Connecting to prior knowledge
Begin with a discussion of First Nations Australia and the language group and land of the main character: a Walmajarri Aboriginal boy growing up in the Great Sandy Desert in the remote North West of Australia. This will be an important introduction to include the perspective of the character and to provide this context to the students. What is the language? What does it sound like? How is Yinti connected to the land?
Before reading Yinti, Desert Child, engage the students in a yarning circle and, if possible, invite a member of your local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community. Yarning circles are an excellent way to encourage respectful listening and speaking.
If this is the first time students have participated in a yarning circle, together establish some rules to create a safe space for discussion for all students to participate. Discuss the difference between questions that require an answer and rhetorical questions. Students can also identify when a peer has made a subjective statement or brought bias into their viewpoint. Be sure to teach the language of “subjectivity” and “bias”. Discuss how these strategies for interaction differ from more informal contexts where participants can talk over one another, for example.
For this yarning circle, the teacher commences with the question: “Why do we have sadness in our lives?” Students think about the question, providing a viewpoint or additional questions. The important point is that the teacher is the facilitator, not the source of knowledge.
Other yarning circle questions can include:
- Why are children not nice sometimes?
- What is the definition of a family?
- What does it mean to be homesick?
Exploring the text in context of production
Introduce the cover of Yinti, Desert Child by Pat Lowe and Jimmy Pike. Ask predicting questions, such as:
- What might this book be about?
- How do you know?
- Is the book fact or fiction?
- Who are the people?
- If the people are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, what is the significance of the rows of crops? Refer to Bruce Pascoe’s writing around evidence of farming.
- There are a lot of lines in this image. What’s the purpose of the lines in the crops (representing farming, probably Western-style), hair (individuality), lines of the body (movement), spear (hunter), the sky (passage of time)?
- There are two people on the cover, so which one is Yinti?
Explore the book’s spine and discuss the white image of the Magabala (bush banana). What does this image represent (the publisher) and what might we infer about this publisher and their interest in publishing this book? Visit the Magabala Books website to find out about the Magabala.
Read the blurb on the back cover. Discuss the significance of the dots at the top of the page. The three paragraphs each serve a specific “social purpose” (function). What is the job of each paragraph?
Read “About the Series” in the front matter of the book. Usually we think about texts as being “fiction” or “non-fiction”. On the basis of what Pat Lowe shares, what is the genre of Yinti, Desert Child? Possible responses are “semi-fiction”, “faction” or “historical fiction”. If historical fiction is suggested, prompt students to think about whose is the historical perspective.
Rich assessment task
Now that the students have identified the context of production, they know that the setting of this book is in the Great Sandy Desert. Ask the students to use a search engine to bring up a map of Australia and locate the Great Sandy Desert. Pull up the First Languages map and identify the language groups who live in the Great Sandy Desert.
Watch this short YouTube clip that introduces Jimmy Pike (a traditional Walmajarri man) and Pat Lowe (his English-born wife). In this YouTube clip we learn that Jimmy Pike was imprisoned for murder. We see the landscape and some footage of life in the Great Sandy Desert.
For the rich assessment task, students work in groups of four to write and deliver an Acknowledgement of Country, acknowledging the Country of the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia. Students deliver their Acknowledgement of Country live to their class group and can use images saved to a PowerPoint file that can be projected onto the screen behind them.
To prepare the written text, each group should identify three different Acknowledgement of Country samples. Compare the samples and identify the features of this text. For example, students should identify that the text is very formal; that they must use the Aboriginal name of the Country and its people; that they must pay respect to the Elders and the land; and that they should say something personal.
Responding to the text
In the chapter “Yinti and Wara”, the boys kill a goanna, cook a fire and eat the meat. Full to the brim, they discard the leftover meat in the sand. The boys justify their actions, saying: “What their parents didn’t know couldn’t make them angry” (p. 80). Set up a class yarning circle, and provide the topics:
- Were Yinti and Wara old enough to undertake this adventure? Raise the idea that different cultural groups will have different ideas about levels of independence.
- What should Yinti and Wara have done with the leftover meat?
- Would their parents have been angry if they found out about the adventure or the lie?
The focus is on participating, contributing to the discussion, clarifying and interrogating ideas through interaction skills that match the formality of the exercise.
Exploring themes: lore and law of punishment
One of the themes of this book is “cultural lores”, particularly the way the traditional Walmajarri community deals with punishment. To prepare the students to discuss the “laws of punishment” in the book, start with a yarning circle and discuss:
- Why do societies seek to punish people?
- Who should decide on a person’s punishment?
Discuss the words “lore” (traditions held as part of culture) and “law” (legal ruling by government). “Law” is a British concept introduced during colonisation, whereas “lore” refers to customary systems held by First Nations people. For background reading on the latter, refer to the QCAA.
Introduce different local examples of “lore” and “law”, e.g. Yolŋu Rom. How does someone know the “lore” and “law” and who inflicts the punishment? What do all forms of punishment have in common (some kind of pain or loss)?
Read the chapter called “A Punishment” (pp. 56–65). As you read, ask the students to create a list of the “laws of punishment” for stealing another man’s wife (p. 60) that can be inferred from the text. Students take turns to describe how the “law of punishment” is enacted (what is proscribed and prescribed) and identify the evidence from the text.
Introduce the students to the five most common types of criminal punishment:
- Incarceration – moving criminals away from society
- Deterrence – discouraging others from committing an offence
- Retribution – sentencing delivering punishment, e.g. enforcing fines
- Rehabilitation – helping criminals to overcome the barriers that led to them to commit a crime
- Restoration – the criminal making amends to the victim and the community
For a more detailed explanation, see this post from a criminal law firm.
Undertake a teacher-led structured word inquiry on each form of criminal punishment. Structured word inquiry is the exploration of the elements of meaning within individual words.
Structured word inquiry uses 4 investigations:
- What does the word mean?
- How is the word built? What is the base word? Are there any prefixes or suffixes?
- What other words relate to this word? What is the origin of this word?
- What are the sounds that matter and which letters go together to make that sound?
In the chapter “Killing the Bullock” (p. 107), Yinti’s brother-in-law wanted to steal a cow. A long time ago people would be killed for stealing cattle. Nowadays people are sent to prison. These are different forms of punishment – killing is a form of deterrent and prison is a form of incarceration. What other events happened in the book that could be classified as punishment and what sort of punishment is it?
In the YouTube clip of Jimmy Pike, we learn that he has been in prison for murder. What form of punishment is this? Don’t dwell on Jimmy’s case specifically (as we don’t know the details) but instead, in a yarning circle, discuss: “Is incarceration an appropriate form of punishment for murder?” Prompt the circle to discuss the difference between murder and manslaughter and killing in war.
The circle might also discuss the rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia and what the discrepancy says about the Australian judicial system, racism, bias and social determinants. It is important to engage with First Nations perspectives and social justice.
Rich assessment task
Photostory of flora and fauna in the Great Sandy Desert
Here is a famous painting called Ngurrara: The Great Sandy Desert Canvas. It has been on display in the National Museum of Australia since 2018. The images of painters sitting on the canvas gives a sense of the scale (10m x 8m). What does this painting represent?
To prepare for this rich assessment task, students re-read the chapter “Yinti and Wara” and view the Talking Country: Walmajarri video from ICTV in Language. This short video is presented by the Walmajarri people and explains what the country means to them.
Working in pairs, students make a list of all the species of plants and animals in the Great Sandy Desert; for example, the dry spinifex grass, white gum tree, thicket of wattle bushes, succulent plants, etc. The students search online to locate photos (images) and factual information about the plants and animals of the Great Sandy Desert, as well as the undulating sandhills and inland lakes. They use these resources to create a 120 second visual (photo) and worded (titles) photostory of plants and animals in the Great Sandy Desert.
The text that the students produce should be an information text, including technical noun groups and information about scientific classification, physical attributes and life cycles. The final slide should be a source list containing the bibliographical references for all images.
Students should actively edit each other’s written work for meaning, structure and grammatical features.
Examining grammar: cohesion
The opening paragraph of the first chapter is short but introduces four characters. Write out the opening paragraph, placing each sentence on a separate line with a number at the front. Numbering the lines will assist the discussion that follows, as students can refer to a specific line number.
- Once there lived in the desert a small boy named Yinti.
- He had two mothers, his real mother and a young woman she called “sister”.
- These two women shared one husband, Yinti’s father.
- Yinti called both his mothers Ngamaji.
Ask students to colour code all the words that refer to a specific character. For example, assign the colour red to Yinti and colour “Yinti” (line 1), “He” and “his” (line 2), “Yinti’s” (line 3) and “Yinti” (line 4). Discuss how Yinti is referred to in different ways in the space of four sentences; in line 3 the reference is to ownership (possessive apostrophe).
Select three other colours and track the references to mother 1, mother 2 and Yinti’s father. Ask students to explain how they comprehend these references. For example, “two mothers” (line 2) refers to both mother 1 (also called “his real mother” in line 2) and mother 2 (also called “a young woman” in line 2). What is the reference to “sister” (line 2)? Who uses the word “sister” and to whom does “sister” refer? The mothers are referred to again, this time as “Ngamaji” (line 4). Yinti’s father is referred to as “one husband” (line 3). The discussion may lead to mentioning the cultural significance of kinship.
In the chapter called “The Station” (p. 114), Yinti sees his first set of human tracks other than those belonging to the desert people. Set up a similar cohesion activity for the rest of p. 114 and the first paragraph of p. 115. Track the participants and all the references that belong to them. Ask students to explain how they comprehend these references.
Examining vocabulary choices
Ask the students to read p. 61 and the first paragraph on p. 62. Write out the sentences, with each sentence on a new line. Number the lines. This will assist with the discussion.
- The first man stepped forward with his bundle of spears.
- He laid them at his feet and untied them.
- He picked up his first spear, balanced it for a moment in his hand, took aim, and threw it hard.
- The man with the shield was all concentration.
- As the spear came at him he lifted his shield and, with a deft flick of his arm, he deflected the missile.
- The warrior threw a second spear.
- Again the man flicked it to one side.
- This happened again and again until all the spears in the bundle were laying on the ground.
- The first man stepped to one side.
- Another took his place. He, too, untied his spears.
- One by one, he hurled them at the offender.
- Each time, the shield caught the spear and turned it away.
- The second man moved aside.
- Each man took his turn to throw his spears.
- But the one facing punishment was well trained in the use of weapons, and he parried them all.
- The last man had thrown his spears, and still the culprit stood upright, sweating but unhurt.
- It might have ended there, but suddenly someone ran forward wielding two fighting sticks.
- Before anyone realised what was going to happen, the man hurled one heavy wooden stick and then the other at the defender’s lower legs.
- He had no time to save himself.
- Both blows struck home with a sound that made Yinti feel sick.
- Everyone gasped.
- The victim’s legs gave way, and he fell to the ground, motionless.
- His shield fell beside him.
- Yinti thought he was dead.
Using one colour, students circle all the words that refer to the man with the shield. Write the words and add the sentence number in brackets, e.g. “he” (line 5).
Analyse how the vocabulary choices express shades of meaning, feelings and opinions about the man and how these change throughout the arc of this short excerpt.
Using another colour, students circle all the verbs that describe how the warriors threw their spears. Write the words and add the sentence number in brackets, e.g. “threw” (line 3), “hurled” (line 11), etc.
Analyse how the vocabulary choices for verbs express shades of meaning, feelings and opinions about the warriors and how these change throughout the arc of this short excerpt.
Rich assessment task
Recall the earlier yarning circles that explored:
- Why do we have sadness in our lives?
- Why are children not nice sometimes?
- What does it mean to be homesick?
Each of these themes is explored in Yinti, Desert Child. We learnt about some sad events; some children not being nice sometimes; the structure of Yinti’s family; some characters who were homesick. Despite all these difficult topics, Pat Lowe and Jimmy Pike took us on a roller coaster ride of emotion and still left us feeling “satisfied” at the end of every chapter.
In groups of three, students find one chapter that explores either sadness, children not being nice to one another, or a character who was homesick. Students prepare a three-minute podcast on how the authors influenced their readers to feel content despite the sadness, or to feel as though they wanted to be friends with the children who were sometimes not nice; or how we still felt content as readers despite learning about the characters being homesick.
The podcast should identify the use of the following language features and the effect they have on the reader:
- creating less social distance between the character and the reader (less formal), or creating greater social distance between the character and the reader (more formal), for emotional effect;
- use of modality, emphasis, and repetition to influence the reader’s response to the text;
- roller coaster of emotion (very high emotion, high emotion, low emotion, very low emotion) and how these change throughout the arc of the chapter;
- the use of carefully chosen nouns and verbs to build force and focus (refer to previous activity) and;
- perspective or point of view. Are we understanding these things from an Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal point of view? Do we understand the main character’s perspective? Is it the same as our own?
Once each group of students completes their podcast, they can be shared to determine if there is a pattern or consistency across the chapters in Yinti, Desert Child. This allows the students to define the authors’ style.
Stories matter. They are important to our lives and our culture. Ask students to sit on the floor in pairs and recount a story that happened to them, or a story that is shared in their family. One student tells their story, and the other student listens. They then swap the roles of storyteller and listener. Students can ask questions of one another to seek clarification.
In the chapter called “Yinti leaves the desert”, the people who come back to visit the families they have left behind share stories of station life (pp. 94 and 96). Bring the students into a yarning circle to discuss why stories matter. These types of stories may also be about stolen wages and the poor treatment of First Nations workers.
Refer to this website for a detailed explanation of why stories matter. According to the site, stories matter because:
- they are universal
- they help us understand our place in the world
- they help us learn how to act wisely
- they help shape our perspective of the world
- they help us understand other people and their perspectives
- they pass down knowledge and morals
Refer to the QCAA for more about storytelling in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
In another yarning circle, pose the question: “Are oral stories an example of literature?”
Rich assessment task
Ask the children to work in groups of five to select one chapter and produce a three-minute narrated animation of one of Yinti’s stories, using stop motion plasticine (modelling clay) and collage. This rich assessment task will require a semi-fiction written narrative to be re-written as a multimodal storyboard and script. Use a storyboard template that includes four columns:
- drawing of action/shot
- voice narration
- sound effects.
The students will also have to create the artefacts (characters and settings) and write the audio text script. To create the physical setting, they should use their knowledge of flora and fauna in the Great Sandy Desert developed earlier in this unit.
Students should use the Walmajarri words (refer to the glossary on pp. 121 and 122). To ensure they are using the correct pronunciation of Walmajarri words, students should refer to the pronunciation guide on pp. 123 and 124.
Watch Science Filmmaking Tips for ideas about the stop motion animation technique. Software suitable for children includes “Stop Motion Maker”, which works with JPEG and PNG format files. This software is available for Android, iPhone and iPad and allows some sound effects as well as title and end sequences.
The final product should commence with an Acknowledgement of Country (prepared earlier in the unit). The final product should end with a cast list (voice actors) and production list (jobs undertaken).
For information about stop motion animation, visit the ACMI website.