Introductory activities

What is a fable?

Introduce students to the genre and the concept.

Ask students if they know what is meant by a ‘fable’. If they are unsure, explain what a fable is and ask students if they have ever read a fable. After introducing the concept of a fable, ask students to complete this fable activity (PDF, 177KB), briefly outlined below.

Writing your own fable

Using what they have learnt about fables, students are to write their own short story with a moral.

Students are to consider:

  • Where is the fable set?
  • What animals will they use to convey their message/moral? How will they describe them?
  • What will their moral lesson be?

Students may need to be reminded that fables are short, so it is important that they edit their work carefully to ensure that it is succinct.

Extension activity

Students may also like to include illustrations, or use an app of their choice to present their fable using multimedia elements such as voice-over narration, music and images. Apps such as PowerPoint/Keynote, Book Creator or iMovie would be appropriate for this task. Students can watch an online version of The Hare and the Tortoise for inspiration.
(ACLEA1542)   (ACLEA1549)   (ACELT1626)   (ACLET1627)   (ACLET1632)   (ACELT1768)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELY1734)   (ACELY1736)   (ACELY1810)   (ACELY1738)

What is an allegory?

Allegories deliver often complex messages in easy-to-read stories. This makes them extremely useful and expressive tools. For centuries, human beings have used allegories to say things they couldn’t say any other way; they are considered to be one of the oldest forms of storytelling in the world. Allegories have a surface and a deeper meaning. They are essentially a long metaphor, but in extended narrative form, unlike a normal metaphor, which is usually much shorter. Some of the most famous allegories are…Aesop’s fables!

Introduce students to the concept of an allegory. You might like to play this video to introduce them to the concept then complete the allegory introductory activity (PDF, 171KB).
(ACELT1626)   (ACLET1627)   (ACELT1630)   (ACLET1807)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELY1734)

Context of The Rabbits

As for all students, you may find that there is a diverse range of knowledge of Indigenous history and the history of Colonial Australia. Before completing the activity below, it would be beneficial to show students the first episode of First Australians to familiarise/re-familiarise students with Australia’s past. To dispel some of the most commonly held myths about Indigenous culture and civilisation, it would be useful to read to students extracts from Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu or Young Dark Emu.


Ask students to complete a KWL table (PDF, 131KB) on one or more of the topics below:

  • Indigenous history and culture (before colonisation and after)
  • the colonisation of Australia
  • early settlement and farming in Australia
  • introduced animal species in Australia
  • conflict between Indigenous Australians and European settlers
  • the Stolen Generations and the Assimilation Policy

Alternatively, print the headings on A3 paper and ask students to brainstorm what they know about the topics. Get students to complete these in groups of four to five. Allow one minute per topic per group, and then rotate the sheets in a clockwise direction until each group has contributed additional ideas to the sheet. This activity can be used as a diagnostic tool to establish what prior knowledge students have surrounding the historical context of The Rabbits.

Use the websites below for more information about any of the topics where students were lacking prior knowledge and/or wanted to learn more about.

Optional research activity

Ask students to complete a research matrix (PDF, 126KB) (for one or more of the topics below) using the same websites below as starting points. Students first need to create inquiry questions that are to be written in the first column on the matrix. For example:

  • How did Indigenous Australians live before Europeans arrived?
  • How did rabbits get to Australia?
  • What were the first major conflicts between Indigenous Australians and European settlers?

Students are to gather information from at least three websites that relate to each inquiry question and record it on the matrix (in their own words).

Show students the research matrix example (PDF, 132KB) before they start.

Indigenous history and culture

Introduced species in Australia


The Stolen Generations and Assimilation policy

Visual literacy – how do we ‘read’ an image?

Introduce students to visual literacy techniques using the visual literacy information sheet (PDF, 148KB). Students will also need to be familiarised with colour symbolism (PDF, 144KB).

More information about visual literacy techniques can be accessed here.

Identifying visual literacy techniques

Task 1

Create a PowerPoint presentation that includes examples and definitions of each of the visual literacy techniques investigated earlier. Remember to use free images (look for Creative Commons licences) or take them yourself!

Extension: Add examples of colour symbolism.

Task 2

Provide students with the link to Shaun Tan’s paintings and ask them to choose one (or more) to analyse. Ask students to identify and analyse the visual techniques used in the illustration/s to create meaning. Students can create a table like the one below where they record the techniques used and suggest their effect.

Technique Example  Effect 

(ACELA1544)   (ACELA1548)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELY1732)   (ACELY1734)   (ACELY1735)

First reading of The Rabbits  

Before reading, show students the front cover of The Rabbits. Ask them to complete the See, Think, Wonder task (PDF, 143KB).

Discuss these ideas as a class.

Read the text with the students, pausing to allow them to share their responses to the illustrations and text.

Ask them again what the they saw, thought and wondered whilst reading The Rabbits.

Discuss how The Rabbits is an allegory. Ask students to complete the allegory table (PDF, 144KB) to organise their ideas.
(ACELT1626)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELY1732)   (ACELY1734)   (ACELY1735)


Outline of key elements of the text


The story follows the historical progression of invasion –> initial friendship –> overwhelming expansion –> indifference to Indigenous culture –> resistance –> then complete domination and control. Ask students to identify the pages in the text where the themes change. They can plot this on a narrative structure pyramid (PDF, 125KB).


Questions to consider: 

  • Shaun Tan and John Marsden chose rabbits to represent the colonisers. Why do you believe they chose rabbits? (for more information about the introduction of rabbits in Australia, watch this clip or visit this website).
  • What other characters are included?
  • How are the Indigenous Australians represented?
  • Why do you think Tan chose (in his words) ‘native numbat-like creatures’ who are deliberately unrecognisable as native Australian animals? Why weren’t more obvious native animals chosen like kangaroos or emus?

(ACELA1547)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1628)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELY1733)   (ACELY1734)


Synthesising task

Dramatic performance

The Rabbits has recently been adapted into an opera. Watch the interview with Australian singer/songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke and adapter and director John Sheedy.

Discuss how effective this adaptation would be in presenting the content and themes from the original text. Is it still an allegory? Who is the intended audience of this performance?


In groups of four or five, you are to create an improvised dramatic performance (PDF, 163KB) of one of the double pages from The Rabbits. You must include the lines from the text, but otherwise you can create your own dialogue and movements to present your page (or alternatively, no additional dialogue!). Use the Opera version for inspiration.

Things to consider:

  • Your performance should be between one and two minutes long.
  • Consider the emotion and mood of the page you are portraying.
  • Make sure your performance reflects the themes presented in the page.
  • You may use only simple costumes or props, such as a mask or a toy.
  • You may also like to include background music (without lyrics) that support the mood and tone of your scene.
  • Make sure you include the characters from your page and that everyone in your group has a role.

You will then present your performance to the class, in the order they appear in the text.
(ACELA1548)   (ACELT1768)   (ACELY1736)   (ACELY1731)   (ACELY1808)

The writer’s craft


There are no named settings in The Rabbits, however, particular Australian landscapes can be identified such as deserts and grasslands. As a class, create a list of the types of landscapes presented in the text (remember that built landscapes can also be included).

Botany Bay is one of the only known settings in The Rabbits (based on information provided by Shaun Tan). Ask students to explore modern day Botany Bay using Google Earth. Students can also learn more about Botany Bay on this website.

Ask students to consider the following questions:

  • Why would Botany Bay have been chosen as the place for European explorers to come ashore?
  • Why is it named Botany Bay? How might this have influenced Indigenous people living in this area? How might this have influenced Europeans to return and set up colonies in this area?
  • How has Botany Bay changed?

Point of view

The Rabbits is written from the point of view of the native animals. The text is written in the first person plural (collective) with the rabbits often being referred to simply as ‘they’.

How do perspectives influence our reading of the text?

When reading a text it is important to consider the point of view or perspective that is being presented. Consider an event in your life where people have had different perspectives. What factors might influence someone’s perspective on an event, e.g. their physical circumstances, emotions, etc. ?

Discussion questions: 

  • Why do you believe Marsden and Tan chose to present this text from an Indigenous perspective?
  • What other perspectives could this text be presented from? e.g. European settlers, convicts, descendants of the settlers and convicts, international visitors, a narrator or from the third person omniscient point of view.


As a class, rewrite the text from one of the images. Ask students to consider the language that would be used.

For example:

Original text The Rabbits POV Narrator (third person)
‘They didn’t live in trees like we did.’ ‘They didn’t live in burrows like we did.’ ‘The Rabbits did not live in trees like the native animals did.’

Ask students to choose one event portrayed on a double page and rewrite the text from a different perspective. Consider the choice of language, e.g ‘stole our children’ might become ‘saved their children’ if written from the perspective of a coloniser. Students can also sketch an illustration to match the perspective they have presented. How does this rewriting change the meaning of the text and do you think such a change affects or compromises the original text? What do you think the predominant perspective of the colonisers’ and convicts’ descendants might be? Do you think this could be problematic?
(ACELA1547)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1628)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELT1734)

Literary techniques

There are many literary devices used by John Marsden in The Rabbits that both enhance and are enhanced by Shaun Tan’s graphics. These include: imagery, repetition, rhetorical questions, emotive language and hyperbole. Each of these has been used for a particular purpose and effect.


Step 1: Provide students with the literary devices hand-out (PDF, 309KB) to familiarise themselves with the techniques.

Step 2: Ask students to identify these literary devices in The Rabbits. Complete the Literary devices technique, example, effect table (PDF, 152KB).


The characters in The Rabbits are not named, in fact as the text is from the point of view of  the Indigenous peoples, we are not even told what to refer to them as – simply ‘us’ and ‘we’ and ‘our’, etc. Perhaps this non-statement of identity is symbolic in the way that the rabbits denied their very existence (perhaps here you could mention and explain terra nullius). Similarly, the rabbits are also unnamed and simply referred to collectively as ‘the rabbits’. However, some rabbits can be seen to represent real-life historical figures such as Captain Cook and their clothing and accessories make their occupations or roles evident. What do you think the symbolism of this might be?

Character descriptions

Ask students to write a list of the identified characters – either by dress or role – in The Rabbits and describe their appearance. They can complete this on a table like the one below.

Character   Description 
e.g Rabbit who resembles Captain Cook black coat with white and gold trim and white writing, very large pointed hat, white pants, long black boots. dressed differently to the other rabbits.

Role on the wall

This activity requires students to consider how the characters are thinking and feeling about the events that take place in the text. You may like to begin with a class discussion or whole-class brainstorm about how the characters would be thinking or feeling. You could complete a table like the one below:

Rabbits Native animals


  1. Divide students into pairs or groups of three.
  2. Students are to choose a character from The Rabbits. Sketch this character on A3 or butcher’s paper. Next to the character’s head, students are to draw a thought bubble. Next to or within the character’s chest, they are to draw a large love heart.
  3. Students are to begin by writing facts (what they know) about their character around the outside of their sketch, e.g. a rabbit, wearing a soldier’s uniform, arrived on a ship, etc.
  4. Inside the love heart, students are to write words that describe how they think the character would be feeling about the invasion, e.g. the rabbits might be feeling nervous or homesick, whereas the native animals might be feeling fearful or threatened.
  5. Inside the thought bubble, students are to write words that describe what they believe the character would be thinking/wondering e.g. the native animals might wonder, ‘Will we lose our homes?’ ‘Who are these strange creatures?’ whilst the rabbits might be thinking, ‘The plants here are very different to home’.
  6. Students can share their work with their peers and then they can be displayed on the wall in the classroom.

Hot seating

This role-playing activity asks students to take on the role of a character from the text and to consider their thoughts and feelings. These students will be asked questions devised by their peers who will take on the role of an interviewer.

Step 1: divide students into groups of four. Within their groups, students are to allocate roles: two students are to become interviewers, and the remaining two are either a native animal or a rabbit.

Step 2: The two students are to brainstorm how their characters would be thinking and feeling about their experiences since the rabbits arrived. They might like to draw a table like the one below:

Thoughts Feelings


The two students who are interviewing are to create two to three questions each to ask the characters. One may like to interview the rabbit, whilst the other student interviews the native animal. Questions could include: What were you thinking and feeling when you saw the ship arriving in the bay (to an Indigenous animal)? What were your initial thoughts of this new land (to a rabbit)? Students are to make sure their questions are open-ended and evoke deep/detailed responses.

Step 3: Students can begin to interview each other.

Step 4: Conclude the activity with a whole class reflection. Questions you could pose to the class include:

    • How did it feel to step into the character’s shoes?
    • What new insights did you gain about the character’s thoughts and feelings from our activity?
    • What challenges did you and/or your group members face whilst completing this activity?

(ACELT1626)   (ACELT1628)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELY1736)   (ACELY1731)

Visual literacy techniques

For this task, students will identify the use of visual literacy techniques on the front/back cover of The Rabbits.

  1. Provide students with the They Came by Water image, the visual literacy techniques information sheet (PDF, 148KB) as well as the cover analysis table (PDF, 152KB).
  2. As a whole group, discuss with students what their initial thoughts are when looking at the cover. You can ask questions like: What do you see/notice? What does it make you think? What are you wondering?
  3. In pairs or individually, students are to identify the visual literacy techniques used in the image and suggest why they are used (the effect). These observations and suggestions are to be recorded on the analysis table.

Visual literacy comparative study: They Came by Water vs Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770

Task 1: Compare and contrast activities

Compare the illustration of the rabbits arriving by Shaun Tan entitled They Came by Water with the original painting Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770 by E. Phillips Fox (1902).

You might like to discuss what students already know about the landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay. This video might be useful in presenting some background information as well as this website for an alternative perspective.

  1. Divide students into pairs or groups of three.
  2. Provide students with either a digital or hard copy of the original painting and a copy of The Rabbits text or use They Came by Water and the Comparing and Contrasting Images retrieval chart (PDF, 177KB).
  3. In their groups, students are to firstly analyse the two images and discuss any similarities and differences between the original painting and Shaun Tan’s adaptation.
  4. Record these observations on the retrieval chart (PDF, 177KB).
  5. Students are to consider how the Indigenous people are portrayed in both images. For example, in They Came by Water, the native animals are a long distance away and are merely observing the landing, whereas in the original painting, the Indigenous people are closer to the foreground and are holding weapons in readiness to defend their land. Record these observations and interpretations on the table provided.
  6. Students are to consider how the colonisers are portrayed in both images. Record these observations and interpretations on the table provided. For example, the rabbits are in uniform and are armed and are pointing their arms and weapons towards the Indigenous inhabitants, just as they are in the original painting although the distance is enhanced.
  7. Individually, students are to write a paragraph comparing and contrasting what is being presented in both images. Students are to use the information they have recorded in their retrieval chart (PDF, 177KB) to assist them in writing their paragraph.
Task 2: Comparing visual literacy techniques

An extension of Task 1 is to compare the actual visual literacy techniques – as previously explained – used in both They Came by Water and Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770

  1. Provide students with either a digital or hard copy of the original painting and a copy of The Rabbits text or use They Came by Water and the retrieval chart. Students may also need to refer to the visual literacy information sheet (PDF, 148KB).
  2. Individually or in pairs, students are to complete the retrieval chart (PDF, 162KB) by identifying the features of each of the visual literacy techniques.
    (ACELA1547)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1628)   (ACELY1629)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELY1734)
Task 3: Analysing visual literacy techniques in The Rabbits 

Moving beyond the cover image, students either working individually or in pairs are to choose one different double-page spread from The Rabbits (or the teacher can allocate the various images)Students should follow the steps below. 

  1. Ask students to take a photo of their chosen page. Insert this into a word document. Alternatively, these could be printed on A4 paper and students can annotate it on A3 paper. (At this stage it is a good idea to remind students about how copyright permissions work and that in this case they are covered by the special exemptions given to schools – but not beyond school.)
  2. Annotate the visual literacy techniques that are used. Students can do this by writing the technique e.g. salient point with an arrow or write what the salient point is underneath the technique. Use the visual literacy information sheet (PDF, 148KB) to assist students with identifying the techniques.
  3. Ask students to also include the effect in their annotations.
  4. Individually, students can write a paragraph analysing their allocated page. Include the following:
    • What elements of visual literacy can you identify? What is their purpose and effect?
    • What is the surface meaning of this page? (what can you see)
    • What is the deeper meaning? (what messages are the authors trying to convey?)
    • What text has been included on this page? Does it add extra information or support the text? Consider the vocabulary choices.
    • How has the author positioned you to respond to this page? (How does this page make you think and feel?)

(ACELA1548)   (ACELA1547)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1628)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELT1767)   (ACELY1732)   (ACELY1734)

Themes in context 

Activity 1

This activity asks students to explore the major events in Australia’s history that are depicted in The Rabbits and analyse the information and perspectives presented.

Step 1:

In pairs or groups of three, students are to be allocated one double page from The Rabbits. These pages should relate to a specific event or theme dealing with the interactions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Provide students with the task sheet (PDF, 162KB).

  • ‘They won’t understand the right ways’ (Early exploration and study of Australia’s flora and fauna – 1770)
  • ‘They came by water’ (The landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay – 1770)
  • ‘They made their own houses’ (The First fleet and settlement at Botany Bay – 1788 and onwards)
  • ‘They brought new food, and they brought other animals’ (Early farming and grazing by Europeans – 1788 onwards)
  • ‘Sometimes we had fights’ (Conflict, oppression, massacres and frontier violence)
  • ‘And they stole our children’ (The Stolen Generations)
  • ‘The land is bare and brown and the wind blows empty across the plains’ (Expansion of the colony and its negative environmental impact)

Step 2:

Students are to locate their allocated page from The Rabbits. For this page they are to:

  • Summarise what is being presented and identify how this page relates to the theme/topic.
  • Identify the main visual literacy techniques used and their effects.
  • Explain the Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives of this event/scene.

Step 3:

Students are to research their theme/event and present their findings in a PowerPoint presentation. They need to include the main facts about this event, as well as the impact on the natural environment and Indigenous people and/or their culture. Students are to add how this theme/event was portrayed in The Rabbits using the information they gathered through their close analysis.

The following websites will get them started:

Step 4:

Students are to present their presentations to the rest of the class (ideally in chronological order).
(ACLEA1542)   (ACLEA1548)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1806)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELY1738)

The following activities address the key theme: ‘Who will save us from the rabbits?’

Activity 2 

Discuss with students the final line in The Rabbits: ‘Who will save us from the rabbits?’

Pose questions to students such as:

  • Why do the native animals need saving?
  • Could they have saved themselves? Did they try?
  • How were the native animals’ lives and culture affected by the rabbits?
  • Consider recent events towards reconciliation in Australia (such as the ban on climbing Uluru, the move to include reference to Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution and the Uluru Statement from the Heart). Do you think the native animals have been ‘saved’? Can the damage ever be fixed? Who can or should save them from the rabbits?
Activity 3

Step 1:

Organising students into groups of three or four, present students with a number of key recent events in Australian First Nations’ history. Have them select or allocate one of the key or significant historical events that have worked or are working towards reconciliation in Australia since colonisation.

Step 2:

Students are to research this event online to discover:

  • What is this event?
  • Who is involved in it?
  • What was/is the outcome and how was/is reconciliation addressed?

Students are to record their findings on the linked research table (PDF, 126KB).

Step 3:

Students are to link this event with the pages in the text to which this event responds (e.g.’They stole our children’ page and the Bringing them Home report of 1995 or Kevin Rudd’s Apology Speech in 2008). For some of the events that have occurred since publication of The Rabbits, students will have to look closely at some of the underlying themes: dispossession, lack of recognition etc. to makes these links.

Step 4:

Students are to present their research findings to the class. They are to include the information gathered for all three guiding questions. Students are to also explain which event and/or page/s from The Rabbits this event addresses.

Step 5:

Return to the question ‘Who will save us from the rabbits?’ Pose the following questions to students, either in the form of a class discussion, or individual or paired written responses.

  • Who is working towards saving First Nations’ Australians from ‘the rabbits’?
  • Do ‘the rabbits’ still exist or are we working towards reconciliation as multicultural modern-day Australians?

(ACELT1626)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELY1731)

Themes in The Rabbits

This activity asks students to identify and analyse the main themes in the text.

Step 1: Divide students into pairs or groups of three and allocate each group one of the main themes already explored in The Rabbits (invasion, colonisation, violence, dispossession, cultural genocide, destruction of the environment, assimilation, identity, the centrality of country/place, the future)

Step 2: Students can complete the table (PDF, 140KB) to identify and analyse the following elements:

  • the two main perspectives that are explored in this text (Indigenous and colonial)
  • the images/visual literacy techniques that explore this theme
  • the text that relates to this theme
  • the message that Tan and Marsden are conveying regarding this theme.

Step 3: Ask students to share their ideas with the class. Students can then use this information to construct their TEEL paragraph (PDF, 130KB) on one of the themes (see task below).
(ACLEA1542)   (ACLEA1548)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1806)   (ACELY1730)


Synthesising task

Exploring and explaining themes in The Rabbits

Provide students with the task handout (PDF, 166KB).

Choose one or two of the themes in The Rabbits explored earlier and write one or two detailed paragraphs explaining how the themes are explored in the story through the use of visual literacy techniques. Provide students with the TEEL planning sheet (PDF, 130KB) to assist them in organising their ideas.

Your paragraphs should respond to the question: How are these themes explored in The Rabbits? What messages are Tan and Marsden trying to convey?

Remind students to:

  • Write in third person e.g ‘The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan explores the theme of invasion through the use of…’
  • Include quotation marks when quoting text e.g. ‘At first we didn’t know what to think’, and remember to include quotes in a sentence.
  • Discuss the main page/pages that explore these themes and include specific examples of the visual literacy techniques used. Follow the technique-example-effect format, e.g. the salient point in the first image, They Came by Water, is the ship which towers over the Indigenous people, making the colonisers look more powerful and highlighting that they are the invaders and are dominant. 
  • Follow the TEEL paragraph structure.
  • Proofread and edit work carefully for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

(ACELA1548)   (ACELA1547)   (ACELA1549)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1806)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELY1733)   (ACELY1734)   (ACELY1735)   (ACELY1736)   (ACELY1810)   (ACELY1732)


Ways of reading the text

Postcolonial literary theory

The Rabbits by Shaun Tan and John Marsden is an allegory of the colonisation of Australia. The text challenges traditional non-Indigenous portrayals of European settlement of Australia such as the painting of the landing of Captain Cook in 1770 by presenting a different perspective of the colonisation of Australia, from the point of view of the original inhabitants.

Postcolonial literary theory deals with the power relations between different groups, cultures or people from formerly colonised countries, namely the ‘ways of being’ between the colonisers and the colonised. Postcolonial literature focuses on the de-colonisation of a country and the desired return of political or cultural independence to First Nations’ peoples.

The Rabbits has been criticised for focusing predominately on the negative impacts of colonisation on Indigenous Australians, particularly the feeling of hopelessness at the end of the text: ‘Who will save us from the rabbits?’ As covered in previous activities, there are many events in Australia’s more recent history that are beginning to pave the way towards reconciliation and that challenge the portrayal of Indigenous peoples as passive bystanders. One of these events is the 1965 Freedom Ride. This event is said to be the beginning of the long journey towards reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.


Introduce students to the purpose and outcome of the 1965 freedom ride in Australia. ABC Education has a number of videos available that would be appropriate for this purpose:

Discuss with students the extent to which decolonisation or reconciliation has occurred in Australia over the subsequent fifty-five years. What are some of the key issues or friction points in the journey towards reconciliation? You might like to focus on some key current issues, such as constitutional recognition, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Indigenous educational outcomes, incarceration rates/deaths in custody and so on.


Have students draw a detailed illustration, using similar visual literacy techniques to The Rabbits, to depict the Indigenous people in their fight for recognition in the 1965 Freedom Ride. They may like to add text that supports their illustration such as, ‘We rode around New South Wales, and made our intentions clear.’ Students can access famous images from the time that they can use as ideas to present the perspective of the colonised in their illustration. Please remember to respect copyright terms and conditions when accessing images.

These images can be viewed on websites such as the following:

Postcolonial literary theory also deals with the portrayal of colonisation from multiple perspectives. Compare the perspective of the colonisation of Australia in The Rabbits with a more traditional portrayal as depicted in texts such as the mini series The Secret River (based on the novel by Kate Grenville). Does this text make you sympathise more with the colonised or the colonisers?
(ACELT1626)   (ACELT1806)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELY1734)

Comparisons with other texts

Indigenous poetry 

The Rabbits depicts historical events from an Indigenous perspective (by non-Indigenous authors). Oodgeroo Noonuccal was an Australian Indigenous political activist, author and educator. Her poems reflect the impact that colonisation had on Indigenous Australians’ culture, from an Indigenous perspective. A short introduction to Noonuccal can be accessed here. Some of her work is also accessible here on the Reading Australia site.

As a class, analyse Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poem ‘We are Going’. You may like to play the YouTube clip of Noonuccal reciting this poem with accompanying images, as well as providing a copy of the text.

Ask students to identify:

  • the poetic devices that are used such as: repetition and imagery
  • the main message of the poem
  • the perspective that the poem presents and what emotions are being conveyed
  • any parallels (or similarities and differences) they can draw between the poem and The Rabbits (e.g. loss of culture, a sense of hopelessness).

In pairs, ask students to choose another of Noonuccal’s poems and complete the same set of tasks as the previous activity. Students may also wish to explore more contemporary Indigenous poets such as: Ellen van NeervenAlison WhittakerKirli SaundersAli Cobby Eckermann and Joel Davison. The Red Room Poetry site is a good place to start.

Extension activity:

Ask students to create an illustration to support one or more lines of the poem they have chosen. They may like to use animals to represent humans as in The Rabbits. Ask students to consider the perspective from which their illustration is taken, as well as their use of visual literacy techniques such as the salient point, angle, gaze, etc.
(ACELT1626)   (ACELT1768)   (ACELT1806)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELY1736)

Australia Day advertisement

In 2017, Meat and Livestock Australia released an advertisement that celebrated diversity in Australia and acknowledged Australia’s colonial past, but challenged the celebration of Australia Day that forefronts the date Australia was invaded. This advertisement addresses Indigenous land rights and promotes reconciliation.

Discuss with students:

  • What is the main message of this advertisement?
  • Does it challenge the traditional view of Australia being colonised or ‘beginning’ on 26 January, 1788 when the first fleet arrived? How?
  • How does this advertisement make you feel? Do you believe that it is no longer appropriate to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January?
  • Are the contents of the advertisement based on fact?
  • What similarities can you identify between the Australia Day advertisement and The Rabbits (focusing particularly on the first three double pages).

(ACELA1542)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1806)   (ACELY1734)

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Rabbit-Proof Fence is a film produced by Phillip Noyce in 2002 and is based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara. This adaptation of a true story deals with the displacement and attempted assimilation of Indigenous Australians in the 1930s, during the time of the White Australia Policy. This is depicted in The Rabbits on the page reading, ‘and they stole our children’.

After watching the film, ask students to write an informative paragraph on the Stolen Generations explaining the forced separation of Indigenous children from families. Students need to consider their choice of language. e.g The Rabbits uses the term ‘stolen’. They are to include what they have learnt about the experiences of the Indigenous people from the film. It’s also worth promoting class discussion on the extent of the forced removal of children – the Stolen Generations, which date back to mission times in the early twentieth century and which many would claim is still happening today through the Intervention and the very high rates of removal of Indigenous children from their immediate families by state welfare services. The iconic Archie Roach is just one of many famous First Nations’ peoples who are members of the Stolen Generations.

Young Dark Emu 

Like The Rabbits, Young Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe also presents a lesser known and radically different perspective of Indigenous history and culture. Have students read extracts from Young Dark Emu. Ask them to consider the illustrations and how Indigenous people are portrayed (mention how these were mostly created by European artists). Ask students to identify and explain any links between this text and The Rabbits. In particular focus on the misconceptions regarding agriculture, land use and life style/housing challenged by Pascoe in both this work and the original Dark EmuCompare this with the depiction of the environment following the rabbit plague in the final pages of The Rabbits: ‘The land is bare and brown…’

Ask students to answer the following questions:

  • Does Young Dark Emu add to your understanding of Indigenous history and culture? How?
  • What similarities and differences can you find between the two texts? Complete a Venn diagram (students can draw one in their exercise book, or you can find many examples online).

Compare how the following themes are explored in the two texts. What messages does each text convey?

Theme  The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan  Young Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe 

(ACELA1548)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1806)   (ACELT1628)   (ACELT1627)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELT1629)   (ACELY1734)

The Arrival 

The Arrival is another text by Shaun Tan that explores some similar themes to those depicted in The Rabbits, such as belonging, identity, connection to country and displacement

However, The Arrival is from the perspective of an immigrant, not an Indigenous person. As this story is told through a series of wordless images, it is recommended that it is viewed in pairs or small groups, rather than it being presented to them. Alternatively, you can show them the animated version.

Pre-reading activity

Ask students to complete a See, Think, Wonder chart (PDF, 143KB) for the cover of The Arrival. Discuss students’ answers as a class, focusing particularly on what they believe the significance of the creature is on the cover. Ask students if they can draw any comparisons between this animal and those presented in The Rabbits?

Reading the text

Before reading the text as a whole, ask students what they know about graphic novels, particularly if they know how to ‘read them’ (left to right, top to bottom). More information about reading a graphic novel can be accessed here.

Analysing visual literacy techniques

Using what they have learned earlier about visual literacy techniques (PDF, 148KB), ask students to analyse a page of their choice. They can record their observations and analysis on the retrieval chart (PDF, 158KB).

Students can access some of the illustrations on Shaun Tan’s website if necessary.

Compare and contrast The Arrival and The Rabbits

Begin by asking students to brainstorm the main features of each text and record these on a Venn diagram. Then ask students to complete a close analysis of the two texts, in terms of their main features and how they are similar or different. This can be recorded on the retrieval chart (PDF, 153KB).

Discussion/comprehension questions

These questions could be discussed as a whole class, in small groups or answered individually in the form of short paragraph responses.

  • Why did Shaun Tan choose to include unrecognisable animals in the illustrations for both of these texts?
  •  Why do you think Shaun Tan chose to make The Arrival a wordless text? Do you think The Arrival would have been enhanced if it had some text like The Rabbits? Or is it more effective being wordless?
  • Perspectives in texts can influence our personal responses. Do you sympathise more with the main character in The Arrival, as the text is from his perspective, than the rabbits (colonisers), when they could both be seen as ‘invaders’? How? Why?
  • How do the endings of these two texts differ? Can you find any similarities between the endings?

(ACELT1626)   (ACELT1768)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELY1730)


Rich assessment task 1 – productive mode

An addition to The Rabbits

Provide the assessment rubric (PDF, 179KB) to students.

Shaun Tan and John Marsden are seeking ideas for additional pages that can be added to The Rabbits to bring it up to date with contemporary issues and to present a more hopeful picture of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships. 

Consider another significant event in current Indigenous history, such as the 1967 Referendum, the 2008 apology by Kevin Rudd or the current Uluru Statement from the Heart and Constitutional recognition issue. Research this event or use the information covered in the previous Close Reading section and present it as an additional double page to be included at the end of The Rabbits.

Step 1: Research a significant event in Indigenous history where there are several perspectives. Use the websites below as starting points as they portray Indigenous perspectives:

Step 2: Draw a detailed illustration of your selected encounter/event/issue. Remember to plan your illustration carefully in order to follow the visual literacy conventions learnt previously. Watch this tutorial by Shaun Tan in which he explains some of his drawing techniques. If you use colour, consider which colours you are using and what they symbolise. (If your drawing skills are not what you’d like them to be, then present your illustration as a plan, indicating what might go where and how it might be illustrated.)

Step 3: Write your text. Your dialogue should be from the perspective of the ‘native animals/inhabitants’ as in the previous pages. Consider your choice of words carefully and choose those that have impact and meaning.

Step 4: Write a detailed context statement to support your illustration.

    • Explain the historical event that your illustration and text is based on (e.g. The Uluru Statement from the Heart) and how your illustration or planned illustration reflects this.
    • Identify at least three visual literacy techniques in your illustration or plan and explain why you have included them (their effect on the reader).
    • Explain your choice of text to accompany your illustration. How does it complement and support your illustration?

(ACELA1547)   (ACELA1548)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1632)   (ACELT1768)   (ACELY1810)   (ACELY1736)



Task 1

Ask students the following question:

  • Have your thoughts, opinions or knowledge grown or changed since reading The Rabbits?

Complete the Connect, Extend Challenge table (PDF, 137KB) after reading The Rabbits to guide your thinking.

Task 2

Write a reflection using the ‘I used to think…but now I think…’ thinking routine. Ask students to share their ideas in small groups or as a class, before completing a written reflection, as this will assist them in being able to explain their thinking e.g. ‘I used to think that picture books were written for children but now I think that they can be more complex and can explore themes that many children would not understand.’

Ask them the question:

  • Does The Rabbits challenge your expectations of a picture book?

Ask the students to complete the written reflection (PDF, 145KB) using this routine.
(ACELA1542)   (ACELA1548)   (ACELA1547)   (ACELT1626)   (ACELT1627)   (ACELT1629)   (ACELY1732)   (ACELY1734)

The Rabbits: fact or fiction?

The parallels with the history of colonisation in Australia are evident when reading the The Rabbits. However, it has been labelled on occasion as being ‘politically correct propaganda’ and has generated controversy due to its confronting themes.

Discussion questions:
  • Do you agree with the critics that The Rabbits is ‘propaganda’?
  • Can it be propaganda if it is historically accurate?
  • How effective is The Rabbits as a text to learn about Australia’s past? Consider the themes that are explored and whether or not their portrayal can be supported by other evidence.

Visit Shaun Tan’s website to read more about the criticism the story received.
(ACELT1626)   (ACELT1627)   (ACELT1628)   (ACELT1807)   (ACELT1629)   (ACELY1732)   (ACELY1734)   (ACELY1735)

Paired activity

Ask students to Imagine that they have been asked to create a filmed review of The Rabbits for a website such as Reading Australia. The video can be no longer than three minutes in length. The audience for this video is teachers who may be considering teaching this text. The video can be in the form of an interview where one student can act as the interviewer and the other the reviewer.

Step 1: Ask students to devise between five and eight open-ended questions about the text. These questions need to address the following elements:

    • the topic(s) covered in the text and their value for students
    • the main themes addressed
    • their initial response to the text and whether that changed at all
    • why they would recommend it as a valuable text to be taught in English.

Step 2: Ask students to draft some answers to these questions, they may like to write the entire interview script.

Step 3: Ask students to film themselves asking and responding to the questions. Edit the films as necessary, and include sub-text, background music, etc.

Step 4: Play the films to the class.
(ACELT1626)   (ACELT1627)   (ACELY1730)   (ACELT1808)


Rich assessment task 2 – receptive mode

Book review blog

A blog is like an online journal where you can share your thoughts and ideas with a large audience. There are many blogging tools that students can use, some of the most popular for students are edublogsWeebly for Education and

Explore the blog post review of The Rabbits with students. Discuss the content and the author’s writing style. Identify some of the vocabulary choices made to express opinions.

After reviewing the blog on The Rabbits, students are to write their own blog post (PDF, 165KB) reviewing The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan.

What to include:

  • a brief overview of the text: plot, setting, themes
  • a discussion of what you liked about the story, and why
  • descriptions of at least two of the illustrations that you connected with explaining what you liked about them (include the historical context and other visual literacy techniques and their effect on the reader.)
  • a recommendation – who would you recommend this text to and why?

Consider your vocabulary choices, particularly those that describe your opinions e.g. The Rabbits is a captivating read.

Make sure you edit your blog carefully for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors; people do not want to read an unprofessional blog!

Once you have completed your blog, share the link to your blog with your teacher and your peers.
(ACELA1766)   (ACELA1547)   (ACELT1627)   (ACELY1734)   (ACELY1736)   (ACELY1738)