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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." …

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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

SCWC PROGRAM
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 scwc@1earth.net

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?

Note

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.

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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.

Later

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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