Why are Australian authors obsessed with killing off kangaroos?



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George Stubbs, ‘The Kongouro from New Holland’ (1772), oil painting, detail of head.
Ashley Van Haeften/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Donna Mazza, Edith Cowan University

Kangaroos are the most visible of Australia’s unique animals, but despite their charm and national icon status, Australian writers perpetually kill them off.

A kangaroo appears struggling in a rabbit trap, doomed and dying in Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things, while Tim Winton has one killed on the road, dissected and fed to dogs in Breath. These are just two of many Australian authors who have represented the kangaroo as a victim.

Kangaroos were a creature of wonder for early European explorers such as Dampier and Banks, but it didn’t take long for their public image to descend to that of a pest. Early settlers considered them competition, nibbling all the best pasture quicker than their sheep and cows, and they soon took up arms against the bounding menace.

The wild kangaroo population of Australia is still commercially slaughtered for dog food. In New South Wales, landholders and volunteers can be simply licensed to kill them for reasons of damage control, and some parts of Western Australia have an open permit system for non-commercial shooting. On any given day, there are usually several being mashed into the blue metal of highways, surrounded by crows and in various states of decomposition.

The expendable nature of the kangaroo may be a widely held view in Australia, but it’s a bitter irony that the creature which defines us to the rest of the world is perpetually under siege, in life and in literature.

Fiction’s dead roos

Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley (2015).
Goodreads

In Stephen Daisley’s 2016 novel Coming Rain, the author kills off a kangaroo with “a great thump” against the side of a truck, giving a gruesome description of the sweetening of the tail for stew.

The live joey almost has its head smashed against a tree but, owing to its “cuteness” it becomes a pet, wearing a straw hat. The stereotype of the cute joey is alive and well in children’s fiction too, but in adult fiction the kangaroo is dead.

In Tim Winton’s Breath, narrator Pikelet comes across surf guru, Sando, who has hit a kangaroo with his Kombi ute. Sando finishes it off with the jack handle from the car, pounded a couple of times into its head. His response to this act is very matter-of-fact: “This is what happens. And it isn’t lovely.”

Sando drags the “roadkill” into the tray of his ute and takes it home to butcher it. He is prepared for this, with a meat hook hanging from a tree, and he skins and guts the kangaroo. Pikelet observes this with some emotional discomfort, “shrinking from him a little” but accepts the flourbag of meat to take home to his parents who “wouldn’t eat roo meat in a million years”. He “hoiks” the meat into the bushes on the ride home.

Charlotte Wood considers the horror of roadkill in The Children, where Australian animals are killed by passing traffic and compared to contaminated “cushions”. Wood also kills a kangaroo (and a lot of rabbits) in The Natural Way of Things. Central character Yolanda snares a “large grey kangaroo” in a rabbit trap and finds it still alive:

Vainly, the kangaroo shifts and scuffles again. Then it lowers its head and lengthens its mighty neck, black eyes fixed on them, and lets out three long, hoarse snarls. Its snout fattens, nostrils flared.

Fearful of the sharp claws on its “delicate forefeet” they sit beside it, wondering how to set it free and instead bring it water and leave it to die slowly.

To the Islands by Randolph Stow (1958).
Goodreads

The image of the kangaroo is linked to death through earlier works from Australian authors too. The iconic 1940 poem, Native-Born by Eve Langley presents a detailed account of a dead kangaroo, while Randolph Stow’s 1958 novel To the Islands features kangaroos and wallabies being shot and eaten.

Australian fiction is, so often, deeply entangled with nature. Anxiety around the bush, as described in D.H. Lawrence’s novel Kangaroo back in the 1920s, is a feature of settler Australian fiction, tied together with violence, trauma and a sense of the uncanny.

Docile and violent all at once, the watchful gaze and twitching ears of kangaroos are, perhaps, reminders of that uneasiness the settlers felt.

The fact that Australian literature seems intent on killing off this national icon is deeply disturbing – but it is also deeply ingrained.

In contrast with kangaroos, thylacines are well and truly alive in Australian literature despite being extinct since 1936. They appear in over 250 works listed in the AustLit database of Australian literature, including 18 novels since 1988.

Among these are Julia Leigh’s The Hunter, Sonya Hartnett’s Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf and Louis Nowra’s Into That Forest, as well as children’s fiction, drama, film, short fiction and poetry. These thylacines often meet with violent ends, but their aliveness in fiction is astounding compared to the kangaroo.

Contemporary Australia is sentimental about the thylacine as a strange creature lost because of “ignorance”. They are now a thing of wonder, destroyed by misguided colonial settlers who are long gone. But if they weren’t extinct, would we treat them any better? Would we protect them? Often that is the point writers are trying to make by invoking the extinct “tiger” in the first place.

Our relationship with kangaroos (and thylacines), both in fiction and in reality, is symptomatic of what Stow called our “bitter heritage”. So perhaps it is unsurprising, given the violence of colonisation, that it has had (and is still having) an impact on the way writers represent the Australian landscape and all who inhabit it.

This article is based on research published in a forthcoming article for Antipodes.The Conversation

Donna Mazza, Senior Lecturer in Creative Arts, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Eight great Australian fictional scientists worth reading about



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Reading fiction about scientists can help us to think differently about science.
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Anna-Sophie Jürgens, Australian National University

Australian scientists have led many crucial scientific breakthroughs – from the manufacturing and processing of penicillin, to the first in-vitro fertilisation pregnancy. Yet there is still a need for science to be more widely appreciated in our broader culture.

One way of doing this is through storytelling. Novels with scientist protagonists can bring science to life and capture our imagination. They can personalise scholarly research and the drive for knowledge, and also make us think differently about the ethical dilemmas that emerge from scientific advances. Even stereotypical depictions of cold, obsessive “mad scientists” can get us thinking about the right and wrong way to do science, and about the role of science in culture.

Here, then, are eight stories set in Australia, presenting a variety of fictional scientists.

Dr Clive Kinnear, Wish

Wish by Peter Goldsworthy (1995).
Goodreads

Peter Goldsworthy’s Wish reinterprets both Frankenstein and Pygmalion, exploring the ethical dilemmas of a group of scientists who push the limits of biotechnology to create Eliza, a charmingly human ape.

The central scientist characters – Dr Clive Kinnear and his associates – also teach sign language to the gorilla.

When Eliza’s language teacher falls in love with her, we are forced to re-evaluate our assumptions about the boundaries between animal and human, and about advances in genetic engineering.

The novel draws on actual research into ape-language acquisition carried out in the US in the 1960s and 70s. Goldsworthy also acknowledges Peter Singer, the noted Australian philosopher of animal welfare and rights, as an influence on the book.

Professor Koenig, Charades

Charades by Janette Turner Hospital (1987).
Goodreads

Janette Turner Hospital’s novel Charades features a MIT physicist and candidate for the Nobel Prize, Professor Koenig, who has an affair with a provincial Australian girl in search of her lost father.

It is a wildly imaginative novel blending a personal story with nuclear physics and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (which articulates that the position and velocity of an object cannot be measured exactly).

The novel playfully revolves around Koenig’s academic writing and Heisenberg-inspired ideas such as the line: “a sense of the solidity of matter, is one of our most persistent illusions.”

Dr John Parker, White Eye

White Eye by Blanche d’Alpuget (1994).
Goodreads

According to academic Roslynn Haynes, who studies stereotypes of scientists in pop culture, many stories depict scientists as maniacal and obsessed with their research to the point of madness and moral compromise.

Dr John Parker in Blanche d’Alpuget’s 1993 novel White Eye is an Australian example of the fictional ruthless, megalomaniac scientist.

A coldblooded researcher, he uses unethical methods to produce and test a vaccine against a virus that he more or less invented. This virus makes humans infertile as a side effect.

Parker wants to use this highly infectious and extremely virulent creation as a weapon against overpopulation – and he commits atrocious crimes to achieve his goal.

Della Gilmore, Fall Girl

Fall Girl by Toni Jordan (2010).
Goodreads

Della Gilmore, the protagonist in Toni Jordan’s 2010 novel Fall Girl is an equally glorious caricature of scientist stereotypes.

Della’s father and grandfather travel the country in a buggy selling ‘Ol’ Doc Grayson’s “Magical Elixir good for bursitis, thrombitis, arthritis and anything that ails you at county fairs”. No wonder, Della becomes a con-artist herself.

In this novel she impersonates an evolutionary biologist and invents a fantastic research project (to trap a Tasmanian Tiger in Wilsons Promontory National Park). Her potential sponsor turns out to be a con-artist himself – one who humbugs the humbugger.

Jordan has previously worked as a molecular biologist. And this is a funny novel that invites us to think about the power of scientific jargon. Here, science is truly fiction.

William Caldwell, Love and The Platypus

Love and the Platypus by Nicholas Drayson (2007).
Goodreads

To equally pursue “knowledge per se”, to unlock “the secrets of the organism” and to act as an explorer “not of untrodden lands, perhaps, but of the mysteries of nature”.

These are the reasons why the naturalist William Caldwell travels to Australia in Nicholas Drayson’s 2007 novel Love and The Platypus.

Caldwell’s research is “purely platypusical”: he aims to determine whether the platypus really does lay eggs.

But the “spirit of discovery – that was why he was here, was it not?”

Despite the obsessive nature of his scientific enquiry, Caldwell finds much more in Australia than just extraordinary animals.

Daniel Rooke, The Lieutenant

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville (2007).
Goodreads

Daniel Rooke, Kate Grenville’s protagonist in The Lieutenant, is not a scientist, strictly speaking.

However, he is erudite and eager for knowledge – a “man of science” as he is called in the book.

Rooke moves from Europe to the newly founded colony of New South Wales, where he builds an observatory.

He hopes to add to the world’s sum of knowledge as dramatically as a Galileo or a Kepler, contemplating the universe and scanning the heavens in search for a particular comet.

But what he finally studies is human nature: of convicts, settlers, fellow officers and the Indigenous people he meets.

Charles Redbourne, Rifling Paradise

Rifling Paradise by Jem Poster (2006).
Goodreads

British novelist Jem Poster’s 2006 novel Rifling Paradise is the story of Charles Redbourne, a 19th-century English landowner who travels to Australia to pursue his passion as an amateur naturalist.

As he plunges deeper into the wilderness, Redbourne cultivates a flexibility of mind and comes to understand that his practice of science – and the expectations he had of his journey – were sophisticated modes of ignorance.

He understands that his “approach to the natural world is imaginative rather than analytical” and his expectations concerning his scientific journey here “had been tinged with fantasy”.

Crucially challenged by an artist he meets, he changes from a believer in science and a confident taxidermist into a vegan who realises that a marvellous order – and the sublime – can also be found in the world of thought and art.

Clayton Hercules Emmet, The Flesheaters

The Flesheaters by David Ireland (1972).
Goodreads

Clayton Hercules Emmet, a character in David Ireland’s 1972 novel The Flesheaters, both invokes and destroys the scientist stereotype.

Clayton, or Clay, is a “science person” whose “days were spent at the university killing small animals and waiting for a research grant in medical engineering”. His “constant effort to add to the sum of human knowledge has something of fever in it”. Indeed, Clay lives in a lunatic asylum.

One day, while trying to talk about science at a “worker-student-intellectual happening”, he fails to advocate the value of science as a means for social progress – its “saving truth”. Clay is a 20th-century caricature of a scientist who embodies the challenges of communicating the discipline to a broad audience.The Conversation

Anna-Sophie Jürgens, Postdoctoral Fellow in Comparative Literature, Popular Entertainment Studies and Science in Fiction Studies, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Five tips to make school bookshelves more diverse and five books to get you started



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Children need to be able to see themselves in the books they read.
Cockburn Libraries/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Helen Joanne Adam, Edith Cowan University

A lack of diverse books is failing children from minority backgrounds. This is something that should concern all Australians.

I studied five Australian early learning settings and found less than 5% of books contained cultural diversity. My more recent findings show educators are struggling to use books in ways that promote intercultural understandings.




Read more:
Eight Australian picture books that celebrate family diversity


Diverse books can help achieve principles of diversity written into Australian education polices. The potential of diverse books in addressing these principles and equity more generally is too important to ignore.

How books impact little readers socially and academically

Reading to children has a powerful impact on their academic and intellectual development. Children learn about themselves and the world through the books they’re exposed to. Importantly, children can learn understanding and respect for themselves and for those who are different to them.

The majority of children’s books depict white main characters.
Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash, CC BY

But a lack of diverse books means we have a serious problem. Currently, children from minority backgrounds rarely see themselves reflected in the books they’re exposed to. Research over the last two decades shows the world presented in children’s books is overwhelmingly white, male and middle class.

For children from minority groups, this can lead to a sense of exclusion. This can then impact on their sense of identity and on their educational and social outcomes.

Stereotypes and misrepresentation

The evidence regarding Indigenous groups across the world is even more alarming. Research shows these groups are rarely represented. And, if represented at all, are most likely to be represented in stereotypical or outdated ways.

Many educators or adults unwittingly promote stereotypical, outdated or exotic views of minority groups. This can damage the outcomes for children from those groups. Children from dominant cultural groups can view themselves as “normal” and “others” as different.




Read more:
How children’s picturebooks can disrupt existing language hierarchies


In my recent study, I found the book collections in early childhood settings were overwhelmingly monocultural. Less than 5% of the books contained any characters who were not white. And in those few books, the minority group characters played a background role to a white main character.

Particularly concerning was the lack of representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Of 2,377 books, there were only two books available to children that contained Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander characters. Only one of these was a story book.

In this book, the Aboriginal character was portrayed as a semi-naked person playing a didgeridoo in the outback. There were no books showing actual everyday lifestyles or views of Aboriginal people.

Teachers are uncertain

The accompanying practice of teachers may also be counterproductive to achieving equitable outcomes for children from minority backgrounds. The teachers in my study were keen and committed to the children in their care. They were passionate about the importance of reading to children. But when it came to selecting books, they struggled to know what books to select and how best to use them.

Teachers also need support to learn how to select diverse books.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Other research has found similar uncertainty among teachers. Some teachers overlooked the importance of diversity altogether. Some saw diversity as a special extra to address occasionally rather than an essential part of everyday practice.

How can we make bookshelves more diverse?

The call for more diverse booksfor children is gaining momentum around the world. The value of diverse books for children’s educational, social and emotional outcomes is of interest to all.

The voices of Aboriginal and minority group writers calling for change are gaining momentum. But there is still much to be done.

The recent development of a database from the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literacy is an important step. Publications of diverse books are still very much in the minority but some awareness and promotion of diverse books is increasing.

These important steps forward could be supported with better training for teachers and increased discussion among those who write, publish and source books for children. Here are five tips to help you build a more diverse book collection.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Educators and parents can strive to create libraries of inclusive books. This can ensure every child has the opportunity to achieve the substantial benefits we know books can bring. Here are five book titles to get you started on building a more diverse collection of books.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

When we share diverse books with children, they gain opportunities to see themselves reflected and affirmed. Importantly we broaden children’s perspectives and understandings of those that are different to themselves.




Read more:
Telling the real story: diversity in young adult literature


This supports children to value others as unique and equal individuals.
Inclusive book collections which depict and affirm a diverse range of children, will contribute to equitable outcomes for all children.The Conversation

Helen Joanne Adam, Lecturer in Literacy Education and Children’s Literature, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Five ways to boost Australian writers’ earnings



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By changing our approach to author rights, we can help writers earn more.
shutterstock

Rebecca Giblin, Monash University and Joshua Yuvaraj, Monash University

Who makes the money in publishing? Nobody. This often repeated dark joke highlights a serious issue. The most recent figures show that Australian authors earn just $12,900 a year from writing work (the median, at $2,800, was even worse). Indeed, authors can gross less than $5,000 for Miles Franklin-nominated titles that took two or more years to write.

Fixing this isn’t as simple as reaching more deeply into publisher pockets, because most of those are empty too. While the major international houses are thriving (Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House recently reported 16% profits), publishing Australian stories can be financially perilous.

In independent publishing, 10% of the book sale goes to the author, perhaps another 10% to the printer, and up to a whopping 70% for distribution. What’s left has to pay the publisher, editor, marketers, admin staff and keep the lights on.

But we can improve our approach to author rights. Here are five lessons we can learn from elsewhere to help Australian writers earn more money.




Read more:
Scrounging for money: how the world’s great writers made a living


#1: Give authors stronger out of print rights

Traditionally, contractual “out of print” clauses have let authors reclaim their rights when a print run has sold out and the publisher doesn’t want to invest in another. But in our recent analysis of almost 150 contracts in the Australian Society of Authors archive, we found 85% of contracts with these clauses allowed authors to reclaim their rights only when the book was “not available in any edition”.

These days, books can be kept available (at least digitally or via print-on-demand) forever – but that doesn’t mean their publishers are still actively promoting them.

A better approach is to allow authors to reclaim their rights towards the end of a work’s commercial life, determined with reference to objective criteria like the number of copies sold or royalties earned in the previous year. The Australian Society of Authors recommends authors only sign contracts that have this meaningful kind of out-of-print clause – but many publishers still try to get authors to sign up to unacceptable terms.




Read more:
How to read the Australian book industry in a time of change


A growing number of countries (including France, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Macedonia and Brazil mandate author rights based on objective criteria. The French law is an interesting model. There, authors can get their rights back if a book has been published for at least four years, and they haven’t been credited royalties for at least two. This opens up new possibilities for the author to license it to another publisher, or even sell it directly to libraries or consumers.

Rebecca Giblin on the problems with publishing contracts and the case for new author rights.

#2: ‘Use it or lose it’: return author rights when they’re not being used

Publishers take very broad rights to most books: in our recent archival analysis we found 83% took worldwide rights, and 43% took rights in all languages. It’s easy to take rights – but if publishers do so, they should be obliged to either use them or give them back.

To that end we can learn from the “use it or lose it” laws that bind publishers in some parts of Europe. In Spain and Lithuania, for example, authors can get their rights back for languages that are still unexploited after five years.

#3: Introduce a ‘bestseller’ clause to contracts

Of course, it’s not always the case that there’s no money in publishing: sometimes a title that was expected to sell 5,000 copies sells 5,000,000. That changes the economics enormously: but in many cases, the contract only provides the same old 10% revenue for the author. For works that achieve unexpected success, we can learn from Germany and the Netherlands (and the proposed new EU copyright law). They have “bestseller” clauses that give authors the right to share fairly in unexpected windfalls arising from their work.

#4: Legally enshrine the right to fair payment

Even where there’s not much money to be made, the author should still receive a fair share. Again, Germany and the Netherlands lead the way on this. There, authors are entitled to “fair” or “equitable” payment for their work – and can enforce those rights if their pay is too low.

These laws don’t set a dollar amount, since what is “fair” depends on all the circumstances. However, such laws at least provide a minimum floor. If the contracted amount is unfair or inequitable, authors have a legal right to redress.

#5: Put time limits on transfers

In Australia, copyright lasts for the life of the author, and then another 70 years after that. Publishers almost always take rights for that full term – only 3% of the contracts between publishers and authors we looked at took less. But publishers don’t need that long to recoup their investments. In the US, authors can reclaim their rights from intermediaries 35 years after they licensed or transferred them.

In Canada, copyrights transfer automatically to heirs 25 years after an author dies. We used to have the same law in Australia, but it was abolished for spurious reasons about 50 years ago. If we reintroduced a similar time limit on transfers, it would open up new opportunities for authors and their heirs (for example, to license or sell to a different publisher, libraries or direct to the public).

It’s true that there’s often not much money in publishing. But by changing our approach to author rights, we can help writers earn more and make Australian books more freely available.The Conversation

Rebecca Giblin, ARC Future Fellow; Associate Professor, Monash University and Joshua Yuvaraj, PhD Candidate, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ten ways teacher librarians improve literacy in schools


Margaret Kristin Merga, Edith Cowan University

Australian schools constantly strive to improve the literacy outcomes of their students. Supporting literacy achievement for struggling readers is particularly important because these readers have their disadvantage compounded: capable students develop “richer” skills through continued exposure to reading, and the gap between them and struggling readers widens.

The number of Australian students deemed “low performers” in reading literacy proficiency has been rising over time. Our percentage of high performers is shrinking – nearly one in five adolescents are in the low performer category.




Read more:
Six things you should do when reading with your kids


With school about to start for the year, we should consider how we can optimise support for struggling readers. Young people’s literacy attainment significantly shapes their academic, vocational and social potential. More than seven million adult Australians have their opportunities limited by their literacy level.

Research suggests the presence of qualified library staff in school libraries is associated with better student performance in literacy. But until now, little was known about what specifically they do to achieve this. My new research gives us insight into these key practices.

What do they do?

In 2018, I visited 30 schools in urban and rural sites as part of the Teacher Librarians as Australian Literature Advocates in Schools project. I interviewed teacher librarians to explore a range of questions, including the role they play as literacy educators.

For some children, silent reading time is the only time they have to read.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

There are 40 recurring literacy support strategies used by teacher librarians. But my recent paper focuses on ten strategies that have a particularly strong link to supporting struggling readers:

1. Identification of struggling readers. Teacher librarians support the timely identification of struggling readers through the data they collect on student performance. The sooner struggling readers are identified, the sooner the school can help them.

2. Providing age and skill-appropriate materials for struggling readers. Teacher librarians match students with age-appropriate materials they can manage and topics and genres they prefer. The more a student enjoys and is interested in reading, the more likely they are to keep it up.

3. Teaching students how to choose books they like. Both children in primary and secondary schools have suggested they would read more if it were easier to choose books that appeal to them. Teacher librarians teach students how to do this.

4. Support for students with special needs and readers at risk. For example, Hannah, a teacher librarian, described working with “a young boy who is dyslexic, and I was reading to him and made a dyslexic error, and went back and explained what I’d done and he said, ‘Yeah, I do that, too.’” She then connected him with age and skill-appropriate materials, and he went on to read “an enormous amount”.

5. Matching struggling readers to appropriate books for their skill level. Research suggests when struggling readers have texts matched appropriately with their ability and personal interest, they are more persistent, invested, and use more cognitive skills. Teacher librarians show expertise in making good matches.

6. Promoting access to books. Access to books is positively related to reading motivation, reading skills, reading frequency and positive attitudes toward reading. Teacher librarians make their books accessible. Francesca described regular use of a pop-up library:

We take [it] out into the wilds. And you know, kids will come up and go, ‘oh, what have you got, what have you got.’”

7. Making books and reading socially acceptable. Where young people believe books are socially acceptable, they’re more likely to read and have a positive attitude toward reading. Reading frequency is associated with literacy benefits, so this is ideal. Teacher librarians use a variety of strategies to enhance how books are viewed socially in their schools, including facilitating peer recommendations.

8. Reading to students beyond the early years. Reading aloud offers a range of benefits in the early years and beyond, including an increased enjoyment of reading and increased motivation. Libba described reading aloud to the teenage boys in her classes as a wonderful experience that was very well received. One boy even stated: “that was beautiful”.




Read more:
Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read


9. Facilitating silent reading time. Though opportunities for silent reading at school may be limited, for some struggling readers, it’s the only book reading they do. Teacher librarians act as keen advocates for silent reading in their library and more broadly in the school. And something is better than nothing, especially for readers who struggle.

10. Preparing students for high stakes literacy testing. Achievement on high-stakes literacy tests is essential for graduation in Western Australia, a controversial move which has seen graduation rates slide. A similar initiative has been explored but rejected in NSW.

Teacher librarians supported struggling readers to achieve this essential academic goal through a range of initiatives. For example, teacher librarian Stephanie supported students to use practice online testing programs in her library, which gave students the practice they needed to sit both NAPLAN and online literacy and numeracy assessment (OLNA) tests.

Why does this matter?

Teacher librarians in Australian schools are a valuable resource often taken for granted. They have faced significant budgetary cuts in recent times, despite a 2011 government inquiry into school libraries. Teacher librarians noted they play an important educative role in our schools.




Read more:
Six things you can do to get boys reading more


Recent findings suggest teacher librarians’ morale and related sense of job security may be low. If schools and policy-makers wish to improve students’ literacy outcomes, they should invest in school libraries and our dual-qualified teacher librarians.The Conversation

Margaret Kristin Merga, Senior Lecturer in Education, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ten great Australian beach reads set at the beach



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The beach is a common setting for Australian novels, which often capture its darker side.
boxer_bob/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Liz Ellison, CQUniversity Australia

Australians flock to the beach over the summer holidays: Bondi alone had 2.9 million visitors in 2017 – 2018. But while tourism campaigns often portray the beach as an idyllic, isolated haven, many of our beach stories depict it as a darker, more crowded and complex place.

Here are ten Australian beach stories (in no particular order) worth reading this summer.

Floundering by Romy Ash

Romy Ash’s debut novel Floundering, shortlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin award, is a captivating, sometimes chilling story of two young boys who are taken, without warning, by their mother to a beachside caravan park.

Left to their own devices, the boys must make the most of their time by the beach without anything but their school bags and uniforms.

The un-named regional beach in this novel is uncomfortable, “a location of risk and danger” as author Robert Drewe once described it, and sometimes reveals the worst ways in which nature and humanity meet. It’s a refuge for people looking to escape from city life, a stark comparison to more urbanised beaches.

Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey

When I tell people that I research the Australian beach, often their first response is to ask if I’ve watched Puberty Blues. Perhaps Australia’s most iconic beach text, the book (first published in 1979) is the story of two friends growing up in beachside suburbs of Sydney. It was adapted for film by Bruce Beresford in 1981.

Both the book and film, with their characteristic colloquialisms and Australian slang, capture a sense of Australian coastal identity while revealing uncomfortable truths about gender, sex, and drugs for the teenagers they depict.

Australian stories about the beach are often male-centred and written by men. Puberty Blues is an important contribution to beach literature because of Debbie and Sue, its female protagonists, and their perspectives on a blokey world.

Time’s Long Ruin by Stephen Orr

In 1966, the three Beaumont children disappeared from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide. They were last seen in the company of a tall, blond man. Despite continued searching, even earlier this year, they have never been found.

Time’s Long Ruin (2010) is a fictionalised account of the disappearance of three children as told through the eyes of their young neighbour. Loosely based on the Beaumont story, Orr captures the dread of the aftermath for those left behind who knew and loved the children, the challenge of dealing with false leads and unreliable information, and the growing realisation that they will likely never be found.

The case of the Beaumont children had an enormous impact on Australian culture. My mother, who was a young girl when they disappeared, still recalls how her parents would worry about her momentarily being out of sight at the beach at this time.

Breath by Tim Winton

Breath, published in 2008, earned Tim Winton his fourth Miles Franklin award and was recently adapted into a film, directed by and starring Simon Baker.

On the surface, this novel is about surfing. But it asks deep questions about masculinity, and boys’ attitudes towards sex, while capturing the feel of Australian coastal life in the 1970s.

Winton’s writings often engage with the ocean, the coast, and the beach – usually in West Australia, where he lives. His memoirs have revealed his love for the coastal landscape. As he writes in Land’s Edge (1993): “There is nowhere else I’d rather be, nothing else I’d rather be doing. I am at the beach looking west with the continent behind me as the sun tracks down to the sea. I have my bearings”.

The Empty Beach by Peter Corris

Peter Corris died in August, after publishing 102 novels. The Empty Beach (1983) was released early in his career and is the fourth novel featuring the private investigator Cliff Hardy – a homegrown, hard-boiled detective, firmly located in Sydney. It was adapted for film in 1985.

In this book, Hardy is investigating the disappearance of John Singer, missing and presumed dead. He begins his probe in the rough, working class Bondi of the early 1980s. Corris captures Bondi Beach through the eyes of his protagonist, depicting it as a seedy extension of the city.

Hassled by junkies, threatened by mobsters; Hardy spends much of the novel embroiled in the corrupt underbelly of Sydney’s criminal kingpins, never far from the now infamous shoreline.

The True Colour of the Sea, by Robert Drewe

Having lived in many coastal spots across the country, including Perth, Sydney, and Byron Bay, Robert Drewe’s stories regularly capture that very familiar, domestic sense of a beachside life.

Drewe’s The Bodysurfers (1987), a collection of short stories, became a bestseller.

His memoirs and short stories are all infused by the beach landscape, and this latest collection is no different.

As the narrator writes in Dr Pacific, the opening story in his new collection:
“One thing’s for sure – it’s my love of the ocean that keeps me going. You know what I call the ocean? Dr Pacific. All I need to keep me fit and healthy is my daily consultation with Dr Pacific.”

Atomic City by Sally Breen

Sally Breen lives and works on the Gold Coast, and that strip of high density development on the beach works its way into much of her writing.

With its high rise skyline under a big sky, Surfers Paradise has been called a “pleasure dome” by Frank Moorhouse. But Atomic City (published in 2013), set largely in the lofty apartment buildings and businesses that abut, and look out on, the beach, captures perfectly the grift and graft of this place.

Jade arrives on the Gold Coast to make herself over and get rich. Together with shady croupier “The Dealer” this is a beach tale of cons, scams and identity theft.

Not Meeting Mr Right by Anita Heiss

Prominent Australian Indigenous author Anita Heiss straddles both fiction and non-fiction, with her work often grounded in ideas around Indigenous identity. Her series of “chick lit” novels includes Not Meeting Mr Right (first published in 2007).

In the novel, Alice lives beachside in Coogee and regularly walks the coastal path between it and Bondi. A proudly single, Indigenous woman, Alice has a change of heart about marriage and decides to get serious about settling down – which means embarking on the rocky road towards finding love. In contrast to the challenges – including racism – she encounters along the way, the beach is a comfortably ordinary presence in this novel. However, Heiss also parodied the white Australian beach experience in an earlier book Sacred Cows (1996).

After January by Nick Earls

If you grew up in Brisbane when I did, there was a high chance you were reading a Nick Earls novel or seeing one adapted into a play. After January (first published in 1996) is one of Earls’ first works for young adult readers, and is set in the long break after finishing high school.

Alex is on holidays at Caloundra in his family’s beach house, a teenage boy uncomfortable in his skin but comfortable in the ocean. Although now more than 20 years old, this story still captures the uncertainty of burgeoning adulthood and the comfort the ocean can bring.

Bluebottle by Belinda Castles

For many Australians, the beach can be wrapped up in childhood memory. These memories can blend and blur. In my mind, my summers spent at the beach with my grandparents were never-ending, from the moment school finished until the day before I was set to return. In reality, we spent some time there, often weekends, and certainly never the entire school holidays.

Belinda Castles’ Bluebottle tells the story of the Bright family, and is filled with that uncomfortable tension that arises when we realise memory is fallible. Siblings Jack and Lou recount key moments from their childhood, starting with the disappearance of a local school girl and their father’s unpredictable purchase of a beachside property in Bilgola, Sydney. However, they learn that growing older can change perspectives on the past and, like the beach, it can be hard to tell what’s under the surface while the waves distort our view.The Conversation

Liz Ellison, Lecturer in Creative Industries, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Gerald Murnane’s Prime Minister’s Literary award is long overdue



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Gerald Murnane has long been recognised as one of Australia’s finest writers.
Ben Denham

Anthony Uhlmann, Western Sydney University

I first came to Border Districts through a brief description of it given to me by Gerald Murnane when I first met him three years ago. I thought he had told me that he did not think it was as complex as another work he wrote around the same time, A Million Windows.

I clearly misunderstood the insight Murnane was offering into this book, which he also claimed would be his last. The more I read and reflect on Border Districts, the more profound and difficult it becomes.

Murnane, who has long been recognised as one of Australia’s finest writers, has also long been neglected. The Prime Minister’s Literary Award is the first major award a book of his has received. The recognition is long overdue and just in time. It shows that there is still a place in Australian life for works of art that challenge us to think; that unapologetically ask us to think about what things, the things we live among and perceive, mean.

The novel is situated within a framing setting much like present day Goroke in the border districts of Victoria and South Australia where Murnane now lives. Within this frame, the narrator moves between scenes of a remembered life, using motifs and images to draw these fragments together.

In Border Districts, the narrator claims that the work he is writing is not a work of fiction; rather it is “a report of actual events and no sort of work of fiction”.

He continues:

As I understand the matter, a writer of fiction reports events that he or she considers imaginary. The reader of fiction considers, or pretends to consider, the events actual. This piece of writing is a report of actual events only, even though many of the reported events may seem to an undiscerning reader fictional.

What comprise actual events, however, are the images that occur within the mind of the writer. In the passage just cited the narrator is imagining what it might be like to be within the mind of a long dead maiden “aunt” or cousin of a friend at whose house he stays when visiting the capital city of his state.

He imagines he might be sleeping in the room she slept in. He knows certain things about her, most tellingly, that she was being courted by a young man who went to fight in world war one and never returned. He pictures her associating images that concern a narrative of a possible life she might have led if her suitor had not died, if she had instead married him and moved with him to a farming district to work for a landowner.

The story he imagines would, in anyone else’s terminology, be called a fictional story, and yet the narrator insists that all of these image-events are actual. The heart of the matter is the feeling of understanding, or meaning, that is given to the reader. The narrator questions whether “feeling” is adequate to this process, and so uses the word “essence”.

Fragments into patterns

The narrator of Border Districts speaks of the images with which meaning is created as fragments that are drawn together as a kaleidoscope draws together its fragments of colour.

The narrator sees his mind as drawing together these fragments into patterns, which then become meaningful to him, and this includes beliefs that once gave his life meaning, which he no longer believes in:

He might have begun to understand that even the images that he claimed no longer to believe in — even these were necessary for his salvation, even if they were not more than evidence of his need for saving imagery.

“Saving imagery” might mean “imagery that relates to salvation” or it might mean “imagery that is preserved”.

While unfashionable to do so, then, Murnane charges fiction with a heavy responsibility and claims immense value for it. Fiction needs to preserve or guard images that give our lives a sense of meaning.The Conversation

Anthony Uhlmann, Director, Writing and Society Research Centre, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2018 YABBA Winners


The link below is to an article that reports on the winners of the 2018 YABBAs – The Young Australian Best Book Awards.

For more visit:
https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2018/10/31/winners-announced-2018-yabbas/

Book: Are short prime ministerships the new normal?



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Malcolm Turnbull was the latest prime minister to be ousted before the end of his term in August, 2018.
AAP/Sam Mooy

Benjamin T. Jones, Australian National University

This is an edited extract from Elections Matter: Ten Federal Elections that Shaped Australia (Monash University Press 2018), edited by Benjamin T. Jones, Frank Bongiorno and John Uhr.


In 2004, the Australian Labor Party, led by Mark Latham, was expected either to win or closely contest the upcoming election. Instead, John Howard’s Liberal-National Coalition secured a comfortable victory, increasing its majority in the House of Representatives and securing a majority in the Senate.

Although disappointed, Labor took comfort in the fact that it had taken the coalition five attempts to oust the Hawke-Keating Labor governments. The conventional wisdom was that Australians simply do not change governments quickly. With the turbulent Whitlam years seen as an exception to the rule (and even he secured two successive victories), in post-war Australian politics, long terms in office was an expectation.




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Moment after moment of madness: Liberals manage the ugliest, messiest leadership challenge in history


This view might now be considered the old normal. Following the landslide Kevin07 victory, many predicted Kevin Rudd would be a long-serving prime minister, perhaps handing the reins to his popular deputy, Julia Gillard, in a third or fourth term. That he did not even see out one full term in office marked a new era in Australian politics.

Rudd’s swift dismissal cannot be explained away by his personal traits or leadership style. With Australia’s first female prime minister at the helm, Labor clung onto power following the hung parliament result of 2010 with support from nominally conservative rural independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. Once again, a new prime minister would not see out a full term, with Rudd wrestling back control after a second leadership challenge.

Tony Abbott was defeated by Malcolm Turnbull in a leadership ballot in 2015, following Labor’s pattern of not allowing prime ministers to serve out their terms.
AAP/Sam Mooy

This could perhaps be explained away as a particularly dysfunctional episode of Labor rule, except the Coalition would then follow the same pattern. In 2013, the newly-elected Abbott government promised strong and stable government under Coalition rule. “The adults are back in charge”, he smugly claimed. And yet, Abbott too would fail to see out his first term as prime minister, losing a leadership challenge to Malcolm Turnbull in 2015.

Turnbull won the 2016 election by a single seat in the lower house and the Coalition has consistently trailed Labor in the polls. As with the previous three terms of parliament, the prime minister who claimed electoral victory would not survive till the end.

This is the new normal of Australian political life. The coup against Turnbull marked the fourth consecutive term with a change of prime minister. John Howard in 2004-7 was the last prime minister to serve a full term in office, and even he was plagued by persistent leadership rumours leading to a public promise that he would hand over power to his deputy Peter Costello.

The new normal is marked by electoral volatility. The major parties can no longer take for granted a primary vote in the high 30s. As the Greens, Palmer United, One Nation, and the Xenophon Team, have shown, Australia is more willing than ever to cast large numbers of votes for minor parties as well as independents. It is no longer a truism that Australians do not change government quickly.

The old normal would presume that an incoming federal government will set the national agenda for a decade or more. Especially after the 2010 result, one term governments are entirely conceivable. The most pronounced feature of the new normal is the ease with which a prime minster can be replaced. Dumping a first term prime minster, considered political hubris for so long, is now a regular occurrence.

The BBC dubbed Australia the “coup capital of the democratic world” in 2015. Should Scott Morrison lose the 2019 election, there will have been six prime ministers in the six years since 2013.

Although the new normal represents a profound change, it is far from unprecedented. Australia had three prime ministers in 2013. While this may have seemed historic, it is the fifth time this has happened (1945, 1941, 1939 and 1904).

The early Federation period saw a high turnover of prime ministers. It was only when Billy Hughes took the top job in 1915 that Australia saw its first long-serving prime minister (seven years, 105 days) albeit with three different parties.




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Grattan on Friday: Morrison ticks the boxes but can’t hide the dysfunction


To the pessimist, the frequent change of prime ministers over the last decade can be seen as evidence of political instability and turmoil. Alternatively, much like Australian politics at the dawn of the 20th century, it could be seen as evidence of the flexibility built into Westminster democracy. It is a system that allows parties and leaders to change without always needing a fresh election. With Australian federal elections already frequent, every three years compared to four in the US or five in the UK, it is perhaps a blessing that a new prime minister does not necessitate a new election.

Kevin Rudd’s changes to the party rules mean it is probable – but by no means assured – that the next Labor government will serve a full term without changing leader. While it is unlikely the ALP will oust their next prime minister, there is no such guarantee from the public now used to a short turn-around of both parties and leaders.

How long the new normal lasts is entirely up to the electorate. The old saying goes that in a democracy, you get the government you deserve. This is particularly true of Australia, with around 95% of the adult population taking part in federal elections. Voters are empowered and elections do matter.The Conversation

Benjamin T. Jones, Australian Research Council Fellow, School of History, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What are ‘decodable readers’ and do they work?



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Children with access to books reach higher levels of education.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Misty Adoniou, University of Canberra; Brian Cambourne, University of Wollongong, and Robyn Ewing, University of Sydney

The Victorian Coalition has promised $2.8 million for “decodable readers” for schools if they win the upcoming election.

Money for books must surely be a good thing. But what exactly is a “decodable reader”? After all, surely all books are decodable. If they weren’t decodable they would be unreadable.




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Lost for words: why the best literacy approaches are not reaching the classroom


What is decoding?

The Australian curriculum provides a clear definition of decoding:

A process of working out the meaning of words in a text. In decoding, readers draw on contextual, vocabulary, grammatical and phonic knowledge.

However the Victorian Coalition is defining decoding as “sounding out letters”. As their policy platform states:

Decodable books are designed to align with explicit, systematic phonics instruction. They are simple stories constructed using almost exclusively words that are phonetically decodable, using letters and letter-groups that children have learned in phonics lessons.

The “decodable readers” they are funding are books that are contrived to help children practise a particular letter-sound pattern taught as part of a synthetic phonics program.

For example, the following sentences are from a decodable reader designed to focus on the consonants “N” and “P” and short vowel /a/

Nan and a pan.

Pap and a pan.

Nan and Pap can nap.

Decodable readers don’t have a narrative.
Reading a-z.com

Books like this have no storyline; they are equally nonsensical whether you start on the first page, or begin on the last page and read backwards.

While they may teach the phonics skills “N” and “P”, they don’t teach children the other important decoding skills of grammar and vocabulary.

And as many a parent will testify, they don’t teach the joy of reading.




Read more:
The way we teach most children to read sets them up to fail


What about the children’s vocabulary development?

Meaning and vocabulary development are not the focus of decodable readers. Yet, research shows the importance of vocabulary for successful reading.

Students need to add 3,000 words a year to their vocabulary to be able to read and write successfully at their year level.

Limited vocabulary in books translates to lack of vocabulary growth.

What is the alternative to ‘decodable readers’?

Supporters of decodable readers are hopeful these books will support students with reading difficulties, by focusing closely on the sounds in words. However, focusing on sounds alone is not sufficient to support a struggling reader.

The reality is all children learning to read need to listen to, and read books that are written with rich vocabulary, varied sentence structures and interesting content knowledge that encourages them to use their imagination.

Compare the text about Pan and Nap with the opening lines of Pamela Allen’s very popular story Who Sank the Boat?:

Beside the sea, on Mr Peffer’s place, there lived
a cow, a donkey, a sheep, a pig, and a tiny little mouse.
They were good friends and one sunny morning, for no particular reason,
they decided to go for a row on the bay.
Do you know who sank the boat?

This book immediately engages children and asks them to question, imagine and help solve a problem. Children always ask for this book to be read again and again and they enjoy joining in. They learn new vocabulary and incidentally learn about complex sentence structures, which they emulate in their oral language and story writing.

Kids want to unveil the mystery of who sank the boat – and they learn in the process.
Amazon.com



Read more:
A balanced approach is best for teaching kids how to read


Using books to teach all the decoding skills

Using rich authentic texts supports all the decoding skills described in the Australian curriculum – phonics, vocabulary and grammar.

In Pamela Allen’s story above, we can look at the word “bay” and notice the parts /b/ – /ay/, which help us to say and spell the word. What happens if we change the beginning – how many other words could we write and read? For example, day, say, play, and so on.

We can look at the “frequent” words. These are the words that we can’t always “sound out” but which make up the 100 most frequent words in English. For example, do, you, they, were, the.

These words are very important to teach children, as these 100 words make up 50% of all written language.

We can develop their vocabularies with words and phrases such as “for no particular reason”, “decided” and “beside” .

We can introduce them to beautifully literate sentence structures, for example,
“Beside the sea, on Mr Peffer’s place, there lived a cow, a donkey, a sheep, a pig, and a tiny little mouse”.

Decodable readers can only do the phonics part of the reading puzzle. They are a very inefficient way to teach reading.

So what do we want for all children learning to read?

When teaching children to read, we hope they will learn reading is pleasurable and can help them to make sense of their lives and those around them.

The strategies children are taught to use when first learning to read greatly influence what strategies they use in later years.
When children are taught to focus solely on letter-sound matching to read the words of decodable readers, they often continue in later years to over-rely on this strategy, even with other kinds of texts. This causes inaccurate, slow, laborious reading, which leads to frustration and a lack of motivation for reading.

A book must be worth reading and give children the opportunity to learn the full range of strategies needed to read any text.

Children who grow up with real books, with rich vocabularies, beautiful prose and genuine storylines reach a higher level of education than those who do not have such access, regardless of nationality, parents’ level of education or socioeconomic status.

And yet it’s children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are less likely to have access to these books in their homes. It’s crucial schools fill the gap.

A$2.8 million spent on beautifully written books to fill Victorian classroom libraries would be a far more effective use of the education budget.The Conversation

Misty Adoniou, Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra; Brian Cambourne, Principal Fellow, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, and Robyn Ewing, Professor of Teacher Education and the Arts, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.