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Australian Literature and Film (5AAEB035)
Semester 1 / 2009


y separately published work icon Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence Doris Pilkington Garimara , St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 1996 Z126936 1996 single work biography (taught in 26 units)

'The film Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on this true account of Doris Nugi Garimara Pilkington's mother Molly, who as a young girl led her two sisters on an extraordinary 1,600 kilometre walk home. Under Western Australia's invidious removal policy of the 1930s, the girls were taken from their Aboriginal family at Jigalong on the edge of the Little Sandy Desert, and transported halfway across the state to the Native Settlement at Moore River, north of Perth...

The three girls - aged 8, 11 and 14 - managed to escape from the settlement's repressive conditions and brutal treatment. Barefoot without provisions or maps, they set out to find the rabbit-proof fence, knowing it passed near their home in the north. Tracked by native police and search planes, they hid in terror, surviving on bush tucker, desperate to return to the world they knew.

The journey to freedom - longer than many of the legendary walks of [the Australian nation's] explorer heroes... told from family recollections, letters between the authorities and the Aboriginal Protector, and ... newspaper reports of the runaway children.' Source: Publisher's blurb

y separately published work icon The One Day of the Year Alan Seymour , 1960 (Manuscript version)x400866 Z525120 1960 single work drama (taught in 11 units)

'Undoubtedly one of Australia's favourite plays, the One Day of the Year explores the universal theme of father-son conflict against the background of the beery haze and the heady, nostalgic sentimentality of Anzac Day. It is a play to make us question a standard institution - Anzac Day, the sacred cow among Australian annual celebrations - but it is the likeability and genuineness of the characters that give the play its memorable qualities: Alf, the nobody who becomes a somebody on this day of days; Mum, the anchor of the family; Hughie, their son, with all the uncertainties and rebelliousness of youth; and Wacka, the Anzac, with his simple, healing wisdom.'

(Description from publishers website)

form y separately published work icon Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer , ( dir. Rolf De Heer ) Australia : Fandango Australia Vertigo Productions , 2006 Z1262398 2006 single work film/TV (taught in 11 units)

A story within a story and overlaid with narration, Ten Canoes takes place in two periods in the past. The first story, filmed in black-and-white as a reference to the 1930s ethnographic photography of Donald Thompson, concerns a young man called Dayindi who takes part in his first hunt for goose eggs. During the course of several trips to hunt, gather and build a bark canoe, his older brother Minygululu tells him a story about their ancestors and the old laws. The story is also about a young man who had no wife but who coveted one of his brother's wives, and also of the stranger who disrupted the harmony of their lives. It is cautionary tale because Minygululu is aware that Dayinidi desires his young and pretty third wife.

The second story (shot in colour) is set much further back in time. Yeeralparil is a young man who desires the third wife of his older brother Ridjimiraril. When Ridjimiraril's second wife disappears, he suspects a man from another tribe has been seen near the camp. After he spears the stranger he discovers that he was wrong. Knowing that he must face the man's relatives he chooses Yeeralparil to accompany him during the ritual payback. When Ridjimiraril dies from his wounds the tribe's traditions decree that Yeeralparil must inherit his brother's wives. The burden of these responsibilities, however, is more than the young man expects.

form y separately published work icon Walkabout Edward Bond , ( dir. Nicholas Roeg ) Australia : Max L. Raab - Si Litvinoff Film Productions , 1971 Z1039037 1971 single work film/TV (taught in 6 units)

Adapted from James Vance Marshall's novel The Children, Walkabout begins with a father-of-two driving his fourteen-year-old daughter and six-year-old son into the desert. Overwhelmed by the pressure on his life, he plans to kill them and then commit suicide, but his plan goes wrong. The siblings wander the desert aimlessly until they meet a young Aboriginal boy who is on a solitary walkabout as part of his tribal initiation into manhood. The three become travelling companions. Gradually, sexual tension develops between the girl and the Aboriginal boy. When they approach white civilisation, the Aboriginal boy dances a night-long courtship dance, but the girl is ignorant of its meaning. When she and her brother awake in the morning, they find the boy dead, hanging from a tree. The brother and sister make their way to the nearby mining town, where they receive a cool welcome from the townsfolk.

form y separately published work icon Jedda Jedda The Uncivilised Charles Chauvel , Elsa Chauvel , ( dir. Charles Chauvel ) Australia : Charles Chauvel Productions , 1955 Z1382736 1955 single work film/TV (taught in 13 units)

'On a lonely cattle station in the Northern Territory, a newly born Aboriginal baby is adopted by a white woman in place of her own child who has died. The child is raised as a white child and forbidden any contact with the Aborigines on the station. Years later, Jedda is drawn by the mysteries of the Aboriginal people but restrained by her upbringing. Eventually she is fascinated by a full-blood Aboriginal, Marbuck, who arrives at the station seeking work and is drawn to his campfire by his song. He takes her away as his captive and returns to his tribal lands, but he is rejected by his tribe for having broken their marriage taboos. Pursued by the men from Jedda's station and haunted by the death wish of his own tribe, Marbuck is driven insane and finally falls, with Jedda, over a cliff.'

(Synopsis from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School website,

form y separately published work icon Gallipoli David Williamson , ( dir. Peter Weir ) Sydney : Associated R & R Films , 1981 Z948654 1981 single work film/TV (taught in 11 units)

The narrative begins in Western Australia in 1915 and follows the paths of Archie Hamilton and Frank Dunne, before and after their enlistment in the Australian Imperial Forces. Hamilton is the patriotic son of a grazier and Frank Dunne is a drifter with no great desire to fight for the British Empire. They meet as runners in an outback footrace and become best mates. After training in Egypt, they land at Gallipoli, just as the great Allied assaults of August 1915 are to begin.

Source: Australian Screen.

y separately published work icon Wild Cat Falling Colin Johnson , Sydney : Angus and Robertson , 1965 Z203627 1965 single work novel (taught in 13 units)

'Wild Cat Falling is the story of an Aboriginal youth, a 'bodgie' of the early sixties who grows up on the ragged outskirts of a country town, falls into petty crime, goes to gaol, and comes out to do battle once more with the society who put him there. Its publication in 1965 marked a unique literary event, for this was the first novel by any writer of Aboriginal blood to be published in Australia. As well, it is a remarkable piece of literature in its own right, expressing the dilemmas and conflicts of the young Aboriginal in modern Australian society with its memorable insight and stylishness.' (Publication summary)

y separately published work icon My Brilliant Career Miles Franklin , Edinburgh London : William Blackwood , 1901 Z161522 1901 single work novel (taught in 56 units)

'My Brilliant Career was written by Stella Franklin (1879-1954) when she was just nineteen years old. The novel struggled to find an Australian publisher, but was published in London and Edinburgh in 1901 after receiving an endorsement from Henry Lawson. Although Franklin wrote under the pseudonym 'Miles Franklin', Lawson’s preface makes it clear that Franklin is, as Lawson puts it 'a girl.'

'The novel relates the story of Sybylla Melvyn, a strong-willed young woman of the 1890s growing up in the Goulburn area of New South Wales and longing to be a writer.' (Publication summary)

Chopper Mark Brandon Read , 1991- 1991- series - author (taught in 1 units)
y separately published work icon The Season at Sarsaparilla : A Charade of Suburbia in Two Acts Patrick White , 1962 (Manuscript version)x400826 Z865952 1962 single work drama (taught in 11 units)
form y separately published work icon Beneath Clouds Ivan Sen , ( dir. Ivan Sen ) Sydney : Autumn Films , 2001 Z1440560 2001 single work film/TV (taught in 12 units) Blue eyed, fair skinned Lena is the daughter of an Aboriginal mother, living in a small country town. She longs for the romantic ideal of her absent father and his Irish heritage. When her home life feels set to implode, she hits the road with little money, a backpack and a photo of her dad. When Lena misses her bus to Sydney, she meets up with Vaughn, an Aboriginal teenager who has run away from a minimum-security prison in the desperate hope of reaching his ill mother. Vaughn is hardened by his anger at the world. Initially the two reluctant travelling companions are suspicious and wary of each other, but their journey, mostly by foot and the odd lift, builds an understanding between them. -- Libraries Australia
form y separately published work icon Rabbit-Proof Fence Christine Olsen , ( dir. Phillip Noyce ) Australia : Rumbalara Films Olsen Levy Productions , 2002 Z919523 2002 single work film/TV (taught in 15 units)

Based on real life events that occurred in 1931, Rabbit-Proof Fence is the story of three mixed-race Aboriginal children who are forcibly abducted from their mothers by the Western Australian government. Molly (aged fourteen), her sister Daisy (aged eight), and their cousin Gracie (aged ten) are taken from their homes at Jigalong, situated in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, at the orders of the Protector of Aborigines, A.O. Neville, and sent to an institution at Moore River to be educated and trained as domestic servants. After a few days, Molly leads the other two girls in an escape. What ensues is an epic journey that tests the girls' will to survive and their hope of finding the rabbit-proof fence to guide them home.

Although they are pursued by the institution's Aboriginal tracker and the police, Molly knows enough about bush craft to help them hide their tracks. They head east in search of the world's longest fence - built to keep rabbits out - because Molly knows that this will lead them back to Jigalong. Over the course of nine weeks, the girls walk almost 2,400 kilometres before Gracie is captured attempting to catch a train. Molly and Daisy avoid capture but eventually collapse from exhaustion on the saltpans not far from Jigalong. When they wake, they see the spirit bird, an eagle, flying overhead. Its significance gives the girls the extra energy they need and they are able to make it back to their home.

form y separately published work icon Night Cries : A Rural Tragedy Tracey Moffatt , Jimmy Little (composer), ( dir. Tracey Moffatt ) Alice Springs : Chili Films , 1989 Z142554 1989 single work film/TV (taught in 12 units)

A middle-aged Aboriginal woman nurses her old white mother. During her tending of the old woman, she expresses her frustrations and previously suppressed anger, her own need for warmth and love, and her personal loneliness. Her memories and dreams invade her nerve-fraying routine until the old woman dies and she begins to experience an immense sense of loss.

In the ABC Radio National program, It's Not A Race in May 2017, Marcia Langton notes that Night Cries is the retelling of Jedda as a horror story.

form y separately published work icon My Brilliant Career Eleanor Witcombe , ( dir. Gillian Armstrong ) Adelaide : Margaret Fink Productions , 1979 Z817179 1979 single work film/TV (taught in 7 units)

Based on the book by Miles Franklin, this feature film tells the story of an Australian country girl who, at the end of the nineteenth century, wants to make her own way in the outside world.

Rejecting an offer of marriage from a wealthy suitor (who is also her childhood friend), she instead finds herself obligated to work off her father's debt to a neighbouring family, for whom she works as governess and housekeeper. Returning home, she again rejects her suitor's proposal, this time in favour of writing a novel based on her experiences.

form y separately published work icon Chopper Andrew Dominik , ( dir. Andrew Dominik ) Australia : Pariah Films , 2000 Z1361008 2000 single work film/TV crime (taught in 5 units) Based on Mark 'Chopper' Read's autobiography, Chopper is an exploration of the life and complex psyche of a vicious thug who resorts to violence in an instant but can just as easily be filled with remorse. The narrative begins in 1991 with Read in gaol and then shifts back in time to Pentridge Prison in 1978. It was then that Read established his reputation in jail by stabbing Keithy George, a member of the much-feared criminal gang associated with the Victorian Painters and Dockers Union, and also by getting some fellow inmates to cut off his ears (why Read did this is unclear as he provides at two different reasons in his books). 'Chopper' is later stabbed by his best mate, Jimmy Loughnan, who is attempting to fulfil a contract to kill him. When 'Chopper' is eventually freed in 1985, he moves back home to live with his dad but becomes paranoid, not only because of the large quantities of speed he's consuming but also because he's become a police informant. He shoots a drug dealer called 'The Turk' outside a nightclub in St Kilda, but the police refuse to believe him, and later shoots an old drug-dealing associate, only to drive his victim to hospital. He also later threatens his old mate Jimmy Loughnan with a gun, then apologises. Although Read is eventually arrested for the murder of 'The Turk,' he is acquitted but given a five-year sentence for other offences. The narrative then returns to 1991, by which time Read has sold 250,000 copies of his first book, From the Inside, and become a celebrity.
form y separately published work icon Muriel's Wedding P. J. Hogan , ( dir. P. J. Hogan ) 1994 Australia : House and Moorhouse Films , 1994 Z486726 1994 single work film/TV humour satire (taught in 5 units)

Muriel is a shy young woman living in the seaside resort of Porpoise Spit, a suburban wonderland of shopping malls, marine parks, and holiday homes. The excessive expectations of her 'friends' and family cause her to take refuge in a dreamworld of ABBA songs. She also dreams of a Prince Charming who will rescue her from her dull and boring life. Then one day, she steals some money and goes on a tropical vacation where she meets a wacky friend, changes her name to Mariel, and turns her entire world upside down.


Module outline

The module introduces students to a range of texts drawn from Australian literature and film to afford insight into the conflicts and transformations that energise contemporary Australia. Literary works may depict the same events or explore similar themes as the films, or be the original text on which the film is based. Themes include the 1970s revival of the Australian film industry, the depiction and critique of suburbia, and the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures in Australia.

General aims

The module will introduce students to a series of twentieth-century Australian novels, plays, and films. It will enable students: to gain an overview of the historic economic and cultural conditions under which Australian literature and film have been produced; to investigate the preoccupations of post-war Australian cultural criticism; and to analyse the ways in which such orthodoxies have been challenged by later interpretationscritical and creativeof Australian history and culture.


One essay of 4,000 words (100% of final mark)

Supplementary Texts

To view in own time

Baz Luhrmann, Dir., Australia (2008)

Other Details

Levels: Undergraduate