Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...
This blog was updated on 21/10/2020.
4. Chapter 1 Plot and Analysis
7. Sample Essay Topics
8. Essay Topic Breakdown
The Secret River is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
The Secret River is a historical novel telling the story of William Thornhill, a poor Englishman from the early 19th century who was deported and transported to New South Wales, Australia in 1806 for theft. This novel tells the story of Australia's founding and the moral choices made when Europeans colonised land that was already inhabited by Aboriginal people.
During 18th century to mid 19th century, 162,000 men and women were transported to Australia, with majority from England. These people, known as ‘convicts’, had committed crimes such as larceny and robbery – acts which were considered severe offenses and demanded heavy sentences. In order to deal with the overwhelming masses of criminals, the government exported crowds of convicts to Australia to serve their term as labourers. The reason driving the deportation included an attempt to decrease poverty and crime in England while concurrently developing the British colony in Australia.
Many of the fleets from England were destined for New South Wales, Australia. Those on the fleets included the criminals, marines, and their families. Living in a penal colony, the criminals were employed depending on their various skills: farmer, boatman, servant etc. The settlers were award a ‘ticket of leave’ if they presented good behaviour during labour. This meant that settlers would become emancipists, where they were set free from the government’s sentence and could begin a life for themselves by making their own living. This suited the government’s goal for a successful and thriving colony since it would only be possible if people were to work for themselves, and not under the terrain of the government.
Although Australia was chiefly populated with Indigenous Australians, the first century of colonisation saw a drastic decline in their population. This was due to a clash of desire for the land; the native’s innate protection of their land and the white settlers struggle to declare their right to an area already inhibited by natives – possibly for 40,000 years. The two cultures failed to ever create a peace agreement or compensation and as a result, the frontier was often marked with blood. Overtime, a successful of the British colony meant that white settlement overpowered any possibility of the natives retaining their land. The Secret River’s exploration of this powerful change in Australia’s history is a poignant reflection of the past, and demands attention to the sensitive issue of Australian and native relationship that is still present today.
Set during the early 19th century. Located in London, Sydney and on the Hawkesbury.
Chapter 1: Strangers
The Alexander, a transport ship for convicts has reached New South Wales, Australia after a travelling across the world for majority of the year. William Thornhill, an Englishman convicted to sentence his ‘natural life in the Year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and six’ [pg 3] will serve as a labourer.
During his first night in New South Wales, where their homes are ‘only a flap of bark, a screen of sticks and mud,’ Thornhill digested the new land with its ‘rich dank smells…restless water…no Pole star’; an environment vastly differentiated from England. The unfamiliar situation is overwhelming as ‘he had not cried, not for thirty years….but now his throat was thickening.’ In his despair, Thornhill describes how being sentenced to New South Wales could potentially be worse than dying itself.
Initially, Thornhill believed his tears are clouding his vision since the ‘darkness moved in front of him’ [pg 5]. However, he then realised that a human, ‘as black as the air itself’ stood before him. The unusual appearance of this human struck Thornhill since ‘his skin swallowed the light…[and] eyes were set so deeply into the skull.’ Although clothed, Thornhill ironically felt ‘skinless’ against the other who was completely naked and holding a spear. Thornhill repeatedly demanded that the man ‘be off’, for fear of his family and himself being attacked. Despite his shouting, this only impelled the man to move closer to the point where they almost touched. The ‘black man’ [pg 6] reproduced ‘be off’ in Thornhill’s exact tone. While Thornhill’s fear of this strange human is prominent, he grappled the strength to exert a bold, intrepid veneer, as ‘he was not about to surrender to any naked black man’. When he glanced back to his wife and children however, the man promptly disappeared, leaving only the darkness behind. Thornhill returned to his hut where he laid back down to rest yet ‘every muscle was tensed…the cold moment of finding that unforgiving thing in his flesh.’
Environmental / Landscape conflict
For Thornhill, who has spent a lifetime in England, the confrontation of a new environment evokes a powerful sense of unfamiliarity. The unknown land presents him with various intrapersonal conflicts, one of which is the difference between England and Australian stars. While the physical distance of this new land from Thornhill’s home is demonstrated by the lack of a ‘Pole Star, a friend to guide him on the Thames, [and] no Bear that he had known all his life,’ [pg 4] the unrecognisable stars above Australia only depict a ‘blaze, unreadable, [and] indifferent.’ His conflict demonstrates his physical and emotional distance from Thames, a place he grown up surrounded by compared to Australia, where learning begins from the very basics, as shown when he absorbs the natural landscape around him. The night described as ‘huge and damp, flowing in and bringing with it the sounds of its own life’ [pg 3] highlights how the Australian land is unique, possessing qualities of existence.
Thornhill’s sense of negligence in the vast forest that continues ‘mile after mile’ is illustrated through the imagery of the ‘trees [which] stood tall over him,’ depicting that nature is a powerful and dominant force over the Europeans. While the trees render him insignificant, it also demonstrates his alienation from the environment. The ‘Alexander,’ a common traditional English name, represents an intrusion of the Europeans onto the Australian land, further highlighting the idea that they do not belong on this island.
The Australian land is depicted to be harsh and unforgiving, as highlighted through the imagery of ‘dirt chill...sharp stab...alien stars' [pg 4] This conflict with the brutal landscape, along with the unknown leaves Thornhill apprehensive of what is to come. His feeling that he was ‘nothing more than a flea on the side of some enormous quiet creature’ [pg 4] depicts the Australian land almost like a monster. Additionally, the words ‘restless’ draw to the idea that the land is at discomfort or uneasy to have new inhabitants.
The conflict between two cultures is shown through the initial encounter between Thornhill and an Indigenous Australian. Without any conversation, the tension between the two is clear, merely through their actions in each other’s prescence. Thornhill notes the Aboriginal male’s tattoos, yet regards them as ‘scars’ since he is unaware to their culture. Even before this man, Thornhill is still infused with a sense of nakedness because of his unfamiliarity. His feeling that ‘every muscle was tensed…the cold moment of finding that unforgiving thing in his flesh’ highlights the tension of his first encounter of an Australian Aboriginal while it also foreshadows a suffering and anguish for his time ahead.
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Theme-Based essay prompt: The Secret River depicts many layers of conflict, within but also between its key characters. Discuss
Step 1: Analyse
The key term of this prompt is conflict, but I think it’s also important to analyse how it’s discussed—as something that exists in layers, and something that can happen both within and between characters. This seems to hint at the idea that conflict can be internal—that is a single character can feel conflicted about something—as well as external—that is two or more characters can have some kind of dispute. This prompt will require us to think about all these different types of conflict.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Let’s start with the most internal layer—conflicts with the self. In terms of key characters, consider William but also Sal: what debates do they have with themselves, or what do they say or do that shows they feel conflicted or unsure about something?
Then, let’s broaden that out to interpersonal conflicts between characters. How do William and Sal, for example, come into conflict with their neighbours—both their white neighbours and their Aboriginal neighbours? How do they come into conflict with each other, even?
Maybe it’s worth separating the racial conflict into another category—conflicts between groups of characters, rather than individual characters. If we make this distinction, we need to be prepared to back it up—in what ways is this conflict of a different nature?
Step 3: Create a plan
I think we can pretty justifiably separate out our layers of conflict into those categories: interpersonal, interpersonal and interracial. This gives us three neat(-ish) paragraphs and a clear, affirmative contention: yes, there are many layers of conflict, and those are the three layers.
P1: At its most intimate layer, conflict is internal—the moral dilemmas of William and Sal are particularly strong examples.
P2: Conflict can also be interpersonal—we can see this between William and Dan, or William and his neighbours, or between William and Sal even. It’s up to you which way you cut this paragraph.
P3: However, perhaps the central conflict that the novel is built around is interracial conflict between white colonisers and the Aboriginal people whose land they occupied. To extend the prompt a little, we can talk about conflict not just between characters or people, but also between value systems. For example, the way colonisers saw land and property were fundamentally incompatible with how Aboriginal people saw it—this is another type of conflict.
In this sense, we’re largely agreeing with the prompt, backing up the distinction between interpersonal and interracial conflict, and finding a way to extend on it a little towards the end. We can build this into the contention as well: there are many layers of conflict, but they occur not just between characters. They can also exist between the broad cultural values of entire groups of people as well.
If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our The Secret River Study Guide where we cover 5 A+ sample essays (written by a 50 study scorer!) with EVERY essay annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY these essays achieved A+ so you reach your English goals! Let's get started.
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Rear Window was released nearly 65 years ago. Back then, Hitchcock was a controversial filmmaker just starting to make waves and build his influence in Hollywood; now, he is one of the most widely celebrated directors of the 20th century. At the time of its 1954 release, Rear Window emerged into a world freshly shaken by World War II. The fear of communism riddled American society and Cold War tensions were escalating between the two global superpowers, the USSR and USA. Traditional gender stereotypes and marital roles were beginning to be challenged, yet the ‘old way’ continued to prevail. The culture of the 1950s could hardly be more different to what it is today. Within the Western world, the birth of the 21st century has marked the decline of cemented expectations and since been replaced by social equality regardless of gender, sexual preference and age. So why, six decades after its original release and in a world where much of its content appears superficially outdated, do we still analyse the film Rear Window?
Rear Window is a film primarily concerned with the events which L.B. (Jeff) Jefferies, a photographer incapacitated by an accident which broke his leg, observes from the window of his apartment. He spends his days watching the happenings of the Greenwich Village courtyard, which enables Jeff to peer into the apartments and lives of local residents. The curiosities which exist in such an intimate setting fulfil Jeff’s instinctual need to watch. The act of observing events from a secure distance is as tempting as reality television and magazines. To this day, these mediums provide entertainment tailored to popular culture. At its roots, Jeff’s role as a voyeur within Rear Window is designed to satisfy his intense boredom in a state of injury. As the film is seen through Jeff’s voyeuristic eyes, the audience become voyeurs within their own right. Until relations between Thorwald and his wife simmer into territory fraught with danger, Jeff’s actions are the harmless activities of a man searching for entertainment.
So, if Rear Window teaches us that voyeurism is a dangerous yet natural desire, does the film comment on the individuals who consent to being watched? Within Greenwich Village, Jeff’s chance to act as an observer is propelled by the indifference of those he observes. Almost without exception, his neighbours inadvertently permit Jeff’s eyes wandering into their apartments by leaving their blinds up. The private elements of others’ lives, including their domestic duties, marital relations and indecencies, are paraded before Jeff. Greenwich Village is his picture show and its residents willingly raise the stage’s curtains. This presentation of Hitchcock’s 1954 statement remains relevant today. Jeff’s neighbours’ consent to his intrusion into their lives bears striking similarities to current indifference. The prevalence of social media enables information to be gathered as soon as its users click the ‘Accept Terms & Conditions’ button. Rear Window is a commentary on social values and provokes its audience to examine habits of their own, especially in a world where sensitive information is at our fingertips. Just as Hitchcock’s 1954 characters invite perversive eyes to inspect their lives, society today is guilty of the same apathy.
The characters of Hitchcock’s thriller are a pivotal element of the film’s construction. They add layers of depth to the text and fulfil roles central to the plot’s development. One of Hitchcock’s fundamental directorial decisions was leaving multiple characters unnamed – within Greenwich Village alone, we meet Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Torso and Miss Hearing Aid. The stereotypical nature of these labels, based on superficial traits that Jeff observes from his window, exemplifies the sexism prevalent in the 1950s. Jeff’s knowledge of these women is limited to such an extent that he does not know their names, yet considers himself qualified enough to develop labels for each of them. The historical background of stereotypes is imbedded within Rear Window and shares vast similarities with the stereotypes we recognise today.
Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller Rear Window portrays a little world that represents the larger one. Its themes, primarily voyeurism, and character profiles illustrate Hitchcock’s societal messages and provide a running commentary on issues which govern America during the 1950s. In the six decades since the film’s release, the Western world has undergone significant developments both socially and culturally. L.B (Jeff) Jefferies’ perception of women and married life is inconsistent with the relations between men and women that we observe today. Regardless, the timeless views that Hitchcock’s conveys through Rear Window continue to speak volumes about our society. Jeff’s voyeurism, which comprises much of the film’s major plotline, is a channel for Hitchcock to comment about the instinctual desire for individuals to observe others. Additionally, Hitchcock delves into the flip side of this matter, presenting the theory that those he watches are just as guilty of allowing his intrusion into their private lives. Apathetic mindsets in today’s digital world are responsible for the same indifference that Hitchcock explores within his film. Let’s not forget the sexist stereotypes that Jeff develops to label certain women within Greenwich Village. Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Torso and Miss Hearing Aid are all victims of Jeff’s narrow mindset towards women, emphasised by these superficial and demeaning names. Stereotypes remain as apparent within society today as they were within the world of Rear Window and can be identified within the media’s diverse presentation of social issues. It is easy to assume that Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller, Rear Window, lacks the relevancy we expect from films. Contrary to this perception, its ingrained messages are fundamentally true to this day.
Text Response can be difficult because there are many different aspects of the text you need to discuss in an intellectual and sophisticated manner. The key points you need to include are stated in the VCAA Text Response criteria as shown below:
the ideas, characters and themes constructed by the author/director and presented in the selected text
the way the author/director uses structures, features and conventions to construct meaning
the ways in which authors/directors express or imply a point of view and values
the ways in which readers’ interpretations of text differ and why.
We have explored some of the different criterion points in past blog posts, but this time we’ll be focusing on number 3,
the ways in which authors/directors express or imply a point of view and values.
Views: How the author sees something
Way of thinking
Values: How the author thinks about something
In VCE, simply exploring themes and character development is not enough to score yourself a higher-graded essay. This is where discussion on ‘views and values’ comes in. Essentially this criterion urges you to ask yourself, ‘what are the author’s beliefs or opinion on this particular idea/issue?’ All novels/films are written to represent their author’s views and values and, as a reader it is your job to interpret what you think the author is trying to say or what they’re trying to teach us. And it’s not as hard as it seems either. You’ve instinctively done this when reading other books or watching movies without even realising it. For example, you’ve probably walked out of the cinemas after thoroughly enjoying a film because the ideas explored sat well with you, ‘I’m glad in Hunger Games they’re taking action and rebelling against a totalitarian society’ or, ‘that was a great film because it gave insight on how women can be just as powerful as men!’ Therefore, it is possible in this case that the author of this series favours the disintegration of tyrannical societies and promotes female empowerment.
Views and values are also based on ideas and attitudes of when it was written and where it was set – this brings both social and cultural context into consideration as well. Issues commonly explored include gender roles, racial inequality, class hierarchy, and more. For example, Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, is set during the 20th century and explores feminism through women’s roles during World War II while Emily Bronte’sWuthering Heights depicts the divide between social classes and challenges the strict Victorian values of how society condemns cross-class relationships, in particular between Catherine and Heathcliffe.
Questions to ask yourself when exploring views and values:
Is the author supporting or condeming/critising this idea?
Through which literary devices are they supporting or condemning/critising the idea?
Which characters represent society’s values? Which ones oppose them? Do we as readers favour those that represent or oppose society’s values?
Does the author encourage us to support the morals and opinions displayed by the characters or those supported in that setting/time?
Here’s a sample discussion on the author’s views and values:
‘…Dickens characterises Scrooge as being allegorically representative of the industrial age in which he lived. Scrooge describes the poor as ‘surplus population’, revealing his cruel nature as he would rather they die than having to donate money to them. Dickens critiques the industrial revolution whereby wealth lead to ignorance towards poor as the upperclassmen would easily dismiss underclassmen, feeling no responsibility to help them as they believed they were of no use to society. ‘ (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Here’s a list of some sample essay prompts you may get in regards to exploring ‘views and values’:
‘Cat’s Eye shows us that society’s expectations are damaging to women.’ To what extent do you agree? (Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood)
‘Bronte criticises the social class conventions of her time as she demonstrates that those in the lower classes can succeed.’ (Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte)
‘Social criticism plays a major role in A Christmas Carol.’ (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
‘Hamid shows that it is difficult to find our identity in modern society, with the ever-changing social and politics surrounding us.’ (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid)
‘In Ransom Malouf depicts war as the experience of grief, loss and destructive waste. The event of war lacks any heroic dimension. Discuss.’ (Ransom, David Malouf)
We’ve explored historical context, themes, essay planning and essay topics over on ourLike a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy blog post. If you need a quick refresher or you’re new to studying this text, I highly recommend checking it out!
Hey guys, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. So this week I have another essay topic breakdown for you. So eventually I'm going to get through all of the VCAA texts that are on the study design, but we're slowly going to get there and are just want to say yet again, even though this one is like a house on fire, I am really glad if you've clicked on this video and you're not necessarily studying it because as always with all my videos, I try to give you an overall message for you to take away that can be applied to any single text. So that is the same for this particular text today. And so even though the takeaway message for this video is quite specific to short stories, it's still an important consideration for any text that you're studying. Ideally, you want to use a diverse range of evidence for any text, but in particular, for short stories, you don't just want to rely on a small handful, but to try and make links between the different short stories.
So let's see what that means on the other side of this quick overview of the text. Like a House on Fire is a collection of short stories by the author, Cate Kennedy, and unlike a lot of other texts on the study design, this book portrays a lot of very domestic situations, which seems fairly boring compared to some of the other texts that other students might be doing. However, I'm really excited about this text because the short stories are great. Not because they have groundbreaking premises, which they don't, but because of how effortlessly and deeply emotive they are. So the domestic scenarios actually help us relate to the characters in the stories and empathize with the complexity of their experiences. The essay topic we'll be looking at today is in Like a House on Fire, Kennedy finds strength in ordinary people. Discuss.
Here, the term which you really have to think about is strength. We already know that she depicts the story of ordinary people, of people like you or me, or even just people we may know, but does she find strength in them? It could be physical strength, but more often than not, it might be other types of strength. For instance, the mental strength it takes to cope with intense pressure or the emotional strength it takes to make a difficult choice or action. It's important to think about how they might actually apply throughout the book. In this sense, our essay will have essentially two halves.
The first two body paragraphs we'll look at scenarios of intense pressure, be it through the loss of control in one's life or a domestic situation which has become emotionally tense. The last two body paragraphs will then consider the types of strength that Kennedy evinces in these stories. And we'll contend that she does find strength in the characters who face a difficult decision, but that she also finds a lot more strength in the characters who managed to cope with their situation and grapple with the tensions in their lives.
In many of her stories, Kennedy portrays characters who experience powerlessness. This loss of power can come a number of ways. For instance, both Flexion and Like a House on Fire tell the story of men who have injured their previously reliable bodies and have thus been rendered immobile. But they also tell the story of their respective wives who have lost some control over their lives now that they have to care for their husbands. On the other hand, there are the kids in Whirlpool whose mother insists that they dress a certain way for a Christmas photo. Her hand on your shoulders, exerting pressure that pushes you down. Kennedy's use of second person really makes you feel this pressure that keeps you from going out to the pool you so desperately desire to be in. Evidently powerlessness is an experience that comes in many shapes and forms in several stories.
In addition to this, Kennedy explores other emotional tensions across the collection, subverting the idea that the home is necessarily a safe sanctuary. This is where she really goes beyond just the idea of powerlessness, but actually jumps into scenarios that are much more emotionally complex. In Ashes for instance, we see the homosexual protagonist struggle with feeling useless and tongue tied, embarrassed by the floundering pause between his mother and himself. There is a significant emotional hurdle there, which is particularly poignant given that mothers are usually considered a source of safety and comfort for their children. Kennedy's story of domesticity actually subvert or question what we might think of the domestic space shared by family members. If you have the Scribe edition of the book, the artwork on the cover would depict a vase of wilting flowers, an empty picture frame, and a spilt cup of coffee.
These are all visual symbols of an imperfect domestic life. A similar rift exists between husband and wife in both Five Dollar Family and Waiting, the women find themselves unable to emotionally depend on their partners. While Michelle in Five Dollar Family despises her husbands startled, faintly incredulous expression, an inability to care for their child, the protagonist in Waiting struggles to talk about her miscarriages with her husband who is already worn down as it is. Kennedy takes these household roles of mother, son, husband, wife, and really dives into the complex shades of emotion that lies within these relationships. We realize through her stories that a mother can't always provide comfort to a child and that a husband isn't always the dependable partner that he's supposed to be.
However, Kennedy does find strength in some characters who do take a bold or courageous leap in some way. These are really important moments in which she is able to show us the strength that it takes to make these decisions. And she triumphs however small or insignificant that can be achieved.
A moment that really stands out to me is the ending of Laminex and Mirrors, where the protagonist rebelliously smuggles a hospital patient out for a smoke only to have to take him back into his ward through the main entrance and therefore get them both caught. She recounts this experience as the one I remember most clearly from the year I turned 18. The two of us content, just for this perfect moment. And their success resonates with the audience, even though the protagonist would have lost her job and therefore the income she needed for her trip to London, Kennedy demonstrates her strength in choosing compassion for an elderly patient. Even the sister in Whirlpool, who wasn't exactly kind to the protagonist in the beginning, forms an unlikely alliance with her against their mother, sharing a reckless moment and cutting their photo shoot short. Bold leaps such as these are ones that take strength and therefore deserve admiration.
However, more often than not, Kennedy's stories are more about the strength needed to simply cope with life, one day at a time. She explores the minutiae of her characters lives in a way that conveys the day to day struggles, but also hints at the underlying fortitude needed to deal with these things on a daily basis. In Tender, the wife feels as if everything at home is on the verge of coming apart since her husband is only able to cook tuna and pasta casserole for their kids. However, when she must get a possibly malignant tumor removed, her concern of whether there'll be tuna and pasta in the pantry just in case, demonstrates her selfless nature. Kennedy thus creates a character who is strong for others, even when her own life at home is disorderly and her health may be in jeopardy. The strength of gritting one's teeth and getting on with things in spite of emotional tension is a central idea across this collection, and many other examples are there for you to consider as well.
And so we come to the end of our essay. Hopefully going through this gives you an idea of how to cover more bases with your evidence. Remember that you don't have to recount lots and lots of events, but it's more important to engage with what the events are actually telling us about people. This is particularly important for prompts like this one, where it heavily focuses on the people involved. That is it for me this week, please give this video a thumbs up. If you wanted to say thanks to Mark, who has been helping me write these scripts up for a lot of the text response essay, topic breakdowns. If you enjoyed this, then you might also be interested in the live stream coming up next week, which will be on Friday the 25th of May at 5:00 PM. I'll be covering the topic of analyzing argument for the second time, just because there's so much to get through. I'll also be announcing some special things during that particular live stream. So make sure you're there so you're the first to hear it. I will see you guys next week. Bye.
Metalanguage is language that describes language. In films, we also need to consider cinematography – the technical side in the making of the film. For a detailed discussion, see What is metalanguage?
The prospect of writing a Text Response or Comparative essay on a film can be daunting—it’s difficult to know how to identify filmic devices let alone analyse why the director has used them to give meaning to particular scenes. To start us off, below are some filmic devices commonly used by directors that all students should be aware of when studying films.
This refers to the amount of space that is seen in one frame, which can be used to emphasise different aspects of the film’s setting or characters.
Example: An extreme close up of a character’s face to portray their emotions.
The way in which the audience is positioned to view the setting or character/s. This can enhance the audience’s understanding of the relationship between characters, or the way in which a character is feeling in a particular situation.
Example: a low camera angle can be used to demonstrate how a character is feeling empowered at a particular point in the film.
Any sound where the source of it can be seen in the scene (or is implied to be present)
Example: Voices, are diegetic. Any sound that comes from outside the scene itself, for example, soundtrack, is non-diegetic. We can analyse the way in which sound enhances the mood of the film.
In the Made in Dagenham clip above, diegetic sound such as the pouring rain, spoons tapping on cups, radio in the background are all used to offer viewers a 'real' sense that we're in the cafe too.
The way in which the scene is lit can create interesting effects in what it suggest about the characters in the scene.
Example: if the main source of light comes from the side of the screen, lighting up one side of a character’s face, this can create a sense of mystery.
How a character is dressed in any given scene is very important; their clothes can say a lot about their present state of mind or their physical situation.
In-depth analysis using Mabo
Even once we know all this, it can still be difficult to use these devices as evidence to support our ideas in a text response essay. So let’s put our knowledge into practice and take a look at a few scenes from the film Mabo, directed by Rachel Perkins.
Opening scene: Perkins uses a series of long shots of Murray Island in the opening scenes of the film, with high camera angles. This is done to contextualise the setting, as well as foreshadow the great significance the land will have on the events of the film. The subsequent low camera angle shots of the trees on the island present them as being tall and majestic. Paired with the upbeat, vibrant native music (non-diegetic sound) that is playing, it is evident that Perkins is celebrating the beauty of the land and emphasising its importance, not just in the film, but in the islanders’ lives.
Benny Mabo and a young Eddie walking the beach: a mid-shot is initially used in this scene to show father and son walking in the water. This alludes to the strength of the connection that the Mabos have to the island in depicting them as being immersed in water. The subsequent close ups of their faces, conveying their contentment, with the waves of the ocean in the background, indicate that this connection to the land goes beyond the mere fact that they live there; the pair are shown to have a profound spiritual and emotional connection with the island. This is emphasised by the soft, peaceful music that plays alongside Benny’s recital of Malo’s law.
Killoran exiles Eddie off Murray Island: side lighting is used in this scene to shadow some of Killoran’s face. This has a sinister effect. It suggests that his intentions toward Eddie are not honest, and further symbolises the corruption and lack of transparency in the Australian government in their dealings with the Indigenous. The cloud of cigarette smoke that surrounds him further highlights he toxicity of his presence on Murray Island, as does the solemn, foreboding music that plays throughout his conversation with Eddie. The close up shots of Eddie’s face convey the strength of his resolve in refusing to “[work] as a slave” for Killoran in penance for his crime.
Eddie on the railway tracks: this scene is all about Eddie’s internal conflict; his desire to return to his homeland, and the allure of the opportunities that the ‘mainland’ offers him (in particular, Bonita). The high camera angle is used to show him dancing across the railway tracks, which is heavy with symbolism, representing the choice between his old and new life. The close ups of his face as he sings his native song convey his emotional attachment to Murray Island and the depth of his despair at
not being able to return to it. His costume is comprised of old, dirty clothing, which is representative of his confused, weary and sorrowful state of mind. Yet the use of backlighting as he dances suggests that his decision to embrace his new life on the mainland will empower him. It further foreshadows the significance of this choice in enabling him to pursue the land rights case.
The Indigenous protest: Perkins deliberately uses archival/stock footage in this scene to enhance the viewer’s experience of the Indigenous’ protest at the Mayday march. By using real life footage from this actual historical event, Perkins adds authenticity to this scene, in order to effectively convey the importance of Eddie’s decision to participate. The high angle shots, and long shots, are used to show the sheer number of people who were fighting for change. The music quickens in pace to indicate a change, a turning point in Eddie’s life, in which he can no longer overlook the racism that his people have suffered. The close ups of his and his wife’s face during this scene express their passion and determination in supporting this cause, as well as their strong love for each other.
List of film techniques
These are just a few examples of the way in which you can use the techniques discussed to make your ideas more credible in text response essays. Some teachers may say that these filmic devices are a secondary source of evidence, but I believe they are equally as important as quotes in demonstrating a thorough understanding of the text—as long as you analyse why the director has chosen to include them.
Remember: the director only has a certain amount of time to tell the story, so every scene is important, and every technique is deliberate. That being said, don’t use these devices at the expense of quotations!
This study guide is written by Gabrielle O'Hagen (Mabo examples), and Lisa Tran.
Picture this: you’re sitting down at your desk, fumbling your fingers, inspecting the new stationary that you convinced yourself you needed for year 12, resisting the urge to check your phone. Your text response SAC is in two weeks. You’re freaking out because you want, no, need an A+. You decide to write a practice essay for your English teacher. Practice makes perfect, right? You stay up for hours, pouring your heart and soul into this essay. The result? B+. Where did I go wrong?
In this article I will be explaining some basic dos and don’ts of writing an essay on The Golden Age, providing a model essay as an example. At the end of this blog is also a video based on another essay prompt to help you prepare for your Golden Age studies!
The following prompt will be referenced throughout the post;
‘The Golden Age’ shows that everyone needs love and recognition. Discuss.
Planning: the silent killer of A+ essays
I’m sure your teachers have emphasised the importance of planning. In case they haven’t, allow me to reiterate that great planning is compulsory for a great essay. However, flimsy arguments aren’t going to get you an A+. The examiners are looking for complex arguments, providing a variety of perspectives of the themes at hand. From the above prompt, the key word is, ‘discuss’. This means that you should be discussing the prompt, not blindly agreeing with it. Make sure you don’t write anything that wouldn’t sit right with London.
Don’t plan out basic arguments that are one-dimensional. This may give you a pass in English, but won’t distinguish you as a top-scoring student.
Paragraph 1: The children at TGA need love and recognition.
Paragraph 2: Ida and Meyer need love and recognition
Paragraph 3: Sister Penny needs love and recognition.
The above paragraphs merely agree with the statement, but don’t delve into the many aspects of the novel that could contribute to a sophisticated essay.
Do create complex arguments, or paragraphs with a twist! If you can justify your argument and it makes sense, include it in your essay. There are many ways that you could answer this question, but my plan looks like this:
Paragraph 1: Frank Gold yearns for mature, adult love, not recognition from onlookers or outsiders
Paragraph 2: Ida Gold does not seek recognition from Australia, but love and validation from herself
Paragraph 3: Albert requires love from a specific kind of relationship – family, and Sullivan may view love from his father as pity which he rebukes
See the difference?
how to start your essay off with a BANG!
Personally, I always struggled with starting an introduction. The examiners will be reading and marking thousands of essays, so if possible, starting your introduction with something other than Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’… is a great way to make you stand out from the crowd. Having a strong start is essential to pave the way for a clear and concise essay. You could start with a quote/scene from the text! This is not essential, but it’s a great way to mix things up. This is my start:
Perhaps nothing exemplifies the power of love and recognition more than the bond between Albert Sutton and his older sister, Lizzie, in Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’. Many of London’s characters exhibit suffering that requires compassion and support to heal and grow, to distinguish present from past. However, London explores the perspectives of such characters from different aspects of trauma, and emphasise that love and recognition do not always work to heal and mature. Frank Gold, the novel’s resident “sneaky” boy who adjusts to newfound life in the Golden Age Convalescent Home seeks love as an adult, rather than eliciting sympathy as a supposed victim. Here love and recognition are unsuccessful in amending Frank’s troubles when given from the perspective of an outsider, a judgemental onlooker. In a similar sense, Ida Gold seeks recognition not from Australia, who she views as a ‘backwater’, but validation in herself after having been ousted from her Hungarian identity. London, however, makes sure to emphasise the impact that Sullivan has on Frank Gold’s life. Sullivan, a boy only a few years older than Frank, seems content with his future, with his fate, despite his sacrifice of rugby and conventional life. There is a lacking sense of urgency for love and recognition in Sullivan’s life, rather, it appears that Sullivan accepts his fate, regardless of his father’s sympathy or support. Thus, London explores a myriad of ways in which love and recognition may or may not heal wounds inflicted upon individuals.
Remember, there are many other ways you could start your essay.
The body paragraphs: To TEEL or not to TEEL?
I’m sure you’ve heard of TEEL countless times since year 7. Topic sentence, evidence, explanation, link. The truth is that these elements are all very important in a body paragraph. However, following a rigid structure will render your essay bland and repetitive. It is also extremely important to note that you should be using evidence from multiple points in the text, and you should be making sure that your paragraphs are directly answering the question. Write what feels natural to you, and most importantly, don’t abuse a thesaurus. If you can’t read your essay without rummaging for a dictionary every second sentence, you should rewrite it. If vocabulary isn’t your strong point (it definitely isn’t mine!), focus on clean sentence structure and solid arguments. There’s nothing worse than you using a fancy word incorrectly.
Don’t overuse your thesaurus in an attempt to sound sophisticated, and don’t use the same structure for every sentence. For example:
Prematurely in the paperback London makes an allusion to Norm White, the denizen horticulturalist of The Golden Age Convalescent Home…
That was an exaggerated example generated by searching for synonyms. As you can see, it sounds silly, and some of the words don’t even make sense. I mean, “denizen horticulturalist”…really?
Do mix up your paragraph structure! If vocabulary is your weak point, focus on clean language.
Early in the novel, London makes reference to Norm White, the resident groundskeeper of The Golden Age Convalescent Home. Norm White hands Frank Gold a cigarette, “as if to say a man has the right to smoke in peace”. Here, there is a complete disregard for rule and convention, an idea that London emphasises throughout the text. This feature provides a counter-cultural experience for Frank, pushing him to realise that he is a strong human being rather than a mere victim. This is a clear contrast to the “babyishness” of the home, and is used as evidence of true humanity in an era where society judged upon the unconventional. Frank yearns for a traditional Australian life after his trauma in Hungary; “his own memory…lodged like an attic in the front part of his brain”. Hedwiga and Julia Marai’s caring of him pushed him towards fear and reluctance to trust, yet also pressured him to seek acceptance in a world that ostracises him for his Jewish heritage and polio diagnosis. This here is why Frank desires a mature, adult connection – love that regards him as an equal human being. Frank seeks Elsa’s love and company as she too loathes being reduced to a victim, an object of pity. Frank thereafter uses humour to joke of his wounds; “we Jews have to be on the lookout”. Elsa sees “a look in his eyes that she recognised”, thus their bond enables both characters to heal. London alludes that Frank requires love and recognition not from the perspective of a sorrowful onlooker, rather he longs to be recognised as a mature adult.
I firmly believe in short and sharp conclusions. Your body paragraphs should be thoroughly explaining your paragraphs, so don’t include any new information here. A few sentences is enough. Once again, write what feels natural, and what flows well.
Don’t drag out your conclusion. Short and concise is the key to finishing well.
Do write a sharp finish! Sentence starters such as, “Ultimately…” or “Thus, London…” are great.
Although trauma is often treated with love and compassion, London details different perspectives on this idea. Whilst Frank Gold requires a specific kind of recognition, Ida and Meyer seek validation in themselves and their relationship, whilst Sullivan is at ease with his fate and does not yearn sympathy from his father.
I'll finish off by giving you an exercise: brainstorm and write up a plan for the essay topic shown in the video below. I'd recommend you do this before watching Lisa's brainstorm and plan. That way, you can see which of your ideas overlapped, but also potentially see which ideas you may have missed out on. Good luck!
Introduction to William Wordsworth and Romanticism
Key Features of Romantic Poetry
Poetic Analysis Examples
1. Introduction to William Wordsworth and Romanticism
William Wordsworth was a British poet and primary co-founder of the Romantic literary movement. He strongly believed that the poetry of the nineteenth century was much too fast-paced and too mindless to be able to evoke a meaningful message to the reader. Contending that ‘all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling,’ he wished to pioneer Romanticism to create a genre of poetry that reminded the reader of the very essence of humanity.
As such, Wordsworth and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge founded a new style of poetry through their co-written 1798 Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poetry which attempted to unite the human condition with the tranquility of nature.
As a resident of England’s picturesque Lake District, Wordsworth enjoyed becoming one with nature by wandering through the neighbouring hills, moors and lakeside views, while mentally composing poems inspired by its glorious elements.
William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out ourUltimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
2. Key Features of Romantic Poetry
The Romantic movement of poetry was founded during the Industrial Revolution, a period in which people were growing farther from the serene comfort of nature and closer towards modern mechanisation and mass manufacturing. As such, a primary characteristic of Romantic poetry is nature, as poets attempted to remind humanity of its meditative respite, and the comfort it could provide in the backdrop of the pollution that accompanied the growing industrialisation of England.
Wordsworth was a pantheist and believed that God was within every aspect of the natural world. In addition to this, he categorised himself as an ardent ‘worshipper of nature’. Thus, much of his poetry explores nature in a sacred and religious sense, presenting goodness and naturalness as synonymous - aptly displaying his belief of nature as a living, divine entity that could only to be ignored at humankind’s peril.
Romantic poetry subdues reason, intellect and the scientific truth in order to place more focus on the ‘truth of the imagination’. As a result of the harsh rigidity and rationality of the Enlightenment era, all human sentiments, from melancholiness to hopefulness, were celebrated by Romantics as important instruments in poetry to remind the common people of sentimentality in a modern and intransigent era.
As Romantics believed that these feelings allowed one to look deeper into one’s self, the theme of powerful emotions constructs the very essence of Romantic poetic poetry. As a result of this, rather than placing much importance on sense or sensibility, much of Wordsworth’s poems scrutinise his own effusion of feelings and the universal truths that these help him discover, speaking as the characteristic Romantic poet occupying a sentimental place of alienation.
Rebellion and Individualism
The Industrial Revolution oversaw the creation of distinct class differences between the extremely wealthy class of businessmen, and financially struggling workers and entrepreneurs. Poets, like all other artists, were forced to become increasingly independent and needed to rely on their unique vision and style in order to succeed in their gradually declining line of work. The Romantics subsequently began to view themselves as heroes who challenged and overcame the social challenges that arose; as champions of independence and self-awareness. As such, Romantic poetry often features characters or symbols of valiant heroism, as the poet acts as a visionary figure in his work, like a prophet telling of poetic self-awareness.
In accordance with their celebration of human emotions, Romantics also became fascinated with the literary conception of ‘the sublime’, a mental state that Classical authors such as Longinus defined as ‘physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic greatness’ that is of such magnificence that it cannot be measured.
The Romantics explored these extraordinary experiences in their poetry, describing the power of such sublime experiences on one’s senses, mind and imagination. Wordsworth expressed in his essay that a sublime experience is what occurs when one’s mind attempts to attain ‘something towards which it can make approaches but which it is incapable of attaining’. For example, his biographical poem, The Prelude recounts his ascent of Mount Snowdon and the sublime emotions he experiences as a result of its powerful atmosphere.
Many have viewed Wordsworth’s view of the sublime as the Romantic standard, as his poetry focuses equally on both the alluring and devastating aspects of such sublime experiences. His work focuses on the intertwined pleasure and terror that is generated as a result of such experiences, and how either end of the spectrum is ultimately beautiful and inspiring.
Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife: Come, hear the woodland linnet, How sweet his music! on my life, There's more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings! He, too, is no mean preacher: Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher.
This passage, taken from Wordsworth’s Tables Turned; An Evening Scene on the Same Subject, is a primary example of a poem displaying the Romantics’ propensity and reverence for the natural landscape.
The speaker of the poem contrasts the ‘endless strife’ of book-learning to the spontaneous and liberal method of learning through interacting with nature. The description of the ‘woodland [linnet’s]’ song as ‘sweet’ music evokes an image of heavenly bliss associated with the charms hidden within nature. That ‘there’s more of wisdom in’ such nature works in tandem with this, as the speaker asserts that the natural landscape is able to teach a lesson of a magnificence incomparable to the monotony of the ‘dull’ studying thorough book-learning.
The speaker’s evocation of ‘blithe’ emotions through sound is continued in the second stanza, in which ‘the throstle’ delivers another divine ‘song’ in an attempt to entice the reader. The speaker furthers his advocation for natural learning through a condemnation of route learning, as he attacks teachers of such as ‘mean preachers’. The directly following use of a pun emphasises this contrast, as the ‘light of things’ symbolises both the enlightenment that will accompany nature’s teaching, as well as the literal ‘light’ of nature underneath the sun.
The final line of the passage summarises the speaker’s persuasion aptly, as the phrase, ‘let nature be your teacher’, rings similar to a passage which can be found in the Bible; the speaker thus implies that the natural world is the all-superior entity and source of knowledge that one should take lessons from.
The rhyme and the rhythmic beat of the poem give it a sound comparable to a nursery-rhyme. This works in tandem with the Romantic viewpoint that great poetic language should be simple, accessible and conversational; as understandable to the common people as a nursery rhyme is to a child. This similarity also works in accordance with the authorial message of the poem, that nature should be a universal ‘teacher’, as nursery rhymes are often employed as enjoyable sing-songs that educate children on a moral level. As such, Wordsworth here strengthens his viewpoint through his poetic words; that nature should be a mentor to all.
Example Passage 2
For thou art with me here upon the banks Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend, My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch The language of my former heart, and read My former pleasures in the shooting lights Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while May I behold in thee what I was once, My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make, Knowing that Nature never did betray The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege, Through all the years of this our life, to lead From joy to joy… Therefore let the moon Shine on thee in thy solitary walk; And let the misty mountain-winds be free To blow against thee: and, in after years, When these wild ecstasies shall be matured Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms, Thy memory be as a dwelling-place For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then, If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief, Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts Of tender joy wilt thou remember me, And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance— If I should be where I no more can hear Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams Of past existence—wilt thou then forget That on the banks of this delightful stream We stood together; and that I, so long A worshipper of Nature, hither came Unwearied in that service: rather say With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget, That after many wanderings, many years Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs, And this green pastoral landscape, were to me More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!
This passage is taken from the final section from Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, a critical work in Wordsworth’s poetic career. Tracing the growth of his mind in different periods of time, the poem is a condensed, spiritual autobiography of Wordsworth himself as it views his younger self from the perspective of his older self, weighing the sense of ‘loss’ suffered against the belief that the years have brought him ‘abundant recompense’.
After recalling his experiences with nature over his formative and adult years, the speaker now addresses his younger sister Dorothy, as he gives her heartfelt advice about what he has learnt. Here, Dorothy becomes a ghost of his former self, as he hears ‘the language of his former heart’ when she speaks and perceives his ‘former pleasure’ in the ‘soothing lights of [her] wild eyes’.
The speaker depicts his loyalty to nature and its reflective loyalty to him, by the expression that ‘nature never did betray [his] heart’ that loves Dorothy, and this is the reason they have been living from ‘joy to joy’, lending nature a role of salvation.
The speaker then directly addresses the moon as a kind of separate entity, in order to ask it to bless his sister by shining on her ‘solitary walk’, so that when she is an adult her mind may become a ‘mansion for all lovely forms’. This is an ode to the harshness of the society at the time, in which the privileged businessmen and factory owners possessed a monopoly over British wealth, and accompanying prejudices clouded social judgement. As such, the speaker expresses his desires for his beloved sister to be exempt from such hardship that he was once subjected to, so that she can enjoy ‘sweet sounds and memories’ without experiencing the vexations of an unrelenting human society.
The conclusion of the poem is cyclic, as it takes the speaker back to the ‘green pastoral landscape’ of the beginning of his meditations. This symbolises the omnipresent timelessness of nature. As the speaker muses upon his ‘past existence’, he wishes to convey his own reverence for nature to his beloved sister, as he expresses that she will not forget the ‘steep woods and lofty cliffs’ upon which he first understood and respected nature.
The language utilised in this poem is lucid and natural, characteristic of Romantic poetry. The simplicity of the words chosen by Wordsworth effectively communicate the honesty of his own emotions towards nature. The elevated blank verse structure furthers this simplicity, as its familiar and easy tone is like that of a comfortable heartbeat or pulse that runs throughout one’s body in a serene state of mind.
Ultimately, the unconstrained and liberating tone of the poem, in accordance with its free blank verse structure emphasises Wordsworth’s belief that nature is within our very selves. Just as the poem runs smoothly and continuously, akin to a human pulse, Wordsworth suggests that nature too runs within everyone as an incessant heartbeat, necessary in order to experience a ‘warmer’ and ‘holier’ love for this universe.
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 isa 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 CONVERGENTand DIVERGENTstrategy. 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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Choosing an Oral Presentation topic can be tough. Finding an idea that’s unique, relevant and interesting all at once can sometimes feel impossible; but don’t worry, this is where we come in! Below is a list of 12 potential Oral Presentation topics for you to draw inspiration from, selected in reference to the VCE assessment criteria.
Remember, this blog is not a resource to give you a finished speech idea, these are just jumping-off points. Plagiarism is very harshly punished in VCE and many other students will currently be reading this very same post, meaning it's up to YOU to figure out how you’ll form a unique angle if you pick one of these topics. To help you do this, each section provides an overview of the cultural events that make this topic relevant. Additionally, possible contentions are included, ensuring you can see how arguments about these topics can be effectively made.
1. Kanye’s blow-up - The necessity of the media to stop platforming celebrities spreading harmful ideas
American rapper Kanye West has always been a controversial figure, but since his endorsement of Trump in 2016 he’s seemingly been on a particularly bad downward spiral. His descent into increasingly more extremist right-wing politics has led to the question of whether the news media, detached and neutral as they might claim to be, should even be reporting on him.
As of writing (late 2022), Kanye’s recent appearances on far-right talk shows to voice support for Hitler and question the existence of the Holocaust (which has no doubt been topped by something equally controversial by the time this gets published) pushes this question right to its limit.
Events like this are undoubtedly big stories that many people would like to know about, but does reporting on them do more harm than good? Do we realistically all have the self-control to ignore these figures when so much of modern news already revolves around controversy and gossip?
Major media companies should reach an agreement to actively avoid covering celebrity behaviour that spreads dangerous ideas.
News media should make an extra effort to disprove the dangerous ideologies of those they cover, rather than presenting them in a ‘neutral way’.
2. Amber Heard - How online discourse can villainise marginalised groups and encourage ‘dogpiling’
A similar celebrity controversy that dominated 2022 headlines was the two-way public defamation lawsuit between actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, which involved accusations of abuse on both sides. One of the most notable parts of this case was the online depiction of Heard, on social media platforms such as Facebook and Youtube.
Heard emerged as the internet’s new favourite punching bag, with an endless stream of videos and memes where her ‘allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault were mocked for entertainment’. Crucially, these were made to criticise her in a way that most clearly mirrored historical sexist stereotypes about emotionally manipulative women. You probably came across examples of these yourself, as platforms like Youtube have a history of directing users to this kind of content.
As such, key issues were identified in terms of how social media warps online discussions of allegations of abuse. Additionally, like the last topic, the very fact that this legal dispute was publicly broadcast raises questions as to whether the media’s focus on this event may have worsened the issue.
Personal legal proceedings between celebrities are not something that should be broadcast to the public.
The online discussion regarding this trial demonstrates the need for increased regulation of hateful and abusive content on social media platforms.
3. Should Australia be made a republic in the wake of the Queen’s death?
The death of Queen Elizabeth II in September of 2022, among many other things, drew Australia back into a debate it's been having for decades; should we become a republic? This would be a shift from our current state of (effectively) being overseen by the United Kingdom as a ‘constitutional parliamentary monarchy’, with the ‘head of state’ now being an Australian citizen rather than the UK monarch.
Although the replacement of the Queen with the new head of state (King Charles III) shouldn’t really shift people’s perspective on this issue, it most likely will. Queen Elizabeth has been the welcoming and approachable symbol of the monarchy for many Australians. Her death could be the catalyst for a shift in public opinion, severing the connection that many citizens still had to the UK monarchy.
This issue can be approached from many different angles, inducing discussion on HOW the process of Australia becoming a republic should occur (especially how the new head of state should be chosen), as well as stepping back and assessing the positives and negatives of making this shift.
Australia’s transition to a republic is a necessary step in helping honour the country’s Indigenous population and rejecting its colonial past
Australia’s transition to a republic, although often framed as an act of national unity, will actually worsen the cultural divides within our country.
Although Australia should transition to a republic, the current rise of nationalist politics makes a public election of the new head of state extremely risky.
4. Are NFTs a positive advancement in contemporary technology?
Whether or not you understand what it actually means, the phrase ‘NFTs’ has probably been inescapable on your social media feeds over the last year. Without getting too detailed, these ‘Non-Fungible Tokens’ are essentially investments into non-replicable representations of artwork, which will (supposedly) increase in value over time.
Despite seemingly being an exciting new technology that could have given control back to artists through copyright ownership, NFTs have instead been heavily criticised for commercialising artwork by reducing it to a literal piece of digital currency. Further issues have arisen in terms of how this technology can easily be used to scam people through misrepresenting the value of individual NFTs, or NFT owners simply taking the money and running.
What do you think? All new technology seems shaky and uncertain at the start, and maybe we should recognise that the current negative impacts of NFTs must simply be overcome with time. How do we weigh the benefit this technology has for individual artists against its potential drawbacks?
For their many flaws, NFTs give the power back to creators and, therefore, need to be improved rather than roundly rejected.
Despite preaching democratisation, NFTs and Bitcoin are both a part of a technological trend that will further increase wealth inequality.
5. How much can Western citizens really do to fight injustice via social media activism?
The effect of the COVID pandemic on developing countries, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and human rights abuses by the nation of Qatar - this year has seen an innumerable number of news stories that would make any reasonable person jump to their phones to see what they could do to help, like signing an online petition or sharing a public post to spread awareness.
However, as you probably know, these forms of social media 'slacktivism’ have historically drawn criticism for their ineffectiveness and self-serving nature. Increasingly though, this debate has become more complicated, moving away from the simplified dismissal of any social media activism that emerged around the turn of the century. Others have rightly pointed out that many influential contemporary social movements, that have had real-world impacts, did emerge from social media, such as the BLM and #MeToo movements.
As such, there’s a lot of room for different arguments here regarding whether a critical perspective of ‘social media slacktivism’ has become outdated in a world that is increasingly unavoidably based on the internet.
Social media activism is unavoidably the way that young people are going to engage with political issues, and a rejection of it is naive and impractical.
Political activism should distance itself from the online world if it wants to make real-world change that doesn’t fit neatly under existing power structures.
6. Is the overload of various media streaming service subscriptions sustainable?
‘Streaming fatigue’ has emerged as a 2023 talking point that may have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. Remember when we just had Netflix offering us a new way of consuming film and TV that was both more convenient and cost-effective than ‘pay TV’ packages (which were often heavily inflated in price and packed with unwanted channels)?
However, as we move into 2023, many have argued that the current subscription landscape now mirrors the previous pay-TV model. Consumers once again find themselves having to pay for an increasingly large amount of services if they want to conveniently access their film and TV shows. Predictably, this has seen a re-emergence of video piracy.
Does this mean that it's fundamentally impossible for us to access our media as conveniently as we’d like to, and the years of Netflix being the only streaming service that had all we wanted were never sustainable? Or maybe corporations are unfairly squeezing every dollar they can out of us, and piracy is a fair and just consumer response?
Through offering convenience that is unparalleled by any other previous technology, streaming services are still worth the cost.
Consumers should actively engage in digital piracy until media corporations create a more affordable streaming environment.
7. Is a post-COVID work-at-home model healthy for the next generation of workers?
Although 2020 and 2021 may be remembered as the ‘years of COVID’, 2022 onwards is perhaps when we will see which long-term impacts of the pandemic continue to stick around. Aside from the permanent placement of public hand sanitiser stations, working from home has emerged as one of the most prominent main-stays from our lockdown years.
Is this something that we should embrace? A lot was said during the lockdown about the mental health effects of being deprived of human connection; is this something we should just forget about when it comes to work? As with many of these issues, the question arises as to whether this shift is an inevitable effect of technological advancement, which we can either accept or fruitlessly battle until it becomes the new normal.
However, the fact that this ‘work from home’ dynamic only emerged due to a pandemic complicates this idea, making it possible that we may have accidentally all become accustomed to a new economic model of work that we would be better off without.
We must actively push back against the ‘work from home’ model; if we don’t, we will suffer both mentally and financially into the future.
Working from home is a win-win; it's more convenient and cost-effective for both employer and employee.
8. How can gentrified and aestheticised versions of social movements be avoided?
I wonder whether you saw the Indigenous name for Victoria’s capital city (Naarm) appear more frequently on your social media feeds this year, with people adding it to their Instagram bios or referring to it on TikTok? What started as a conscious choice to respectfully refer to the city by its original Indigenous name quickly became criticised as a trendy aesthetic for outwardly progressive white Victorians, with terms like ‘naarm-core’ becoming short-hand for a specific kind of trendy fashion that was ‘devoid of any ties to First Nations people’.
‘Naarm-core’, therefore, stands as another example of a movement that may have started with admirable aims, but was drowned out by those who just wanted the social benefits of participating in progressive politics. Think of the recent similar debates about ‘rainbow capitalism’, with similar criticisms being made of brands that co-opt progressive concepts like LGBQTI+ identity purely for social (and financial) capital. The question naturally emerges as to how we can avoid this for future political movements.
Or maybe you disagree with all these critiques? Political discussion moves so fast these days that it can feel like people are in such a rush to criticise things that they miss actual progress being made. After all, the use of the term ‘Naarm’ to refer to Melbourne was undeniably popularised on the back of this trend.
The criticism of political movements that deal with race being tokenised by white people can only be solved by allowing people of colour at the centre of these movements.
People are too cynical about social movements and trends; virality and popularity, despite ‘inauthentic intentions’, often do more good than harm.
9. How can the highly polarised discussion concerning COVID vaccines become more productive?
Another thing you may have witnessed from living in a post-COVID world is an increase in how divided simple issues seem to make us. Ever tried to convince a relative or friend that, no, in fact, vaccines are not designed to implant us with microchips - seems impossible right?
For many people, the pandemic was a tipping point into full-blown conspiracy communities, meaning people are increasingly able to exist within their own social-media realities that don’t need to be bound to scientific truth or objective fact. This all creates a division between those with different beliefs that is somehow wider than before, where we can’t even agree on simple statements of truth.
The debate around what to do about this deals with questions of human psychology, social media (again), but also freedom of speech. Should spreading (potentially dangerous) false information that conflicts with scientific consensus be allowed on social media? Most importantly, how do we encourage actual communication between different sides?
Talking in person is the only way for people with vastly different beliefs to find common ground.
Those spreading dishonest and dangerous conspiracy theories about public health cannot be reasoned with, and need to be actively shut down wherever they appear.
10. With the infamous Oscar slap, what ‘consequences’ should comedians and satirists face for what they say?
Here’s a news story that you’re probably tired of hearing about! Actor Will Smith’s act of violence against Oscar host and comedian Chris Rock for a joke about his wife’s alopecia (hair loss) caused manydifferent conversations to happen at once; about toxic masculinity, celebrity culture, violence as a spectacle. These are all totally valid angles for your Oral Presentation, but let’s focus on maybe the most common debate; did Chris Rock deserve this?
Functioning as a comedian hosting an awards night, Rock’s job was to poke fun at everyone participating, and these sorts of roles have often involved controversial comments and jokes. Does this mean they have immunity from any consequences for their words though? What should these consequences look like? And, if we excuse smaller acts of violence, what does that normalise?
The 2015 terrorist shooting of the staff of satirical French magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ for their depiction of the Islamic prophet may seem a world away from Will Smith’s slap, but some may argue that this is the logical end-point for a world that believes physical violence is the way to deal with jokes people don’t like.
The idea of comedians actually being threatened by violence is overblown; the slap was an isolated incident.
Protecting the safety of those who make controversial jokes is paramount to maintaining freedom of speech.
11. With Optus and Telstra’s recent data breaches, is placing all our valuable personal information in virtual spaces sustainably safe?
This year saw a record-level data breach from one of Australia’s leading telecommunications companies, Optus. The personal details of almost 10 million customers were given to the hackers.
Then, two weeks later, a similar data breach happened at Telstra. Yes, this time, no customer information was leaked, but information on the company’s employees was again released.
All of this may disturb the image we all have in our heads of online databases as relatively unbreachable, locked away behind thousands of firewalls somewhere in the cloud. In fact, much of modern society operates on this assumption. Maybe you’ve added your credit card details to your Chrome tab because it makes online purchases easier? This convenience comes with the implicit assumption that online personal info is pretty much always safe when protected by a big tech company, but these events arguably prove otherwise.
Cyberattacks are ‘increasing as a threat’, yet danger for the sake of convenience is something that all of us deal with. Maybe you think there are degrees to this; should we draw a line at information that can cause us legitimate harm if given to a malicious party?
Our society is already too technologically dependent to try and ‘go offline’ for the sake of data safety.
Valuables of any kind are always going to run the risk of being stolen, and digital piracy is no different.
12. What is the role of Western countries in resisting the unlawful Russian invasion of Ukraine?
As already mentioned, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was one of the biggest news stories of 2022. Putin’s unlawful decision to attack the country’s capital in February of 2022 has left more than 10,000 people dead and millions displaced from their homes. Virtually all world leaders condemned this act immediately. Yet, almost a year later, the war continues, and documented war crimes occur on Ukrainian soil.
Thinking larger than just social media, the question of what can actually be done to help by the countries who condemn this war has naturally emerged. Many nations have supported Ukraine financially, including the US giving nearly $20 billion. Some may argue that this is not nearly far enough, and that all world powers have a responsibility to wage direct war against Russia in support of Ukraine. Naturally though, many are strongly against Western intervention in this form, believing that countries like the US should not see themselves as all-knowing powers that can intervene in other nations based on their ideological beliefs.
Any attempt to guilt individual citizens about their need to ‘do something about Ukraine’ is completely unfair; the responsibility for any meaningful action is entirely on the government.
The West, particularly the US, has a long history of militarily invading smaller nations for their own purposes; their condemnation of the Russians is hypocritical.
We all love hacks. Life hacks, game hacks, Netflix hacks (wait, what)? They're all fabulous. Even better is when we can use English study hacks - because who doesn't want to make English just that much simpler?
Watched the video above already? Awesome! Keep reading for extra life hacks:
Extra hack #11 - Don’t just write essays.
There is a massive difference between writing an essay for the sake of writing an essay, as opposed to actively learning when applying your skills. If you feel yourself slipping into the dreaded ‘reusing the same evidence for every essay’, or you’ve somehow ended up doing 5 essay prompts based on the same character – STOP RIGHT THERE. Be proactive. You have to keep switching things up. This means constantly trying new prompts that are more challenging than the last and always trying to find new evidence you can use. Yes, there will always be our go-to pieces of evidence we like to use, like our favourite quote or symbol, but change it up often so that you don’t become complacent.
Extra hack #12 – Unique interpretations
The purpose of develop a unique interpretation of a text or film is so that you can demonstrate originality in your thinking and bring something new to the table that teachers have never come across before. After all, if you’re marking 30 essays in a row, you’d get pretty bored reading the same arguments again and again, wouldn’t you? Try to view the text from different lenses – feminist, Marxist, post-colonial perspective – and these will offer you new ways of interpreting the story.
Extra hack #13 – FOCUS
Some books can be very long (and no, we’re not talking about don’t need to go into detail with every single passage. Instead, have a selection of passages throughout the book that you know really well. It’s much better having an in-depth understanding of fewer passages, but produce a sound essay than to have a superficial overview of the book and struggle to write much at all!
English is not easy, but it doesn’t need to be hard either. Adopt only a few of these hacks and see your improvement in English – they really do work! Keep it up!
Anna Funder’s Stasiland and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go bring together two complex, poignant worlds of “personal stories” and subjective narration of what once was, an individual's place in history and its aftermath, especially when the world attempts to move on.
Establishing a literary allusion to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the title, Funder’s narrator of Anna fills the role of Alice as she stumbles upon and explores the absurd and unjust world of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Driven by an almost naive curiosity, akin to Alice herself, Funder conducts extensive interviewing to uncover not only the stories and experiences of the victims of the regime, but also of the Stasi, the “internal army by which the government kept control”. Through her literary journalism, Funder creates an intimate and sensory experience for the reader, extending beyond factual occurrences to capture the “horror-romance” of East Germany, “a country which no longer exists” but its inhabitants, victims and perpetrators continue to live on.
TIP - Research the history of the German Democratic Republic, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and the influence of the Soviet Union within East Germany, in contrast to West Germany. Understanding the backbone of “this land gone wrong” in which Funder delves into gives much greater context for the significance of her work and ideas in which you can explore in your writing.
Never Let Me Go
Ishiguro delves into human mortality through the platform of a science fiction world, where the focus is ultimately on the prospect of an existence where one’s life is knowingly shortened, and what becomes important with such a backdrop. Readers are introduced to the concept of ‘clones’, existing as live incubators of organs that will be later harvested for others. Perceived by society as less than humans, Ishiguro’s narrative focuses on clones who spent time at Hailsham, a boarding school ‘experiment’ in England which attempted to provide a more ‘humane’ education and upbringing for clones, and their sheltered perspectives on their existence, their mortality and purpose.
Authors’ views and values
Why have Funder and Ishiguro written what they have written?
Funder’s dogged pursuit to uncover and reveal the “portraits” of individuals who lived through the GDR was prompted by West Germany’s dismissal of, and use of stereotypes when these individuals were concerned, and the assumption that “no-one is interested in these people”. She discovers that “things have been put behind glass”, in the forms of museums and metaphorical mausoleums, “but they are not yet over”. Stasiland therefore acts as a work that champions the importance of memory, of remembering and of history, as Sisyphean of a task as this inevitably is because it is “working… against time”. In addition, Funder’s purposeful choice to include the perspectives of the Stasi themselves opens up another realm of understanding to the reader. It allows the audience to examine the Stasi's motives and justifications, their humanity or lack thereof, of the lessons learnt and unlearnt, as a means of framing the entire regime and of framing the spectrum of humanity.
Whilst Ishiguro’s universe differs greatly when placed alongside Stasiland, his characters also belong to a world that no longer exists, as their Hailsham upbringing evolves into a historical artefact, reflective of a world that “wanted [the clones] back in the shadows” and which remained oblivious to the reality of the clones’ existence. Ishiguro gives voice to the clones; the “poor creatures” who otherwise possessed no voice or recognised humanity in this world, and no purpose apart from their utility as organ donors. These individuals are shown to be no less human than you and I, and it is in their sheltered lives, headed towards “wherever it was [they were] supposed to be”, which permits the reader to examine their own life purpose and meaning, and how a clone’s existence is ultimately reduced in not only length, but also ability and capacity.
Both texts confront uncomfortable truths about humanity and reality, the treatment that certain individuals were unfortunately subjected to which resulted in their dehumanising, and which “broke” them, sooner or later.
TIP - Reframe this question for any text you are studying - including text response! There is intent and purpose underlying each and every text that is definitely worthy of thorough unpacking and consideration; the thinking you will do will help to further your analysis and comparison considerably.
Themes and Comparison
What are the big ideas underpinning the texts? How are they explored? What sorts of comparisons can be drawn between the two texts?
At LSG, we use the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy to help us easily find points of similarity and difference. This is particularly important when it comes to essay writing, because you want to know that you're coming up with unique comparative points (compared to the rest of the Victorian cohort!). I don't discuss this strategy in detail here, but if you're interested, check out my How To Write A Killer Comparative. I use this strategy throughout my analysis of the following themes.
Stasiland: As prompted by the VCAA 2015 exam, the GDR is indeed ‘cruel and absurd’, especially in the methods the nation constructed and enforced this society, as this ultimately broke the souls of innocent individuals, and left questions unanswered and scars unhealed for many. It showcases how what could potentially be described as 'idealistic' in terms of government control can become grotesque, how otherworldly and Orwellian this recent history seems, and how the perspectives of victim, perpetrator, outsider and more are not restricted to the land of the GDR, but to today as well. In addition, as Funder discovers, these perspectives are closely intertwined, in which certain individuals of the Stasi were victimised too, and could not remain in the "group in the know [as] one of the unmolested".
Never Let Me Go: The novel’s context of clones is removed from the reality that readers are familiar with, and as Ishiguro focuses on the clones’ perspectives throughout, there always remains an element that feels 'off' and ’not quite right’ about who they are and the purpose of their existence. Whilst the context of Never Let Me Go differs greatly from a regime with "the most perfected surveillance state of all time", it highlights an unsettling reality, in which scientific advancement has resulted in a society benefitting from the clones' existence and from organ harvesting, but who are also rejecting of the possibility of their humanity. The clones may never be able to perceive and fully understand this cruelty or absurdity themselves, but this does not mean they are not victims of this, for a fate that they could not choose.
Possible points for comparison: The victimisation of individuals in both texts, whether it was internalised or ushered into oblivion is central to the absurd worlds of Stasiland and Never Let Me Go. The clones are in a way, victims from birth, and unable to avoid their shortened existence and purpose, whereas those in the GDR who were subjected to surveillance, interrogation, torture, etc. became ensnared and damaged beyond repair; the aftermath of which they were unable to escape from. However, the closing of Hailsham and the falling of the Berlin Wall spell out different fates in the two texts - those in Stasiland may be "fettered" by their past that is "not ever, really, over", but are provided a future in which there is hope for rebirth in the "green", "lush" city of Berlin and beyond. On the contrary, the clones are only able to move toward their fate, towards "wherever it was [they are] supposed to be" and towards completion. Coupled with the naivety accompanying the clones' existence, their acceptance of what is ahead and the lack of awareness surrounding their victimisation, readers are prompted to consider the cruelty of such existence, and whether there is greater tragedy in having your "soul buckled out of shape, forever", or in never knowing who you really are.
The act of remembering
Stasiland: In discussing and unearthing a recent history of a "bygone world" that many individuals wish to "pretend it was never there", Funder's attempt to create and immortalise "portraits" of East Germans raises questions about how events and lives are remembered and forgotten. Especially when elements of this past in the GDR could not be "pinned down by facts, or documents", the detrimental impact of a lack of recognition and acknowledgement of one's past, especially one filled with trauma, is thereby highlighted by Funder. When the rest of the world deems the GDR and the Stasi to only belong "behind glass" in museums and yet it is "not yet over" for those who are still suffering and carrying scars, physical and psychological, the purpose of Stasiland rings clear and true. Whilst it is a Sisyphean attempt, "working against forgetting, and against time", through Stasiland, Funder ultimately gives a voice to the "personal stories" comprising history, before there are "none left".
Never Let Me Go: Through the lens of Kathy H's narration and the recollection of her memories surrounding her upbringing, readers uncover the pieces of her existence as moments of her past begin "tugging at [her] mind". Memory itself can be fickle, recording and preserving certain experiences but not others, and as time passes, "fading surprisingly quickly" before being lost in the ether of one's past. Ishiguro's continual mention of Kathy's memories of an event, of her years at Hailsham and beyond almost lulls the reader into overlooking this element of the narration - in which the reader's understanding is built upon an uncertain and incomplete foundation of facts; similar to how the clones' "sheltered" understanding of their world came to be. After Hailsham closes, its existence recedes into the memories of the clones, and although Kathy declares that the memories will be retained "safely in [her] head", upon her completion, this will also be lost, and Hailsham will be further diminished in history as a 'failed experiment' and one day forgotten.
Possible points for comparison: The valiant efforts to remember and preserve the once-was is woven into the fabric of both texts, despite the inevitability of forgetting as death and 'completion' claims those who lived through East Germany and Hailsham respectively. When the recent history of the GDR becomes a "lost world", and the importance of remembering what transpired is being superseded by the innovation and process of the present, it opens up room for the same mistakes of the past to be made again. Hailsham was an attempt to create a more idealised and humane upbringing for the clones, and to showcase their humanity in a society which rejected this, and the boarding school's closure reflects a failure in which any previous successes will never be acknowledged. Memory, and by extension, one's understanding of the past is what enables change in the future; in attitude, in approach, in the treatment of others, in decisions, in growth, as an individual and as a whole. With its gradual loss, it may also be ineluctable that history repeats itself in one way or another.
Subjective narration, stories and lives
Stasiland: Stasiland itself is comprised of the stories of human lives, and includes various individuals' tenacity, strength and courage to their vices, cruelty and cowardice. By seeking out not only those who were victims of the regime but also perpetrators, Funder examines the many complex facets of human nature and the irreversible impact of the GDR on East Germans and who they became or were broken into. However, the personal involvement of Anna as a narrator and most importantly, as an outsider to the GDR provides a subjective perspective of this history. Whilst this has received criticism, it is important to consider how the human experience itself is subjective, as is never being able to truly understand another individual's story as the exact experience is theirs alone to hold and perhaps be "fettered" to; both of which are evident in Stasiland.
Never Let Me Go: Ishiguro constructs a narrative in which Kathy H and the clones are assumed human individuals from the text’s introduction, and it is only as the clones uncover how they may be "troubling and strange" that the reader gains a sense of how they are perceived in society as sub-human. However, the pre-determined fate and mortality of these "poor creatures", especially as they are born and 'complete' seemingly without a scope of awareness beyond their exposure during their upbringing and their sole purpose as organ donors - renders their lives even more heart wrenching and tragic - and human. The simplicity with which Ishiguro details the musings and reflections of Kathy H, and in the concluding moment of her imagined fantasy of Tommy, as not "out of control" as she may felt, readers cannot ignore the stark juxtaposition with the circumstances of her existence, in which she ultimately has no control over her identity as a clone. To grasp autonomy, to defy and deviate from being "wherever it was [she] was supposed to be", even for a moment, Ishiguro portrays a courage which is undoubtedly human.
Possible points for comparison: When faced with the stories of lives not our own, but each individual possessing elements which resonate and resemble us, it is much more possible to understand their struggles, their intentions and their experiences. Consider the story behind each face, each character, each name, not only in these two texts but also other texts and even our lives, as we are fundamentally more similar than different when compared to each other, even in the face of separation and distinction.
Ultimately, Funder and Ishiguro's texts probe the existential question of what it means to be human and what defines one's identity, and how it is shaped by experience, fate, intentions and actions. Question the texts, question the characters, question yourselves, and you'll discover worlds and perspectives closer to home than the GDR or Hailsham may initially seem.
Get exclusive weekly advice from Lisa, only available via email.
Power-up your learning with free essay topics, downloadable word banks, and updates on the latest VCE strategies.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Check out our latest thought leadership on enterprise innovation.
Keep in touch
Have questions? Get in touch with us here - we usually reply in 24 business hours.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.