Introductory activities

Background: the author

Barbara Hanrahan (1939–1991) was a talented Australian painter, printmaker and writer of the 20th century who wrote 15 books before her death. In 1963 she went to the Royal College of London to study art, and she remained mostly in England until the early 1980s. During this period she wrote her first published book, The Scent of Eucalyptus (1973), a ‘semi-autobiography’ evoking her childhood in Adelaide in a household of three generations of women.

The world of suburban Thebarton (inner-western Adelaide) during the 1940s and 1950s provides the background for Hanrahan’s childhood experiences. She reflects on growing up with her mother, grandmother and great-aunt, alternately nostalgic and critical of the restrictive gender and class values and attitudes that governed women’s lives in that period. She is concerned with giving a voice to working class individuals, and her artwork demonstrates an interest in portraying the visceral reality of women’s lives and experiences.

The Scent of Eucalyptus emerged from diary entries in which Hanrahan recorded her memories. The reflective voice of the diary form has influenced the often-episodic nature of this text, which is rich in imagery and depictions of time and place.

A brief summary of Hanrahan’s life is available from the SA History Hub.


One way into this text is through the lens of its historical context: a memoir written in the 1970s about life in 1940s and 1950s Adelaide. As The Scent of Eucalyptus offers a detailed description of a particular location, it is interesting to consider how the setting has shaped the action.

Browse the booklet for the West Torrens Historical Society’s Scent of Eucalyptus walk, which goes through the suburb of Thebarton (depicted in detail throughout the text).

There are several useful sources in this document:

  • 42 – a photo of a young Hanrahan that gives a face to the voice in the memoir
  • 5 – an image of Hanrahan’s house, now demolished, accompanied by details of people mentioned in the text
  • 8 – some text that explores the atmosphere of suburban lanes in the 1940s and 1950s
  • 13 – images of advertisements mentioned in the book

Designed for local history enthusiasts, the booklet quotes from the parts of The Scent of Eucalyptus that describe Thebarton and its residents. The section on ‘Hanrahan and Social Reform’ (pp. 40–41) also addresses the complexities of the era, which Hanrahan explores both nostalgically and critically.

After reading through these historical details, consider:

  • What is the purpose of memorialising the past through literature?
  • Is it necessary to understand the historical context to fully appreciate The Scent of Eucalyptus? What are the limitations of an approach that focuses on the history of places related to Hanrahan’s childhood?

Give students the following prompt:

Do you think Hanrahan was interested in exploring her understanding of a specific time and place, or is the purpose of The Scent of Eucalyptus to examine social values and attitudes?

In pairs, students will locate two or three examples from the text that support their perceptions of Hanrahan’s purpose (either ‘time and place’ OR ‘values and attitudes’), then discuss and debate with the rest of the class.

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Hanrahan’s life

Hanrahan died of cancer at the relatively young age of 52. This interview for ABC RN’s Profile, recorded in 1984, introduces many of the key ideas that are essential to understanding her memoir. Listening to the interview and completing the questions below is another useful way in to the text. The interview covers both Hanrahan’s life as an artist and her recollections of her childhood.

  1. Why is art ‘almost like meditation’ to Hanrahan?
  2. What is different to Hanrahan about the writing process?
  3. What was Hanrahan’s first memory of childhood? What does it tell you about her?

Discuss Hanrahan’s memories of her childhood:

  1. Who and what was important in Hanrahan’s ‘basic’ childhood?
  2. Why was Hanrahan’s grandmother so influential in her life?
  3. What are Hanrahan’s memories of Reece like? What did Reece spend her time doing?
  4. What can you tell about Hanrahan from her first efforts at writing?
  5. Why did Hanrahan start keeping a diary in London?
  6. What was significant about the death of Hanrahan’s grandmother for her writing?
  7. Why was ‘getting away’ from Adelaide so important for the author’s creativity?
  8. What made Hanrahan angry about her adolescence in 1950s Adelaide? Why was the atmosphere so constraining?
  9. How did the newspapers that Hanrahan re-read reflect femininity in the 1950s?
  10. Why did Hanrahan leave to go to London?
  11. Why did Hanrahan choose to return to Adelaide and how was her writing connected to this?
  12. The interviewer discusses the importance of writing about a particular place. What is Hanrahan’s reaction to the idea that Adelaideans might be anxious or perturbed by her writing?
  13. Discuss the importance of everyday objects in Hanrahan’s writing. What does she say about them?

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The author as a feminist: ‘the personal is political’

The initial impetus for Hanrahan’s writing was personal, emerging from her grandmother’s death and her desire to memorialise her family experiences. Her wish to record these women’s voices and ensure that their role in history was remembered, however, also has political dimensions. Indeed, a popular feminist slogan from the 1970s was ‘the personal is political’, born from the work of theorists who explored how the individual and collective dimensions of the female experience were entwined. The Britannica entry on ‘the personal is political’ mentions some key figures who were instrumental in exploring feminist ideas during the era that The Scent of Eucalyptus was written, including Betty Friedan, bell hooks and Carol Hanisch.


Students can consider the slogan ‘the personal is political’ – what does it mean? Is it still relevant?

In composing their responses, students should consider using a contemporary textual form that can be quickly produced and disseminated to the class as a focus for the discussion. This might include:

  • a series of memes based on key ideas
  • a Canva poster
  • an infographic
  • a short blog post

Students should also consider the relevance of the personal and the political to the ideas that form the background to The Scent of Eucalyptus.

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The author as an artist

Hanrahan’s art encompasses many of the concerns of second-wave feminism. She conveys social messages through her unconventional and symbolic artistic style.

Students can read the Conversation articleBarbara Hanrahan: an Australian feminist artist you need to know‘. It features a series of Hanrahan’s prints with their iconic haunting and often subversive visions of female archetypes.

After reading the article, discuss:

  • Why is ‘the matriarchy’ such an important part of Hanrahan’s personal experience? Consider the subjects of her artworks and discuss the link between Hanrahan’s artistic choices and her interest in the feminine.
  • View the images of angels in Hanrahan’s art. What do angels traditionally represent in terms of visions of women? How has Hanrahan appropriated and subverted these traditional visions? What do you think her purpose is?
  • ‘Wedding Night’ (1978) is a confronting image. What do you think Hanrahan is trying to explore? How is she critiquing the constraints of traditional relationships or the concept of marriage? Remember that the artist herself chose to live in a long-term domestic partnership outside of marriage, a relatively unusual choice for a woman of her era. Hanrahan and her partner also decided not to have children.
  • What surprised you about Hanrahan’s life or art? What ideas and themes do you expect her memoir to explore?

For more on Hanrahan’s art and feminism, consider the City of West Torrens’ website.

  • How does Hanrahan challenge traditional images of femininity through her work?
  • What does her choice of subject matter tell you about her interests and beliefs?

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The title

Before reading The Scent of Eucalyptus, students can consider the expectations created by the title:

  • How does the title give focus to the senses? What does it indicate about Hanrahan’s purpose and style when writing her memoirs?
  • Why does Hanrahan choose a particular Australian leaf for use in the title? What does it indicate about the intended audience?

The memoir

Students can debate the textual form (including purpose, audience, genre and structure) that is suggested by the title.

  • Does the title suggest a fanciful series of recollections (perhaps a non-linear narrative that will focus on sensory impressions)?
  • Is there a difference between an autobiography and a memoir? Discuss any ideas about potential similarities or perceived differences.
  • Why is it interesting that an Australian woman living in the 1970s would choose her personal experiences as the basis for her first published book? How might this be empowering for her? What suppressed voices may the book seek to include?

Hanrahan is so significant that she appears in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Students can read her entry and list the features of a biography (e.g. facts about places, dates, people, schooling, events, achievements). How might this be different to a memoir?

Focus on the first paragraph of Hanrahan’s entry. Students can experiment with the form by changing it to first-person (e.g. ‘I was a writer and artist born on …’). Does this work? Now try rewriting it imaginatively, starting with:

‘You ask me about my life? Well, I can list it all – when I was born, when I died, what school I went to – but does that tell you the truth? Or maybe I can tell you about …’

Return to the question of difference between biography and memoir and have students write a paragraph about their expectations for each.

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Synthesising task

Visual literacy

Understanding Hanrahan’s artistic choices gives us a heightened awareness of the ideas that were important to her. View some of her artworks on the Art Gallery of NSW website and invite students to choose four or five images that they find especially appealing, complex or confronting. In pairs, they will answer the following questions:

  • What makes Hanrahan’s works unique?
  • How do they question traditional values and beliefs through their style, choice of subject and representation of ideas?
  • What symbols or ideas do you recognise? Is there anything deliberately concealed or implicitly suggested in your chosen images?

Individually, students are to produce an extended caption (three to four sentences) summarising each of their chosen images. The caption should include:

  • a reference to context
  • a description of the image
  • suggestions about aspects of the image’s textual form (purpose, style, intended audience)

Students will arrange their captions alongside their images to produce an analysis of Hanrahan’s work to share with the class. This task can be used as a formative assessment or as a pre-text to consider students’ prior knowledge of Hanrahan’s era and its dominant concerns.


Students will finish by reflecting on whether it is necessary to understand Hanrahan as an artist before reading The Scent of Eucalyptus. Ask:

  • How will it inform your reading of the text?
  • What issues and ideas do you assume the memoir will examine?

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Exploring the first chapter

Read the opening paragraph of The Scent of Eucalyptus (p. 7).

From the very beginning, we see how Hanrahan draws on her roles as both a writer and an artist in the creation of her own mythology. The first sentence draws out the meaning of the word ‘hedged’, suggesting both an evasion of truth and a garden, before introducing the image of the rose. Hanrahan recalls her firm belief in this idealised version of events. In these opening sentences she reveals that her sense of self was founded on a myth, and that she has a desire to seek the truth – even as her younger self reshapes that truth in the image of perfection.

Students can trace this search for identity as they continue reading through Chapter One (particularly the second paragraph on p. 7).

  • What expectations does this chapter set up for the memoir?
  • To what extent is a memoir an act of ‘lying naked before stangers’?

As students explore this chapter they can consider the movement between fact and fiction; the questions; the bracketed asides; the religious imagery; the first-person perspective; and the surreal images of the cemetery.

  • What evidence is there of Hanrahan’s artistic background in the intensely visual nature of her imagery?

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Hanrahan’s relationship with the visual

Given that Hanrahan is an artist, an important aspect of this memoir is its strongly visual sensitivity. We see this particularly in Chapter Two, which opens with Hanrahan describing the way she observed minutiae as a child (p. 12).

Synonyms for the verb ‘to see’ are repeated over the next two pages, as is the pattern of listing, which creates a sense of being overwhelmed by the visuality of life. As the memoir progress, concrete scenes become more evocative or surreal.

  • Students can locate ‘seeing’ verbs that appear throughout the book and make note of any images that stand out for them.
  • What is Hanrahan implicitly saying about the need to observe?

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Hanrahan’s descriptions of people

Hanrahan captures the fascination of a child in describing people from her youth. For example:

  • Her mother’s nested and layered personality traits (p. 14)
  • Iris Pearl’s various activities (p. 26)
  • Her grandmother’s hair and jewellery (p. 105)
  • The sight of Miss Monk coaching basketball (p. 151)
  • The headmistress’ unusual appearance (p. 168)

Like the nesting boxes to which she compares her mother, Hanrahan places words into groups to reinforce the idea of hidden selves, culminating in the onion imagery at the end of the paragraph. By contrast, Iris Pearl’s straightforward character is communicated through activities rather than character or appearance. Miss Monk’s billowing skirt contrasts with her very active umpiring; the headmistress is portrayed through hyphenated words; and Hanrahan’s grandmother is identified through her jewellery. Physical descriptions are reinforced by Hanrahan’s careful selection of language, adapted to suit each person.

Students can collect a few character descriptions and discuss:

  • How does Hanrahan describe people? Consider the way she balances appearance, actions, objects and events related to each person.
  • How does she capture a child’s fascination with new people?
  • What does each description reveal about Hanrahan and her relationship to that person?
  • How and why do fairy stories weave themselves into her descriptions?

Have students Google Hanrahan’s prints of people and compare the way she captures characters in her artwork to the way she describes them in writing. Students will select one image and write a description of the subject being portrayed, then develop a short story around that character.

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Hanrahan and place

Places are important to Hanrahan as they provide a backdrop to the events in her life. She describes a variety of places, such as:

  • The garden at the side of her house (p. 36)
  • The red-brick school building (p. 60)
  • The hills where Aunt Poll and Uncle Will live (p. 89)

The description of Hanrahan’s garden on p. 36 is reminiscent of the nursery rhyme ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’. It contains the magical Australian equivalents of silver bells, cockle shells and pretty maids, and the promise of a mysterious flower every seven years. By evoking this image Hanrahan conveys much more than a garden: she conveys a child’s wonder, imagination and fascination, shaped by nursery rhymes and fairy stories.

  • In what ways do these descriptions evoke fairy stories? Why? What does this show about Hanrahan as a child?

Students can collect extracts about different places in Hanrahan’s book, then choose one and write a short story set in that place.

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Hanrahan and time

Another feature of The Scent of Eucalyptus is the way Hanrahan uses time. The book is generally chronological and set in the past, but as Hanrahan recounts certain events she changes to the present tense, inviting us into the time the memory took place.

Look at p. 133, where the text breaks and switches from past to present tense. Ask students:

  • What is the effect of this tense change?
  • Find other examples where this happens in the book. Are there any similarities in the events or the circumstances under which Hanrahan changes tense?

Reading questions and activities

These questions are designed to help students track different themes and issues throughout the book.

Chapter One

This chapter deals with birth and death, including the death of Hanrahan’s father and details about her ancestry.

  • How does this chapter use the conventions of the memoir form?
  • What aspects of the author’s style foreshadow the unusual nature of this text? Consider how the story of her birth (and its dissolution over subsequent paragraphs) add a sense of interiority to her tone, as well as suggest whimsical and subjective images.
Chapter Three

This chapter focuses on Reece, Hanrahan’s great-aunt, a woman with Down syndrome living in an era that often excluded those who were different.

NOTE: Reece is described using language that is now considered outdated and offensive. Approach this chapter with sensitivity and refer to People with Disability Australia’s Language Guide for advice on using respectful and inclusive language.

  • How does Hanrahan strive to convey a sense of Reece’s individualism?
  • What aspects of Reece’s character are explored from the narrator’s naïve and childish perspective?
  • Why do you think Hanrahan engages in so much direct characterisation and gives a distinct focus to Reece?
  • What aspects of femininity does Reece display and represent?
Chapter Five

This chapter describes the home in which Hanrahan grew up. The descriptions are detailed and reveal much about the era in which Hanrahan was born.

  • What aspects of the house appear to be unique to its era?
  • Why do you think Hanrahan is so preoccupied with conveying a sense of realism in this chapter, and why does she want the reader to know about the house?
  • After reading Chapters Five and Six (the latter of which explores Hanrahan’s kindergarten with detailed descriptions of the setting), consider your own home or another significant location in your life. Explore this location in a short descriptive piece of writing. Consider how to add details to create a strong sense of mood.
Chapter Nine

This chapter explores childhood memories of Christmas.

  • Explore the importance of the weather in this chapter, and examine how Hanrahan uses different references to create a sense of historical realism.
Chapter Twelve

This chapter is devoted to the author’s friendship with Carol. Consider the reflections on Carol’s future on p. 77.

  • How does Carol symbolise the typical life trajectory of young women in Hanrahan’s era?
  • Why does Hanrahan choose to represent an individual in this way, and what message is she attempting to convey about social norms in 1950s Australia?
Chapter Thirteen

This chapter explores Adelaide through the refrain ‘I am a city child’, giving many specific details about the city at the time.

  • Consider how you can use the information in this chapter to build an infographic entitled ‘The City in The Scent of Eucalyptus’. Choose specific details to summarise the importance of the city and explore the sensory impressions Hanrahan creates in her descriptions of place. This activity can also be completed with reference to Chapter Fifteen, which provides details about Rose Street.
Chapter Sixteen

This chapter follows Hanrahan’s visits to the city. Take note of the geographical details provided.

  • Why is there such an emphasis on realism and detail?
  • Does this have universal resonance, or is there an appeal to localism?
  • How are the appearances of women and the roles they play influenced by the city?
Chapter Eighteen

This chapter is devoted to Tinker, the author’s childhood pet. On p. 118, a highly distressing incident involving Tinker is narrated in a surprisingly neutral tone.

  • What is your reaction to the disempowering nature of this incident?
  • Why does Hanrahan avoid using emotive language?
Chapters Four, Twenty-One and Twenty-Two

These chapters, among others, are primarily focused on descriptions of a single character.

  • What is the purpose of these chapters within the memoir? How do they contrast with some of the more introspective chapters that deal with Hanrahan’s nascent sense of identity?
Chapter Twenty-Five

This chapter explores Hanrahan’s immersion within ‘a world that others said was real’ (p. 156), and her sense of isolation and alienation within an often-constraining society.

  • Why does Hanrahan feel that she does not fit in like other people (p. 162)?
  • How does this chapter function as a critique of Australian society at the time?
Chapter Twenty-Six

This chapter follows on from Hanrahan’s reflections in Chapter Twenty-Five, referring to her own sometimes self-destructive behaviour.

  • How is this chapter presented as a reaction to Hanrahan’s sense of dislocation and her inability to fit into the world around her?
Chapters Twenty-Six and Twenty-Seven

These chapters explore Hanrahan’s unique sense of despair and alienation as a young adult, due to the gender and class restrictions placed upon her.

  • Taking on the first-person voice of another individual within the memoir, explore your impressions of Hanrahan during this dark and confused period of her life.
Chapter Twenty-Nine

This chapter explores the Technical School that Hanrahan attended and its role as a ‘factory’, churning out girls of a particular social class.

  • How does Hanrahan explore the connection between educational opportunities and social background?
  • Discuss her tone and her attitude towards her own schooling.
Chapter Thirty

This chapter contains vivid, visceral and imagery-filled descriptions of the weather and the atmosphere that surrounds Hanrahan in autumn.

  • Paying attention to the style and focus of pp. 185–186, and with reference to imagery, write a brief imaginative piece exploring a season in your own life.
  • In a reflective piece of writing, examine the creative decisions you made when exploring your season. Link your imaginative writing to the insights you have gained through studying the style of The Scent of Eucalyptus.

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Synthesising tasks

Multimodal task

Once students have worked through the Reading Questions and Activities, they can complete a group task that requires them to synthesise and evaluate the text. This could involve:

  • Producing a short video for a platform like TikTok or YouTube that summarises and reflects on what The Scent of Eucalyptus says about Australian childhoods in the 1950s.
  • Recording an episode of a book club podcast in which a panel of readers discuss their perspectives on the text, particularly in relation to its depiction of gender expectations and the impact of social values on individual identities.
  • Developing a multimedia presentation (i.e. multimodal, involving both aural and visual mediums) that critiques a key theme or aspect of the text OR offers a particular reading (feminist, historicist, etc.).

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Analytical writing

Students are to respond to ONE of the following topics in a well-structured essay:

Essay one

The Scent of Eucalyptus is not just a memoir, but also a text that is concerned with the growth and development of the artist. This is evident through its style and its focus on identity.

Evaluate this statement with reference to Hanrahan’s use of imagery.

Essay two

Hanrahan explores the lives of women and the working classes in her memoir, giving voice to often-silenced experiences.

To what extent does this statement describe the purpose and focus of The Scent of Eucalyptus?

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Why study this memoir?

Ask students to respond to the following questions in small groups:

  • Why do some people like to read memoirs?
  • What do they expect from a memoir?
  • Why do we study memoir?
  • Is memoir that different from narrative? Explain.

Like every genre, the memoir has specific patterns that shape our expectations. We approach writing that is ‘true’ differently to imaginative writing. Nevertheless, narrative is an important influence on the way we see our lives, with a beginning, middle and ending and complications that lead to climaxes and eventual resolutions. This pattern of complication and resolution gives us a way to structure the events in our lives; thus, memoir becomes an act of narrative writing.

Is The Scent of Eucalyptus primarily:

  • a piece of life writing?
  • an attempt to explore the values and attitudes of a past era?
  • a narrative that blends realism and surrealism to explore an individual’s perspective?

It is important that students understand why the text they are exploring has value. The Scent of Eucalyptus is a rich and interesting text for its portrayal of a particular milieu (time, place and culture), presenting readers with a unique female and Australian voice, as well as a consideration of the values and attitudes of a bygone era. As a work of literature it blends reality with imagination, using aspects of magical realism to create a lyrical text that explores the young Hanrahan’s naïve perspective on formative childhood experiences.

Rich in cultural references and explorations of setting, Hanrahan’s memoir can also be considered a representation of a specific locale. Its role as a Künstlerroman (a text pertaining to the development of an artist) and its exploration of Hanrahan’s artistic concerns adds another dimension to an already complex and intriguing text. Additionally, the author’s willingness to break with convention and produce an often-episodic text, comprised of short reflective chapters, adds to the richness of the writing. As a feminist reflecting on the past, Hanrahan’s voice is critical and exploratory, delving beneath the surface to examine the hidden implications of social attitudes and the unspoken and implicit expectations placed upon women of different social classes.

In considering the text’s value, students can undertake some research to explore a specific aspect of The Scent of Eucalyptus. Encourage them to develop their own questions for cultural or critical analysis. Areas for exploration may include:

  • How does The Scent of Eucalyptus foreshadow Hanrahan’s artistic concerns? Compare the text to significant artworks and Hanrahan’s exploration of issues relating to the lives of women in patriarchal societies.
  • Why is social class an important theme in The Scent of Eucalyptus, and how does it link to Hanrahan’s childhood experiences? Consider your understanding of working class lives in 1950s Australia, and discuss how Hanrahan incorporates reflections on social attitudes into her memoir.
  • Why is the portrayal of geographical realism so important in the memoir? Consider the textual form and the relationship between text and audience. Explore Hanrahan’s depictions of Adelaide, Rose Street and her childhood home. What is unique and interesting about the role that setting plays within this text?

Students can also look to reviews to see what other people value about Hanrahan’s writing.

Charlotte Guest, ‘After Barbara: Encountering a real artist’ in Griffith Review 55

Paragraph 7, last two sentences (in which Guest describes Hanrahan’s writing style)

Consider Guest’s statement in light of the structure of the memoir, particularly the insights developed in Chapters Twenty-Six to Twenty-Nine.

What are some of the ‘unexpected places’ Hanrahan wanders into?

How does she take a ‘good hard stare’ at the world around her?

Why is the detail in the text valuable and interesting?

Why does the reviewer refer to this as a ‘narrative’?

Charlotte Guest, ‘After Barbara: Encountering a real artist’ in Griffith Review 55

Paragraph 8, second and third sentences (in which Guest recounts author Gail Jones’ thoughts on Hanrahan)

Sue Thomas, ‘Writing the Self: Barbara Hanrahan’s The Scent of Eucalyptus’ in Kunapipi Vol. 11 Iss. 3

p. 7, sentence beginning on line 3 (in which Thomas describes Hanrahan’s rejection of suburban life)

How does this statement offer insights about the purpose of the memoir? Consider Hanrahan’s depictions of familial expectations and her use of the canker metaphor (p. 161) to describe her own unwillingness to adhere to conventions.

Having considered what reviewers admire about Hanrahan’s writing, and from their own reading of her work, students can return to the question: ‘Why study this memoir?’ Is it primarily:

  • a memoir of one woman’s childhood?
  • an exploration of an artist’s formation?
  • a well-written, entertaining narrative?
  • a reflection on Australian society at a particular point in history?

How can we understand this memoir?

There is never just one way of reading a text; we all read from a particular perspective. In this section, students will consider how different perspectives allow us to see texts in different ways.

Responding to The Scent of Eucalyptus

The Scent of Eucalyptus was written at an important time during the women’s liberation movement, and while this provides one reading pathway, there are many other ways we can follow. Different readers might explore Hanrahan’s memoir through the lenses of:

Feminism What message is being conveyed about female autonomy?

Why is Hanrahan’s family situation at the heart of the novel?

What visions are given of relationships between men and women (in particular, the dismissal of Hanrahan’s father and his silence in a female-centric literary account)?

How is Hanrahan constrained by the social expectations surrounding the trajectory for young women of her time? Consider her family’s wishes for her, particularly the decisions they make about her education.

Historical realism Why does Hanrahan concentrate so much on real places and cultural references to aspects of Australian life in the 1940s and 1950s?

Why is it significant that the novel was published in 1973? Has it dated in terms of its depictions of everyday life?

How is the novel’s style affected by its many brief references to the places, social attitudes and culture of Adelaide at the time?

Does this ‘local’ flavour make the novel a valuable record of the past, or does it limit its potential readership?

Class and social roles Consider the many subtle references to class in this novel: Hanrahan’s feelings of inferiority next to her more affluent relatives; the limited expectations represented by her educational opportunities; her observations of others in her world. Why is social class an important backdrop to Hanrahan’s memories, and how do individual recollections illustrate a greater social narrative common to many young women with her background?

Consider Hanrahan’s references to Reece and her position as an outsider. How does Hanrahan also experience social barriers and a sense of isolation in the novel?

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Synthesising task

What makes an ‘Australian classic’?

Students are to imagine that they work for a book publisher that is shortly to produce a series of ‘Australian classics’. The goal of the series is twofold: to recognise timeless Australian literature, and to resurrect and reprint some lesser-known classics.

The Scent of Eucalyptus has been suggested for inclusion in this series. Each student will:

  1. Develop a list of five criteria that a novel must meet to be considered an ‘Australian classic’. These will be shared with the class.
    1. Did everyone have similar ideas?
    2. What were some common themes across the lists?
    3. What did these lists tell you about the way individuals appreciate and assess literature?
  2. Write a 150–200-word persuasive statement about The Scent of Eucalyptus, either advocating for its inclusion in the series OR explaining why it does not meet your criteria.
  3. Design an A5 cover and write a 50–80-word blurb for The Scent of Eucalyptus as it would appear in the ‘Australian classics’ series.

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Rich assessment tasks

These final tasks vary in complexity, presenting students with a range of options for responding to the text. The Creative Response encourages them to consider how Hanrahan’s use of textual form, together with her focus on social issues, can be used as a stimulus for their own life writing. Students with an interest in literary analysis may find that the Critical Response offers a rich learning experience, while those who found the text challenging might benefit from completing the Visual Response and associated reflection.

Students are to undertake any TWO of these options.

1. Visual response

The Scent of Eucalyptus is an inherently visual text. Although it progresses in a generally linear fashion through Hanrahan’s childhood memories, many chapters are more like vignettes filled with vivid imagery, describing a specific aspect of her childhood environment or focusing on her relationship with a particular individual. Some chapters also engage in social commentary, using elements of Hanrahan’s childhood to reflect on the role of women in society or the impacts of a working class upbringing.

Some of the most interesting chapters in the novel explore:

  • the house in which Hanrahan was raised (Chapter Five) and its emotional effect on her
  • a childhood Christmas (Chapter Nine)
  • the city of Adelaide and Hanrahan’s relationship to it as a child of the 1940s (Chapter Thirteen)
  • Hanrahan’s primary school and the lives of young girls at the time (Chapter Seventeen)
  • Hanrahan’s sense of isolation and her relationship with her own spirituality, including the impact of dominant religious discourses (Chapter Nineteen)
  • Hanrahan’s experiences learning music and her subsequent contact with children from different social backgrounds (Chapter Twenty-Two)
  • The expectations Hanrahan’s family has for her, and the way their aspirations are shaped by their own experiences and values (Chapter Twenty-Five, especially p. 160).

Your task is to produce a visual representation of an event, theme or idea from The Scent of Eucalyptus that reflects your understanding of Hanrahan’s overall purpose or message. This could be:

  • a collage of images
  • an image in the style of Hanrahan’s prints that pays homage to her artistic intentions
  • a bricolage of symbols that suggest relevant ideas
  • another primarily visual means of exploring the text

The emphasis is less on demonstrating artistic ability, and more on selecting/producing ideas and images to act as a synthesis of your own understanding of the text. Your visual representation can be hand-drawn or produced with the assistance of technology.

You will also produce a 300–400-word reflection statement explaining your image and its relationship to the text. This will form the basis for assessing your response. Your reflection should examine your creative decisions (e.g. reading path, relative size/salience of images, selection of symbols and vectors) and how these decisions convey your ideas.

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2. Creative response: the self in time and place

Hanrahan’s text is a depiction of childhood at a particular moment in 20th century Australian history. It is a localised account that refers closely to specific places (see p. 66 for an example), and also explores how Hanrahan’s family has been affected by the attitudes of others within their milieu (see pp. 20–25 for a discussion of Reece’s life).

Your task is to consider how Hanrahan’s story can be used to guide a piece of your own life writing.

Think back to a time in your childhood. Jot down some ideas for your response as a series of images or moments in time.

  • How are your memories coloured by the gap between the experience and your more mature recollections?
  • How are you able to consider events through new eyes?

Your response, in keeping with Hanrahan’s focus and intentions, should include:

  • at least one public place, focusing on the details of that place and your relationship to it
  • a cultural reference to the era that has a collective significance
  • a memory related to your family background, social class, or attitudes you encountered (in relation to gender or social expectations)

You will write your memories as a series of short chapters (similar to flash fiction, with 200–300 words per memory), focusing on descriptive imagery. You may choose to compose:

  • a photo essay where images are used to complement prose writing
  • a discursive piece of writing that links the personal and the political (perhaps including information from other sources to complement your memories – remember that who you are is shaped by the group you are with)
  • extracts from a memoir

When writing, consider: what meaning do individual memories hold for a collective? Who do you represent?

Your response should be 1,000–1,200 words in length.

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3. Critical response: review of an article

Read Sue Thomas’ critical analysis in ‘Writing the Self: Barbara Hanrahan’s The Scent of Eucalyptus’. Thomas adopts a feminist perspective to examine Hanrahan’s relationships with other women in the memoir, and to comment on the text’s depiction of an autobiographical perception of self.

Your task is to review this article according to your own reaction to Thomas’ arguments. You can choose to focus on a specific idea if you wish.

Questions that your analysis might respond to include:

  • How was The Scent of Eucalyptus shaped by the fact that Hanrahan used her diary entries as inspiration for her memoir?
  • Do you agree with Thomas’ understanding of the text as a Künstlerroman, a novel about the development of the artist?
  • Is there anything you would add to Thomas’ analysis of the text? Do you think any of her points have become dated, given that the article is from the late 1980s? What could a more contemporary perspective bring to an analysis of this novel?
  • The ideas around Betty Friedan and Thomas’ understanding of the Gothic are interesting. Can you expand on these with additional references to the text?

Your review should be in the form of an extended response, with a title that reflects its focus.

There is no set question for this task; this is to allow you to develop your own reading of the text and experiment with different ideas and themes in your analysis. You are not expected to agree with all of Thomas’ ideas, and are encouraged to deconstruct or extend upon them.

Your response will be 800–1,000 words in length. You may refer to quotes from The Scent of Eucalyptus and from Thomas’ article in your response.

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