Engaging with the text

Getting to know the author including:

  • cultural background
  • family, family history and relationships
  • personal experiences
  • influences.

Activity 1

Leah Purcell is a proud Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman from Queensland. Murri is a collective term for a number of ethno-linguistic groups of southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales. Goa, Gungarri and Wakka Wakka are distinct Indigenous groups. In order to learn more about Purcell’s heritage, have students use the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia, and pinpoint the country of the Guwa (Goa/Koa), Gunggari, and Wakka Wakka peoples. These areas centre around the contemporary regions of Winton, Kingaroy and Charleville. There are some limitations to navigating the online version of the AIATSIS map, and ideally a hard copy of this map can be used as a classroom resource. Students can further explore language and country through Google image search of the contemporary townships, and by searching the Gambay First Languages Map, using the terms ‘Guwa’, ‘Gunggari’ and ‘Wakka Wakka’.

Activity 2: Oral storytelling in Indigenous cultures

This activity relates to 16:00-18:19 of the interview

Edwards asks Purcell about the process of ‘taking…fact…recorded history, and weaving it with the oral tradition and the stories that your family have told you and that you knew into words on the page’. In several iterations, Purcell has rendered her version of the story in playscript, performance, novel, screenplay and film. In this activity, students will experiment with different modes of communicating a message, reflecting on the preservation of ‘truth’ in each form.

Students will work in small groups of 4–5 for this task. One member of each group is given a phrase, which they need to communicate in a chain to their other group members, using verbal (whispered), written, non-verbal or pictorial communication. Download the information and phrase slips here (PDF, 377KB). This group work is then followed by a class discussion.

Class discussion:

In what ways was the essence of what you were trying to communicate altered through verbal, written, non-verbal and pictorial communication? Which was the most reliable? Is it important to preserve ‘truth’ in communication? What might you need to do differently to promote accuracy in each form of communication?
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Activity 3: Quote quest ‘Ma, I won’t never go a-droving’

This activity relates to 00:58 to 2:19 of the interview

Purcell cites the memorable line from the end of the Lawson short story as sticking with her over time, and inspiring her imagination. In this activity, students are asked to select and share famous lines from stories they have engaged with. These may be opening words, closing words, or seminal quotes from passages.

Ask students to think about the pieces of writing that have stuck with them in their reading experience. Ask them to try to narrow this down to a single line or phrase. They may need time to ponder or research this; it would be a good task to set for home learning. Then, ask students to share their lines (without context) with a partner – it will be interesting to see if their partner can place it. Students may then be invited to share their lines with the class. Students may be asked to write their quote out artistically on a small strip of paper to be used as part of a collective display.
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The writers’ journey including:

  • development of approaches, style and individual writing characteristics
  • themes, issues and motivations.

Activity 4: Writing from memory

This activity relates to 3:22 to 4:25 of the interview

Purcell relates that when she began the adaptation of Lawson’s short story, she was ‘working from memory’ in the initial phase of writing, providing the opportunity to attune to the resonant elements of the story that had stayed with her from her childhood engagements with the text.

Students should choose a familiar fairy tale or childhood story, and complete a writing exercise whereby they write this tale from memory. What they produce may be a literal retelling, or adaptation using details from the original text. Within either approach, the intention is that the students experience this practice of drawing on memory without reference to the original text. Students should write for 10–15 minutes. They can then share their writing in pairs, noticing what is accurate and what is not in relation to the actual text.
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Activity 5: Claim-Support-Question

This activity relates to 00:58 to 4:25 of the interview

Purcell muses on the process of selecting Henry Lawson’s short story as the inspiration for her play. As she explains her experience of having the story read to her by her mother, and the subsequent experiences that prompted her to begin work on the play, her language is suffused with fatalistic terminology (for example ‘it obviously meant something deep within me’, or the book ‘just jutting out a little bit further’). Students should listen carefully to this part of the interview, and then construct a rationale for the adaptation of the Lawson short story into the play, using the thinking routine Claim-Support-Question (PDF, 149KB).

Activity 6: Place-based writing

This activity relates to 2:45 to 3:22 and 24:02 to 25:12 of the interview

Another motivation for Purcell arose when she was filming Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains region of New South Wales and thought, ‘Gee, we don’t utilise this landscape enough…’. Later in the interview, when recounting the filming of The Drover’s Wife, she says, ‘I was very blessed to be able to sit on that country, feel the dirt, smell the dirt, touch the tussock grass, touch the granite rock, walk along that riverbank that Molly encounters…’. In this writing activity, ask students to select a place to write about, and to concentrate on creating a strong sense of the place, using the senses and creating visceral connections for the reader.
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The writer’s craft including:

  • Plot
  • Character
  • Setting
  • Voice
  • Point of View
  • Structure
  • Language and style.

Activity 7: Textual connections and conventions

Much of the interview is focused on examining the opportunities and limitations of each form that Leah Purcell has used in her adaptations of The Drover’s Wife. To reinforce the vocabulary of each of these forms, students should complete the table of conventions (PDF, 145KB) for each form: short story, play, novel, and film.
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Activity 8: Character

At the 5:55 mark of the interview, Purcell is asked about the protagonist, Molly Johnson, whom she constructed as ‘an homage and paying respect to my mother and my grandmother’. Molly is described as an amalgam of these family members, Purcell herself, and the character from Lawson’s short story. Based on their understanding of the text, students should brainstorm all of the different elements of Molly’s character, for example: mother, wife, defender (of the property), nurturer (of her children), murderer… and also her revealed identity as an Indigenous woman. When this brainstorm has been completed, ask students to brainstorm a similar list of the elements of their own identity. They will be asked to draw on this complexity in the Rich assessment task.
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Synthesising task: Sketchnoting

Divide students into groups, and assign them one aspect of the writer’s craft each to focus upon:

  • Setting: 24:02 to 25:12
  • Character: Molly 5:55 to 12:21 and 39:14-43:19, Yadaka 26:52 to 31:02
  • Structure: 20:40 to 26:08 and 31:02 to 34:23

Students should listen closely to the relevant section of the interview, takeing notes on Purcell’s discussion of this aspect. Detailed notes should be taken at first, and then students work collaboratively to synthesise these into a one-page sketchnote-style summary.
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Comparison with other writers and texts:

  • evaluation of the body of work within Australian culture and literature
  • other writers using similar approaches or dealing with similar ideas
  • aspects of genre

Activity 9: ‘Black heroes’

This activity relates to 26:52 to 31:02 and 43:19 to 44:20 of the interview

Purcell remarks that a key choice in her resolution of the novel, was to preserve the role of Molly, Yadaka and Danny as ‘black heroes’. Several times in the interview, the notion of ‘reclaiming’ a place for heroic Indigenous characters in Australian literature is mentioned. In this activity, students are encouraged to research stories in various forms that illuminate an example of Indigenous characters with heroic qualities, both fictional and non-fictional.

These could include individuals, such as Adam Goodes, Anita Heiss or Cathy Freeman. Indigenous hero characters from film and TV may be drawn from productions such as Cleverman, Redfern Now, Ten Canoes, The Tracker, The Sapphires, Mystery Road or Top End Wedding. The Blakstage collection features a multitude of contemporary First Nations playwriting, including plays with Indigenous heroes as their lead characters. The works of authors like Tara June Winch, Kim Scott, Alexis Wright, Bruce Pascoe, Larissa Berendht and Melissa Lucashenko amongst many others provide an abundance of contemporary Indigenous literary protagonists.
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Activity 10: Additions and adaptations

This activity relates to 20:40 to 26:08 of the interview

Purcell articulates: ‘In theatre and the screen, the pauses are important, but in a novel, you fill that’. One of the most striking aspects of this podcast is that it provides insight into the process of multiple adaptations of form by the same creator, and the opportunities and restrictions when working in each form. Ask students to create a list, table or diagram, comparing each form. As an additional challenge, ask students to find an example of a text that has been adapted from an original, is an add-on or is inspired by a seed of historical truth. Students might upload their findings to a collaborative website like Padlet to share.
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Activity 11: ‘Telling a good yarn’

The genre of Purcell’s play is discussed at the 18:18 mark of the interview. It has variously been received as a work of reconciliation, resolution and reclaiming. Purcell claims that essentially, she set out to be entertaining in her construction of story. She acknowledges that readers and audiences will make their own readings of the stories she has created. Students should use the table below to record evidence for various readings of the story, mentioned in the interview:

Reading Evidence
‘an Australian Western for the stage’


‘a feminist frontier narrative’


‘a page-turner’


‘a better version of the books I read as a kid’


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Rich assessment task

In this task, students complete a sustained creative response.

To complete this task, students must draw on two elements:

  • a piece of literature or text that has been important in their life (perhaps a childhood story like Purcell’s selection of The Drover’s Wife)
  • an aspect of their own family history.

For example, they might draw on the classic Australian story Picnic at Hanging Rock, whilst also recounting a family gathering or celebration. How might they bring the gothic elements of London’s novel/Weir’s film into a contemporary short story? Or if the family were situated in the nineteenth century landscape depicted in the novel/film, and something went wrong, how would the various personalities of that student’s family respond to the crisis?

Students should choose from the list below a mode that best facilitates their storytelling:

  • playscript
  • performance/monologue
  • film/video
  • narrative short story.

The completed response should represent 700 to 800 words or the equivalent.

The response should be accompanied by a written explanation of 200 to 300 words in which students explain the connections that they have made and justifying their choices in plot, form, style, and language.

This response can build on previous activities undertaken, including those focused on writing from memory, quote quest and place-based writing tasks.

Success criteria:

  • Evidence of a close consideration of Purcell’s experience of adapting The Drover’s Wife, and consideration of an appropriate form
  • The response makes connections to a significant text and to the student’s own family hi(stories)
  • The response utilises skilful application of the conventions of the chosen form
  • The written explanation accurately and thoughtfully explains the choices made in the creative process.

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