Tag Archives: Australian literature

It’s not every day I sing the praises of a “crib”…

9781741253474-2T … but I am prepared to laud Maya Puiu and Lisa Edwards for their Pascal Press Study Guide for “Belonging” and Peter Skrzynecki’s Immigrant Chronicle. It really is a thorough and extremely intelligent guide.

It is in fact so good it could be dangerous for some students, if they were to draw on it too closely. Nonetheless, I do commend it and have used it myself – after my own efforts on this site, I should add perhaps. Learn from it, but after reading them search out your own quotes on “belonging” and your own supplementary texts. Use the material on the poems as part of a wider mix, including your class discussions and your own insights. Avoid the exact wording of this very helpful book, lest you and thousands of others begin to sound as if you have been cloned!

Even so, this gets a 10 out of 10 from me. It is that good!

I haven’t seen the other guides in the series, but it has been a good idea to publish comprehensive guides for each set text rather than a catch-all approach in one book.

Maya Puiu is no stranger either to ESL teaching or to Skrzynecki’s work. Some years ago she co-ordinated a book rap on the subject where there is some valuable material, even if not all the current set of poems are there.


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The bushfire and the Australian imagination

There is a good article in today’s Australian by Simon Caterson: Living with the embers.

IT would be hard to overestimate the strength of the hold that bushfire has over our physical environment and over the Australian imagination. When in 1988 a series of ceremonial bonfires was lit during the Australian bicentenary celebrations, historian Geoffrey Blainey viewed the event as honouring "the most powerful, majestic and frightening force in our history: the force of fire".

Bushfires recur every year and occupy an important part of our culture and art. Blainey observes that "every day for millions of days countless fires have been lit or enlarged for countless purposes, and many of those fires had unintended consequences"…

The definitive Australian film (or play) on a bushfire theme may be yet to emerge, but many painters and writers have tackled the subject. In March 2003, the National Gallery of Victoria staged an exhibition of fire-themed art works to raise funds for victims of that summer’s fires.

Among the paintings assembled were works by John Longstaff, Eugene von Guerard and Tim Storrier. One of the best-known is Longstaff’s Gippsland, Sunday Night, February 20th, 1898, which shows a horseman riding swiftly out of a forest at night with the fire front advancing close behind him.

Australian writers have long striven to give expression to the horror of bushfire, while often acknowledging the subject’s indescribability. In his 1853 poem The Bush Fire, Charles Harpur writes: "Where are the words to paint the million shapes /And unimaginable freaks of Fire, /When holding thus its monster carnival /In the primeval forest all night long?"

A 19th-century writer who described a bushfire from personal experience was Marcus Clarke, who found himself suddenly caught up in a mallee scrub fire, which he tried to help contain in a back-burning operation: "But the fiery cohort came up, roaring in the tops of the trees, and was upon and past us almost before we could feel its heat, leaping our little line without a pause, and flying away into the forest. We had to run for our lives and, escaping danger of crushing branches, blazing bark and sudden whirls of yellow fire, that would play and crackle about us from some sappy fern, fell with singed hair and blinded eyes into the company of our reinforcements."

A sinister metaphor for bushfire was used by English author H.G. Wells, who visited Australia in the late 1930s.

"A bushfire is not an orderly invader, but a guerilla," Wells wrote. "It advances by rushes, by little venomous tongues of fire in the grass; it spreads by sparks burning leaves and bark. Its front is miles deep. It is here, it is there, like a swarm of venomous wasps. It shams dead and stabs you in the back. It encircles you so that there is no sure line of flight of its intended victims. It destroys the bridges in your rear. It bars the road with blazing trees." …


John Longstaff, “Gippsland, Sunday Night” 1898

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Posted by on February 14, 2009 in environment


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Poetry Viva — Wollongong 11 October 2008

Yet another email, this one from the South Coast Writers’ Centre.

Poetry Viva

11 October 2008

Join our most exciting contemporary poets for an afternoon of challenge and contemplation. Featuring Dorothy Porter, John Tranter, joanne burns, Judith Beveridge, Peter Skrzynecki, Barbara Nicholson, Chris Mansell, Elizabeth Hodgson, Merlinda Bobis and more reading from their work. Call in to Wollongong City Gallery for half an hour or the whole afternoon, and experience these extraordinary Australian writers. A co-production of South Coast Writers Centre and Viva La Gong. Supported by the Australian Poetry Centre.

12noon – 4.30pm, Saturday 11 October, 2008
The Fine Gallery, Level 2, Wollongong City Gallery, corner of Kembla and Burelli Streets Wollongong, NSW 2500

Free Event

More information: Ali Smith tel 02 4228 0151 or email

Bit nostalgic this one for me… Ten years I was down there, some thirty years ago.

HSC students will find it interesting. In her email Ali Smith says: students, teachers, and school librarians are more than welcome to come along and hear these poets read their work. I have highlighted poets Year 12 students/teachers may be especially interested in seeing. Deb Westbury will be there too, apparently.

Guess it’s nice that people are using my blog to publicise things too. 🙂


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Update to one of the most popular posts

Physical journeys and Peter Skrzynecki’s poems has been checked and updated today. There are some new resources there, but sadly one that seems to have gone, and one that may have.

There are also some new HSC videos in the VodPod.


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More on Journeys

That post on Physical journeys and Peter Skrzynecki’s poems has now had 2,743 individual visits. I thought I would share how I approach teaching this unit, keeping in mind it is not the only approach that would work.

First, I would have a study of the set poems for their own sake, almost (but not quite) ignoring the “Journey” aspect. Having looked at what they say, how they work, and how well they say it — a rather conventional critical reading of poetry — I would in that process have drawn into discussion much of the context of the poems in Australian migration history, European history, and Peter Skrzynecki’s own background. Then I would raise the question: “Looked at as journeys or documents of journeys what have these poems been offering?”

Then I would look at the Board of Studies brochure Then I would seek to refine just what “Journey” can mean. After that, I would revisit the poems to tease out the idea of physical journey, practising linking that idea both to the poems and to the Board of Studies material.

Then I would offer some examples of other texts showing how they might be deployed to support or contrast with the way journey is represented in the poems. I would almost certainly forbid use of these practice examples, encouraging students to find their own. I would ask them — and check this — to start compiling their own portfolio of journey texts, making sure they have a range of text types. I would exhort them to collect often and indeed to collect too much. I would hope they may have as many as twenty possibilities by the time the Trial HSC is approaching. That is not unrealistic — just one every week or two. And it is not hard.

This is what I say to students:

So many movies, stories, poems, songs, artworks, and so on, are really about journeys of one kind or another! There is no problem finding material, unless you leave it to the last minute. Each item collected should have basic notes saying what it is, where it came from, what it offers on the idea of “journey” and what poem/s it seems especially to link to. Later the twenty or so items can be sorted and reduced to the six best ones. That gives you plenty of choice when it comes to any exam question, as you will never actually use more than two. However, if you only know one or two you may find yourself working with material that does not quite fit the question.

There are no silver bullets, no short cuts. If, however, you are now in Term 4 starting this there is no need to panic. It really is not very hard. The less lazy you are about it, too, the easier it becomes!

What is hard is answering the question relevantly in forty minutes, deploying around five textual discussions to best advantage. Now that really takes serious practice. Use every opportunity for that your teachers give you!

Very important!

Do not, I mean do not, try to learn a “perfect” answer off by heart! See How can I improve my essay grades, especially in exams, without learning “model essays” off by heart?


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

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Posted by on November 7, 2007 in English studies, HSC, questions asked, student help


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From my personal site: The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Substantial additions have been made to this post, thanks to Adrian Phoon. Go to the original post for his comment. See also Just something to think about…, a follow-up post.

 The Secret River by Kate Grenville (2005).  Grenville has also written one of the best books on writing that I know. (Australian historical fiction)

As I said last week:

I mentioned in my comment on Jim Belshaw’s post that I am at last reading The Secret River by Kate Grenville, and I am enjoying it thoroughly. I think this reading is partly responsible for my looking into Macquarie connections to Cleveland House here in Surry Hills, a building I see every day! The site linked to the novel there is Kate Grenville’s own site, thoroughly worth exploring, especially the section on fiction and history. The Secret River (that is, the Hawkesbury) attracted some little controversy on that score, much of it misplaced. But I will take that up when I review the novel. You will see I have already given The Secret River a best read of 2007 tag though.

That still stands, now that I have finished.

The “Secret River” is today a major tourist attraction, and more, just north of Sydney, parts of it indeed inside Greater Sydney.

The climax of the novel is a massacre, and that has been the issue, it seems, that has led to its being caught up in controversy. Given, as the author has clearly stated, that this is a work of fiction, I don’t think it matters whether or not the events described actually took place in the real-world Hawkesbury Valley in the time of Lachlan Macquarie. Such events, however, did happen, and the novel makes a clear case for the way in which even close to such events their reporting could have been spun and muffled, to be forgotten before many years passed. I think the novel quite properly should caution us against the naive belief that written records tell the whole story.

a020561.jpgThe novel began, Kate Grenville tells us, as a work of non-fiction; she is fortunate enough to have a very interesting convict ancestor, Solomon Wiseman, about whom rather more is known and told than is the case with my ancestor Jacob. Some stirring tales appear in The Hawkesbury Historical Society’s pages. Grenville does her subject novelistic justice in that flesh-and-blood characters really emerge in her writing. It is true, nonetheless, that, while true to what we know of Aboriginal life and culture in that time and place, she does fail to render her Indigenous characters quite so fully. Perhaps given the perspective of her narrative this is not possible, but her convicts and emancipists are rendered brilliantly and individually.

The portrait of Wiseman on the right is alluded to in the last chapter of the novel.

I can really believe that (as Aluminium said in a comment here) readers will be drawn by the novel into an enthusiasm for Australian history, and that can’t be a bad thing after all.

Don’t think I am damning with faint praise; I’m not. This is one very fine novel.

See also Kate Grenville: Secret river, secret pastSunday Channel 9 August 7, 2005 and The Convict Trail.


North of the Hawkesbury region is the Hunter River and Newcastle. The University of Newcastle has a very fine Virtual Sourcebook for Aboriginal Studies in the Hunter Region, well worth examining. To the east of most of the territory covered by Kate Grenville’s novel and reaching down to northern Sydney lay the lands of the Guringai, whose history my nephew, himself a descendant of the Guringai, has explored: see A Guringai Family’s Story: guest entry by Warren Whitfield.


I deliberately minimised controversy in this post. Adrian in his comment noted that and I responded with some reasons. In writing that comment I found Warts and all: on writing “The Secret River” in the University of Sydney News. It is a good article. My reservations about the Aboriginal characters compared to the Europeans are explained there, I think. I could see Grenville had a problem. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on August 14, 2007 in Australian, works/authors, writing


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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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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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Good children’s literature site


Visit the site linked to that header*. Judith Ridge, the owner of that site, says:

Hello! Thank you for visiting the Misrule website and for taking the time to find out more about me. I’ve been involved with children’s literature in many capacities; as reader, teacher, arts program co-ordinator, editor, critic, acolyte and advocate!..

I have published reviews and critical articles about children’s literature in journals and publications such as Viewpoint: On Books for Young Adults, Magpies, The Melbourne Age, Australian Book Review, Good Reading Magazine, Australian Bookseller and Publisher and The Horn Book (USA).

I teach a class in writing for children in the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Sydney. I also tutor second year children’s literature at Macquarie University where I am currently working on completing my MA and then, hopefully, my PhD. My tutor is John Stephens and I am writing my thesis on retellings of fairy tales, particularly in YA novels.

You will find much good material here, and if you are a writer Judith also offers a manuscript assessment service for children’s authors.


That link now takes you to the new Misrule site.

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Posted by on January 17, 2007 in Australian, English studies, literature genres, works/authors


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Now what do I know about Malouf and Wordsworth…?


In 2005 I had two students who were reading David Malouf — or Wikipedia are both good places to start looking. One student was studying An Imaginary Life in the context of an “In the Wild” module also featuring Wordsworth. (He got Band 6 in the end.) Nature in is worth a visit. So of course is Wordsworth The other was studying The Great World as part of a Year 11 unit on “Visions of Australia”. Here is a site that fits Malouf into a postcolonial context. Could be useful.

Here is a 1996 interview with Malouf in which he talks about “The Conversations at Curlow Creek, and other matters such as God and paganism and the sacred.”

In January 2001 Malouf spoke with Ramona Koval on ABC Radio National; from his collection of short stories, Dream Stuff, Malouf read from one of the stories, called ‘Closer.’ He then talked about that story and his work. (This is a full transcript.)

This Introduction to The Great World is concise but a reasonable start.

This is one of the best things I have found so far for both books. Film Australia (PDF) has published these “viewing notes” for a documentary on Malouf also called An Imaginary Life.

This New York Times review of the novel An Imaginary Life is worth visiting, as is this one of The Great World. (If the New York Times demand registration, remember it is free – and useful.)

If you want a rather turgid essay in pomo style on An Imaginary Life, look at An Imaginary Life by David Malouf: The Struggle for the Sign, the Struggle for the Self”. Look too at “The Stranger in Three Novels by David Malouf” by Jorg Heinke, University of Kiel, Germany — even if it is oddly organised — or at least I think so.

On Wordsworth there is “Wordsworth’s poetry” by Anne Collins, from HSC Online. You could also do some very profitable time-wasting by doing a virtual tour of Wordsworth’s Cumbria. Then, and I do warn you in advance, look at William “The Interminable” Wordsworth (1770-1850) written by someone else who has found “The Prelude” to be great for insomnia…


Here is a beautiful site to look at: Nature, Beauty, and Power: The Romantics (Pitt State University). Another US university, Washington State, offers a plain no-nonsense introduction to Romanticism.

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Posted by on December 19, 2006 in Australian, English studies, HSC, literature genres, student help, works/authors


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