Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man is the compellingly told, and disturbingly real story of the consequences of Cameron Doomadgee’s death in custody on Palm Island. This unit of work for Year 10 requires students to reflect on a number of confronting issues such as the line between good and evil, the intrinsic relationship between power and privilege, and the consequences of institutionalised oppression and its impact on human dignity. Students explore how power, violence and forgiveness can frame the identity of people.
In these introductory activities students will:
- reflect on how wide the dividing line between good and evil might be
- explore the concept of a cycle of oppression and prejudice and its effects on human dignity
- consider the extent to which institutions shape individuals.
Activity 1: Are good and evil really opposites?
- Introduce the text and the concept of The Tall Man to students by reading an extract from the chapter entitled The Family — start on page 59 from ‘Boe asked them why ‘TALL MAN’ had been written on the boulder near the airstrip’ to the end of the chapter. Some contextualising of characters will be necessary — for example who is Andrew Boe. Ask students:
- Who is the Tall Man?
- Why does he engender fear?
- Show students Cecil Collins’ artwork, The Fall of Lucifer. As a class discuss the artwork using the following prompts:
- What is happening in the artwork? What story does it tell? Can you establish a particular viewpoint on its subject matter?
- In your view, what emotion does this artwork suggest?
- How is colour used symbolically in this image?
- How does the use of balance and contrast in this artwork relate to its viewpoint?
- Do you find the image ironic in any way?
- Using this continuum (PDF, 8KB), direct students to map the gap between good and evil as represented in Collins’ artwork.
- Display M.C. Escher’s image Circle Limit IV: Heaven and Hell . Repeat the previous activity with students working in groups of three on the questions and then ‘mapping the gap’ on the continuum.
- There is provision on the continuum for students to also map texts of their own choosing. Students could also map onto the continuum the extract from The Tall Man that was used at the beginning of the unit. Students could try to map texts that illustrate the close relationship of good and evil.
- Class discussion: How useful is it to see our world (people, places and events) in terms of good and evil?
- As a synthesising activity students respond to the focus question: Are good and evil really opposites or are they closer together than we think? They reconvene their groups of three and complete a series of micro-assignments. A micro-assignment is a clear, concise statement presented on a 10cm by 15cm card. The micro-assignments for this focus question involve students writing:
- a summary statement that cogently condenses the information they have gleaned
- a thesis support statement requiring the taking of a position and then defending it with evidence
- quandary statement that presents a puzzling aspect of this investigation that may not have an answer
- Students will need to negotiate the content used for each micro-assignment to ensure that there is no duplication.
Activity 2: Spinning round — the cycle of oppression
The concept of the ‘cycle of oppression’ is well-documented in sociological study and reflected in literary texts. In this activity students construct a flow chart that illustrates how individuals can oppress and become oppressed in society.
- Provide for students the following key concepts for the flow chart: myths, socialisation, internalisation, behaviour. Discuss the meanings of concepts in class. The teacher could draw a flow chart that illustrates how the four labels relate one to another and form a cycle or, alternatively, the students could construct their own flowchart.
- Once the chart has been logically constructed, invite students to use the vocabulary below to write short explanations of each concept for inclusion on the chart.
- Display the word bias-ism to students and ask them individually to write down what they think it means.
- Show and discuss with students the Macquarie Dictionary’s definition for the suffix ‘ism’: a distinctive doctrine, theory, system, or practice. Students then review and rewrite their definition.
- As a class make a list of the isms with which the students are familiar, for example racism, ageism, sexism, anti-semitism. As a class make a table of situations where this cycle manifests itself in society. Include in the table suggestions for how the cycle can be disrupted by challenging people and institutions to rethink their beliefs and attitudes. An example of this can be seen in Warwick Thornton’s short film Mimi.
Rich assessment task 1 (productive)
Activity 3: The individual and the institution
In this imaginative recreation students create a dramatic monologue based on a character who has experienced oppression. Drawing on their reflection in the previous activity, students create a three- to four-minute dramatic monologue for presentation to the class. Examples of monologues can be found in Leah Purcell’s Black Chicks Talking or contributions to the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature. In the dramatic monologue students will explore how their identities are shaped by social institutions such as government agencies, schools, families. Explain to students that:
- The dramatic monologue operates as a form of direct speech to the audience. It is personal and direct, removing distance between the speaker and the audience. A dramatic monologue creates an intimacy with the audience.
- Rhythm is critical and students need to consider stress, pause, and pace.
- Syntactical variation will create character, tension and mood.
Personal response on reading the text
Throughout the reading of The Tall Man students maintain a reading log. (This activity is adapted from Sheridan Blau’s approach to the reading log in The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and their Readers). Inform students that they will be keeping a reading log where they record impressions of The Tall Man and other related texts that they encounter. The reading log:
- will document reading for the course
- will contain impressions, questions and observations to be used as a starting point for future formal writing
- will be shared with other class members from time to time
- is a place for experimentation.
During the reading of the text students will present brief guided tours of their reading logs. These could happen at the end of each part of the text. Instruct students that they will:
- Give a brief tour of the log: how many entries/how long are the entries/how many other texts have you written about?
- Analyse the reading log: (as a list) what did you talk about most often in your reading log entries? What aspects of the text did you most comment on? How did they change? Why did they change?
- Reflect: do you find anything worthwhile in your log? What do the entries show about the log?
- Publish sample log entries: choose three or four that you feel represent your response to this book (synthesising activity).
By way of reading students into the text, the teacher:
- Displays the name of the text and invites students to comment on the title, considering the expectations associated with a tall man, the emphasis suggested in the use of the definite article — ‘The’ Tall Man, the inverted word order in the phraseDeath and Life on Palm Island, the connotations of the place name Palm Island.Students record initial impressions in their reading logs.
- Reads the preface to The Tall Man aloud to the class and invites students to record examples that show the impact of European settlement on Indigenous culture in their reading logs.
- Reads the first chapter to the class and has students record in their reading log each time something happens in the story they they would wish to actively, personally resist. Students justify the reasons for their resistance referring to their flowchart from the earlier activity on the cycle of oppression.
Other background (and front loading) information for students might be to explore what constitutes racist language and to develop some familiarity with legal terminology, for example the roles of participants in a coroner’s court.
(ACELA1564) (ACELT1640) (ACELY1749) (ACELY1813) (EN5-3B) (EN5-5C) (EN5-8D)
Outline of key elements of the text
The Tall Man is an example of true crime literary journalism investigating the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee. The early chapters explain the circumstances of Cameron Doomadgee’s death and introduce the police sergeant, Chris Hurley, the first policeman in Australia to be tried for a death in custody. Hooper portrays the investigation, inquest, submissions, findings, trial and verdict and their consequences for the Doomadgee family and the Palm Island community. She presents the reader the troubled consequences of a cycle of oppression that undermines human dignity.
The writer’s craft and close reading
Literature affords readers the opportunity for an imaginative rehearsal for living. The learning sequences in the close study of The Tall Man provide students with the opportunity to analyse how place and time influence identity, how authors position readers to respond in particular ways and how values are represented in texts.
Activity 4: Understanding context — the power of place and time
In this sequence students examine the concept that time and place influence identity.
- Begin by asking students to consider how living in a certain place and time influences lives.
- Students discuss the personal characteristics and perspectives necessary for survival in different settings such as:
- grandparents’ experiences growing up
- migration experiences that have influenced lives
- examples of people from real world contexts such as Nelson Mandela, Charles Perkins, Julia Gillard, Malalah Yusafzay.
- Students select one of these people and explain in their reading logs how culture and context have shaped how the person acts and what s/he has been able to achieve.
- Invite students to now focus on their own personal circumstances and record in their reading logs responses to the following questions:
- To what extent does your time and place determine what you do?
- To what extent are your values influenced by place and time?
- Who are you? How is living in the 21st century, where you live now, shaping your identity?
- Students explore what makes a strong community through devising class debate topics. These will be used after students analyse the text and its context.
- Display for students the focus area: Characteristics of Strong Communities and invite them to brainstorm as many ideas as possible that relate to this topic.
- In groups of three students then create a debating statement related to the topic for example: that physical context limits human behaviour or strong communities have clear boundaries for human behaviour.
- Students make a list of the arguments that both support and counter the statement and record these in their reading logs.
In this activity students explore Hooper’s introduction to the everyday reality of Palm Island, specifically the collision of the physical, cultural, social, political and historical circumstances.
- Students have recorded their initial impressions of the opening chapter in the introductory sequence to this unit. In this activity students analyse how language is used in the opening paragraphs of the first chapter ‘The Island’ to suggest the contradictions associated with Palm Island. Direct students to read the first two pages of the book (from ‘Palm Island’s grimy air terminal’ down to ‘The officer, Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, went into hiding on the mainland’. Questions might focus on how the abject social conditions of Palm Island are illustrated through:
- the impact of the word grimy as the initial adjective used to establish the physical state of the airport
- the immediate reference to children’s concerns with safety
- the graffitied Tall Man on the boulder
- the social degradation — children playing in garbage bins, drunkenness, health conditions
and how these are juxtaposed with the natural beauty of the island:
- the colour of the sea and its natural beauty
- the pristine physical environment around the island
- the landscape of the island
- the connotation of the paradoxical headlines, ‘Tropic of Despair’, ‘Bitter Paradise’, ‘Island of Sorrow’.
Context can be represented as a series of systems which shape an individual’s experience of the world. Michael Smith and Jeffrey Wilhelm in Fresh Takes on Literary Teaching propose a model for investigation of historical, social, cultural and political contexts. Using this model (PDF, 158KB), and working in pairs, students explore specific aspects of context that have influenced people and events. This model could be reproduced as a graphic organiser for students to analyse the role of context. Specific contexts might be:
- The north/south divide as shown through these people and events in the text:
- The text is mainly set on Palm Island and Townsville.
- The taxi driver at Townsville airport claimed he could always pick those who had arrived from ‘down south’.
- The Queensland Police Union meeting called in support of Hurley, is described as ‘real-life, uber Australia up against insipid, politically correct, bullshit Australia. It was North against South’.
- Hooper, who is from Melbourne and at the opposite end of the country. The overt racial tension is an anathema to her at the beginning of her account and she ‘just wanted to get out’ at the end.
- The racial tension and atmosphere of colonial violence in the remote far north Queensland towns such as Doomadgee and Burketown.
- The depiction of the the police force in the community and in the court, the judicial process on Palm island and in Townsville, the media headlines.
- The significance of the relocation of Indigenous people to what Hooper calls a ‘tropical gulag’.
- The family context of the Doomadgees.
In the culminating activity for this sequence, students return to the debating topics focusing on the characteristics of strong communities developed earlier and re-frame them as debating topics based on the context, ideas and information in The Tall Man. Use these as the basis for a series of class debates.(ACELA1567) (ACELT1639) (ACELT1640) (ACELT1641) (ACELT1812) (ACELY1749)
(ACELY1813) (EN5-3B) (EN5-5C) (EN5-7D) (EN5-8D)
Activity 5: The power of real events
The Tall Man can be described as an example of true crime literary non-fiction. These texts are characterised by a subject chosen from the real world, extensive research and attention to detail, and narrative techniques borrowed from fiction such as a personalised voice and literary prose style. The essential question that underpins the plot in The Tall Man is: How did Cameron Doomadgee sustain such a massive injury? In this sequence of activities students look for an answer to this question by mastering the detail. Through this they develop understanding of the implications of the crime. Key elements in this true crime narrative can be broadly described as:
- the circumstances of Doomadgee’s death
- characterisation of Hurley
- the Doomadgee family
- the investigation
- the inquest, the submissions and the findings
- the trial
- the verdict
- the footnote of the years since the trial.
Teaching approaches to promote mastery of detail could include:
- Creating a class timeline of the plot using sticky notes. The note above the timeline charts the events and corresponding notes below explain the event’s significance. This timeline could be a starting point.
- Selecting a piece of evidence that students think is incontrovertible and presenting the arguments for its accuracy.
- Annotating key extracts in the text using this checklist (PDF, 101KB) as a code for analysis. Students annotate the text with observations and then classify these according to the checklist.
- Summarising aspects of the text using the following guidelines:
- stating the topic in the first sentence
- identifying the central idea in the second sentence
- Explaining — in students’ own words what the author is saying about the topic in a few sentences
- including quotations, examples, or details
- ensuring students retain the author’s original meaning and that the ideas are in the order in which they appear in the article.
- Creating a police statement or a witness statement based on the events of November 19th, 2004. Students swap these in class and respond in character to the contrary reports.
- Creating a digital story of the death and trial of Cameron Doomadgee from the perspective of Elizabeth Doomadgee, Tracey Twaddle, Lex Wotton or Murrandoo Yanner.
At the conclusion of the investigation, revisit the question: How did Cameron Doomadgee sustain such a massive injury? Conduct a readers’ theatre of the courtroom scenes.
- In groups allocate students extracts from the text: either the inquest (page 99–100), or the findings (page 187–190) or the verdict (page 264–66).
- Students select key sentences from these scenes and prepare to perform them to convey the mood and emotion suggested in the text.
- Students deliver their performance and the class guesses the feeling that has been represented in the performance.
- As a class discuss views on how Doomadgee sustained the injuries.
Activity 6: Real people
Characters draw us into the power of story; real characters drawn from real events, even more so. Students begin this learning sequence with a general exploration of the characters in the text before focusing on the parallels and contrasts between Cameron Doomadgee and Chris Hurley. In this activity students develop understanding of the value systems of characters. Working individually students rank the characters in the text from the most to the least admired and then share these rankings in small groups. Using whole class discussion, attempt to come up with a ranking that represents the class viewpoint. Key points from this discussion about characters could be posted on the timeline from the earlier activity. Hooper’s representation of women in the text could be a fruitful area for discussion.
- Compare the life experiences of Doomadgee and Hurley in a table: recording factual detail, page references and quotes Hooper uses to evocatively depict these circumstances. Download a sample table (PDF, 126KB).
- Students re-read the chapter ‘The Death’ and make notes on the initial interaction between Doomadgee and Hurley. Using these notes students write an account of what Doomadgee is thinking. Remind students that:
- every word used must reflect Doomadgee’s point of view
- only the things that affect him can be included
- narrators in these situations are never neutral.
- Develop a list, in order of importance, of the desirable qualities that a police officer should have. Situate Chris Hurley on this list.
- Students explore Hooper’s characterisation of Hurley in depth. Provocations for discussion could include:
- What kind of man is Chris Hurley represented to be in Hooper’s text? Consider Hooper’s characterisation of Hurley on Palm Island, Thursday Island, Up North and with the police establishment.
- What caused Hurley to seek employment in frontier contexts? What are the connotations of the word frontier?
- To what extent is Hurley an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances?
- What is your view of the style of Hurley’s policing as it is depicted in the text? Some people would argue that ‘Hurley and all police working in remote Indigenous communities are doing it for the rest of “us”, that they are out there on our behalf, enforcing our laws, doing our dirty work’ (Sarak Keenan ‘Australian Legal Geography and the Search for Postcolonial Space in Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island’. The Australian Feminist Law Journal, 30, 2009: 173–99). Was Hurley doing it for you?
- What questions do you want to ask Hurley?
- In what sense is Hurley a tall man?
Rich assessment task 2 (receptive): text and meaning
In this culminating activity students explore the thematic concerns of the text. Remind students of the earlier discussions that considered cycles of oppression, notions of good and evil and the ways institutions influence individuals.
- Display these words in the classroom and invite students to ‘brain-dump’ everything they know from the text that relates to these words: violence, grief, payback, faith, goodness, power, privilege. These could be aspects of setting, characterisation, narrative viewpoint, language techniques, archetypal myths.
- Working in pairs, students then expand those words into statements that describe the central concerns of the text and share them with other students.
- Distribute to students the following essay question: What have you learned about the cycle of oppression in your study of The Tall Man? In your answer explore how two or three key concerns are developed in the text.
- Students might use the flow chart (myths, socialisation, internalisation, behaviour) from the earlier activities as a planning tool prior to writing the response.
Ways of reading the text
In this learning sequence students further their understandings of how authors position readers to read texts and how readers can approach texts from different perspectives. The activities focus on students critically reflecting on the reliability of Hooper’s viewpoint in the The Tall Man, analysing the use of archetypes in the text and, lastly, exploring the texts from a post colonial perspective.
Activity 7: Representing the real – mind the gap
In this activity students engage in a range of activities where they evaluate structural elements of The Tall Man. Students will analyse the author’s perspective, the structural patterns in the text, and the characterisation of the absent, but present, protagonist, Hurley. As critical readers students reflect on the authority of the writer and how we are positioned to respond to the text. Students consider whether Hooper’s viewpoint is reliable and credible or whether there are gaps in her representation of events. After discussing the following aspects of the narration, students engage in a role play where they ‘hot-seat’ the author. Questions for class discussion could focus on:
- the limitations experienced by Hooper being unable to interview Hurley and whether that affected his characterisation
- whether her closeness to the Doomadgee family compromised her representation of events
- whether she was too sympathetic in her portrayal of Cameron Doomadgee
- whether her representation of the police establishment relied too heavily on stereotypes.
Activity 8: Patterns and connections
Students analyse the use of archetypes as structural devices in the text. Archetypal criticism focuses on those patterns in a literary work that commonly occur in other literary works such as recurrent images, figures and story lines that are cross-cultural.
- Students analyse references to The Dreaming and explore how they represent historical, social and contemporary events in the text, for example:
- wild time
- rainbow serpent
- tall man
- hairy man.
- A group activity might be for students to research these references online, for example from material on Australian government websites and Indigenous websites, and present visual images and information about these stories in a poster that addresses the question: What myths, dreams and even ritualised ways of behaving are suggested in these stories?
- As a whole class, students discuss:
- the effects of using these archetypal stories allegorically in the text
- whether this technique is effective for them as individual readers.
Activity 9: Writing against the centre
In this activity students learn about the concept of post colonialism and then explore its connections with The Tall Man.
- Show students two maps of the world: firstly a map of the world that is drawn on the basis of each territory’s size and secondly a map of the world from Google maps. In pairs, students explore the similarities and differences in the maps. Question prompts might be:
- What differences do you see between the two maps?
- Why would Europe be represented differently in the first map?
- Why do traditional world maps represent Europe and the United States as larger than their land size and Africa as smaller than its land size?
- What associations can be established between the representations, for example of the power and authority of particular countries?
- Inform students that colonisation occurs when states or territories seek to extend their authorities over other people and that successful colonising demands that the people in the colonised country are ‘othered’ or treated as very different to the colonisers. Distribute a list of mindsets (PDF, 52KB) to students and, as a pair activity, invite them to test whether these mindsets are observable in The Tall Man. Students should note:
- which characters exemplify these mindsets
- whether the characters are colonised or colonisers
- what institutions the characters represent
- what conflicts exist between the colonising society and the colonised.
- Having developed an understanding of the concept of a post-colonial reading, students will now practise analysing sections of the text from this perspective. Read aloud to students the chapter Doomadgee, pausing to discuss contextual details and characterisation, especially Hurley’s. In groups of threes, students construct a post-colonial reading of this chapter and present it either as an extended paragraph, a chart or a presentation.
- Post colonial criticism explores how people write against the centre — the colonising power. As a class, students make a list of instances in the text when Hooper intrudes upon the narrative, for example, early in the text when she states that she felt ‘incandescently white’, or when she asks: ‘Do the things that draw a missionary to savage places also draw a cop?’ Explore through discussion whether Hooper’s non-fiction is an example of writing against the centre.
Comparison with other texts
Re-tellings of the tragedy of Cameron Doomadgee have occurred in a wide range of textual forms including visual art, song, documentary film, interview, theatre, media articles and television documentaries. In this learning sequence students work in groups to preview a range of perspectives and emphases that relate to the death of Cameron Doomadgee. In the culminating activity for this unit students will use this investigation to create a blog page that they will curate.
Activity 10: Overview
Students should be reminded of the central focus areas of their earlier studies:
- the cycle of oppression
- binaries of good and evil
- the formation of identity
- the relationship of individuals and institutions
- exploration of the concerns of The Tall Man — violence, grief, payback, faith, goodness, power, privilege
- the concept of ‘other’
- archetypal stories
- the post colonial perspective.
Activity 11: Research
- Allocate students and texts (from the list that follows) to groups and place a large sheet of paper on a desk. There should be six groups. In groups students preview these texts by:
- making a precis of the text
- identifying where and how the text(s) relate to the focus areas they have studied
- identifying key elements and quotes that relate to the chosen area(s).
- Students then deliver their findings in a brief presentation to the class. This activity will assist students to familiarise themselves with a wide range of texts for possible inclusion in the blog.
Beautiful One Day
Palm Island Youth Project
Synthesising core ideas
Rich assessment task 3 (productive): Call to action
In this activity students reflect on how literature is a means by which we rehearse our place in the world. Students curate a weblog based on their view of Hooper’s The Tall Man and the related texts from the previous activities. The weblog will be a personal call to action based on one of the following aspects of study:
- the cycle of oppression
- binaries of good and evil
- the formation of identity
- the relationship of individuals and institutions
- the concept of ‘other’
- archetypal stories
- the post colonial perspective.
It will contain:
- a blog title that relates Hooper’s text to the chosen aspect of study
- a written statement that explores the aspect of study in The Tall Man and three other related texts drawn from art, theatre, song and the media
- comment on what has been learned about Australian society
- embedded hyperlinks, videos and images that reference and support the discussion
- three posts from other people responding to your statement
- a distinctive and unique personal voice.
Appleman, D. Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents. 2nd ed. Teachers College Press, 2009.
Blau, S. The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Readers. Heinemann, 2003.
Milner, J. Bridging English. 5th ed. Pearson, 2011.
Wilhelm, J. Fresh Takes on Teaching Literary Elements: How to Teach What Really Matters About Character, Setting, Point of View, and Theme. Scholastic, 2010.