Engaging with the text: Too Much Lip
This novel is a masterpiece in demonstrating the cycles of abuse and trauma in Aboriginal communities and how such intergenerational trauma stems from colonial practices. The suitability of this novel in a school context therefore also depends on the teacher/school’s capacity to spend a good amount of class time exploring these broader historical and social issues in order to appropriately contextualise the novel.
Getting to know the author including:
- family, family history and personal experiences.
The quote at the beginning of Too Much Lip is critical for establishing the novel and setting up Lucashenko’s motives in writing this work. It reads:
‘She was charged with shooting the accused, who in giving evidence against her, made no secret what his intentions were towards the woman. She, he said, was only a gin, and he could do what he liked with her.’
‘District Court, Criminal Sittings’ Brisbane Telegraph, 31 January 1908
The use of an epigraph is a typical approach used by authors to assist in establishing the theme or message of their novel.
- What can be garnered from this quotation used by Lucashenko?
- If students have read the entirety of Too Much Lip, have them consider how this quote frames their reading of the text until the true context of the quote is revealed in the novel.
Consider the following epigraphs. What might they reveal about the text to which they’re linked?
- “Shall we gather at the river, / Where bright angel feet have trod…” – Robert Lowry lyric, 1864, as quoted in Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet
- “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once” – Charles Lamb as quoted at the beginning of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird
- “It is quite time that our children were taught a little more about their country for shame’s sake.” – Henry Lawson quoted at the beginning of Leah Purcell’s play, The Drover’s Wife
- “Fairytales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten” – G.K. Chesterton as quoted in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline
Lucashenko explains that Too Much Lip is ‘a book about the impacts of racism’. She remarks that she took a lot of risks to talk so openly about the abuse within the Aboriginal community and uses the characters within the novel to explore how this manifests itself in their lives.
Compile a list of ways that the four characters in Too Much Lip behave and react in the present as a result of their pasts. How do each of the characters adopt protective behaviours to shield them from their past? Donna, for example, creates a whole new identity as Martina.
Thinking about other texts the class may have examined, in what ways do the characters respond to their own pasts and experiences? Create a table like the one below:
|Character||Experience||How it manifests||Example|
Use TROVE to read through entries in the criminal sittings from various national newspapers. Some of these will be challenging to interpret but persistence will reveal an accurate translation and students will be able to use a quotation from the entry.
Have students write a piece that begins with an opening quotation but carefully leads the reader to a false assumption about a character. Have them analyse what kind of assumptions they bring to their own interpretation of the criminal sittings records and how they might circumvent these in their story.
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The writer’s journey including:
- themes, issues and motivations.
At the 36:55-minute mark of the interview, Lucashenko discusses her decision to include a male character with anorexia in Too Much Lip. She says, ‘I wanted to have a range of males, of Aboriginal male masculinity, I suppose.’
Discuss with students the notion of stereotyping and the stereotype threat. In what ways are men expected to act according to societal norms and expectations? Encourage students to investigate methods of ‘testing’ masculinity, such as the Brannon Masculinity Test, which assesses the attitudes of men toward concepts such as avoiding femininity, being the breadwinner, toughness, violence and adventure, and concealing emotions.
The idea that literature has the potential to illuminate the experiences of many has been broadly acknowledged. Discuss with your students the following:
- Who are the male characters in Too Much Lip?
- How would you describe their ‘masculinity’?
- Where do you think they might score highly on the Brannon Masculinity Test (for example)?
- Why is it important to include these characters in this narrative?
- How do the types of masculinity portrayed by these characters intersect with their Indigenous heritage and the importance of acknowledging not only their experience as men but as Aboriginal men?
Lucashenko uses Aboriginal English throughout Too Much Lip. She uses dugai, meaning ghost, and explains in her interview that dugai ”became the word for white people, because they were assumed to be ghosts at first contact.’ She also ‘inverts’ the idea of Aboriginal Australians as savages by referring to the ‘whitenormalsavage’, ‘a category of people who are unthinking and ignorant and happy in their ignorance and their redneckery.’
Have students complete a character profile for the whitenormalsavage. You may have ways that you undertake these as part of your usual text studies but in this instance, consider:
- important things the whitenormalsavage says
- effects of their actions on others
- physical appearance (if applicable)
- thoughts that show what kind of person they are
Discuss responses in small groups. What other notable whitenormalsavages can be identified in our contemporary Australian setting? What about in the international context?
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Have students write a short story (under 1000 words) that explores a range of:
Just as Lucashenko has included a range of masculinities in her work, the story should aim to explore two different, oppositional or contrasting characters as they navigate a shared experience.
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The writer’s craft including:
- Language and style
Lucashenko includes elements of magic realism in Too Much Lip through the crow who speaks to Kerry and provokes her. An explanation of the role of magic realism in literature can be found here, as well as examples of works of literature that employ magic realism to tell their story. Cloudstreet is possibly mainstream Australia’s most notable work of magic realism and would provide a good point of contrast with Too Much Lip; similarly the debut novel by Robbie Arnott, Flames, also dabbles with magic realism.
Present students with a continuum such as the one below and ask them to arrange the following types of texts and genres in order of most realistic through to completely made up, noting that some types may exist in more than one category.
- user manuals
- creative non-fiction
- true story
- historical fiction
Lucashenko remarks that one of the most effective ways to help explain her characters’ actions and to provide readers with an insight into the life of Pop was to include flashbacks to his past life, beginning in the 1940s when it is implied that ‘people like him are lynched’. This use of flashback, according to Lucashenko, helps show a different life that he could have had, adding complexity to his character.
Have students write a passage that introduces a character to their story through flashback. Consider:
- The time period into which the character is introduced.
- Details, especially in regard to language, that show people’s attitudes to the character.
- What can be learned about the character by how they respond to the event in the flashback.
Support the discussion of the relevance of flashbacks in fiction with excerpts from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak or even Severus Snape’s flashbacks in the Harry Potter series.
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Ask students to add a character who possesses an element of magic realism into a story they have already written or create a character that could be included in a future story. Remind students to keep the magic realism elements in keeping with the tone and theme of the story they’re undertaking.
Some ideas for students who may be struggling include:
- magical or supernatural happenings
- a haunted place
- talking animals
- including elements of a myth or legend
- distorted time/sequence of events.
Comparison with other writers and texts:
- evaluation of the body of work within Australian culture and literature.
Have students visit the website for The Stella Prize and read the judges’ report and reviews for Too Much Lip. Consider the review from Karen Wyld of Sydney Review of Books and her comment about the importance of First Nations people telling stories of their own histories and cultures.
- In what ways does Too Much Lip transcend stories about First Nations peoples written by white Australians?
- What is the significance of a story such as this for First Nations peoples?
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Lucashenko posits, ‘Australia is a profoundly racist country and that is why I write more than anything else.’
- Pose this question to students for their reactions through an extended response that draws on the material in Lucashenko’s interview.
Rich assessment task
Using the data gathered in Activity two and considering the way that other characters from works of fiction respond to their past experiences, this task asks students to create a short story where four characters respond to the same situation differently.
Attached as Appendix one (PDF, 134KB).