Tomorrow, When The War Began follows the adventures of Ellie Linton and her friends: teenagers growing up in the fictional Australian town of Wirrawee. Whilst camping at a local spot affectionately called Hell, the friends come to realise that their town has been invaded by an unknown foreign power. From here, the teenagers plan and launch a guerrilla warfare attack on the soldiers occupying their territory, resisting their invasion and trying to regain control of Wirrawee.
The following activities are designed to prepare students to tackle some of the themes, ideas and concepts explored in Tomorrow, When The War Began.
Begin by encouraging students to have a discussion about the role of storytelling in their lives and guide the conversation into the documentation of stories. Some suggested discussion questions and prompts are as follows:
- When do you tell stories? Why?
- Whose stories do you listen to and why do you like them?
- What makes a good story?
- How do you keep you stories ‘alive’?
- Do you write them down? If so, where? If not, why not?
In his interview with Nic Brasch at The Garret, Marsden explained the importance of the physical act of writing and the role it plays in Tomorrow, When The War Began. Play this excerpt to students or provide them with the transcript and draw their attention to the following points:
- ‘You have to have an excuse to have a character writing this stuff down.’
- ‘…there’s got to be some good reason for them to do it.’
- ‘…when she says “I wrote this down because we wanted to be remembered”‘
- ‘…very good motivation for her to do that writing…’
- ‘They wanted the posterity that writing offers, that the written word offers.’
In small groups, encourage students to hypothesise about what would make a good excuse, reason or motivation for writing something down. Allow time for discussion around the following ideas and encourage the groups to report their responses to the class and to elaborate and debate the points of their classmates.
- How does writing something down allow you to be remembered?
- What are the pros and cons of writing an account of your behaviour down?
- How might social media impact the importance of documenting something?
- Explain the posterity of the written word.
Read students the first opening paragraphs of Tomorrow, When The War Began. How does Ellie capture some of the thoughts and feelings expressed by students in the discussion?
(ACELA1564) (ACELT1641) (ACELT1812) (EN5-5C) (EN5-3B) (EN5-7D)
Inform students that the term ‘teenager’ wasn’t in vernacular language until the 1940s. Particularly in America, teenagers, with their fashions, language, behaviours and rites of passage, did not exist until after the Great Depression. In 1944, LIFE magazine published an article titled, ‘Teen-Age Girls: They Live in a Wonderful World of their Own’ complete with a photostory documenting a group of 12 girls aged between 15 and 17 in St. Louis. Show students the images from this article (25 in total) and draw their attention to the captions on the photographs that describe what is happening in some of the scenes. Be sure to read the excerpt from LIFE describing teenage life as ‘a lovely, gay, enthusiastic, funny and blissful society.’
- How do these photos make the life of a teenager appear?
- What might the teenage boys who are not in these photo be doing?
- Describe the typical American teenager from these photos in five words.
Distribute an article to students, such as ‘Who are Generation Z? The latest data on today’s teens’ from The Guardian, or ‘The rise of Generation Z’ from the Sydney Morning Herald. A variety of articles could be distributed to allow a rich discussion. Give students some time to read over the article/s and highlight key points that describe the average Gen Z. As a class, create a list of key criteria and characteristics of today’s teenagers on the board, paying attention to the kinds of lifestyles they lead and the kinds of attitudes other generations have towards them. Discuss:
- Do people perceive Gen Z to be a capable generation?
- What is the biggest concern of parents of Gen Z teens?
- What kinds of behaviours do people expect from a Gen Z?
- Describe the typical Gen Z in five words.
Tomorrow, When the War Began follows the journey of a group of teenage friends and their leader, and narrator of their story, Ellie, who is 16 years old. If the novel was published in 1993, this would make Ellie born around 1977. This makes her a Gen X. Allow students some time to find out about the 1970s and early 1980s in Australia. Explore what was happening in our society at that time and how this may have affected the upbringing of Australian teenagers. Have students create a chart comparing the attitudes and behaviours of teenagers from the 1940s, late 1970s/early 1980s and early 2000s in relation to their education, personal life, biggest concerns in life and ability to cope under pressure. A printable document is available here (PDF, 176KB).
|1940s American Teen||Late 1970s/early 1980s Australian Teen||Early 2000s Australian Teen|
|Ability to cope under pressure
Guerrilla warfare, partisans and resistance movements
Tomorrow, When the War Began follows the journey of a group of teenagers who wage a resistance movement against a foreign invader. Breakdown the concept of warfare with students.
- What types of warfare has Australia been involved in?
- How has warfare changed since the earliest battles?
- What are the risks associated with warfare?
Come up with a shared definition for ‘warfare’, specifically ‘guerrilla’ warfare, ‘resistance’ and ‘partisan’ to ensure that students have the correct vocabulary when discussing the text. Show students excerpts from popular films, TV series and documentaries where guerrilla warfare and partisan involvement is evident. Choose clips carefully as some depict graphic violence and may not be suitable for some audiences. Some examples include Les Miserables (revolution/resistance), the trailer for Kokoda (guerrilla warfare) and a short documentary about Lawrence of Arabia and his role in transforming military tactics in the Great Arab Revolt. Alternatively, students could be given excerpts from novels, biographies or textbooks that describe guerrilla and partisan involvement throughout history such as Jewish partisans like the Bielski Brothers in World War Two or Che Guevara. Excerpts from For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway, The White Mouse by Nancy Wake or Carve her Name with Pride by R.J. Minney would all be suitable texts. Further, students could be given images or paintings that depict battles or ambushes on occupying forces. A quick Google search will bring up a number of appropriate images for use.
Some other examples of suitable resistance movements from which documentation could be sourced include the Fretilin in East Timor who fought for independence from Portugal and then Indonesia, or the paramilitary Jewish Haganah in the British Mandate of Palestine (1921–1948). There are a number of Indigenous warriors who were influential resistance fighters during the Frontier Wars. Pemulwuy, the earliest reported Indigenous resistance fighter, and Jandamarra both led significant insurrections against European colonists. Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were both significant Tasmanian Aboriginal people who, along with five others, stole two guns and waged a six-week guerrilla-style war campaign in the Dandenong Ranges and on the Mornington Peninsula in 1939. The Frontier Wars provides a rich tapestry for exploring the concept of resistance.
Discussion questions for students after investigating these concepts:
- Are the terms ‘partisan’ and ‘resistance’ interchangeable?
- What examples are there in the modern world?
- Where do ‘freedom fighters’, ‘rebels’ or ‘terrorists’ fit amongst these definitions?
- Can the actions of resistance fighters be justified?
Have students create a concept map or collage of these ideas as a reference point whilst reading the novel. They could add in quotes or examples of these concepts as they progress through the novel.
(ACELT1812) (ACELT1774) (ACELY1749) (EN5-7D) (EN5-6C) (EN5-8D)
Survival is a prominent theme in Tomorrow, When the War Began; the group of friends collect supplies necessary to aid their survival once the invasion has taken place and make plans to assist in their survival in Hell. After discussing warfare and the lifestyle of typical teenagers, do Ellie and friends have what it takes to survive in Hell? Ellie and friends are proactive in their dealings with their situation in the novel and demonstrate the best of human nature in their quest to survive – they are competent, creative and courageous as they visit the show ground and confront some of the invaders. Explore the concept of survival with students with the following activities:
- Split class into small groups and give each group a dilemma such as the plane crash or wilderness survival scenario. Allow students time to work through the scenario to come up with an answer to share with the class.
- Ask students to create a survival kit of supplies they think would be necessary to survive an invasion. Negotiate the nature of the invasion beforehand to avoid discrepancies in the task amongst students.
- Prompt questions to discuss what things they would need to survive, as opposed to want or desire. Use this as a starting point to discuss Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This website has an interesting breakdown of the needs, complete with infographics.
- Ask students to rate themselves on a scale of 1–10 (where 10 is ‘absolutely’) in response to the statement, ‘I have a range of skills and strategies to survive in the wilderness if I was ever stranded for a lengthy period of time.’
- Bring in an assortment of items and ask students to come up with a list of non-traditional uses for each of the items. Items could include a bandanna, a water bottle and a length of rope.
- There may be someone in the school community who is an avid camper or Cub Scout leader. Invite them to your class to discuss surviving in the wilderness and provide some practical ideas.
Tomorrow, When the War Began deals with the idea of an invasion of Australia by a foreign power. Throughout Australian history, there has been an ever present undertone of a fear of foreign invasion, in an economic sense (foreign ownership), a physical sense (such as invasion of the Japanese during World War Two) and metaphorical sense (immigration), with all three symbolised in The White Australia policy. Australia’s vast and open border, and relative isolation from the rest of the world, have been seen as a recurring impediment to being a ‘secure’ country.
Have students create a list of reasons why they think Australia would be invaded. What kind of resources does Australia have? What would be the pros/cons of invading and occupying Australia? Where might be a weak point in Australia’s geography that could make invasion easier? Who or what might be the biggest threat to Australia? (Stress the need for a pragmatic answer here with students to avoid engaging in any potential xenophobic debate.)
Have students respond to why they think modern society is so paranoid about security. How is it that many countries around the world are fearful of ‘the other’ or of people that are different to them? Why would countries like Australia want to close their borders to immigration? For further discussion, and if appropriate, show students Donald Trump’s speech on immigration where he stated he was planning to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. The Los Angeles Times has annotated the speech here. How does the speech use language to persuade Trump’s audience to feel paranoia and concern about their security and the alleged threats to their lifestyle?
Enlarge and print images that depict the landscape described in Tomorrow… A good starting place is here, where a Marsden fan has hiked in the area described by Marsden as Wirrawee (although fictional). Conduct a gallery walk with students and encourage them to think about the following:
- What does each image reveal about the Australian landscape?
- How might the landscape influence the kinds of people who might invade Australia?
- How might the rugged landscape protect Australia?
- Find another image that best portrays the landscape that you think would help or hinder an invasion of Australia.
Display the images of Australia in your classroom and refer to them when reading the novel. As students learn more about Hell, the images may come in helpful for imagining the isolation of the area and the challenging terrain.
(ACELA1572) (ACELY1749) (EN5-1A) (EN5-8D)
John Marsden on Tomorrow, When The War Began
Perhaps controversially, Marsden appeared on the television program Q&A, and proclaimed that he would not write Tomorrow, When the War Began now. He says, ‘I wouldn’t write that book now – not because of a societal view but because of my own horror at the way refugees who have come to Australia have been treated.’ Michael Mohammed Ahmad, author of The Lebs, added, ‘when I pulled the words apart in the Tomorrow series I did interpret a paranoid, white nationalist fantasy about a group of coloured people illegally invading this country,’ to which Marsden expanded, ‘it’s been a different group right through my life – it was Greek and Italian people when I was a kid, then it was Vietnamese people and other Asian people, and then it’s African people, and Aboriginal people have been kind of chronically treated in this way for the whole of my life.’
Show students the clip from Q&A and allow them some time afterward to reflect on what Marsden and the panel said. Encourage students to consider the following in a structured response:
- What might it be like to have a work of their own characterised as racist and linked to feelings of resentment and xenophobia?
- How do you think Marsden feels about this assertion?
- Can you think of any other texts that represent a group of people as inferior – either due to heritage or even socio-economic status?
- How would you feel if a novel was written that demonised you and your upbringing?
- What are the implications of reading/watching such texts? If, as Marsden says, fiction is meant to bring us closer to the truth, aren’t these kinds of texts damaging?
Personal response on reading the text
Teenagers in 21st century
Whilst reading the text, have students document the skills that the teenagers have as they are forced to deal with the circumstances of the invasion of Wirrawee. Marsden hoped to prove that teenagers are capable of greatness when under pressure; what examples of this in the text can your students find?
- Skills the friends have and use during their war of resistance.
- Ingenuity employed – what circumstances forced this to come about?
- The proactive response to the danger they face.
Identifying with the gang
The gang from Hell are a group of close-knit friends from the same local township of Wirrawee. Document how Ellie describes each of the characters as they are introduced to the reader and support each statement with evidence from the text. Use the following table as a guide.
|What does the character do?||What does the character say?||What does the character look like?||What does the character own?|
Whilst reading the novel, students should observe the relationships between each of the characters and how the dynamics shift as members of the group start to accept more responsibilities. What other famous figures, friends or couples have had relationship dynamics shift when one or both of them change their responsibilities? Compare and contrast (PDF, 176KB) the two ‘couples’.
(ACELA1564) (ACELT1639) (ACELT1641) (EN5-5C) (EN5-8D) (EN5-3B)
Assist students to analyse the process of self-discovery of one of the characters. Think about how the character realises the power of their actions, their thoughts and the decisions that they make? Have students collect a range of quotations, song lyrics, photographs, book titles and the like to put together a collage or inspirational mood board that represents the growth that the character chosen has undergone.
To be continued…
Tomorrow, When the War Began is the first in a seven-part series. The novel ends with an epilogue from Ellie, getting her writing up-to-date and commenting on the characters’ potential future in Hell without Kevin and Corrie. Reflect on what could eventuate in the other six novels. Have students construct a response to share with a partner about how the story of the gang from Hell might end.
The writer’s craft
- Approach to characterisation
- Point of view
Marsden, in his interview with Nic Brasch at The Garret, speaks quite candidly about the role that storytelling through first-person narration, letter writing and diary-keeping, plays in some of his works, including the Tomorrow, When The War Began series. He says that writing offers a sense of posterity that is seemingly essential for the development of his plot and characters. Diary-keeping or journalling is a popular pastime that many students partake in and enjoy. A quick assessment of the classroom will garner the take-up of this activity and guide the discussion of the use of Ellie’s diarising in Tomorrow, When The War Began.
Collect a range of excerpts from diaries kept by individuals who survived tumultuous times. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, journals kept by Captain Scott on his expedition to the South Pole or Nelson Mandela’s letters and diary entries in Conversations With Myself are all good places to start when building a collection to use in the classroom. Select diaries that are from different time periods, from people of different gender, race or upbringing as this will allow for richer analysis. Distribute the excerpts to students in small groups and allow time to read them, first for understanding, and then for analysis using the following questions:
- What can you learn about the author from reading the excerpt?
- What questions do you have about the author or their circumstances?
- Comment on the kinds of anecdotes included in the excerpts.
- How does the voice of just one author/one perspective change the kind of information you gain?
- How do the details in each of the diaries change between author and why do you think this is the case? (i.e. how does Anne Frank’s style of diarising differ from Captain Scott’s?)
Enter into a discussion with students about the information that can be gathered through a diary. What does a diary reveal that they may not be able to understand through another source? How does a diary help with forming connections to the people spoken about? What do(es) the diary entry(ies) reveal about the time, the place and the circumstances faced by the author? ‘Diary Writing Turns a New Leaf’, published in The New York Times in 1981 is an interesting article that celebrates the art of diary writing and may be a helpful discussion tool for students. Assign your students a task to write in a diary every day for a week. (Whilst it is essential that students engage in the task properly, it may be helpful to set some broad guidelines about the content expected in the diary to ensure that it is appropriate for use in a later class.) Once students have completed this assignment, collect their diaries and photocopy an assortment of pages from each to distribute to the class again (be sure to remove all identifying markers). Have students respond to the above questions in relation to the excerpts they have read. In addition to these, have students discuss and share with the class their responses to the following:
- How did it make you feel to know that your work was going to be read by someone else?
- Did knowing that you were to have an audience change the content of your entries? Why? How?
- How reliable is hearing from just one voice?
Whilst Ellie is the ‘recorder’ of the story of the gang in Tomorrow, When The War Began, she doesn’t actually keep an individual and strict, traditional diary. Instead, she uses the techniques of diary writing to document their shared experiences. Ellie uses the traditional chronological sequencing of the events they encounter and she writes truthfully about the difficulties they face. Encourage students to look over their copy of Tomorrow, When The War Began and identify other features of Ellie’s writing that lend it to being a blend of a first-person narration and a diary. Complete the Venn diagram (PDF, 170KB) comparing the two.
Have students select a section from Tomorrow, When The War Began that they identified with or that captured their attention. Have them rewrite Ellie’s telling of the particular event in the form of a diary (in the strictest sense of the format). Remind students to pay attention to the kinds of details that are included in a diary and the kinds of details that are not, both of which would have come out in class discussions when studying the earlier diary entries, and edit Ellie’s writing accordingly to fit it into this format.
(ACELA1571) (ACELT1815) (ACELT1644) (EN5-3B) (EN5-6C)
In these modern times, there are a number of other ways in which students may document their experiences, hardships, trials, tribulations and successes. The advent of social media has meant that many students may feel compelled to document their lives online through a number of platforms, including but not limited to YouTube vlogs, Facebook, Twitter, live-streaming, Instagram and Snapchat. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that people enjoy posting about themselves online and receiving gratification for posting frequent updates about their lives. A discussion with students could pull apart some of the mentalities of younger people in relation to broadcasting about their lives and students may be quite forthcoming in acknowledging times when they engage in this behaviour themselves. Ask students to consider how, if Ellie and the gang were thrust into facing their situation in the present day, might Ellie choose to document the story of her friends. Students should choose one popular social media platform and compile an account of Ellie’s story using that platform. For example, how might Ellie use her Facebook account to tell her story? Consider the way the site is used, the restrictions and limitations of the platform, the material the site would allow her to use and upload, as well as her purpose in telling her story – to not be forgotten – and which platform might be best placed to avoid this from happening.
(ACELA1566) (ACELY1749) (ACELY1752) (ACELY1756) (EN5-6C) (EN5-8D) (EN5-1A)
The use of literary archetypes is widely documented. Introduce your students to the concept of character archetypes, where typical characters represent universal patterns in human behaviour. Students may be interested in the philosophical and psychological background of archetypes developed by Carl Gustav Jung. Jung developed 12 archetypes that represent basic human motivation, with each having its own specific set of values, meanings and personality traits.
Using an image such as this one, The Road at Iona, break the class into groups and assign each a particular archetype. See if students can identify this particular archetype from any texts that they have consumed in the past. Draw a table on the whiteboard and ask students to come up and contribute their suggestions for literary figures who fit into these archetypes. Open the class up into a discussion to see if any of their suggestions fit across multiple archetypes. Discuss with students the role that each of the archetypes play in developing the plot for each text. Some examples of common archetypes to get students started are below but a Google search can reveal more to guide students;
- The hero: Harry Potter (Harry Potter series) or Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games trilogy)
- The sage/wise man/mentor: Q (James Bond), Yoda (Star Wars) or Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings)
- The jester/sidekick: Robin (of Batman and Robin) or Dr Watson (Sherlock Holmes)
Challenge students to see if they can allocate one of the archetypes to the characters from Tomorrow, When the War Began. Students should support their claims with evidence from the text. Some students may be able to explain how a character transforms from one archetype to another over the course of the novel.
(ACELA1566) (ACELT1639) (ACELT1640) (ACELT1642) (EN5-6C) (EN5-8D) (EN5-5C) (EN5-2A)
Identifying with the gang
After reading the novel, have students complete the following table (printable document available here (PDF, 180KB)) to analyse the transformation in the characters over the course of Tomorrow, When the War Began.
|Character||Original/old character traits||Text evidence||Developing/new character traits||Text evidence||Event that brought about developing traits|
|Homer||e.g. loudmouthed, crazy, immature
|‘You keep going like this, you’ll lose your reputation. Aren’t you meant to be just a wild and crazy guy?’ (Robyn to Homer, p. 138)||e.g. thoughtful, supportive, innovative||‘That was Homer’s genius. He combined action with thought, and he planned ahead. He sensed, I think, that inaction was our enemy.’ (p. 111)|
Assist students to make a graph that plots the points of tension in one of the characters’ stories in the novel. For every event that the character endures, plot it as a point of tension on the Y axis where 0 is equal to no tension (a calm day with no danger), 5 is equal to a fight or passionate kiss and 10 is equal to the universe being endangered. This is best done in chronological order so as to depict the peaks and troughs in the character’s development throughout the novel. The X axis is time passed or actual event in the novel. In addition to this, have students match the events in the character’s story to the change that has occurred (if at all) to their traits from their original introduction in the novel. For example, as Ellie is forced to acknowledge that she has possibly murdered one or more of the invading soldiers, a key part in her story, her character develops a calculating and scheming side that the reader has not yet seen.
(ACELT1812) (ACELT1642) (ACELY1754) (EN5-7D) (EN5-2A)
Point of view
Tomorrow, When The War Began is told from the first-person perspective of Ellie. Students will have already discussed the role of diarising and Ellie’s voice in earlier activities. However, consider the stories of the other members of the gang and whether or not their experience is being documented wholly by Ellie in her retelling. Write the term ‘reliable narrator’ on the whiteboard as the focal point for discussion. Ask students to contribute their ideas to what they think this term might mean and what it could refer to in relation to Tomorrow, When The War Began. Can Ellie be called a reliable narrator?
Have students fill out a table like the one below that records the similarities and differences between Ellie’s narration of the story and the qualities of a reliable and unreliable narrator (printable document available here (PDF, 172KB)). Pre-fill the table as appropriate for students.
|Reliable narrator||Ellie Linton||Unreliable narrator|
|Can be trusted||Establishes her credibility at the beginning of the story|
|Is honest, even if the story is offensive||Misleads the reader|
|Ellie tells all the stories from her point of view and recalls dialogue from all of her friends||Usually writes in first person|
|Retells all events, regardless of significance||Makes the reader question the events|
|Openly reflects on her changes and growth during the invasion||Behaves inconsistently throughout the story|
Consider the other members of the gang. Ellie is thrust with the responsibility of documenting the events rather arbitrarily at the beginning of the novel. How might the story be different if it was told from the point of view of another character? Have students select a character, and fill out the dual timeline (PDF, 233KB) of events. In the blue bubbles, students record Ellie’s thoughts, perspective and words from four key happenings in the story. In the red bubbles, students retell the event from the perspective of one of the other characters. How might they have seen the event? What might they have said about the event? Share these perspectives with the class. Do the students agree about how Ellie portrayed the events? Are the interpretations of the events from the perspective of the other characters more insightful than Ellie’s?
(ACELA1564) (ACELT1642) (ACELT1643) (EN5-5C) (EN5-2A) (EN5-3B)
Students have previously explored the Australian landscape and the role that it may or may not play in protecting Australia from a foreign invader. When the gang first heads out towards Taylor’s Stitch and Hell, the landscape is described as quite rugged by Marsden. Images the students will have looked at can attest to this. There have been numerous Australian poets who have mused on the Australian bush, its role in our national life and upbringing, as well as the bush culture and bush myth that permeates popular Australian culture.
Direct students to create a mind map about their understanding of the Australian bush. Consider:
- myths or legends they have heard about the bush
- popular references to the bush landscape
- the lifestyles of people who live in the bush.
Share these responses amongst the class. How many of the students live in the bush? How do they come to have an understanding of bush life when most Australians are from urban areas?
Supply students with a selection of poetry and short stories that depict the Australian bush landscape and lifestyle. Some suitable texts are The Drover’s Wife and Andy’s Gone With Cattle by Henry Lawson, Along the Road to Gundagai by Jack O’Hagan or The Man From Snowy River by A.B. Paterson. Some images of landscape paintings could even be included for reference too. Consider works by Tom Roberts, Arthur Boyd, Russell Drysdale and many more. The Art Gallery of NSW’s ‘One Hundred years of Australian landscape painting’ exhibition is a good starting point. Give students some time to read and interpret these poems and pictures, then undertake a process of analysis to pull out the imagery crafted in these narratives. How is the landscape represented? Collect words and phrases from each of the poems and stories that help students form an understanding of the Australian landscape and the kinds of people who inhabit the land. Document these in their exercise books for reference.
Read over the sections from Tomorrow, When The War Began when Marsden describes the landscape the teenagers visit when on their way into and out of Hell. In this exercise, students should see if Marsden’s descriptions of Wirrawee and the Australian landscape myths marry together. After giving students time to collect quotations that relate to the landscape from Tomorrow, When The War Began they should write a page response to the following question: Does Marsden’s depiction of Wirrawee, Hell and Taylor’s Stitch confirm or reject the Australian bush and landscape ideals celebrated by Australian writers? Encourage students to make direct reference to the words and phrases they have collected to this point in their answer. For additional scaffolding, use the planning document (PDF, 166KB).
(ACELA1564) (ACELA1566) (ACELT1774) (ACELY1749) (ACELY1750) (ACELY1754) (EN5-5C) (EN5-6C) (EN5-8D) (EN5-1A) (EN5-2A)
Tomorrow, When The War Began fits across a broad range of genres. Is it an adventure tale? Thriller? Dystopia? Perhaps it is science fiction or speculative fiction. Perhaps a combination of all of these. Explore the characteristics of these genres with students. Provide students with excerpts from texts from the same genre and analyse the texts for particular features. Use a shared knowledge of the agreed characteristics of each genre to consider the following:
- How is Tomorrow, When The War Began similar to other adventure stories where the main character/s go on a quest to solve a problem or find hidden treasure?
- What similarities are there between Tomorrow, When The War Began and other popular Australian thriller titles such as: Truth by Peter Temple, The Dry or The Lost Man both by Jane Harper, The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey or any of the works by the hugely successful Matthew Reilly (now based in the US)? Students could also look beyond our own shores to works such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl or classics by Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle.
- If dystopian fiction reveals a less than perfect future, how does the invasion of Wirrawee in Tomorrow, When The War Began mirror some of the same traits as the Capitol in The Hunger Games or the totalitarian capitalist government in Jennifer Government?
- If science fiction deals with an advanced technological future, or warns of political combustion, does Tomorrow, When The War Began exhibit any of these common characteristics too?
- Is Tomorrow, When The War Began an example of speculative fiction? If speculative fiction asks ‘what if…?’, is Marsden offering commentary on a future where Australia is invaded and how Australians would adapt?
Text and meaning
- Exploration of themes and ideas
- Meaning in context.
Invasion and occupation of Australia
The subconscious undertone of Tomorrow, When The War Began deals with the idea of an ever present threat of the invasion and occupation of Australia. Throughout Australian history, and expressed explicitly in the intent of the White Australia Policy, first enacted in 1901 and continuing through to the late twentieth century, is the idea that Australia is either in danger of, or actually being, ‘invaded’, initially and particularly by Asians, but more recently Muslims. This has been a prominent socio-political and cultural theme and there has been much rhetoric in the media. Many people have interpreted Marsden’s Tomorrow, When The War Began series as confronting the realities of an imminent Asian threat. On Q&A, Marsden was confronted with the prospect that his Tomorrow, When The War Began series ‘raised a generation of Australians who feared a foreign invasion’ with one panelist, author Mohammed Ahmad, stating that the implications of Tomorrow, When The War Began ‘genuinely impacted and damaged the lives of a lot of the young people that [he] grew up around,’ due to the inadvertent xenophobic undertones of Marsden’s story.
Engage students in a discussion about who they interpreted the foreign soldiers to be when reading the novel. Did they assign them a race or were they just nameless and faceless beings? Ask them to think about why some people might ascribe Asian heritage to the invading soldiers. Are there any clues in the story that might encourage people to think this? Think about Australian history, what they see on television or in the media and consider what might be the purpose of encouraging the idea and fear of an Asian invasion, or how might Marsden’s work be persuading readers against this idea?
Watch Asian Invasion (SBS’s The Feed – language warning). In this short satirical television segment, how does Michael Hing frame the alleged Asian invasion? Record the so-called negatives to an Asian invasion of Australia as mentioned by Hing. In some respects, Hing plays up to cultural stereotypes of Asian people, highlighting their intelligence and law-abiding nature. Spend some time reviewing the points Hing mentions and tease out the satirical nature of his segment. Inspired by this, have students think about another group who might like to invade Australia arbitrarily. Perhaps Canadian lumberjacks might like to invade the Australian bush in order to maintain their livelihoods, or maybe New Zealand might like to invade Australia to capitalise on our wool trade and sheep farming industries. In small groups, have students prepare presentations to the class imagining that they are rallying an army to invade Australia. What qualities or stereotypes does their army need to have in order to invade Australia? What is the purpose of their invasion? How might their invasion be positive (and negative) for the Australian people?
(ACELA1564) (ACELA1571) (ACELY1749) (ACELY1813) (ACELY1752) (EN5-5C) (EN5-3B) (EN5-8D)
Moral choices of war
War is a difficult situation for many students to imagine, having not ever faced the realities of combat and their relatively filtered exposure to contemporary warfare. In Tomorrow, When The War Began, Ellie and her friends essentially wage a war against the invading foreigners through a resistance movement and the engagement in guerrilla warfare style tactics.
Ask students to imagine the kinds of dilemmas that soldiers might have to face in wartime. Show students the trailer for American Sniper to illustrate some of the split second moral decisions snipers have to make during combat. Some of the decisions that soldiers may have been forced to make in times of combat can have disastrous consequences and long-lasting effects. Do not downplay this to your students. Whilst gathering their opinions, remind students that we shouldn’t judge people who have acted in challenging or unusual ways in times of warfare. Prompt them with dilemmas such as:
- Would you send your friends into a battle if you knew they were likely to be badly injured or killed?
- Would you risk your life to save a civilian who wasn’t involved in the combat?
- Would you reveal information about your army’s positions or tactics if you were taken prisoner?
- Would you abandon the combat if you had an opportunity to save yourself and run free?
- Would you target enemies in battle if it meant innocent people would be harmed?
- Would you torture another person for information?
- What is the value of one person’s life over the lives of a whole battalion?
Right vs Wrong
The gang from Wirrawee is forced to make many decisions once their town has been invaded in order to preserve their own, and others’, lives. Discuss with students the concept of right and wrong: what kinds of decisions or actions are always morally right and morally wrong? Make a list of these actions with students. Considering the developments of Tomorrow, When The War Began, where several characters, especially Ellie, make decisions in the ‘heat of the moment’ that are not usually considered morally right, discuss whether it is okay to do bad/morally wrong things in difficult circumstances. Make a list of the morally wrong actions that become morally right in the circumstances of the invasion, such as when Ellie, Kevin and Corrie ambush and kill some soldiers in Mrs Alexander’s backyard.
Is there such thing as a just war?
Ask students if there is ever a time when they believe waging war is acceptable? Watch and listen to Michael Walzer explain the Just War Theory and have students document the justifications for going to war and the ‘just’ conduct of war. Think of Ellie and friends as combatants waging war against the invading force and consider the following:
- Do they have plausible reason for going to war?
- How might their behaviours be reported on by a media source, if there was one?
- How do the characters follow their right to resist aggression? What actions do they take?
- Do the characters assert their right to resist/assist aggression? To whom do they come to the aid of?
- In terms of the conduct of war outlined by Walzer, do the friends follow these ‘just war’ guidelines?
The Wikipedia page for Just War Theory is a rich starting point for more discussion on the criteria essential to waging a ‘Just War’. There are essentially five main criteria for a Just War. They are:
- The war must be aimed at stopping human rights abuses
- It must be authorised by a legitimate governing body
- There should be a reasonable certainty of success
- Violence must only be used as a last resort
- Damages must be kept to a minimum and civilians cannot be targeted.
Have students compose an argument about whether Ellie and the gang are entitled to retaliate and engage in resistance warfare under these criteria. Brainstorm reasons for/against their actions and use the information to compose a one-page (A4 or A3) propaganda-style poster that celebrates or condemns the gang’s actions. Use the propaganda posters inspired by the Districts in The Hunger Games as a starting point for inspiring students.
As an aside or an extension to these discussions, students could frame and apply their thoughts to some of the many wars fought over the last century, for example, the Second World War is often said to be a truly ‘just’ war, yet even in this global conflict, civilians were directly targeted, the most horrendous example being the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
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Pose the following question to students on the whiteboard to facilitate discussion: ‘What makes a hero?’. Elicit responses from students and add these to the whiteboard (using only half of the board) for reference throughout the lesson.
Present students with copies of the article, ‘What Makes a Hero?’ by Philip Zimbardo, psychologist and researcher known most famously for his work on the Stanford Prison Experiment. Read through the article together and highlight qualities that Zimbardo states belong to heroes, and qualities that need to be fostered or encouraged through ‘heroic imagination’. Compile these notes into a document and have students share their takeaways with the class. Write these in an alternate colour marker on the other side of the whiteboard.
Ask students to consider the characters in Tomorrow, When The War Began. According to their own definitions, and the definition provided by Zimbardo, are they heroes? In another article, ‘The Banality of Heroism’, Zimbardo references four independent dimensions to true heroism. They are:
- Some type of quest ranging from the preservation of life to the preservation of an ideal.
- Some form of actual or anticipated risk or sacrifice, either physical or social.
- The heroic act can be passive or active. Not all heroic acts are valiant and observable.
- The heroic act can be a one time occurrence or can persist over a longer period of time.
How do the characters in Tomorrow, When The War Began measure up to Zimbardo’s criteria?
Split the class into four groups to undertake two debates. Assign each group either the negative or affirmative position and a topic for debate. Some suggested debate topics are below. Allocate students appropriate time to prepare their debates and present them to the class with opportunity to discuss some of the key points made in the debates as a whole class afterwards.
- The gang from Wirrawee are not heroes; they are villains.
- The actions taken by the gang from Wirrawee are not heroic acts but rather acts of self-preservation.
- Ellie is the true heroine of Tomorrow, When the War Began.
- The foreign invaders of Wirrawee are the predominant heroes in the novel.
The one-page response (PDF, 181KB) is an analytical, creative and written response to Tomorrow, When The War Began and is designed for students to show their understanding of the novel they have read in an individual and unique way through the use of colour, images and symbols in the style of sketch-notes.
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Ways of reading the text
Alternate point of view
Tomorrow, When the War Began is told from the perspective of Ellie as she is chosen to document the story of her group of friends from Wirrawee. Ask students if they think there may be a difference between how a male and a female retell a story. What might those differences, if any, be? Why? Consider Tomorrow, When the War Began and Ellie’s important role in the story, not just as the protagonist but as the person responsible for writing their story down. Would the story have changed if it was written by one of the male characters? What kinds of things do you think one of the male characters would have picked up or left out?
Have students rewrite one of the scenes from Tomorrow, When the War Began from the perspective of one of the male characters. Before doing so, have them reread the passage they intend to use and make note of the features of the event that Ellie is careful to document in her retelling. Would they keep these features or do away with them? What else needs to be added in or taken away? Have students share their retelling with small groups in the class. Allow time for discussion about whether or not the retellings are more or less powerful and why.
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A gendered reading
Given that Ellie Linton is an important and driving character in the development of the Tomorrow, When the War Began story and is accompanied by another three female characters, introduce students to the concept of literary theory, and to some of the background to gendered or feminist readings of novels, poetry or film. After eliciting responses from students about gender roles, or stereotypical/accepted gendered behaviour, have students analyse Tomorrow, When the War Began from a gendered perspective.
Break the class into small groups and allocate each group one of the following topics to discuss in relation to analysing Tomorrow, When the War Began.
- How are the male and female characters depicted in the novel? How are the characters described?
- Which characters are active and passive in the novel? What kinds of behaviours do each of the characters undertake?
- Are there any behaviours exhibited by either female or male characters that are portrayed as a weakness or as an asset? What are they and by whom are they exhibited?
- What kinds of assumptions about gender does Tomorrow, When the War Began support, challenge and reinforce?
- What actions/behaviours are surprising in the novel? How do your own expectations of gendered behaviour lead you to react in a certain way?
A refugee story?
During his appearance on Q&A, Marsden expressed that he would not write his Tomorrow, When The War Began series again given the climate of today’s Australian politics regarding refugees and asylum seekers and how they are treated when they come to Australia legitimately seeking refuge and shelter. Now that students have read the whole text, replay the video to them and have them think about how this additional information influences how they may have originally interpreted the text.
Contextually, Tomorrow, When the War Began was first published in 1993. In 1992, the Keating (Labor) Government legislated for the indefinite, mandatory detention of all ‘unlawful non-citizens [without a valid visa] in Australia’s migration zone’ in response to a wave of boat arrivals from Indochina. People from Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) were fleeing war and unrest in their countries brought about by the Vietnam War and ongoing post-war persecution. Keating’s predecessors, Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke, had both acted with humanity in response to the crisis unfolding in Asia in the post-Vietnam War period. Fraser had permitted the resettlement of over 200,000 Indochinese refugees and Hawke had allowed 42,000 Chinese students to remain permanently in Australia after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. However, the Indochinese refugees who were resettled in Australia were met with mixed reactions from the Australian public, including racism, alarm, concern over the cultural differences, but also with much concern about their welfare. This was indeed an interesting time in Australia’s multicultural history, especially in terms of our long-term historical fear of the ‘yellow peril’ as expressed by the White Australia policy, only recently and finally erased from the legislative books by the Whitlam government in 1973.
Flash forward 25 years and Marsden says that the way asylum seekers and refugees are treated here in Australia, ‘as the scum of the earth’, is ‘unforgivable and disgusting’. He expressed his shame at the Australian media who demonise the people who have come here seeking refuge and remarks that he is horrified to hear of the experiences of how refugees are treated in mandatory detention in Australia.
After arming students with this information, have them discuss whether or not they think Marsden has demonised the foreign invaders in Tomorrow, When the War Began. What kinds of actions do the invaders undertake? How are they spoken about? As students read more of the Tomorrow, When the War Began series this will be revealed in greater detail.
Many of the authors on the Reading Australia site write about refugees, the immigration experience and white Australian responses to these experiences. Prominent amongst these are Libby Gleeson, Alice Pung, Nam Le, Morris Gleitzman, amongst many more.
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Comparison with other texts
- Versions of the text in other modes, media and contexts
- Other texts using similar approaches or dealing with similar ideas.
Other refugee stories
Show students Sam Wallman’s A Guard’s Story. In contrast to the demonising views held by the media and perpetuated by certain circles of society, this web comic tells the story of what it is like to work inside a Serco detention centre. After reading the web comic together, allow students to select a particular scene from the comic to analyse in greater detail. Have them consider the symbolism, text, colour, context, texture, caricature and composition and how this contributes to the overall power of the scene they have chosen. Students should annotate the scene, pulling apart these elements.
Contrast Wallman’s illustrations and the message of his web comic with some excerpts from the comic book published by the Australian Government. This comic book is written in the main Afghan languages of Dari and Pashto and was distributed overseas in an effort to deter people from coming to Australia by boat. The comic book seemingly celebrates the cruel treatment of asylum seekers and the process of detention they will inevitably face once being caught in the Australian migration zone. Have students conduct the same process of analysis with a scene from the Government comic. Considering Marsden’s novel, Wallman’s web comic and the Australian Government comic book, which text demonises foreign people the most and why do they think this is the case? Together with the annotations of the comics, have students submit their response to this task in essay format.
Australia’s first invasion story
There are some similarities that can be drawn between the foreign invading forces in Tomorrow, When the War Began and the British invading forces that colonised Australia in 1788. The characters in Tomorrow, When the War Began react to the invasion of their town with comparable fervour to that with which the Indigenous Australians responded to the claims of terra nullius and the occupation of their land.
Have students look at a collection of political cartoons that relate to Invasion Day. A quick Google search will allow you to turn up hundreds of cartoons on the topic and select an appropriate suite of cartoons for the cohort. Spend some time analysing and explaining political cartoons with students. Explain the notion of satire, humour and social commentary. Why is the issue of invasion such a powerful sentiment in Australia? Why is it that Australia Day continues to be held on 26 January when this day is associated with the displacement and mistreatment of Aboriginal Australians? How do the political cartoons convey these ideas and messages?
In addition to this, show students a collection of other political cartoons and stories related to the invasion of Australia, from pre-Federation to today, such as:
- ‘The Mongolian Octopus’ by Phil May published in The Bulletin (1886)
- ‘The Yellow Trash Question’ by Livingston Hopkins published in The Bulletin (1895)
- Will Mahony’s 1942 cartoon published in the Daily Telegraph
- ‘Painting the world brown – will our turn come?’ (1904) by New Zealand cartoonist E. F. Hiscocks
- Anti-Chinese immigration cartoon published in the Melbourne Punch in 1888.
Have students visit Trove and search for images and articles about the Bombing of Darwin in 1945 and the New Guinea campaign. Using the analysis of the cartoons, the images uncovered through Trove and the articles available online, summarise the sentiments of the Australian people and government in responding to the imminent threat of invasion of Australia. Are there any differences between how the invasion through war is portrayed and the invasion through immigration? What kinds of terms are used to refer to the invading forces? How does the media represent foreign people?
After completing this activity, give students some time to create their own political cartoon about the invasion of Wirrawee. Imagine they are submitting a cartoon for the editorial in the local Wirrawee Chronicle about the invading forces. Consider:
- How might the invasion appear from the invading side?
- What are the various reactions to the invasion?
- Actions taken by the characters to resist the invasion.
- Powerful symbols and imagery that best represent the invasion of Wirrawee.
- Location, landscape and broader themes of the novel
Tomorrow, When the War Began television series
In 2013, the ABC produced a drama series based on the events of the first novel in the Tomorrow, When the War Began series. The trailer highlights the tumultuous events of the novel and the action driven plot line. There is also a film adaptation (2012) of the novel. Discuss adaptations with students. What is the purpose of a film adaptation? Have students list as many similarities and differences as possible between the two modes and genres. Ask them to consider:
- The tools an author and filmmaker uses to tell a story and to draw in its audience
- How each text handles aspects of storytelling such as point of view, narrative structure and time frame
- A work of literature is created by just one person and a film is created by a team.
Discuss the answers and brainstorm responses onto the whiteboard. Have students reflect on famous film adaptations of books that they have read.
- What was interesting about the adaptation/s?
- Were they true adaptations or was creative license used?
- Did they like them?
Show students the trailers to adaptations, however if time permits, show an episode of the series for comparison or the entire movie. Have students keep a detailed list of plot and character changes for discussion.
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Red Dawn (1984)
Red Dawn is a film that deals with similar themes to those explored in Tomorrow, When the War Began. The trailer for the film is available here. The film is set in the United States in a time when the country is invaded by the Soviet Union and its allies. The story follows a group of high school students who call themselves ‘Wolverines’ and resist the occupation by the invading forces by engaging in guerrilla tactics. This movie was also remade in 2012; however, in this version the plot deals with the invasion of the United States by North Korean forces.
Consider the context of the films. In 1984, the United States and the Soviet Union were reaching the end of the Cold War, with 1984 characterised by the Soviet boycott of the summer Olympics in retaliation for the boycott of the Moscow Olympics undertaken by the United States in 1980. In 2006, 2009 and between 2012 and 2016, North Korea committed a series of nuclear weaponry tests that frightened the world despite moratoriums on long-range nuclear weapons testing being issued by then President Barack Obama. Discuss with students how the context of the time of production can greatly impact the content of a particular text and the reception of that particular text. How were the Red Dawn films received at the time they were released? Have students research other films that deal with war and/or invasion, or the other themes of Tomorrow, When the War Began and find out about their context.
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Working through these activities will have exposed students to a range of alternate readings of Tomorrow, When the War Began, some, or all, of which may be quite different from the reading that Marsden had hoped that the audience would garner. For this task, students will complete two parts.
Respond to the statement ‘Tomorrow, When the War Began is a parable about the invasion of Australia’. Students can approach this question from any of the perspectives explored in class: from the considered point of view as Tomorrow, When the War Began as a parable about a xenophobic invasion, to a refugee tale or a parable of the European colonisation of Australia. In this one-page response, students should address the following:
- What type of invasion they believe the story conveys.
- Characteristics of parables (such as a simple narrative, character/s with a moral dilemma, straightforward message/meaning, subtext about behaviour) and examples of these.
- How the novel uses these characteristics to relate to the overall message being told (e.g. how does Marsden use the moral dilemma of Ellie to convey the message that Tomorrow, When the War Began is a parable of the invasion of Australia by the colonists).
Having deciphered the message of the parable of invasion that Tomorrow, When the War Began conveys, students should create their own parable with the same message. Typically, parables are associated with the Bible or as fables and there are many stories and interpretations of parables/fables available to share with students for reference. As an example, if a student has interpreted the parable of Tomorrow, When the War Began as having a message about tolerance and acceptance, they create their own parable that conveys the same message. Their parable does not need to be about invasion, but can be transposed into any situation or circumstance. This task can be presented in whatever way the student deems: iMovie, stop-motion, Prezi, picture book, comic strip, performance, etc.
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Rich assessment tasks
The study of Tomorrow, When the War Began should have exposed students to a range of issues that develop through the text and the differing readings that can be imposed onto the text. Despite being first published in 1993, Tomorrow, When the War Began offers universal commentary on the plight of the teenager and the moral fibre of individuals when faced with difficult and challenging circumstances. The unit should have afforded students with some time for self-reflection on their own attitudes to the perceived collective threat to Australia’s security, which is the initial premise for Marsden’s novel, as well as how the ideas of the novel translate into a contemporary situation where invasion has been a topic of concern for many past, and no doubt present, governments. Further to this, students will have considered the role of storytelling and the importance of standing up for themselves, as well as how each of the characters comes to terms with their newfound situation in Wirrawee and the consequences of their actions.
Receptive and productive modes
This task is designed to have students reconcile their thoughts and opinions about war and violence, just as Ellie is forced to do in Tomorrow, When the War Began, in order to create a new text that parallels the experiences of both sides of the people fighting in a war. Taking inspiration from The Enemy: A Book About Peace by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch, a picture book narrated by a solider, who could be any solider fighting in any war and who is grappling with his own emotions about being involved in a conflict, this rich assessment task (PDF, 209KB) encourages students to take the themes, issues and discussion points about Tomorrow, When the War Began and translate them into a picture book that conveys what both sides of the conflict are fighting for. In The Enemy, as the soldiers come to terms with their feelings about the futility of war, they also come to suspect that the enemy is not the barbarian he has been primed to be distrustful of and commit violence towards.
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Receptive and productive modes
This task expands on the work students have done in considering how Tomorrow, When the War Began might be different if told from the perspective of one of the male characters. This rich assessment task (PDF, 206KB) is designed to have students retell scenes (three to four) from the novel from the perspective of one of the invading soldiers. Given the picture book task, the cartoons’ analysis, and from understanding some of the recent history of asylum seekers in Australia, students should have developed a sense of empathy towards people who have sought to come to Australia. This should inform their understanding and completion of this task.
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Rich assessment task three
Receptive and productive modes
Students will prepare an oral presentation in response to the following question:
Through his characterisation of the gang from Wirrawee, Marsden shows that when put under pressure, young Australians are capable of greatness.
Students are to prepare and present their speech to the class as the final culminating task for the unit. The purpose of their speeches is to convince the class that Marsden’s depictions of the young adults in the novel prove that young Australians have the courage and ingenuity to survive trying times.
The presentation should include:
- Students’ understanding of Marsden’s desire to project teenagers in a particular way whilst writing the novel.
- A reference to their understanding of greatness and what this might mean in the context of issues explored during the unit such as bravery, survival and heroism.
- Reference to techniques used by Marsden, such as narrative structure, point of view, dialogue and literary devices to enhance characterisation.
- Explicit links to a minimum of two characters in Tomorrow, When the War Began who demonstrated greatness with direct references to their words or actions in the text.
- Reflection on other things the characters could have done to demonstrate their greatness during the story.
The presentation should be three to four minutes in length. Students may use available technologies to assist their presentation such as Prezi or PowerPoint; however, these should not detract from the oral presentation.
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