Introductory ACTIVITIES

Before reading

Students should conduct research into:

  • the concept of Terra Nullius
  • the Mabo Decision
  • squatters
  • perpetual leases of land
  • explorers of Queensland.

While reading

Students should have headings:

  • Terra Nullius, Mabo, squatters, Indigenous people, explorers.
  • They can collect notes under these headings (or they can use different colour post-its for each topic).

Post reading

  • Students should then sum up how McGahan is using this historical context in his book to develop his ideas.


Outline of key elements of the text


One way of scaffolding the reading of a novel is through Ken Watson’s concept of the ‘instant book’. Method:

  1. Divide the book into as many sections as the number of students in your class.
  2. Allocate a section to each student, giving earlier sections those that find reading more difficult and the later sections to your more enthusiastic readers.
  3. Ask students to:

a.    Prepare a short chapter summary (1–2 minutes) to be delivered in class

b.    Note references to aspects of the novel identified for discussion.

Give them plenty of notice with regular reminders!

The idea is that each student contributes to a summary of the book to run over one lesson. By the end of the lesson all students should have a sense of the direction of the novel and each student will be the class expert on one of its sections. This means that as issues arise in discussions, details of the novel can easily be found.

Another way of organising is to use colour-coded post-its for different ideas.

Once this groundwork is done, there are many activities that can follow.

  • Images (photographs/ paintings etc) may be attached to the chapters to get a sense of the patterning of imagery through the novel
  • Points of high tension leading to the climax can be mapped
  • Movement between the different times (William’s present story to John’s story set in the past) can also be mapped. Students can suggest why the author chooses this way of telling the story.

These foundation activities enable students to answer the question:

  • How does McGahan structure the novel and what is the effect of telling the story in this way?


In their study of fiction, students have come to understand that characterisation can be approached in various ways and with differing effects. They know that characters can:

  • imitate real people by reflecting their traits
  • function as plot devices
  • represent values and attitudes
  • blend all of the above.

These ideas are expanded below and lie behind the student activities that follow.

Character as person

There is no avoiding trawling through the text for evidence of character traits. This could most easily be done using the instant book summary and drawing on the knowledge of the class chapter experts. A character wheel can be used to organise the information gathered providing a representation of a unified character. Students need to be made aware that the convention of a unified character is a feature specifically of the realist novel.

When character wheels for John and for Will have been completed, students should consider:

  • what we see of the inner life of the character
  • how complex the character is
  • whether and how far there is character development

Understanding character: close reading

One of the results of good characterisation is the relationship that is formed between the reader and the character. The author writes in a way that sets up the pathway the character will follow; we are invited to like or dislike the character. Look at how Andrew McGahan builds the description of Veronica, Will’s mother, in this annotated section (PDF, 92KB) of Chapter 1 to guide our attitude to her.

Answer these questions:

  • The interesting feature of this passage is the use of comparison to initiate discussion about the mother. List all the phrases that introduce comparison. Why does McGahan introduce the mother in this way?
  • Do you like William’s mother? What words or descriptions make you feel this way? Does the author prepare us for a positive or negative ending for Veronica?
  • Why does McGahan justify her behaviour at the end?
  • In this passage we learn as much about William as his mother. How does the author help us to see from William’s perspective?
  • If you have finished the novel then consider the passage in the light of the ending. How does the initial characterisation introduce the strands of the plot, the theme and the events that follow? Compare the last line of the novel ‘Then she returned to the chair, and the long vigil of the night’ with this passage.

Student activity

Find another passage introducing a character and annotate it in the way shown above. You can work in groups on different characters and report back to the class, noting the way the language works to create the character.

Student activity: character as function

Characters in stories are more than imagined individuals peopling the world of a novel; they also have a role in moving the story forward or creating complications that intensify interest. One of the most widely understood schemas for defining some of these functions is the hero’s journey.

  1. View the YouTube clip The Hero’s Journey and list the stages of the hero’s journey in the table below.
     Stages of the Journey Will’s Journey
  2. In pairs consider how Will’s journey to understanding can be seen as a conventional hero’s journey.
  3. To what extent do the other characters fulfil functions in this schema? Consider:
  • John
  • William’s father
  • Veronica
  • Mrs Griffiths
  • Ruth.

Student activity: character as code

1. In stories, characters often represent more than themselves. They are used as vehicles for exploring attitudes, values and ideas and in this way illustrate themes and ideological positions. One way of achieving this is through setting up parallel and contrasting characters to highlight themes developed through the text.

2. In small groups draw up a comparison/contrast table like the ones below . Share your findings with the rest of the class to arrive at generally agreed statements.

Using the details of your comparisons and contrasts choose one of the following points to consider, in the context of how this suggests the characters represent ideas and influences reflecting Australian attitudes life and society in the late 20th century:

  • The differences in motivation and behaviour of the characters
  • Their place in the structure of the novel
  • Their function in the development of the narrative

3. As specialists on the point you have researched and discussed with your group, you will each need to prepare a presentation to convey your information and ideas to other groups in the class.

4.  Using the jigsaw technique form new groups made up of students who have specialised in the other points in the question and present your information.


What we value is influenced by our context. Our attitude to the landholders may have been different in 1998 when some readers may have suffered the same uncertainties that John did about ownership. Perhaps we can appreciate more clearly that the revelation of the crimes of the past revealed in The White Earth becomes a bigger story of the struggle of the indigenous people.


Having considered theme against context, express the following topics as a theme which clearly reveals the values of the text. In other words, what theme is developed around each topic?

  • The past
  • History
  • The land
  • Family
  • Prejudice
  • Inheritance

Given your own context, post Mabo and post the Rudd Apology, how does this change the way you perceive the text’s meaning?

Tracing a theme: connection to the land

The House (always capitalised) and the land are central to this novel, creating strong emotions and leading to unforgiveable violent acts. The author usually unpacks and layers the message deliberately and in a controlled way. Often the messages may be antithetical to each other, reflecting the different perspectives that the reader has to negotiate before reaching the ‘truth’. The values of the text are focused on the protagonist but the protagonist needs to go on a journey of learning before realising the truth.

If you trace the views on the land in the book you see the different perspectives that are attached to each character but you also see that William has to learn about what he believes in. He listens to many people and struggles to make his own meaning.

How does the idea of land affect different characters and their lives?

Collect quotations from different parts of the book and consider who said these and why. Then think about how you would phrase this understanding as a single statement that conveys the meaning of the novel. Here are some statements about the land that you can consider:

Chapter 18:

It was as if the land was speaking to him directly; pulsing up through the stone at his feet. He belonged here. Not in the mountains or on the plains or in the towns, but here, on this one piece of country. It was the focus around which he had always circled. And look how it had suffered in his absence. As he suffered himself, incomplete, and doomed to be so, unless he returned. And in that moment, he knew. It was no pleasant fantasy or hope, it was utter conviction, an acceptance of truth – no matter how long he took, he would get the station back.

Chapter 22:

‘There are folk out there who believe that the Aborigines are the only ones who understand the land, that only the blacks have some magical connection that whites can never have, that we’re just stumbling around here without any idea . . . But that’s not true . . . this land talks to me. It doesn’t care what colour I am.’

Knowledge, William decided, that was the issue. Knowledge was the essence of ownership. The black men, it seemed had held the knowledge when they owned the land. His uncle held it now, And when William had the knowledge when he knew everything about the station there was to know, he too would be ready to own it in his turn.

Chapter 26:

‘The Aborigines are gone. And that’s the point. This is my property now . . . Australia – every square inch of it – is our sacred site.’

Chapter 36:

‘The country will speak to you too, if you listen. The blacks say it flows into you through your feet, and they’re right. But it’s not an Aboriginal thing. It’s not a white thing either. It’s a human thing. Not everyone has it. But I do, and you have it too.’


Synthesising activity

Students have to write their own personal response to the question:

  • How do the elements of the novel (context, plot and character) work together to support the theme?

The writer’s craft

Narrative voice

Narration is the act of telling the story and so is a key aspect of the discourse of the narrative. It is the narration of a story that has the greatest influence on meaning as it determines the interpretation of events and characters, so preparing the groundwork for a reader’s response to them.

There are many ways to tell a story and to identify the narrative voice; students can consider questions about narration using the follow guidelines:

1. Narrative position:

  • Outside the story:
    • Is the narrator an apparently objective, ‘transparent’ voice telling the story, seeming to have no particular characteristics or interests?
    • Is the narrator more intrusive, making overt comments about the story and projecting a presence and a personality?
    • Does the narrator tell the story through the eyes of a particular character? If so, are the ways of thinking and speaking of the focaliser realistically conveyed?
    • Does the narrator address the reader or viewer directly?
    • Does the narrator draw attention to and reflect on the story telling process?
  • Inside the story as a participant:
    • Is the narrator a character in the story – the protagonist, antagonist or a minor character?
    • Is the narrator telling the story retrospectively or as it is happening at the time of telling?
  • Attitude to the story:
    • Does the narrator share the values implied by the story?
    • How emotionally involved/disinterested is the narrator in the characters and the outcome of the story?

2. Number of narrators:

  • If there is more than one narrator, how does one story relate to the others?
  • Is there one narrator with several focaliser characters through whose consciousness the story is told?

3. Reliability of the narrator:

  • Is the narrator omniscient or only aware of some of the facts of the story?
  • Is the narrator too naive to fully understand the implications of the story he or she is telling?
  • Has the narrator chosen to keep some important information from the reader?

In pairs apply the questions above to The White Earth and using your answers as guidelines, write a short paragraph describing how the narrative voice tells the story.

Go back to your instant book summary of the novel and consider:

  • How the interplay of William and John as focalisers promotes sympathy for each of these characters.
  • Why Andrew McGahan tells less of the story from John’s perspective after Ruth leaves and ‘Will’s illness began to consume him’ (Chapter 35)?

Setting: The White Earth

The novel The White Earth has a few layers of time. The context of the author is 2004 – a time where reconciliation was being sought. The time in the book is 1992 – a time of the Mabo decision that stimulated anxiety and dissent among many rural people. Embedded in the fabric of this story we see another time – that of the Indigenous people from the past and how that place was the site of violent death. The violence and secrecy of the past reflects critically on the actions of the John and his friends in asserting their ‘rights’ of land ownership.

However, beyond this time of violence, there is yet another time that is implied – the time of Indigenous ownership of the land, previous to colonial rule. The earth that is central to the novel evokes strong emotions and stimulates conflict. The title of the book is quite specific about place acknowledging that there is a dominant group that sees this as a ‘white’ earth (belonging both to the White family and to the colonising race seen as white) but it is only one way of seeing the land, against the less proprietorial and more spiritual connection made between Aboriginal people and the earth.

The Mabo decision was a landmark decision that legally acknowledged the strength of the relationship of the Aborigines to their land and opened avenues for land claims under certain conditions. Setting in this novel therefore represents more than just a place as a background for the story. Place and sense of belonging to place are central to understanding the book. Setting is integral to the understanding of the novel’s meaning. It incites emotions and leads to actions that become part of the texture of the novel.

Setting can also act as a metaphor. For example in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ by Edgar Allan Poe, the house is a symbol of crumbling aristocracy. In Tim Winton’s novelCloudstreet the house filled with ghosts represents the past. In Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda the glass cathedral represents an impossible hope.

The setting can have the force of a character in the way that its very presence motivates other characters to act and react.

Time and Setting in The White Earth

Using the novel, The White Earth, find a description of the land from the text for each of these time periods:

  • 1992
  • John’s youth
  • colonial times
  • pre-colonial times.

Look closely at the wording of the description from each time.

  • Has it changed or has it stayed the same?
  • What is this saying about the land and the way it was seen at each stage?

Student activity: Characters and setting in The White Earth

Find quotations from the text that show the feelings of each main character (John, Will, Veronica and Ruth) to the setting (Kuran). You may find that their emotions change over time so enter any changes as well.

  • What kinds of feelings do the land and the house create in individuals (try to develop your vocabulary here)?
  • Characters’ reactions to the setting show something about the characters. What is revealed about the individual characters in the way each responds to the setting?

Responding to text: complete the diagram

In the empty boxes add examples of the ways setting in The White Earth acts to:

  • Evoke emotions
  • Invite actions
  • Convey a message
  • Create conflict

Close reading of text

There are two main settings: the house and the waterhole, representing connection to the land and to the past. In both there is also a sense of the spiritual, emphasised by the presence of ghosts.

Read these extracts (PDF, 20KB) and complete the questions that follow.

Other types of texts as devices

Authors often employ different texts within their writing as devices to carry out a lot of functions. For example if the writer is using first person narration the inclusion of an email from another character or a letter might help. If the author starts the story near the end then a diary might be the way to fill in the background. If the author wants to give historical credibility to the story than an extract from a history book might be added in. If the author wants to give a real life context then a newspaper report might be embedded. This is a technique that can be seen from writers as far back as Jane Austen who used letters in her novels or conversations to give us other points of view.

Adding other types of texts can:

  • Introduce a new perspective
  • Verify a point of view
  • Change character interactions
  • Share and give insight into another character’s ideas
  • Progress the plot and fill in details
  • Give authenticity.

Readers read different texts in different ways, bringing different expectations to the text; for example, we expect a newspaper to be objective and contain truth, we expect a poem to be very personal, we expect a list to be practical, we expect Facebook to be a personal message. When we read a novel which has different texts in it, we treat these different texts in different ways, bringing our expectations of that type of text to bear and drawing additional meaning.

From your general reading, list the kinds of texts that could be added into a novel and suggest how these affect the reader. The first has been done as a sample.

Type of Text Effect
Newspaper Provides a media view of the event. Can give authenticity and credibility or may offer a sensationalised or distorted view

McGahan includes other types of texts into his novel for various reasons. In Chapters 16, 17 and the epilogue, for example, he has newspaper articles, an events flyer, a television news report and a manifesto.

  • Can you find any other types of text in the novel?
  • Where does each new text appear?
  • What information does each text yield?
  • Does it change the way characters interact? Explain your response.
  • Does it serve to progress the plot? How?
  • Does it offer alternative perspectives?  In what way?


A significant feature of McGahan’s work is the use of motifs to represent the ideas of the text. Motifs can link sections of a text creating a sense of structure, they can connect characters with other characters or characters with places and events. They convey important symbolic meaning in the text.

Students can work in groups each tracing one of the following and then report back to the class on their findings. They can then share and complete their tables.

Hat   Man on fire Earache Ghosts Dreams
Quotations: how is the
motif described in
different parts of the
Where do these
references occur?
Conclusions: What is
the significance of this
motif in developing the ideas?

Write an explanation of why motifs are important in novels and how they function (using examples from The White Earth).

Student activity: close reading

In the passage below from Chapter 35 we see the coming together of a few strands of the book: the ear, the history, fire and the House. This passage comes late in the novel.

  • How do all the elements come together to capture the sense of confusion and despair?
  • Think of the importance of beginning with the throbbing ear.
  • How do we know that William is still not fully aware of the issues?

His ear throbbed and the sun hurt his eyes. He lifted his gaze and stared out over the plains. Everywhere he looked there was haze and smoke, vague shifting shapes that could have been anything. Towns that became farms that became empty grassland set on fire. Nothing was solid, not.the land, and even less so its history. He had been told so many stories – but which ones was he to believe? He had seen none of these events with his own eyes, walked none of the world with his own feet.

He retreated to the safety of the House.


Synthesising activity

Creative writing

Students should describe a beautiful Australian setting over three paragraphs. Use these topic sentences to start each paragraph to build the setting:

  • For a time he lifted his gaze from himself and regarded the world afresh.
  • And more than anything else it was a world of noises.
  • It was a world of secrets too.

Students can share their settings. Then go back to the novel to Chapter 12 to see how McGahan uses these topic sentences to describe the setting.


Studens can use this image and write as if they are first seeing the house in the photo. This is a photograph of Jimbour Station property, one of the largest properties taken up in the 1840s, and the house on which McGahan based his description of Kuran. The image is sourced from Picture Queensland, State Library of Queensland and is free from copyright restrictions.


Each type or genre of novel (including gothic, mystery, romance, science fiction, adventure, fantasy and others) has its own set of conventions by which we recognise what kind of story we can expect. These conventions apply to the setting, the characters, the storyline, the vocabulary and sentence style and the ideas being conveyed. In contrast to strongly conventional genre novels, classic texts are often distinguished from popular culture because they do not follow accepted patterns of writing but at the time they are written, challenge the form.

At this point, teachers may want to revise the idea of genre with their students through the following activity.

Student activity

Work in groups to complete this table:

 Genre Typical Characters Typical Settings Typical Plot Typical Ideas Example
Science fiction
Coming of age
 Hero’s quest

In groups, students can share ideas on the following questions.

  • What genres do you prefer to read?
  • Why?

The realist novel

Novels act as if they are a reality but this reality is a construct. The realist novel aims to show life as it is, emphasising the ordinary over the heroic. It focuses on individuals, generally in the middle classes and their struggle with everyday life. It purports to offer a window onto real life but we all know that were this the case, the effect would be banal and incoherent as real life tends to be. Realism therefore disguises its own artifice – the steady significance of events and conversations, coherent characters, sympathetic settings and satisfying resolutions – to construct a representation of the world as it is. The codes used in realist fiction are so deeply ingrained in the reader that we lose ourselves in this created world and at times forget that it is a fabrication.

The White Earth, though clearly a realist novel, has strains of other genres frequently seen in Australian literature.

The first Australian novel printed and published in mainland Australia was The Guardian: a tale by Anna Maria Bunn was published in Sydney in 1838. It is a Gothic romance written by a woman (Turcotte, ‘Australian Gothic’). Other early books set in Australia – many of them non-fiction – were published in England. Australia’s first well-known writer is Marcus Clarke with his book For the Term of his Natural Life regarded as an Australian classic. The Guardian falls into the popular culture genre of gothic while the novel For the Term of his Natural Life is a historical novel, based on the purported reality of the convict days. Interestingly The White Earth crosses the two genres, locating itself in a history of Australia and therefore acting as a historical novel but also creating what Gerry Turcotte calls an ‘Australian Gothic’ in his article of the same name, which he connects to the colonial experience:

This sense of spiritual malaise is often communicated through the Gothic mode, that is, through a literary form which emphasises the horror, uncertainty and desperation of the human experience, often representing the solitariness of that experience through characters trapped in a hostile environment, or pursued by an unspecified or unidentifiable danger.

From its inception the Gothic has dealt with fears and themes which are endemic in the colonial experience: isolation, entrapment, fear of pursuit and fear of the unknown. And for each, the possibility of transformation, of surviving the dislocation, acts as a driving hope. If the Gothic is itself a hybrid form – a mode delineated by borrowings and conflations, by fragmentation and incompletion, by a rejection of set values and yet a dependence on establishment – then it is ideal to speak the colonial condition. For many the very landscape of Australia was Gothic.

In The White Earth we see a hybrid genre, at times moving beyond the confines of historical and Gothic writing to employ realist elements and even magic realism in the dream sequences. It is a historical saga following a family’s attempts to create a dynasty of land ownership.

Student activity: genres

1. Australian Gothic: read about the Australian Gothic in Gerry Turcotte’s article. Turcotte is drawing a connection between colonialism and the Gothic. Trace his argument and list the evidence. Do you agree with his thesis?

2. Here is a list of the features of the Gothic. Add any others that Turcotte mentions. Find examples as you read the book and complete the table. You may want to separate into groups and trace the references pertaining to one Gothic feature and report back to the class on how that element is developed.

Features Examples Effect
A ruin
Secret passageways
A suspicious person
A mad or manipulative person who loses contact with reality
A hero who struggles to find the truth
Ghosts from the past
An unresolved and bloody past
Fear and the dark side
The struggle between good and evil
Truth in dreams

3. The historical novel: find examples of historical events in the novel. What message do you think McGahan is conveying with each event?

Historical Event Example Message

4. Magic realism: look up definitions of magic realism and determine whether you feel this genre is relevant to the text

How do we define the Australian novel?

What does it mean to have a national literature? 

Miles Franklin, an Australian author of the early 20th century left a bequest to the nation, so that every year a prize is awarded to the best Australian novel. She believed that ‘Without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil.’

This however raises questions:

  • What is an Australian novel?
  • Does it have to be set in Australia?
  • Does it have to be written by an Australian born citizen?
  • Why do we need Australian novels?
  • In what ways does the Australian novel affect us?

The whole idea of having a national literature has raised a great deal of debate. Before  starting on a course of Australian literature it is a good idea to define what is meant by a national literature and why it is important. How does the national align itself against the international? How can we maintain the boundaries of a national literature given wider global influences? Can we say that there has been no influence outside of the country in which the book was written? Does an Australian novel have to be set in Australia?

Professor Robert Dixon writes that:

While Australian literature itself is now and always has been influenced by international contexts, the study of Australian literature, especially by Australians, has tended to take a national perspective only . . . The nation remains one of our most important imagined communities, but for writers and readers alike it is wide open to a series of influences from other kinds of imagined communities that are both smaller and larger than the nation itself, from the local or sub-national to the transnational. (Dixon, ‘Australian Literature and the World Republic of Letters’, mETAphor, 2013)

Consider: How does Professor Dixon’s statement affect the interpretation of Miles Franklin’s bequest?

Student activities

1. What is Australian literature?

  • Direct students to research the topic of Australian literature and to find their own definition
  • Have students explain what Miles Franklin might have meant by: ‘Without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil.’

2. How do you define an Australian novel? Ask students to work in pairs and then share their responses with the class.

What are the features of Australian writing?

Stage 1: Brainstorming

Resource requirements: butcher paper, felt pens and groups of students.

  • Brainstorm what you think are the features of Australian writing
  • Hang your butcher papers’ around the classroom like a gallery
  • Look at what everyone has written
  • Come together as a class and refine what you have written.

Stage 2: Research and refining your response

Watch the following Youtube videos and refine your brainstorm.

Stage 3: Testing your ideas

  • Go back to your earlier activity and look at the Miles Franklin list – do these books fit into your ideas?
  • Can we draw any new conclusions about what makes an Australian novel?

Activity: websites on Australian literature

Students work in groups and go to the following websites and explore what each has to follow. Report back to the group about how each website can be used to help with a study of Australian literature.

Activity: writing an Australian novel

If you wanted to write the great Australian novel what would you include? Fill in this chart as if it is an outline of your great Australian novel. Make this as extreme as you can.

My great Australian novel outline
The setting for my novel would be:
The characters of my novel would be:
Here is an example of the type of words I would use:
My complication that initiates the plot would be:
The theme would be about:
The kinds of objects I would include would be:
My audience would be:

Present your ideas to the class. You should all then take a vote on which was the best ‘Australian’ novel outline and justify your answer.

Other texts using similar approaches/dealing with similar ideas

The resource on Studying the Australian Novel (from which this resource is abridged), to be found on the ETA NSW website, includes examples from other texts such as:Eucalyptus by Murray Bail, The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, Sixty Lightsby Gail Jones, Carpentaria by Alexis Wright, All that I am by Anna Funder, This Land is Mine by Paul Kelly, Questions of Travel by Michele de Kretser, The Ancestor Game by Alex Miller.


Synthesising activity


  • Have these activities on the great Australian novel made you think differently about what is Australian?
  • What insight have you gained into the idea of an Australian novel?

Creative and analytical task

The brief

You are to submit two pieces of writing:

  • an imaginative recreation – rewriting the essence of the novel as a short story
  • a reflection on your writing process.

The story needs to be at least 1000 words and the reflection at least 500.

You will be assessed on:

  • originality and creativity in the creative writing
  • knowledge and understanding of the process
  • expression and organisation of the two pieces of writing according to purpose and audience.


The purpose of this task is to become aware of the different set of understandings and requirements of the short story from the extended form of the novel. The reflection is designed to demonstrate the growth of this knowledge through the writing process and your ability to verbalise your thinking.

Preparation: understanding the short story

Writing a short story is a very different process to writing a novel. The short story:

  • is a condensed format which focuses on a limited number of characters
  • usually has one complication and climax
  • has a very clear focus from the first line.

In order to understand the structure and organisation of the short story form read from the following short story books:


Preparation: the reflection

A reflection needs to do more than just sum up what you have presented. You need to explain the stages of thinking – what decisions did you make and why? You may talk about the characters, the structure and the voice chosen. You should discuss the difficulties of writing in this way and what you learnt about yourself as a writer as well as the relationship between two different forms: the novel and the short story.

 Process Reflection: stimulus questions
Step 1: Know the short story structure
What are the features of a short story?
Research these and read models to see how short stories are crafted.
  •  What opportunities do you see in this structure?
  • Can you identify any problems you might have at this stage?
Step 2: Preparing for the short story – revisit the novel.
What is the main idea in The White Earth?
Who are the main characters?
Who are the minor characters?
How is the story revealed?
  • What stood out for you after you read this novel?
Step 3: Distilling the essence of the novel
How can the main idea be condensed?
What are the most necessary items to retain?
Which characters can we remove?
How can we organise the information?
What will be the kernel of the story?
What will be its climax or turning point?
Can the story be told using a minor character in the novel or a minor incident?
  •  Did this process work easily for you? Why? If not, what kinds of difficulties did you encounter? Were you able to overcome these? How?
  • Are there any issues still to be resolved?
Advice: Character and narrative voice
Don’t automatically assume that minor characters can be removed. Consider Mrs Griffiths who is a person who has seen the history of the region and can act as an onlooker or narrator. However you need to ask yourself: will she convey the message or reconciliation appropriately?
  • What issues arose when thinking about narrative voice and the key character of your story?
The novel’s alternating chapters from past to present may illustrate the idea of the power of the land to influence generations but it is too long to have for this story. Where do you want to start” at the beginning? in the middle? At the end or in the future? Will one of the characters be talking from the future looking back? If you go to the future you bust be able to show change in political climate as this will affect the way the character looks back. What even will stimulate the story or memory?
  •  Record all the decisions you make here as they will form the basis of the reflection.

Speaking task

Format: Panel presentation in front of a class.

Time: Five minutes for each speaker.

Audience: Australian adult readers.

Purpose: The purpose of this task is to use an authentic text to model ways of speaking publicly about books, using the knowledge and understanding embedded in the novel study.

Scenario: The ABC’s First Tuesday Bookclub is running a special program run by school students to talk about The White Earth.

Task: Students have to work in groups to conduct an intelligent discussion on The White Earth. They should use the discussion on the First Tuesday Book Club as a model but they may want to develop this in a different direction.


The First Tuesday Book Club website is a powerful way of supporting literature using multimedia tools of the 21st century. On the website are videos of programs and tabs for a book excerpt, a transcript of the talk, ‘your reviews’ (a section for the public to comment on the book) and an author profile. Sometimes the discussions are quite polarised showing just how diverse responses to a novel can be. The videos are usually of the panelists talking but sometimes a book trailer, a creative interpretation of the book, may be included.


Step 1

Students will watch a segment of the First Tuesday Book Club talking about a Miles Franklin award book (the links appear below). They will consider how each of the elements of the novel is discussed. They will also categorise judgements under positive or negative.

They can use a table to summarise comments:

Jennifer Byrne Speaker 1 Speaker 2 Speaker 3
Judgement and/or
comment + or –

Students will also be listening actively to the way the panel chair conducts the discussion.

  • How does she introduce the novel?
  • How does she position the reader?
  • How does she move the conversation between speakers?
  • If she interjects why does she do so?

Step 2 (Optional)

Students work with de Bono’s hats and develop a discussion according to their hat. You give students a hat with the question on the opposite side and they answer. They could work in white groups red groups, etc. and then come together in mixed groups to share responses.

The hats can be applied to two ideas: to the way the panel works and to the way the book works. Students are:

  • collecting information about the book
  • developing an awareness of the way panel discussions work.
What does the hat require Apply the hat to the panel Apply the hat to the novel
 Information needed Do the panelists ask for more information? What do you think is missing from the book?
Feelings and/or hunches How do the panelists show their feelings? What feeling does the book arouse?
Devil’s advocate How do the panelists express their criticism? What doesn’t work in the book?
Optimism How positive is the panel and how do members show this? What is really good about the book?
Creativity What are the possibilities offered by listening to the panel on the book? What are the possibilities offered by the book?
Manage the thinking Who is controlling the action and how is this done?
How does each panelists reflect to the other?
How is the novelists controlling the ideas?

Step 3

Students allocate roles (panelist or presenter) and prepare their discussion on the novel. They may rehearse this and then present it to the class. Students can watch the First Tuesday Book Club discussion about Past the Shallows as a model.

Alternative versions of the task

The task that appears above can be altered to suit your context. It could be made into a multimodal task, a recorded podcast or a representation (through a book trailer).

Here are some possible changes that you could implement:

  • Students can be encouraged to look at the work they have done in this unit, review what has been learnt, determine what is the most important and then design their own task following a Project Based Learning model.

Task alternatives

  • A website page promoting the book including a video of a spoken presentation, a book trailer, author profile and a collection of comments on the book (like the First Tuesday Book Club).
  • Just one part of the website: the author profile or a transcript of a possible discussion.
  • A radio podcast of reading and discussion (base this on ABC’s Radio National Book Hour).