Category Archives: Australian

New writing workshop for HSC Module B

I have just worked an essay one of my coachees submitted a week or two ago. It is on Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, a novel many praise. It has even been turned into a noted stage production. “Simply awesome. Cloudstreet is a winner from beginning to end…something native, new, vast and unforgettable.” The Sydney Morning Herald, January 1998.

Not everyone loves the novel, however: see these opinions. One 18-year-old wrote:

Cloudstreet is a luke-warm piece of writing, that is made awful by the fact that Tim Winton thinks that it is a masterpiece. You can practically hear in every line “Oooh look at me, I’m Tim Stinkton. Look how great I am.”

He should have hacked the book in half, punctuated it properly, culled it of all the meaningless ‘symbolism’ and self-indulgent philosophy, and made some attempt at developing the characters.The book has some good moments and it does get better towards the end, but Tim Winton doesn’t realise his limitations and can’t see past himself. Another thing, he threw the ‘fish lamb is the narrator’ thing right at the end, and it shows. The whole book reads like a first draft.

Do you agree?

See the new workshopped essay at Writing Workshop 09: Advanced English Module B “Critical study of a text”.

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Posted by on August 2, 2007 in Australian, English studies, HSC, questions asked, reading, student help, works/authors, writing


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Updating and maintenance

Of course all links on this site worked at the time I first recorded them here, but the internet is always in flux. I have today been through all entries tagged “HSC” and made sure links are still working. Some links I have had to delete, others to put on hold for one reason or another. I have added some too.

If ever you find a dead link let me know on a comment, or in the guest book, or by email. Thanks.

On my personal blog there are some recent entries that will interest some readers.

  • Teacher Pride Rules!
  • Three uplifting stories.
  • The HSC English moanings of Miranda… This is a response to criticism of the latest HSC text list for NSW and includes some background material on English in the HSC and earlier.
  • Assimilation/Integration/Multiculturalism: policy and practice in Australia since 1966 1
  • Assimilation/Integration/Multiculturalism: policy and practice in Australia since 1966 2
  • For the record: the great SBHS race debate of 2002.
  • More on multiculturalism etc.

    Am I “indigenous” to Australia?

    A reader has asked me about the word “indigenous”. As far as I am aware “indigenous” (the word) comes from the Latin and means “in” “beget” .. or if you like, “the place where one was born (or conceived)”. In that case I, as were both my parents, and my mother’s parents – are indigenous to Australia, indigenous Australians .. though have to admit that am indigenous to southern South Australia, not indigenous to New South Wales. How many generations does it take to be referred to as “indigenous”?

    The first part of that is certainly true. Indigenous is from Latin, where the literal meaning is “born in”; it has been in English since the 17th century. As is often the case, earlier meanings don’t always help us: nice, for example, comes from nescius which means “ignorant”. So how is the word used now?

    Would you, for example, argue that Australian rabbits or feral cats are indigenous Australian animals? I suspect not. Clearly, the word now refers to those — plants, animals or people — “originating and living or occurring naturally in an area or environment” (American Heritage Dictionary) but has a strong connotation of having the earliest historical connection to an area or environment.

    So “indigenous” is not a true synonym of “native”. I can say, without a shadow of doubt, that I am a native Australian, but my being an indigenous Australian is — in my case — only partly and possibly true.

    See, and a very extensive discussion on Wikipedia.

    As says, aboriginal has been in English a few hundred years longer than indigenous. It is a close synonym. With a capital letter it refers specifically to some Indigenous Australians — and note too how Indigenous should also be capitalised when referring to the same people(s). But then it gets complicated: as Wikipedia says: The term includes both the Torres Strait Islanders and the Aboriginal People, by which you may see that Torres Strait Islanders, while Indigenous Australians, are not Aboriginal Australians. The inclusive term, therefore, is Indigenous.

    And there is more to it than that…! See the Wikipedia article linked in the previous paragraph, check the Style manual for authors, editors and printers, the official word in Australia, and Pam Peters, Cambridge Guide to English Usage.

    It used to be that Aboriginal was properly the adjective (as in “Aboriginal art”) and Aborigine(s) the noun, though usage on this has always been disputed. The 2002 Style Manual recommends Aboriginal for both adjective and noun.

    Then there are other terms such as Koori and Murri, which have strict geographical limits…

    See also my Indigenous Australians Page.

    In some formal circumstances we get even more specific. Here in Surry Hills, for example, if we have a “Welcome to Country” or “Acknowledgement of Country” statement we refer to the original owners as the Cadigal People of the Eora Nation.

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    Posted by on July 9, 2007 in Australian, English language, questions asked


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    It’s our tolerance at stake, not multiculturalism

    These days we agonise over such matters as whether a Muslim girl should wear a veil or scarf to school. Much of that agonising is irrational. True, there will be limits. Religions practising nudism (and there are such) would have to argue very hard before they could manifest their beliefs everywhere in public, especially in a school, and if cannibalism were a central tenet to some belief system I doubt the school canteen would oblige. Such extremes aside, there is plenty of room for cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect and tolerance.

    Melbourne Lawyer “Legal Eagle” has an interesting post on the subtle knife, referring to the Sikh tradition of carrying a ceremonial sword or knife. Her conclusion is: “It seems to me that a minority of students would wear a kirpan, and that, with a full understanding of Sikh tradition, it can be seen that the likelihood of students using the kirpan in an inappropriate or violent manner would be very low indeed. In this context, it seems appropriate that Khalsa Sikhs should be able to wear a kirpan to school.”

    Do you agree?

    I do, wholeheartedly.

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    Posted by on June 11, 2007 in Australian, diversity, multiculturalism


    New Australian movie suits “Physical Journeys”

    I haven’t seen it yet, but I have read about it in the current Monthly Magazine (article not online). It would seem though that Romulus, My Father would be worth considering as a supplementary text for HSC students doing the Journeys Area Study, particularly with the poems of Peter Skrzynecki, but not only with that selection. School users please note YouTube is probably blocked; try again at home.

    On YouTube you will also find a whole series of Director’s Diaries about the movie. This is Day 4:

    There is a Romulus My Father website. You may also read Raymond Gaita’s book. See Robert Manne’s review.

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    Posted by on May 27, 2007 in Australian, diversity, English studies, HSC, Media/Film studies, multiculturalism, student help, works/authors


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    Sorry Day and forty years of citizenship…

    Adrian Phoon, among others, has remembered the significance for Australians of the past week. Two anniversaries coincide: the 1967 Referendum by which Aboriginal people would be included in the national census, which meant they would have the same citizen rights as other Australians. That was also the first year I voted. Naturally I voted “yes” along with over 90% of Australians. The second anniversary, of which Adrian speaks, is the ten years since the “Stolen Children” Report was published. That report has been attacked, but I think it stands up and remains the site of much unfinished business.

    I have a whole page on related matters on my other blog.


    See on my personal site National Reconciliation Week 27 May – 3 June 2007.

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    Posted by on May 26, 2007 in Australian


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    A central Aussie icon

    It is always interesting explaining Anzac Day to overseas students or visitors: You mean you celebrate a defeat?? I can recall a Chinese friend being mightily impressed by the first Anzac Day parade he saw as being unlike anything in China, though there are parades and national days enough there.

    I tried to capture something of this on my personal site in April: Late Anzac Day thoughts, where you may also see some of my own connections to Anzac Day.

    In that entry I refer to a recent television program, Andrew Denton’s Gallipoli: Brothers In Arms. This is well worth visiting.

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    Posted by on May 21, 2007 in Australian, multiculturalism



    Physical journeys and Peter Skrzynecki’s poems

    Revised March 2008


    Peter Skrzynecki (above) must be one of the most popular choices for the Journeys Area of Study in the NSW HSC English courses. I have yet another coachee studying his work right now. There is so much good stuff available online!

    The obvious starting point is NSW HSC Online for an overview of this part of the course. Very early in your study you must be clear about what you are doing, because you need to filter all the information available to make sure your efforts are relevant. I recommend also careful examination of past HSC questions and published exam answers to refine that filtering. While looking through HSC Online you may also find some guidance here and in other parts of your course in the annotated resource guide for teachers (but also useful for curious students): Search Site Reviews.

    Your next stop might be Peter Skrzynecki’s Web Site.

    On this site you will find information about my life which may help you understand some of my poems – especially those set down for study on the New South Wales HSC syllabus.

    It contains a background to my family’s migration to Australia in 1949 and a general outline of those influences which led to my writing poetry.

    It also contains links to other sites where my work is featured, a list of my publications, a selection of reviews of various publications, poetry and prose, and poems from my most recent collection of verse.

    Amelia Illgner wrote a good brief introduction to Peter Skrzynecki: The immigrant experience for the 2004 Sydney Writers’ Festival Schools Program. This is no longer online, but the gist was:

    Australian poet Peter Skrzynecki knows about journeys the way other people know about real estate, stock options and the footy ladder. Skrzynecki is a living treatise on the immigrant experience and his poems are charged canons of his observations. They tell of travelling, of belonging and the innate beauty in discovering oneself and rediscovering home and, always, memory…

    Here is a more recent poem by Peter Skrzynecki (2005). I rather like it; do you? Where does it fit into the journey stories you already know from the poems set for study? Is it similar/different in style and tone? Would you keep all the poems currently set, or would you substitute this poem for one currently set? If so, which poem would go? Why delete that poem in favour of this one?

    WARNING: Do not use another poem by Peter Skrzynecki as a supplementary text.

    Summer in the Country

    Summer in the country
    was brushing away
    flies from your face
    and wiping sweat from your eyes—

    watching grasses and grains
    shimmer in paddocks
    or sheep and cattle
    grazing beyond a windbreak of pines.

    Galahs clanged over the homestead.
    A windmill turned
    when a breeze sprung up.
    Cockatoos screeched from the pepper tree.

    Only crows frightened me
    with their sorrowful cries
    and the way they flew slowly
    like black crosses.

    The old slab-split shed
    was a treasure-trove
    of harnesses, bridles, farm
    machinery, forty-four-gallon drums—

    its walls covered
    with cobwebs that housed
    unimaginable spiders
    but where it was cool inside.

    I didn’t miss Europe
    like my parents did—
    nor a Christmas without snow
    I’d hear them talking about.

    Summer in the country
    was being given a glass of cold lemonade
    and falling asleep
    under a red-gum’s shade.

    frost.gif You will find a forum here where students have contributed some ideas, especially about “Crossing the Red Sea” and on possible supplementary texts. Use it wisely but don’t quote it! [This forum has apparently been hacked. 9 March 2008.]

    Peter Skrzynecki (and Michael Gow) were interviewed on ABC 702 in October 2006.

    …Richard Glover: All right, Peter, you rat for doing this to our children. “To what extent has studying the concept of physical journey in the work of Peter Skrzynecki expanded your understanding of yourself, of individuals, and of the world?” Now you’re answering the question, what do you say?

    Peter Skrzynecki: I say it teaches me about perseverance, it teaches me about tolerance, it teaches me about hope, it teaches me that nothing comes easy without working for it.

    Richard Glover: No, no, no, I’m marking you down. You’ve got to say all this in relationship to the concept of physical journey in the work, you’re not relating it to the question, Peter.

    Peter Skrzynecki: Because no journey is just physical. I’m sitting here in a doctor’s surgery actually waiting for root canal therapy while I’m talking to you, so I’ve made a physical journey from my home to here, but no journey is just physical, you know, it’s emotional, it’s spiritual, it’s psychological it’s mental. I’m about to have some holes drilled into my tooth…

    Richard Glover: Now Peter, do you feel any sympathy for these studying your work?

    Peter Skrzynecki: Yes and no. When I said to you earlier, one way or another you’ve got to sit for an exam, whether it’s poetry or whether it’s something else. I feel sympathy for them because at this stage in their lives they’ve really got to be somehow told or shown that life isn’t just about exams, and unfortunately the system, such as it is, puts them into an exam situation, but having taught in schools and at university myself, you somehow look beyond that, and when I talk to students when I lecture, I try and make them think for themselves.

    Richard Glover: And the other thing about this discussion is it’s great that among all the classics, and there are lots of classics of things like Mark Twain and Shakespeare’s Tempest and Coleridge, amongst all this there things like Michael’s wonderful play Away and your wonderful poems.

    Peter Skrzynecki: The year after the war, I mean we went on a physical journey from Europe to Australia, we lived in migrant camps, hostels, detention centres as they were called. There were no Social Service benefits in those days. If you wanted to get ahead in this country, you had to work, that physical journey was the start of a whole new life. And I learnt from the lives of my parents, and you could look around you to some of the big names in the corporate world today like the Lowys and the Richard Pratts, they came here with nothing virtually.

    Richard Glover: And the physical journey reflected.

    Peter Skrzynecki: That was just the start of something bigger.

    Richard Glover: Well look, you’ve almost made up your marks. I think you’ve got the same mark as Michael now. Very well done.

    Peter Skrzynecki: All I can say to the students, ‘Don’t hold it against me’, and I hope you’ve learnt something from the poems.

    Richard Glover: Yes, fantastic. Now Peter, thank you very much for talking to me…

    He shows some realism about the course there, doesn’t he, and a sense of humour. Let’s face it, while I don’t mind this course the whole thing, from a poet’s point of view, is really quite mad! No poet has ever sat down and said “I think I will write poems about the concept of journey…” At least I don’t think they have. If you are clever, by the way, you will also see you have a real example of the radio interview text type to study there too. Could come in handy…

    A few basic questions to ask yourself about every text you encounter in this Area Study:

    — What does this text contribute to my understanding of the concept of “the journey”?
    — How is the idea of “journey” represented in this text?
    — What connections are there between this text and others I have viewed or read?
    — What differences are there between this text and others I have viewed or read?

    I am sure you and your teachers will think of more!


    Migrant camp

    See How welcome were the immigrants made to feel? which includes Peter Skrzynecki’s “Migrant Hostel, Parkes, 1949-51” with questions. [This is currently returning a 404 error, which may mean it has gone or simply that there was a server issue when I tried to access it on 9 March 2008.]


    There is an excellent site on “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, one of the texts in the Stimulus Booklet. There you will find a number of critical readings of that poem.

    Here is a Powerpoint Presentation on Journeys suitable for ESL, Standard and Advanced. IT IS NOT MY WORK! I found it somewhere but have not kept track of where, so if it is your work please let me know. And thanks for doing quite a good resource which I have shared with people I have tutored. Journeys Powerpoint


    Amendment to English Stage 6 Syllabus: Withdrawal of stimulus booklet for HSC 2008.


    The Weekend Australian (8 March 2008) has a review of Skrzynecki by Barry Hill, poetry editor of The Australian: Love alone cannot bring verse to life.

    His work is much taught in schools, and in 2002 he was awarded the Order of Australia for his contribution to multicultural literature, a reputation that began with the publication of There, Behind the Lids in 1970, when he was only 25. The title poem begins:

    Feel the trembling, there, behind the lids,
    when you close your eyes and press
    index finger and thumb against the hard sockets:
    against the darkness…

    This is tender, heartfelt; and it is not about the poet (as one would expect of a first book) but about the poet’s migrant parents, or people very like them who might cross over chasms and oceans to return to new landmarks.

    Many slept on deck
    because of the day’s heat
    or to watch a sunset
    they would never see again —
    stretched on blankets and pillows
    against cabins and rails:
    shirtless, in shorts, barefooted,
    themselves a landscape
    of milk-white flesh
    on a scoured and polished deck

    This is from Crossing the Red Sea. Plain diction, a lucid arrangement of the graphic, and a touch for the image that resonates metaphorically: these are typical of Skrzynecki at his best. Once he applied these techniques to his school days, his parents’ quiet lives, the dreams of his parents’ friends, he soon had a gallery that represented a whole epoch of Australian-European history, each picture haunted by a subtle sense of what remained dark and unsayable as settlements sprouted in the new country…

    Barry Spurr’s 2003 study guide is available in part on Google Books.

    There is a good resource on Immigrant chronicle by Peter Skrzynecki a rap (NSW Department of Education site).


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    Excellent series on Islam in Australia

    Sure, some in the Australian Muslim communities may quarrel over details, while others may not, but I am glad the Sydney Morning Herald has today published a series of special articles on this important and much misunderstood part of the Australian family. See: Islam in Australia: a diverse society finds a new voice by Hamish McDonald. Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted by on April 28, 2007 in Australian, diversity, multiculturalism



    Mirrored from my personal site…

    In today’s Sun-Herald there is a piece by Kerry-Anne Walsh called “Multiculturalism isn’t the enemy.” Unfortunately, given it is an excellent piece, it is not online. It should be. So here most of it is:

    …Twenty years ago, a folk festival in Australia was a homage to all things Celtic. It’s a sign of Australia’s extraordinary growth and maturity that the four-day [Canberra Folk] festival now attracts the cream of domestic and international acts and honours the music, dance, arts and cultural life of an extraordinary number of nationalities in the Australian family.

    This year, as the poisonous war in Iraq and the turmoil in Afghanistan continue, the music of the Middle East was deliberately honoured.

    As his Government readies to whistle up so-called cultural values as an election issue, Howard, if he’d attended, would have witnessed a microcosm of the miracle that is our new multicultural society.

    Kevin Andrews, the staunchly Catholic Immigration Minister whose added title of Multicultural Affairs was ditched in January as the government moves to ditch multiculturalism altogether, might also have received divine enlightenment.

    Traditional Aussie bush poets performed alongside a wide variety of Middle Eastern music and dance groups. Irish fiddlers jigged and reeled; Aussie bands played bouzoukis alongside didgeridoos. A Sunday morning ecumenical Easter service was themed in the celebration of diversity, with prayers for the narrow-minded, the war-torn, and the bigoted.

    The broader political backdrop, in this election year, is an ideological battle over the future of multiculturalism with the government ramping up its “integration” rhetoric as the poll date nears.

    Howard explained that dumping “multicultural affairs” from the ministry name and adding “citizenship” expressed “the desire and aspiration that immigrants become Australians”.

    Does that mean that the 7 million people from 200 countries who have successfully made Australia home while retaining their own proud heritage haven’t wanted to become Australians?

    Why not applaud the successes of our melting-pot society… instead of finding fault and political opportunities?

    Multiculturalism didn’t create the Cronulla riots. White and black Australia led the way long before the term “multiculturalism” was coined in the 1970s. And white blokes sitting in radio studios are a bigger threat to racial harmony than a word.

    The word “muticulturalism” is now loaded by some politicians and detractors to send the erroneous message that multiple cultures threaten the Anglo one.

    They should get out more.

    I despair at the anticorrectness correctness that infects the Howard government. They are tossing many a healthy baby out with the bathwater, I feel.

    See also Shan Jayaweera, “Sharing two cultures shouldn’t be a test of allegiance.” Read the rest of this entry »