 2008 Apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples.
To consolidate their knowledge of these issues (some of which they may have already encountered in history class or in their study of Becoming Kirrali Lewis), students should view the ABC Education video ‘History of Indigenous rights in Australia’.
Students can be invited to respond in one of two ways:
- Create a timeline of significant moments in the development of Indigenous rights in Australia between 1967 and 2008; OR
- Complete a KWL chart prior to, and after, viewing the video. Students firstly note what they already know about Indigenous rights in this period, what they want to know more about, and – after viewing – what they have learnt.
The writers’ journey, including:
- early work
- themes, issues and motivations
Jane Harrison’s other works are predominantly plays, including Stolen, Rainbow’s End and The Visitors. Each has been concerned with Indigenous histories and cultures. To discover more about these works, have students view production photographs and videos, which will reveal their ideas, issues and themes as well as the style and mood of the productions.
Activity 5: “It’s a scar on all of our psyches” – the Stolen Generations, removal and intergenerational trauma
This activity relates to 4:41–8:17 of the interview.
Harrison says that part of her motivation lay in illuminating a diversity of Indigenous stories and experiences, explaining that “there’s as many stories of Aboriginal people … as there are Aboriginal people”. In this activity, students explore testimonies from Stolen Generations members in written, video and audio form.
To share their findings, students may create a mini profile of the subject they engaged with, in a magazine or editorial format. This complements the Becoming Kirrali Lewis teacher resource with a focus on composing elements of a collaborative magazine publication.
Activity 6: Challenging stereotypes
A key strategy when working with culturally-sensitive material is to find balance, and to ensure that students have opportunities to contrast their exploration of traumatic or challenging content with alternative depictions, positive sentiments and examples. Harrison’s construction of her protagonist and secondary characters reflects this nuance, with the following activities designed as a counterpoint to the Stolen Generations testimonies: illuminating stories of success, resilience and First Nations entrepreneurship.
Students are invited to deepen their appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, particularly (for those in Victoria) Koorie histories and cultures.
Ideally, teachers will facilitate opportunities for students to hear from members of their local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community. As stated on the Common Ground website, “the more people who learn and connect with First Nations people and experiences, the more they will understand and respect our communities”. If it is not possible to engage a guest speaker or presenter, the links and resources listed below provide ample scope for exploring and challenging stereotypes:
- Share Our Pride: This Reconciliation Australia website shares profiles of successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
- Deadly Questions: This Victorian Government website uses a familiar format, similar to the ABC TV program You Can’t Ask That, in which Aboriginal Victorians address user-submitted questions.
- Common Ground: A curated website focused on capturing and sharing stories and creating learning material for wider Australia.
- Instagram accounts for Aboriginal enterprises, businesses, designers and advocacy groups:
- Vogue Australia: 13 First Nations fashion designers and studios to know now.
The student response to this exploration involves the composition of a visual response using the thinking routine: “I used to think, now I think…” Students should prepare their statements and support them with visual information, in a diptych format.
For example, their statement might be:
“I used to think that Indigenous art was mostly dots and lines… now I think designers like Lyn-Al Young and Shannon Brett create fashion designs that are at home on any global runway.”
“I used to think that most Indigenous people lived in the outback… now I think that the majority of Indigenous people actually live in cities and regional areas.”
The writer’s craft, including:
- meaning in context
Activity 7: Character – mapping character arcs
Harrison relates that “there are human experiences that are universal” (30:25), but also that “you can’t speak for the whole mob” (13:30). She wanted to create characters who were “real and complicated and messy” (18:54) in order to “upend stereotypes of all my characters” (15:46).
This activity seeks to expose the complexity of Harrison’s characters, and asks students to design their own complex character profiles.
First of all, have students complete the character arc tracker using the template (PDF, 129KB).
Next, students should develop their own mini-character profile, using one of the characteristics below to add complexity to their creation:
Develop a character who:
- has contradictory features
- has intersectional qualities
- is a foil to another character
- encounters surprises
- learns something about themselves
Activity 8: Context and authenticity
This activity relates to 29:00–29:30 of the interview.
Harrison notes that although she grew up in the era presented in the novel, she had to undertake careful research to ensure that her information was accurate: “when was the first actual personal computer, pay phones… the technology that’s come into our lives, we forget there was a time before it.”
To complete this activity, assign students a year. They are to imagine that they are composing a story set in that year, and should undertake research to authenticate the details of their story. Research questions might include:
- What forms of transport were used?
- What music was being listened to? What were the most popular songs in that year?
- How did people dress?
- What language or slang was common?
- How did people communicate? What devices did they use?
Comparison with other writers and texts:
- versions of style and key themes in other modes, media and contexts
- aspects of genre
Activity 9: The novel form
This activity relates to 2:16–4:04 of the interview.
Harrison’s other notable works have been written for the stage, and Edwards asks Harrison about her choice to render this story in the novel form. In this activity, students consider and chart the conventions of various forms.
Decisions about form
Harrison explains that she chose the novel form for this story as a matter of accessibility. Recognising that novels are easier to procure than stage productions, she cites her motivation that “I just wanted to get that story into the hands of as many people as I could.”
Students are presented with a selection of story ideas, and need to match up the idea with an appropriate form (note that the stories are drawn from real examples of narratives in a variety of forms).
Forms to choose from include: novel, short story, fairytale, non-fiction text, memoir, artwork, TV series, graphic novel, play, film, podcast, etc.
|A fable in which a little girl visits her grandmother, but her grandmother has been replaced by a big, bad wolf.|
|An informational text about the mammals of Australia.|
|An interview with an author about their work.|
|A coming of age story about what it means to discover something unexpected about your cultural identity.|
|A hero discovers their superpower, faces adversity and saves the world.|
|A survivor of female genital mutilation leaves her country of origin and becomes a successful model.|
|A totalitarian regime controls women and their reproductive choices, for the benefit of the state.|
|A collection of characters share monologues about their experiences.|
|A man yearns to reconnect with his lost love and builds his wealth and popularity to try to attract her.|
Activity 10: Becoming
The search for identity and coming of age (Bildungsroman) are perpetual themes in texts, particularly in the young adult genre. In this activity, students will reflect on other books they have read and create a comparison between Becoming Kirrali Lewis and the second text.
Read a little about the Bildungsroman genre. Thinking about Becoming Kirrali Lewis and another book you have read which fits into this genre, use the table below to summarise how each text tackles the idea of “coming of age”. What features of this genre can you discern?
|Becoming Kirrali Lewis||Your choice of text:|
Try it out for yourself, including:
- reflecting on your own experiences of writing
- experimenting with approaches, themes, strategies and styles used by the author
Activity 11: “Strong opinions that are not quite accurate”
This activity relates to 1:11–1:59 of the interview.
Harrison reflects that one of Kirrali Lewis’ key character developments in the novel is the way that her “strong opinions that are not quite accurate” are challenged by events and by her experiences. In this writing activity, students are invited to share a story or moment in which they discovered for themselves that they had opinions or beliefs that were “not quite accurate”.
Write about an experience or event that challenged or changed you.
To prepare students for this task, consider:
- sharing and reading excerpts from the text
- having students share their ideas with each other
- modelling/brainstorming together as a class or in small groups
Rich assessment task
Aligned with the rich assessment task in the Reading Australia teaching resource, this task asks students to use the information and ideas they have encountered in this interview to prepare a short piece of writing, to be included in a collaborative magazine.
Drawing primarily on the resources and examples in Activity 6: Challenging stereotypes, students should prepare one of the following:
- a feature article (e.g. a profile piece about a notable Indigenous person)
- a listicle (similar to the Vogue Australia piece)
- a product review (e.g. featuring one of the products from the Blakbusiness or Trading Blak accounts)
- a photo essay (e.g. the diversity of experiences of Aboriginal people living in urban environments)
- Word processed/digitally produced
- 500–600 words
- Evidence of a connection to the idea of complexity and challenging stereotypes
- Selection of ideas from research and investigation that are reliable, credible and engaging
- Control of the conventions of the chosen form
- Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation