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Mabo Student Guide Essay

1. VCAA guidelines for Mabo

The following information is from the VCAA Study Design and the 2013-14 Assessment Report

You must address the following:

• The ideas/characters/themes constructed by the author/director and presented in the selected text • The way the author/director uses structures, features and conventions to construct meaning • The ways in which author/director expresses or implies a point of view and values • The ways in which readers’ interpretations of texts differ and why.

Types of topics:

There are two topics for each Reading and Responding text. The types of topics varied, but all offered the opportunity to develop a sustained discussion linked to aspects of key knowledge for Units 3 and 4, Outcome 1: some topics focused on a close interpretation, some on developing a reader interpretation; some on characters; some on themes; some on the ways in which authors express or imply a point of view and values; and some focused on the way the author or director uses structures, features and conventions to construct meaning. While the focus may appear to stem from one of these strands, students who are able to demonstrate an understanding of how the construction, structures and features of the text (including genre) operate in adding meaning were rewarded.

Answer what the question is asking not what you hope it is asking. Most of the concerns with students’ text responses relate to dealing with the topic. There is a distinct difference between being well prepared and attempting a prepared response. After a detailed study of their text throughout the year, students should be encouraged to have confidence in their own reading and demonstrate a personal understanding of their text, rather than relying exclusively on commercially produced material. It is important to be aware that there are no ‘correct’ responses. Each response is assessed on its own merits and the complexity of the texts and the topics allow for a variety of possible approaches. If you know your text well you will be able to address this point: Students should be bold in their assertions about their texts.

To do this students must have a good working knowledge of their text, its characters and themes, as well as the way in which the author or director has worked to present those ideas. Students may expect to challenge or qualify aspects of a topic. Students should look critically at the wording of the topic and consider what assumptions are being made within it. Too many students seem to want to respond to their own question rather than grapple with the ideas of the set topic Look at the criteria: for 9 or 10, a script ‘demonstrates an understanding of the implications of the topic, using an appropriate strategy for dealing with it, and exploring its complexity from the basis of the text.’ Students must also ensure that they are exploring all of the elements presented in the topic. Too often a key point is plucked from the topic and an essay produced, omitting a significant idea that has a major bearing on the topic itself. All parts of the question need to be considered.

Your essay needs to have:
clear introduction
appropriate paragraphing
the ability to embed quotations appropriately
be expressed fluently – coherent and cohesive

Keep working on:
developing a more sophisticated vocabulary
improving your grammar and focus on sentence structure.

Outcome 1
On completion of this unit the student should be able to develop and justify a detailed interpretation of a selected text.

Key knowledge

This knowledge includes an understanding of the ideas, characters and themes constructed by the author and presented in the selected text; the structures, features and conventions used by authors to construct meaning in a range of literary texts; the ways in which authors express or imply a point of view and values; the ways in which readers’ interpretations of texts differ and why; strategies and techniques for constructing a detailed written interpretation of a text, supported by textual evidence and including appropriate metalanguage; the conventions of spelling, punctuation and syntax of Standard Australian English.

Key skills

These skills include the ability to develop sustained interpretive points of view about texts, supported by detailed textual analysis and reference to features, structures and conventions; analyse the ways in which authors express or imply a point of view or values; use appropriate metalanguage to support a detailed interpretation of a text; plan and revise written work for fluency and coherence;

use the conventions of spelling, punctuation and syntax of Standard Australian English.

Assessment Criteria
DESCRIPTOR: typical performance in each range

A highly-developed and well-sustained interpretation of a selected text supported by the considered selection and use of highly appropriate textual evidence. Thorough and insightful understanding of the ideas, characters and themes constructed and presented in the selected text. Complex discussion and critical analysis of the ways in which the author constructs meaning and expresses or implies a point of view and values. Highly appropriate use of relevant metalanguage to support analysis. Highly expressive, fluent and coherent writing.


A well-developed and sustained interpretation of a selected text supported by the careful selection and use of appropriate textual evidence. Thorough knowledge of the ideas, characters and themes constructed and presented in the selected text. Well-developed discussion and sound analysis of the ways in which the author constructs meaning and expresses or implies a point of view and values. Appropriate use of relevant metalanguage to support analysis. Expressive, fluent and coherent writing.


A generally well-sustained interpretation of a selected text supported by textual evidence. Knowledge of the ideas, characters and themes constructed and presented in the selected text. Discussion and some analysis of the ways in which the author constructs meaning and expresses or implies a point of view and values. Use of mainly relevant metalanguage to support analysis. Generally expressive, fluent and coherent writing.


Limited interpretation of a selected text supported by some use of textual evidence. Some knowledge of the ideas, characters and themes constructed and presented in the selected text. Generalised discussion of the ways in which the author constructs meaning and expresses or implies a point of view and values. Use of some metalanguage to support analysis. Clear expression of ideas in writing.


Little, if any, interpretation of a selected text, with minimal textual evidence offered in support. Limited knowledge of the ideas, characters and themes constructed and presented in the selected text. Little, if any, discussion of the ways in which the author constructs meaning and expresses or implies a point of view and values. Little or no use of relevant metalanguage to support analysis. Simple expression of ideas in writing.

2. Sac procedures
For satisfactory completion
participate in class activities
complete practice essay
meet requirements of the SAC tasks
meet attendance requirements

Date and Time of SAC
Wednesday 10th September 2014
Time: 70 minutes

3. Essay Questions: Teachers will assess essays write on the following topics: MABO Practice SAC questions

Last year’s SAC questions:

To what extent does Director Rachel Perkins present Eddie Mabo as a hero?

“But you always were one to get above yourself, Eddie.” Does Eddie overestimate his ability to bring about change?

How does Director Rachel Perkins connect viewers with the story of Mabo?

The film Mabo is about Eddie’s lifelong struggle for acceptance. To what extent do you agree?

Last year’s exam questions:
Mabo is a film about pride. Discuss.

In the film Mabo, the land plays such an important role that it is like a character. Discuss.

More prac questions:
In the film, Mabo, it’s not until the end of Eddie Mabo’s life that he realises that his fight is about more than just him. Discuss.

In Mabo, the legacy is bigger than the man. Discuss.

Mabo’s fight for native title is a fight to find his home. Discuss.

The more Mabo fights for his home, the more he becomes obsessed by it. Discuss.

Eddie is a strong but flawed hero in Mabo. Discuss.

Racism is only one of many things that Eddie must struggle against in Mabo. Discuss.

Bonita makes Eddie a better person in Mabo. Discuss.

How does Rachel Perkins use dramatized and archival footage to more effectively tell the story of Mabo?

It’s pride, just as much as native land rights, that is at stake in the story of Mabo. Discuss.

“Possession is nine tenths of the law.” Why does Eddie deem it important to claim Native Title in Mabo?

“…How my wife has stuck to me… somehow we made it.” (Eddie) How does Netta support Eddie?

“When young men go the mainland, they forget everything.” (Benny Mabo) Is this true for Eddie Mabo? Why/Why not?

“You’ve got a voice haven’t you? (Union Organiser) How does Eddie become heard in his struggle for justice?

“Netta, people like us have no choice by to be troublemakers.” What does Eddie mean by this statement?

What is the significance of the way Perkins portrays Killoran in Mabo? Discuss.

4. Reading a non-print text

What to look for when viewing feature films
Studying film should have parallels with studying novels, plays and short stories. The same attention should be paid to characterisation, plot, structure, craft (how the film is put together), themes and issues. You should look at film excerpts in the same way that you look at key chapters in a novel.

There are, however, obvious differences between print and non-print texts which you need to be aware of. Look at how point of view is controlled by the camera, for example. This will determine from whose point of view the story is told and is often influential in evoking your sympathies or determining with whom you identify when watching a film.

Do not analyse film as a unique entity, one that is totally different from other types of text. There are some film terms which you should know, but essentially the rest of the language used when discussing film is the same as the language you would use when discussing print texts.

The study of film should look at how and why meaning is constructed. As with the study of poetry, form and content should not be separated. When viewing a film, you should always look for the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ in conjunction with each other. This means that you should be able to identify the film’s main ideas, understand the ways in which these ideas are presented and also be able to speculate about why you think the filmmaker has presented the ideas and characters in that particular way.

Structure and meaning in feature films

The moving image is so pervasive that we cannot ignore the need to acquire the tools for understanding how viewers are positioned by the visual media. The feature film is the storyteller of the twenty-first century and, much more than the contemporary novel, it is the model through which we articulate the world and under­stand the value systems that underpin that world. Therefore, it is important to under­stand the codes and conventions of film. Complex meaning systems

A feature film is, firstly, a series of events. This series of events unfolds sequentially in most films. There is an introduction, a conflict, a climax and a resolution of the conflict or achievement of a goal. This model of storytelling is called the classic Hollywood narrative.

From watching feature films you quickly develop the ability to follow the sequence of events in film stories. However, if the plot were all that you needed to understand there would be little purpose in studying feature films or any other non-print medium. Feature films actually use complex meaning systems to tell stories, and the study of feature films is important in leading you to discover the deeper levels of meaning that can be conveyed through aural and visual means. This appreciation can then help to develop a more critical understanding of the way in which all texts, film or print, can manipulate emotions, reinforce values and resist or re-affirm beliefs. Shared meaning systems

Each piece of information that we see or hear in a film has symbolic meaning and is selected to suggest meaning to the viewer. Viewers relate what they see and hear to their own cultural experiences and the context in which the film is viewed. For example, a woman dressed in a black suit may be interpreted as part of a constructed image of elegance or as an indicator of mourning, according to the context. Another example could be the use of rain as part of the soundtrack. Rain can denote a moment of crisis or a moment of catharsis for a character.

Each viewer processes the information and interprets symbols according to his or her individual cultural experiences. Age, gender, class, ethnicity and sexual preference are some of the variables that determine response and the way in which the viewer interprets these symbols. As a meaning system, a feature film is understood because its symbols draw upon broad cultural experiences shared by both filmmaker and viewer. Characteristics of feature films

In feature films the narrative is developed through a range of visual and auditory features. Feature film may be examined in terms of the shots, the sequencing of shots and the soundtrack. The choices made by the filmmaker in creating meanings can be a source of discussion for students as they focus on what has been included and what has been excluded and the effect that these choices might have on the viewer.

This entails study of both the film-making process (composition, framing, lighting etc.) and the visual meaning of what is represented on screen (posture, gesture, movement and dress of characters). It also requires analysing the sequencing (editing) of shots, and ,listening to the soundtrack, including the selection and organisation of spoken language (dialogue), music, sound effects and the silences which create atmosphere in film. 5. Features of film (film technique)

The four main elements of film style are mise en scene, cinematography, editing and sound. You can analyse each element separately but a more insightful and complex analysis will explain how these elements combine to help create the film’s overall meaning. a. Mise en scene means ‘staging the action’. It refers to all the visual elements within the frame at any given point in the film. It is the sum total of everything that is seen through the camera lens. It includes camera angle position of characters, background. There are four main elements of mise en scene: setting, lighting, costumes and acting style. Setting: a film can be in a studio or on location, depending on the film’s budget and how natural or realistic the director wishes the film to look. Lighting: depending on direction and intensity, lighting can illuminate one part of the set, or one actor more than others. It can create mood, especially through the use of shadows and colour.

Costumes: include clothes worn by the actors, individual props (such as jewellery), make-up, hairstyles. Costume changes often signal changes in a character’s outlook or life circumstances. Acting style: this includes facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, pace of delivery, but not the actual words spoken by the actor. b. Cinematography is the art of capturing images on film. The cinematographer uses all the resources of the camera to produce a varied and engaging film style that also helps to tell the story. Camera distance and angles allow the audience’s attention to be focused on certain elements of the setting or on one or more characters.

Four main shots are: Close-up shot: typically focuses on a person’s facial features and expressions Medium shot: shows people from the waist up with background details clearly visible; can show people close together. Medium long shot: shows the whole body of a person and the surrounding setting; can show interactions between individuals and place them in a context Long shot: people appear as smaller figures, gives a sense of the landscape or a whole city in which people live. Aerial shot/overhead shot: the camera is above the characters.

It can show things that are not obvious on the ground. It can also make people look vulnerable. Low angle shot: the camera is below the subject. The person or object seem powerful and intimidating because we are looking up at the subject that is being filmed. High angle shot: the camera is higher than the subject. The audience looks down on the subject, making the person look small and defenceless.

Camera movement

The camera can move by rotate horizontally (a pan) or vertically (a tilt). This allows the audience to follow a moving object or person from a fixed position, or to take in the extent of an object or landscape as if they were turning their heads to see everything. Alternatively, the whole camera can move or ‘track’ the action, giving the viewer the sense of active involvement in the scene. When a hand-held camera is used, the unsteadiness of the image can produce an unsettling effect enhancing the tension or uncertainty in the narrative. c. Editing is the process of selecting shots and of joining them in a meaningful sequence.

Crosscutting is an editing technique that allows a film to tell the stories of several characters. The editor crosscuts from one scene to another to allow two or more storylines to be developed. Matching the scenes allows crosscuts to occur seamlessly, encouraging the audience to see connections between experiences of different characters. A montage sequence is a series of quick or still shots, often accompanied by music. It can depict a relatively long passage of time through a selection of images showing significant events in a character’s life. It can also portray a rapid series of thoughts and images passing through a character’s mind. d. Sound

A film’s soundtrack has two main components:
Dialogue and sounds of actions (both seen and unseen) e.g. footsteps; a door being closed; traffic noise; natural phenomena such as birdsong or rain The music sound track. This plays a very important role in creating the mood or atmosphere for each scene and for the film as a whole. The music often has an emotional impact and complements the narrative, strongly affecting the audience’s response to characters and events.

Sound can be further divided into two main areas:
Diegetic sound: Sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film: voices of characters sounds made by objects in the story music represented as coming from instruments in the story space ( = source music) Diegetic sound is any sound presented as originated from source within the film’s world. Diegetic sound can be either on screen or off screen depending on whatever its source is within the frame or outside the frame. Another term for diegetic sound is actual sound.

Non-diegetic sound: Sound whose source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action:
narrator’s commentary
sound effects which is added for the dramatic effect
mood music

Non-diegetic sound is represented as coming from a source outside story space.

6. Discussion of 2 techniques in Mabo: Archival footage and flashbacks

Archival footage

Real, historical footage is used three times in Mabo. The film begins with news footage reporting the Mabo case – the quotes used capturing the division of opinion in Australia about its impact: • “The economic and political future of Australia has been put at risk” • “Mabo establishes a fundamental truth and lays the basis for justice” Later on, real footage is used again when Eddie becomes more active in protesting against racism.

After the scene where he tells Bonita that indigenous people must organise themselves and “fight” there is an extended edit of archival clips showing indigenous marches and protests, interviews with white and Aboriginal people and a clip of the Premier of Queensland Joh Bjelke- Petersen speaking. This footage reinforces what the film is dramatising – powerfully showing to the viewer the actual historical context of the film, where indigenous people had to enter cinemas by a separate entrance (as a white woman tells in an interview), where they felt they had “bugger all” (as one sign reads).

The film finishes with archival footage which conveys what a dramatisation could not. Here – at the end of the film – we see Eddie’s funeral on Murray Island – where he was accorded the ceremony of a leader. The sadness and coming together of the people here poignantly represents to us the impact of Eddie and his fight for land rights. The final image of the film is perhaps the most powerful – it’s footage of Eddie dressed traditionally and fishing. In the end, the film is telling us, Eddie was a traditional man with a powerful connection to the land.


Throughout the film we see flashbacks of Eddie’s life on Murray Island with his adoptive father Benny. Eddie is deeply torn by the feeling that he has left Mer Island and not returned. However, the flash backs along with the music show that despite the physical separation between him and the island, a connection re-mains. The flashbacks show us that Eddie will not forget his heritage as an Islander.

7. Music
The function of music in a film:
establish identity, ethnicity and period of time
create mood and atmosphere
reflect emotion
add emotional depth: intensify and relax tension
create unspoken thoughts

Discussion of music in the film:

Music is an essential technique in Mabo to signpost Eddie’s emotional journey. To this end, Perkins makes frequent use of traditional Murray Islander/Meream music in the film to aurally characterise Eddie Mabo’s connection to his traditional homeland. There is a joyful chorus of Islanders’ singing that we hear at the times when Eddie is most content – or where there is a justice and fairness to what is happening. One such moment is at the start of the film when we see Eddie dancing at Mer Island, culturally at home and content with his life.

This chorus returns again at the end of the film, but we also see it at other poignant moments – such in the extended sequence of archival footage towards the middle of the film when Eddie’s fight for indigenous rights begins in earnest. One particularly poignant scene features Eddie wandering alone on the train tracks – this is just after he has been pulled over by the police. He sings and dances to a traditional Mer song – and a chorus is synced with his singing on the film’s soundtrack. This moment both captures Eddie’s connection to his culture, but also the anguish at his separation from it. We might hear the chorus on the film’s soundtrack, but on the train tracks his voice is alone.

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