Engaging with the text
The verse novel, Ruby Moonlight, is a magical piece of writing that explores the many aspects of colonisation in Australia, particularly in terms of its effects on First Nations’ peoples. Set in 1880, the impact of the story can still be felt, seen and experienced in Australia today – indeed in Ali Cobby Eckermann’s own words:
Please know that this story is true and until it’s healed it will keep repeating every generation. And it might look different every generation, but the basis of this story will continue.
Getting to know the author including:
- personal experiences
- cultural background
Activity 1: Summarising
After listening to the interview ask students to record their ideas in a simple summarising chart. Have students record their ideas in dot points about:
- what they specifically remembered from the interview
- the personal connections they had to the experiences presented
- the main ideas issuing from the interview
In a think/pair/share activity, students are to share their ideas, adding to the chart any ideas they feel they need to add.
|What you remembered from the interview:
|Main ideas:||Ideas from others that you liked:
This simple activity enables the teacher to see which areas students were drawn to or connected with the most in the interview and then to adjust the teaching activities accordingly.
Activity 2: Getting to know the author – Ali Cobby Eckermann
Ali Cobby Eckermann offers a great deal of information about herself; it is scattered throughout the interview.
Students analyse what they’ve learnt about her in an information text pyramid (scroll halfway down the page to see the pyramid template). This asks the students to summarise the key information, using minimal words.
Activity 3: Getting to know Ruby Moonlight
Cobby Eckermann describes Ruby Moonlight ‘like a gift.’
Students should scan the transcript and highlight all the words that she uses to describe writing Ruby Moonlight. Students should use two colours, one for the words used to describe writing about the novel and another for writing about the character.
ALI: … And Ruby Moonlight was born from that place. I might be so bold as an Aboriginal woman to say that this story was given to me, and I love Ruby Moonlight. I see her reflected today in many young women – Aboriginal women and other women – that I meet of this quiet strength and resilience that we often as a busy society overlook.
Students add these words to the retrieval chart below.
|Words to describe writing the novel||Words to describe writing about the character|
Students bring their notes from the previous activities. Using the yarning circle structure, students synthesise their knowledge about the author, her background and how she felt about writing the novel. The teacher may support the discussion by providing prompting questions:
- What was the main message that Cobby Eckermann presented in her introduction?
- What connections did you make with the author?
- How have the author’s own personal experiences impacted on her writing the novel?
- Do we often think about how an author feels about their own work?
- How would you describe what the verse novel means to the author?
- How do you think authors connect with their characters?
- Why do you think the author writes and whom do you think she writes for?
The writers’ journey including:
- development of approaches, style and individual writing characteristics
- themes, issues and motivations.
Activity 4: Form of the verse novel
(16 minutes 40 seconds to 19 minutes 57 seconds)
Cobby Eckerman states ‘the form of Ruby Moonlight is my attempt to show a little about traditional Aboriginal storytelling’. Using a venn diagram, have students compare the similarities and differences between traditional Indigenous storytelling and Western storytelling forms that she explores.
Storytelling and sharing are important aspects of Aboriginal culture:
Speaking is the primary form of communication in Aboriginal cultures and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Concepts and beliefs have been passed on from generation to generation through specific cultural practices, traditions, languages, laws and family relationships. The oral traditions of instruction include storytelling, song, dance, and art and craft-making.
From ‘Storytelling in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures’, Queensland Curriculum & Assessment Authority (© State of Queensland (QCAA) 2019).
Listen to Cobby Eckermann read the poem ‘Ambush’. (4 minutes, 8 seconds). Listen to it again. The interviewer describes the poem as brutal, ‘yet it looks so beautiful on the page. Every word almost is on a different line.’
To further explore form, students may like to refer to Activity 6: Poetry Analysis from the Reading Australia teaching activities prepared for Ruby Moonlight.
Ask students working in small groups to consider the following questions:
- Cobby Eckermann talks about the importance of the form. How is the form important to her and how does it reflect her life?
- How has the form Cobby Eckermann used impacted on the reader’s ability to make meaning in the poem?
- Do you think having each poem represent a chapter works for the verse novel?
- Do you think how the poem looks is as important as how it is heard? Reasons?
- Is Ruby Moonlight better read or listened to? Give reasons for your views.
Activity 5: Survivor
Giving appropriate and timely alerts as to the confronting nature of the content of this reference, ask students to view the Colonial Frontier Massacres’ map, which details the massacres of Indigenous peoples that have taken place in Australian history. Students should be directed to read one of the following articles. This can either be done as whole class or in small groups.
- The killing times: the massacres of Aboriginal people Australia must confront
- Commonground: Massacres
- ABC News: Colonial Frontier Massacres researchers add dozens of sites to map of Aboriginal killings
Students are also encouraged to look at their local, state or territory history texts, noting especially from whose perspective these texts are written (most often from the viewpoints of the white colonial invaders). Teachers should help students access more recent texts that deal with the massacres of First Nations’ peoples and compare these accounts and those of the Frontier Wars with the colonial versions still in wide circulation today. A reliable starting point is AIATSIS: The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies website and especially its teaching resources. ABC Education and SBS/NITV Television are also good sources. In a careful and discriminating Google search you will be able to find reputable and authentic sources.
After reading, record the words that are used to describe the massacres on a piece of paper. Students then place them on the board, grouping the words together in a theme decided by the class.
Students then refer back to the interview where Cobby Eckermann reads and talks about the poem ‘Ambush’. (4 minutes, 35 seconds to 7 minutes, 10 seconds).
ALI: It’s a really important poem because I think a lot of people think with the massacres that that was the end of us, and sadly sometimes in Australian dialogue we hear about the end of Aboriginal people. It suits the dialogue of the oppressor. And yet we are still here. And I think people are really confused and a little afraid that aesthetically we’ve changed so much in our survival – we’ve even changed colour. That hasn’t diminished our cultural belonging and obligation to land, our custodianship, the culture that resides so strongly inside us that can’t be seen by our doubters. So, I think the book needed to start there because we weren’t all massacred, and Ruby is the pinnacle of survivor – it’s telling the story of one young girl who survived the massacre of her entire family and it’s not easy. I don’t think most survivals are.
It’s really important for all Australians to know that we are still here doing what our forebears did. I used to say that Aboriginality today is contemporary, all those of us who were taken away as in my case is contemporary. But I don’t think so anymore, because the same effort and reasoning and struggle and love I think is exactly the same as our ancestors, our grandparents and great-grandparents who lived those years before modern society swept over us. I don’t think we’ve changed – the society that we live in is the thing that’s changed.
Using the same strategy have students record words used in the interview to describe the massacres. It is recommended that students use a different colour pen or marker pen for these words. Placing the words on the board in theme (affinity diagram), students then compare the similarities and differences.
Ask students to make special note of anything they notice. Allow this to happen with little prompting from the teacher. Once you feel they’ve exhausted all the ideas, use the prompting questions to either generate a class discussion or for students to write a response.
- Why is it important for Cobby Eckermann to focus on the survival element of a massacre?
- Why do you think she began the novel with a massacre?
- Why is this poem so important?
Activity 7: Then and now
(7 minutes, 22 seconds to 7 minutes, 32 seconds)
The interviewer, Astrid Edwards, called the story timeless: ‘It feels timeless in ways, particularly the love story element, but also the past continues to be present and the past continues to impact the present and the future’.
Using an inner/outer circle, students form two circles and face each other. Ask students to share their ideas on why they think the story is timeless.
After students have shared their ideas, read them Cobby Eckermann’s response. (35 minutes, 32 seconds to 36 minutes, 4 seconds)
ALI: Yeah. But you know, all of these poems fit into the modern day. Now the media is saying can you please stop the prejudice against Chinese people with Coronavirus? It’s the same. It’s the same. You know the external, the situation might look different, but human behaviour, human nature I think is basically the same. It just looks different: different clothes.
The teacher may wish to refer back to the poem ‘Caution’, p. 49 in the text, Ruby Moonlight, ‘Fear can fuel the hardest hatred’.
- Do they agree or disagree with the writer’s views?
- Students share their opinions elaborating and referencing Cobby Eckermann’s quote and/or the poem.
Share the quote:
ALI: You know when I first wrote I didn’t think it would ever be published in Australia?
Ask students to explore this statement.
- Why did Cobby Eckermann feel this way?
- Why is this important to know?
Activity 8: The Aboriginal Tent Embassy
(53 minutes, 15 seconds to 53 minutes, 41 seconds).
As Cobby Eckermann asks, have students research the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
And probably the one place that we’ve claimed is the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. You can research the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. If your school’s got money, go there. Be horrified that we still don’t have an embassy and that we still don’t have really the voice in Parliament that we want, that speaks truly for us and isn’t warped by the influence of others.
In their research students should look at ensuring they are accessing resources from an authentic Indigenous voice and not just a white Australian voice. Students should be encouraged to look at the emotions and feelings portrayed and not just the factual research. A good text to support this is the National Museum Australia: Aboriginal Tent Embassy webpage.
Students can present their research in any of the following ways:
- verbal or Powerpoint presentation
- yarning circle
- written task.
In pairs students pick one of the poems:
The writer’s craft including:
Activity 9: Voice
(26 minutes 50 seconds to 27 minutes).
Voice is an important aspect of the verse novel. Voice is often considered as the point of view of the speaker of the poem. Cobby Eckermann refers to voice as spirit voice: ‘The more time we can spend with our internal, we’ll find that voice. I’ve chosen to call it spirit voice – that guiding voice.’
Ruby Moonlight is written in the third person. Looking at the poems read by Cobby Eckermann in the interview, how has she developed Ruby’s voice? Firstly, reread the poems ‘Merger’ (30 minutes, 46 seconds to 31 minutes, 14 minutes), ‘Visitor’ (33 minutes, 37 seconds to 34 minutes, 55 seconds), ‘Sunset’ (53 minutes, 48 seconds to 54 minutes, 17 seconds) and then listen to Cobby Eckermann herself read them. Analyse the poems using the technique, example and effect table as exemplified below.
Explicit example from the text
What is the effect? How does it affect the audience? What does it mean?
|Words to describe Ruby Moonlight|
|Words to describe Jack|
Activity 10: A love story
Cobby Eckermann is able to beautifully describe the relationship between the characters Ruby Moonlight and Miner Jack. Their relationship changes and develops. Using a cause and effect map students develop and explain reasons why Ruby left Jack. Students then consider the following question:
- Why was it important for Ruby to walk away from Jack?
Students write a response to this question. (Where possible this should be written on a platform like Padlet, Google Classroom, Canvas, etc.) Students then read their responses and in turn respond to two to three of their peers’ work. Developing a written discussion in an online format can help support all students to develop their ideas and to share them widely.
(ACELY1752) (ACELY1754) (ACELY1776)
(54 minutes, 39 seconds to 54 minutes, 50 seconds)
Cobby Eckermann ends the interview with:
Please know that this story is true and until it’s healed it will keep repeating every generation.
In a yarning circle, students respond to this proposition, discussing what they think Cobby Eckermann means and the personal and societal links they can make with it.
Trying it out for yourself:
- reflecting on your own experiences of writing
Activity 11: You as a writer
Cobby Eckermann feels the story of Ruby Moonlight was given to her, it was a gift. It was written for herself. Have students consider how they feel when they write.
Using a mind map, students are encouraged to label the emotions they feel when they write naturally, as well as when ‘forced’ by a teacher. They should consider a time when they felt success in writing, as well as negative feelings. They should draw upon their ideas and make links as to how they feel about writing and the affect this may have on them.
This activity, while it seems simple relies on the teacher to slow down and let the students think. There will be a natural divide between those who like and dislike writing – having them consider moments of success and their perceived failure will allow them to think about their own beliefs and attitudes towards writing.
Ask students to write a poem or creative piece in response to either the interview with Ali Cobby Eckermann or the verse novel, Ruby Moonlight, itself. They can be inspired by whatever aspect of the interview or the text that they wish. As they write, ask them not to force the writing but to think about Cobby Eckermann’s own experience with writing and how they can try to just tell the story they feel.
Rich assessment task
Ali Cobby Eckermann has written a timeless prose novel that invokes strong emotions when reading and listening.
For this task, you will be asked to research a significant historical moment in Indigenous Australian history using authentic and reliable sources as researched and recommended earlier in Activity 6. In particular, the Creative Spirits’ Searchable Aboriginal history timeline is excellent for its comprehensive information.
You should consider:
- key people, actions and motivations
- the effect the ‘moment’ had on history
- the emotions that people experienced at the time
- the emotions people have experienced now.
After researching, compose a creative response to that historical moment in whatever form you wish or is accessible. It could be a poem, a written reflection, a photographic/artistic montage, a personal presentation involving multimedia forms, indeed in any medium that you feel comfortable and empowered with. If in doubt, negotiate with your teacher In your creative response you should consider:
Your creative response will be submitted with a written rationale. The rationale should be a 300- to 600-word response that discusses what you were trying to achieve and the techniques used to do this.
(ACELT1814) (ACELT1644) (ACELY1756) (ACELY1757) (ACELY1776)