English & EAL

Comparing The Hate Race and Charlie's Country

Jordan Bassilious

July 15, 2021

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Contents

  1. Plot Summaries
  2. Themes, Motifs and Key Ideas
  3. LSG’s Bubble Tea (BBT) Strategy for Unique Strategies
  4. Structural Features Analysis
  5. Sample Essay Breakdown

For a detailed guide on Comparative, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.

1. Plot Summaries

Summary - The Hate Race 

Maxine Beneba Clarke’s seminal novel, The Hate Race, follows the childhood and adolescence of its author, who is the main protagonist. The book is a memoir, meaning that it is based around a recollection of her life and filtered through her psyche and experiences.

The book begins with Clarke’s family, British citizens of Afro-Carribean descent, moving to Sydney, New South Wales. They settle in the town of Kellyville, which is known as a ‘white picket’ community. Although these communities largely don't exist anymore, what they once described was suburban environments where only Anglo-Australians lived. As you can probably imagine, this immediately caused problems for Clarke’s family, with suspicion from neighbours and racist interactions with other kids in the neighbourhood.

Clarke initially focuses on her experiences in kindergarten, revealing how prejudice and discrimination can be inculcated (meaning, ‘taught to’) in children even from such a tender age. Clarke meets her first tormenter - Carlita Allen. Carlita makes every effort to exclude Clarke from participation in usual preschool activities, hurling insults across playgrounds and calling her ‘dirty’. Literally, of course, Carlita is referring to Clarke’s black skin colour, but, metaphorically, it reflects the deeply hateful implication that anyone with a dark complexion is inherently inferior and lesser than white Australians.

The bullying doesn’t stop by the time Clarke reaches primary school. In fact, it intensifies, aided and abetted by teachers who consistently turn a blind eye to the constant, gut-wrenching racial abuse. One of the most salient (meaning, ‘important’) scenes arises when Clarke is asked by a teacher what her parents do for a living. Upon informing the teacher that her mother is an actor, and her father is a Mathematics Professor - the first British citizen of Afro-Carribean descent to attend a British university - she is met with the patronising assumption that she must be lying. Surely black people wouldn’t have the emotional and intellectual intelligence to perform such high-powered jobs? Clarke also develops eczema during her primary school years, leaving patches of lighter-coloured skin covering her face, and a newfound hope that, bit by bit, God is answering her prayers and making her white.

In high school, the racist rot sets in even further. Clarke develops a new habit for scratching her skin at night to the point of bleeding and bruising. Looking back at this experience, Clarke theorises that this was her body’s way of expressing her extreme discomfort with being black. It gives us a picture of how horrific racism can truly be, and the ways in which it forces minorities into believing that there’s something wrong with them, instead of there being something wrong with the people hurling abuse in the first instance!

It is this stage of her life when Clarke deals with one of the most difficult parts of being a minority in a majority white country. Through her interactions with teachers, friends and boyfriends alike, she becomes deeply angry at those people who abhor racism themselves, but seem unable to step in when racist events are actually occurring. Clarke also deals with more nuanced experiences of racism - people who don’t intend to be racist, but end up making insensitive comments anyway. Whether intentional or not, these comments still hurt, and are still part of the challenges of growing up black in a white country.

Nonetheless, Clarke continues to rise above the odds, becoming a prolific high school debater, maintaining her position at the top of the academic cohort, and forming a small but tight-knit group of friends whom she can trust. 

Clarke’s recollection of her childhood ends on a relatively abrupt note, with Clarke returning home to realise that her father has left the family for another woman. In a note to the family, he provides no explanation other than that he had a secret affair for many years. Suddenly, Clarke, her brothers, sisters and mother are left to pick up the pieces.

In the epilogue, Clarke is now an adult with a child of her own. Walking down Melbourne’s North Road, she reflects on the challenges and opportunities to which her child will be witness. Clarke portrays it as the dual sadness and happiness of knowing that, in Australia, her children will surely have access to more opportunity than in most parts of the world - but it will come at a cost. Namely, they will also have to contend with the remaining undercurrent of racism that, even now, still seeps through Australian society.

The unsatisfying end to the novel reflects the nature of racism and the experience of a minority growing up in a white country itself: there is no happy ending. Rather, life becomes a series of painful incidents interspersed with minor victories; those who stand up against racism, those who fail to do so and the hundreds of thousands of Australians who will forever grapple with a society that sees them as ‘lesser than’ due to the colour of their skin. 

Summary - Charlie’s Country

Charlie’s Country, an Australian movie directed by Dutch-Australian Rolf De Heer, follows the story of Charlie, a First Nations man living in late-2000s Australia.

The movie is set in the wake of the 2007 Northern Territory Intervention. As a bit of quick context, this was an action taken by the Commonwealth Government under Coalition Prime Minister John Howard to send Australian Defence Force troops into the Northern Territory. It came in response to the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report, which raised allegations of child sexual abuse and neglect of children in Aboriginal communities. The intervention also involved restricting alcohol consumption, quarantining a portion of welfare payments to Indigenous residents (with the justification that this would prevent it being spent on alcohol, pornography, cigarettes, etc.) and hefty fines as well as jail sentences for those forced to comply.

It is important to note that, throughout the whole intervention, not a single person was prosecuted for child sexual abuse or any related offence. Nonetheless, this intervention had real world, drastic consequences - and that’s exactly what Charlie’s Country explores.

At the time of de Heer’s film, Charlie lives in a remote Indigenous community. Signs of the intervention are all around - alcohol is banned from most communities, many individuals face personal bans on procuring alcohol, police officers dot the streets and citizens live under constant watch. Charlie, on a surface level, is a fairly happy-go-lucky individual; he exchanges jokes with police, is friendly with other elders and people in his community and doesn’t seem to do much else.

As always with a movie like this - there’s a bigger story behind this all! Rolf de Heer takes us through an increasingly concerning image of Aboriginal communities in the wake of the intervention. Charlie visits his local housing officer and is unable to obtain a house. Here, we see that Charlie is willing to work and wants stable accommodation, but the government is unwilling to provide.

Going on a hunting trip with his friend, ‘Black Pete’, the two are stopped by police and have their guns, as well as the water buffalo they killed, confiscated. Yet again, two Indigenous men try to provide for themselves - but are stopped by a legal system more concerned with rules and procedure than listening to First Nations communities themselves. Charlie decides he’s had enough of having his every move and action monitored, and takes a stolen police car into the bush.

Abandoning the car, he tries to live amongst nature for an unidentified amount of time. Cooking fish, performing traditional First Nations dances, painting on the bark and looking for shelter, Charlie finally appears to be home. Yet, as usual, it’s too good to be true - the extreme cold makes Charlie incredibly sick, and, before we know it, he wakes up in a Darwin hospital.

After refusing further treatment from the white doctors who fail to understand Charlie’s situation and why he is so angry at what’s happened to him, the predictable cycle begins again: Charlie returns to his community, they all share alcohol as a way of coping with their current situation and flee when the police come running to confiscate the liquor.

Charlie isn’t civil with the police this time. In a fit of anger - an outburst of emotion after decades upon decades of control and being denied access to any opportunity - he picks up a bat and smashes the police officer’s car window. Brutally beaten into submission, Charlie is imprisoned as the police officer remarks that he should never have 'gone soft on a blackfella’. 

Dragged before the courts, Charlie is imprisoned for assault. When the judge asks him to make a comment, he gives a lengthy speech in his native language. For de Heer, this acts as a symbolic assertion of the First Nations’ rights to their own culture, and a proud statement against the many governments that have continually placed barriers in the way of Indigenous Australians having the same opportunities as any one of us.

Eventually, Charlie is released on parole. He expresses a deep desire to go home - but also a sense of defeat. He resolves, in the end, to believe that even if he will always live under the watchful eyes of the Australian Government, he can at least fight back and contribute by doing his bit to maintain the many cultures of our First Nations Peoples. Charlie teaches young Indigenous boys traditional dances, speaking proudly of when he performed a dancing ceremony for Queen Elizabeth in 1973 at the Sydney Opera House.

The movie ends with Charlie staring mournfully into the camera, almost looking at the audience themselves. There seems to be no happiness in his eyes - nothing left but a sense of sadness and resignation. I know that, upon approaching the end of the film, I started to feel the same sadness that Charlie so evidently shows us. It’s a different type of emotion; one centered around the pain of knowing that we live in a country that still has not made peace with its past, and refuses to listen to the First Nations Peoples who know it best.

Charlie’s Country exposes to us that Australia is a country where, even today, our First Nations citizens are not treated as equals. As such, de Heer’s film is a stark reminder that this state of affairs is not good enough - and that the responsibility for change doesn’t just lie with politicians and decision-makers. It’s our job too: and failure is not an option.

2. Themes, Motifs and Key Ideas

Through discussing Themes, Motifs and Key Ideas, we’ll gain a clearer understanding of some super important ideas to include in your essays. Remember that, when it comes to themes, there’s a whole host of ways you can express your ideas,  but this is what I’d suggest as the most impressive method to blow away the VCAA examiners. We’ll be adhering to the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy. While we don’t go into detail into how to use LSG’s CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy in this guide, I’d highly recommend you get familiar with it by reading How To Write A Killer Comparative.

Connection to Culture (CONVERGENT)

Both de Heer and Clarke offer a unified idea around culture: that being connected to one’s culture is inherently good and positive, and should be encouraged. Let’s break this down.

The Hate Race and Charlie’s Country are both works that explore the challenges of individuals maintaining their culture in surroundings which would otherwise see them revert to the ‘standard’. In this case, because we’re talking about Australia, de Heer and Clarke take us through the same story of an overarching, implicit acceptance that the Christian, Anglo way of life is the norm. This standard has deep roots in the colonisation of Australia, and the resulting claim of sovereignty by the Crown. Even as this country has evolved into a multicultural land, it still bears the marks of a ‘European’ country; whether that be our British legal system, Anglo-American democracy or any of the other institutions we have taken from the Western world.

It is in this context that de Heer and Clarke go to special lengths to explain why people should be empowered to connect to their culture. To our author and director, culture is an essential element of who you are, and it is this identity which carries people through life. For Maxine, the shock of realising that she may be the descendant of African slaves, and had lived so many years without having any idea this may be the case, is drawn from the fact that she, as a child, feels incredibly disconnected to who she is. Clarke’s memoir thus reminds us that ‘growing up black in a white country’ is an experience that often results in minority children not truly learning about who they are. Travelling through life, Maxine is continually disconnected from her culture, to the point where performing ‘African tribal dances’ to the school is nothing more than a joke. Even in her own estimation, Maxine has internalised (meaning, she’s adopted it herself) the view that her culture is irrelevant, and there’s no real reason for her to properly engage with all its complexity and beauty.

If we consider Charlie’s perspective, his involuntary burst of tears at the hospital stems from a recognition that his people have been denied the free opportunity to embrace the world’s longest-surviving culture; the First Nations traditions that date back 40,000 years. With his friend slowly dying of lung cancer, at that moment, the old man is more connected to the cigarettes that slowly sapped his life away than he is to the First Nations way of living. Unable to hunt, gather as a community, work the lands as the First Nations traditionally would or embark on any other activity that would keep them connected to their culture, this country’s first inhabitants are instead told to abandon ‘the old ways’ and embrace Anglocentric standards of life.

It is a shocking reminder that, without culture, people are left like driftwood swimming through a vast ocean. By that, I mean that people are left without an anchor through which they can independently experience the world. Instead, their understanding of themselves, their sense of self and their actions in life are all filtered through the preferences of the dominant majority.

Intergenerational Disadvantage (DIVERGENT)

Whilst Charlie’s Country and The Hate Race share many similarities in terms of the negative impacts of racism and prejudice, the texts carry different connotations when it comes to the notion of intergenerational disadvantage. 

To explain this idea, let’s first define and unpack ‘intergenerational disadvantage’. We could spend days talking about this, but, simply, intergenerational disadvantage refers to cycles of poverty and criminality that pass from generation to generation, worsening with time. Think of it this way: assume you’re a teenager - or at least still financially reliant on your parents. If your parents were to lose everything they owned today in a massive financial crisis, you’d be in big trouble too, right? Suddenly, that part-time job you had that was helping you save money might be the only income for the entire family. You might even have to drop out of school, TAFE or university to care for everyone, denying you a higher paying job in the future. 

You’ll have to work your tail off for years on end. Since you’re supporting an entire family, say goodbye to saving up for a house or to pay for your kid’s education in future. Your kids now have to start from square one with less opportunity than the people around them, meaning it’ll be harder for them to succeed in life.

When we apply this to Charlie’s Country, the analogy becomes quite clear. Charlie lives in a community where there is no opportunity. Because there are no jobs - and no real way to gain steady, meaningful employment - people fall into alcoholism, marijuana and anything else that’ll help them cope. Lung cancer and alcoholism shorten lifespans for people like the old man with failing kidneys, while no employer is going to waste a chance on those still living. There is simply no ability to ‘succeed’ here, because the local residents don’t see that there’s anything worth working towards. Hopeless, unheard and disillusioned, it becomes easier for Charlie’s community to just accept their sorry lot in life than futilely work towards changing it.

We aren’t made witness to this same cycle in The Hate Race. Instead, Bordeaux Clarke is the epitome of someone who has broken the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage; becoming the first individual in his community to attend a British university. Marrying a high-powered Guyanese actress in Cleopatra, the married couple represent success and a defiance of racist stereotypes, not the grinding poverty and disadvantage we see in Charlie’s Country. Although Maxine experiences terrible discrimination and prejudice as a child, there is always a sense that she will academically remain on top. Maxine uses the prejudice with which she’s faced as a motivator, giving her the impetus to consistently emerge successful; whether that be in her schooling, cross-country running, as a debater or any other academic endeavour. Sure, she faces racism that inhibits her from always succeeding - the Lions Club competition is a great example of such - but this isn’t so much about intergenerational disadvantage as it is about racism, plain and simple.

Ultimately, the difference between the two is a matter of emphasis. It’s not that intergenerational disadvantage doesn’t exist in The Hate Race, but more so that Clarke is choosing to focus on how even the most successful individuals can suffer from prejudice and racism. This in turn helps us to understand that racism impacts everyone, and we should never pretend it isn’t a massive problem. Conversely, Charlie’s Country is all about social disadvantage, and explores how prejudice can prevent oppressed individuals from becoming successful in the first place. 

3. LSG’s Bubble Tea (BBT) Strategy for Unique Strategies

Why Is an Interpretation Important?

Your interpretation is what English is all about; it’s about getting you to think critically about the essay topic at hand, to formulate a contention (agree, disagree, or sit on the fence) and argue each of your points with the best pieces of evidence you can find - and it’s something you might already be starting to do naturally.

In this section, we aim to help you develop your own interpretation of the text, rather than relying on your teacher, tutor or even a study guide (including this one) author’s interpretation. By developing your own interpretation, you become a better English student by:

  1. Writing with meaning. For a text to be interpreted, you need a text and an interpreter (i.e. you!). Whenever we read a new text, our interpretation of a text is shaped by our pre-existing beliefs, knowledge and expectations. This should be reassuring because it means that you can leverage your own life experiences in developing a unique interpretation of the text! We’ll show you how this works in the next point.
  2. Remembering evidence (quotes or literary devices) more easily. If you know you admire a character for example (which is in itself an interpretation 😉), you can probably remember why you admire them. Perhaps the character’s selflessness reminds you of your Dad (see how you’re using real life experiences mentioned in Point 1 to develop an interpretation of the text?). You will then more easily recall something the character said or did in the text (i.e. evidence) that made you admire them.
  3. Having an analysis ready to use alongside the evidence. As a result of Point 2, you’ll be able to write a few sentences based on your own interpretation. Rather than memorising entire essays (we’ve talked about this before) and regurgitating information from teachers, tutors, study guides and other resources - which can be labour intensive and actually detract from the originality of your essay - you’re approaching the essay with your own thoughts and opinions (which you can reuse over and over again across different essay topics).

Let’s look on the flip side. What happens when you don’t have your own interpretation?

When you don’t take the time to actively think for yourself - i.e. to think through your own interpretations (we’ve talked about the importance of THINK in the THINK and EXECUTE strategy here) - when it finally comes to writing an essay, you may find it difficult:

a) to get started - formulating a contention in response to the essay topic is challenging because you have no strong opinion about the text,

b) complete the essay - writing up arguments and using evidence in paragraphs becomes challenging because you have no strong opinion about the text,

c) to score higher marks - ultimately, you end up regurgitating other people’s ideas (your teacher’s, tutor’s or from study guides) because you have (you guessed it) no strong opinion on the text.

Having your own interpretation means that you’ll eliminate issues a, b and c from above. Overall, you’ll have opinions (and therefore contentions) ready for any prompt when you go into your SACs or exams, which means it’ll be easier not only to write a full essay, but an original and insightful one as well.

Your Goal

To overcome the issues above, you need to be confident with your own interpretation of the text. This doesn’t come naturally to a lot of students, and it makes sense why. After all, so many subjects reward specific answers (2 + 2 = 4), whereas English is tricky because there’s so much more flexibility in what constitutes a ‘correct answer’. It’s scary treading the sea of different possible interpretations because you’ll ask yourself questions like:

  • How do I know if my interpretation is correct?
  • How do I know if my evidence actually backs up what I’m arguing?
  • What if I disagree with my teacher, and they mark me down for a differing opinion?
  • Or worse - I’m not smart enough to come up with my own interpretation!

Let me say that you are absolutely smart enough to develop your own interpretation, and I’ll show you how to do so in A Killer Comparative Guide: The Hate Race & Charlie’s Country with LSG’s unique strategy - the BUBBLE TEA (BBT) strategy. By following our step-by-step framework, you can be confident that your interpretation is valid, that it backs up your argument, and that most importantly, you won’t lose marks for it!

4. Structural Features Analysis

In How To Write A Killer Text Response, we cover Metalanguage. A Structural Features Analysis and Comparison goes over a lot of the same material, and will help elevate your essays to the next level. Knowing quotes and themes is essential, but being able to pair that with analysis of the title, setting, narrator and overall structure - we'll cover title here - shows the examiner that you really know exactly what you’re talking about. This section will be especially crucial for metalanguage topics that are all about how Charlie’s Country and The Hate Race are structured, so, enjoy!

Title

The title of a text is always significant - and this text pairing is no different. First, of course, please do keep in mind that there is no universally accurate interpretation of what a title means. I’m giving you my assessment, but the author and director could very well disagree themselves! That’s okay, because as long as we back it up properly, your interpretation is as valid as any. As always, that’s the beauty of English.

Let’s first unpack The Hate Race. What this title signifies is that, for minorities in Australia, life is constantly akin to a race. There is no rest, no comfort and no sense of home when your mind is preoccupied with all the ways you don’t belong. Australia, as a colonial outpost representing the Crown in a region that is overwhelmingly non-white, was once proud of its discriminatory stances; holding itself as the 'White Man’s Paradise'. It is in this context that racism, for Clarke, is not just a reality that lurks beneath the surface, but rather, a guiding tenet of Australia since 1788. With this overarching narrative, it is also important to acknowledge that the mere experience of racism is immensely emotionally, physically and mentally taxing for Clarke, and all people of colour. Being denied a firm sense of self, and constantly being forced to justify one’s own existence isn’t easy, and becomes a ‘race against time’ to see who can cope and rise above, and who will be swept away along with the tide. This sorrowful reality is what engenders the never ending race against being consumed by such hatred, because, for non-white Australians, there simply is no other choice. If they stop running, they run the risk of being consumed by the hatred themselves and becoming so cynical and disillusioned that they forget their culture and accede to the Anglocentric, white majority. 

Moving to de Heer’s film, Charlie’s Country, the title reflects a simple reality: this is Charlie’s country. However, when de Heer speaks of ‘country’, he is really talking about ‘Country’; the Indigenous notion of connection to and respect for one’s traditional lands. Nurturing this connection is a sacred responsibility, and the film reminds us that, despite Charlie’s many trials and tribulations, the land on which he lives is truly his own. Throughout the film, Charlie maintains a keen awareness that what is happening to him is unjust, and, unlike Maxine, he doesn’t need someone to convince him that he belongs. Whatever Anglo Australia does, it cannot change the continuing legacy of his people and their sovereignty. To Charlie, it is laughable to think that his Country - which the First Nations have nurtured and kept in common use for 40,000 years - could suddenly become someone else’s property in less than 200 years. He may not have any legal authority under the Crown, and his people may be dispossessed of their sovereignty and authority, but this cannot and will not change the remaining truth of First Nations sovereignty. De Heer’s film title thus challenges us to confront our own perceptions of Australia and remember that we all live on stolen land.

Essay Topic Breakdown

As with all our essay topic breakdowns, we'll follow LSG's THINK and EXECUTE strategy, as taught in our How To Write A Killer Text Response study guide. The LSG's THINK and EXECUTE strategy follows three steps in the THINK phase - Analyse, Brainstorm, and Create a Plan. Learn more about this technique in this video:

'I’m free now!' (Charlie’s Country)
'My children are the descendants of the unbroken.' (The Hate Race)
Compare the characters’ understanding of freedom in the two texts.

Step 1: Analyse

Let’s break down the prompt. This is a quote-based prompt, meaning the quote must feature somewhere in your essay. Ensure that you have a good understanding of the place from which the quote is drawn. In this case, Charlie’s exclamation of joy features when he escapes to the wilderness and is able to cook, dance and provide for himself. The quote from The Hate Race is the last line of the memoir, with Clarke expressing the sentiment that her children belong in Australia and will be as strong as their parents.

Step 2: Brainstorm

The next part is to establish the link between the quote and the topic. The essay topic at hand asks us how 'freedom' is understood, so we need to actually understand freedom itself in relation to the quotes provided.

For de Heer and Clarke, freedom isn’t an abstract concept relating to rights, liberties and responsibilities. Rather, freedom is found when people have the ability to be themselves, own their culture and live their truth. For Charlie, that mainly relates to his right to live in his country and maintain the traditional ways of the First Nations Peoples. Clarke, however, is more focused on the balancing act of finding freedom through a multicultural society that includes all, and in doing so celebrates the contribution that all cultures make into the melting pot that is Australia.

Step 3: Create a Plan

There’s no one correct way to structure your paragraphs for Charlie’s Country and The Hate Race. However, I find it consistently helpful to follow a chronological structure. This refers to going through events of the memoir and film in the order they actually occur, and finding unique points of analysis based around these chronological groupings.  

We also need to think of examples and points of comparison. Base these around the themes we’ve gone through, so you can easily identify DIVERGENT and CONVERGENT points of comparison. I’ll walk you through my thinking.

Paragraph 1 – unable to experience freedom because systems exist to stop individuals from embracing their own culture

  • Kellyville and Alice Springs are immediately established as communities where rules and standards of association are both made and enforced by white authorities. The types of authorities and the prevalence of this overarching system of control differs between The Hate Race and Charlie’s Country, but are not any less harmful.

Paragraph 2 – attempts at pushback are rebuffed, resulting in further punishment for the simple crime of failing to conform

  • Anglo Australia maintains its dominance through an assumption that minority Australians and First Nations Peoples will not question their place. Thus, when there is even the smallest semblance of resistance, punishment is the only solution. 
  • The difference here is that while Charlie wages an active resistance against white authorities, Maxine is moreso placed into submission by the repeated failure of her pleas to be heard by anyone in a position to change what is occurring. At the centre of both situations, though, is a desire to break free of white Australia’s chains.

Paragraph 3 – finding cultural freedom is a slow process of change, but one that begins with self acceptance

  • There is no happy ending to either The Hate Race or Charlie’s Country. Freedom does not suddenly spring forth. Instead, our author and director elucidate that cultivating freedom is a slow process. For Charlie, that begins with embracing his culture again and seeking to keep it alive. On Maxine’s part, it is about refusing to be broken by her past, and instead using her trauma as a motivator to build a better future.

If you'd like to see the sample A+ essay we wrote up for this essay topic, then you might want to check out our A Killer Comparative Guide: The Hate Race & Charlie's Country study guide!

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Written by Jordan Bassilious, an LSG English tutor who achieved a perfect study score of 50, an English Premier's Award and a 99.5 ATAR. Our Killer Comparative Guide includes:

  • Learn unique points of comparison through LSG'S CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy and stand out from the rest of the Victorian cohort
  • Sample A+ essays, with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals
  • How to think like a 50 study scorer through advanced discussions like structural feature analysis, views and values and unique interpretations.

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